Published 6:07 pm, Sunday, January 19, 2014
Armistead Maupin parlayed his 1976 “Tales of the City” Chronicle series into books, television miniseries and a musical. His characters, who lived at the fictional 28 Barbary Lane, were a colorful and disparate cast who came to San Francisco to be themselves and to forge a family among like-minded friends.
Maupin, who is 69 and recently left San Francisco with his husband, Christopher Turner, for Santa Fe, N.M., has brought his landmark “Tales” series to an end with his ninth and final book, “The Days of Anna Madrigal” (HarperCollins), to be published Tuesday.
Q: How is life in Santa Fe?
A: It’s markedly different, but in a way that’s delighting me. I’m happy not to hear the car alarms and fight the traffic. We are in an adobe house on 15 acres. I look out at the junipers and neighboring hills. We don’t see any neighbors.
There are coyotes and rabbits in our yard and ravens circling in the valley. We have a little post office in the village where we bump into Ali MacGraw. Most of the folks are funky Santa Fe types who don’t hesitate to wear sweatpants and cowboy boots to the corner market. It’s one of the gayest places, and one of the worst-dressed places, in America, and so I knew it was for me (laughing).
Q: What was the impetus for your move?
A: San Francisco was getting too pricey for us. Riches and fame aren’t the same thing. Writers have been enormously devalued. We wanted space, and nature. I really wanted a backyard for our dog. I think we have one now! We’ve made some lovely friends here. Eccentricity is valued here in the same way it used to be valued in San Francisco.
Q: You lived in San Francisco for four decades. Did it lose some of its quirkiness that you treasure?
A: There are wonderful things happening all over the city, and we don’t intend to live apart from the city permanently. I’d love to find a bolt-hole somewhere in the city that would be like a pied-a-terre for us. But we both wanted a new experience.
I remember how I religiously read Herb Caen when I first moved to San Francisco, and read his column to find out how I should feel about the city. What I didn’t like was when he went off on a bender about how he missed the old days, the ’30s and ’40s.
I vowed when I got older, I wouldn’t look back at the city and say it was so much better. Times change. New generations come along. It’s easy to go on a diatribe against techies, but they want to find the cutest spot in the cutest city, too.
Q: How does it feel to have finished the “Tales” series?
A: I’m going to keep writing, but there’s very little likelihood I will return to this book. I want to honor these characters the best way I can. To keep writing just to write would betray my relationship with them. I’ve tried to make it emotionally true every step of the way. I’m proud that I followed them in real time.
Q: “The Days of Anna Madrigal” tells the story of the 92-year-old Anna planning a trip to Burning Man and a voyage of discovery into her past. How did you come up with the story line?
A: A year ago this summer, Chris and I went to Burning Man. We’ve been there twice now. It was a world I really wanted to explore on the page. It was tremendously challenging, as words can barely encompass what you see.
But I knew that Burning Man was rife with coincidence. You have to bump into people and you’re led from one adventure to the next. Coincidences can happen very much the way they do on Barbary Lane.
Q: Why do you think this series took off and took hold the way it did?
A: I knew early on when I was writing this story that people got pleasure out of daily reading and that suspense can be very powerful. The whole thing expanded in the collective imagination and it was everyone’s story. But I didn’t dream it would work on a global scale.
Q: But what captivated people?
A: I think it was something to do with the need for continuity in our lives. People associate moments in the story with landmarks in their own lives. And my work is often attached to the notion of people coming out and finding themselves in one way or another, and finding others in the process.
I talk in the books about the difference between the biological family and the logical family – the logical being the family we make for ourselves.
Q: You’ve begun a new chapter in your own life. What does the rest of your day in Santa Fe look like?
A: It’s a very lazy one. I’ll probably haul in some firewood. My husband has hit the road for business, so I get to eat all sorts of wicked things like hot dogs and cinnamon buns. I may go to the post office. There’s so much I adore about the village experience of the Castro district. But I love this house and the remote location and the whole new experience.
Armistead Maupin: 7 p.m. Monday. Rakestraw Books, 522 Hartz Ave., Danville. 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, S.F. 7 p.m. Tuesday. Copperfield’s Books, 140 Kentucky St., Petaluma.