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Three Dollar Bill

Picano: truth teller or name-dropping slut?

I love Felice Picano. He’s generous with advice, good with a quip and
he gives good face. Not to mention he’s one helluva writer. But the
father of gay lit is worried about the genre he’s nurtured for three
decades, so much so that author Chris Rice, the gay son of novelist Anne
Rice, asked Felice to share his thoughts at the Apr 16 Palm Springs Book
Festival.

“Chris is putting together the panel on gay fiction—is gay
fiction still relevant?” Felice asks rhetorically. “Now, I
founded two publishing companies, introduced dozens of first-time
writers—including Brad Gooch—and five years ago I put together an
exhibit of all the visual stuff I collected and put on a museum show at the
University of Southern California in Los Angeles, at the main library in San
Francisco, at the gay centre in New Orleans, and I gave a lecture that has
turned into a full-length book, Creating a Culture, which will come out in
Jun 2007.

“So I go to Amazon and it recognizes me and they say, ‘We
recommend the following books … ’ and what do they recommend? A House
on the Ocean, a House on the Bay by Felice Picano! The second book was How
Long Has This Been Going On? by Ethan Mordden, and then only one new book,
You Can Say You Knew Me When by K.M. Soehnlein. And I’m thinking,
‘Is gay fiction relevant?’ I don’t think so if
they’re recommending me to myself! It’s moments like that when I
get really nervous.”

Felice, who has just completed a screenplay for a film adaptation of his
sci-fi classic Dryland’s End, believes gay lit has become “very
humdrum.” “I wonder if gay literature is really ‘problem
novels,’ and [if so] that means they’re done. It’s a real
question. I don’t know the answer. If you had asked me 10 years ago I
would have said gay novels are great for their own sake. But now I
don’t know.”

This wasn’t an issue when Felice and his contemporaries burst onto the
literary scene in the early 1970s, forcing older generations of gay writers
like Truman Capote to look on with bemusement and envy.

“I actually met him,” Felice says of Capote. “He was sweet
toward me but he didn’t like a lot of writers. He was admiring of me
and Andrew Holleran and our group because we had come out right away, and he
talked about how, playing the game, his generation had more success but had
paid a really bad price for it. They all died of drugs and alcohol. The only
one who is still alive is Gore Vidal and he’s an absolute
mess.”

Felice continues, “Capote was tiny! In the movie, Philip Seymour
Hoffman made huge gestures, which Capote [really] did to make himself look
bigger. It must have been an issue in Capote’s life—his size, his
squeaky voice. He was boy-femmy, not female-femmy like Hoffman portrayed him.
If you knew Capote, you knew [Hoffman’s Oscar-winning portrayal]
wasn’t him. [Also] Crash wasn’t the best film [at this
year’s Oscars]. I thought it was Capote. What I liked about it was it
pulled no punches and everybody was knifed. Everybody got it.”

About fake author and teen male hustler JT LeRoy (really a woman called
Laura Albert)—who rocked the literary world this year alongside
disgraced author James Frey, who made up much of his “memoir,” A
Million Little Pieces, and fake Navajo author Nasdijj (really Timothy Barrus,
a white writer of gay erotica)—Felice says, “I knew JT LeRoy was
fake from the beginning because it seemed fake. I think she and her husband
said, ‘How do we make a name for ourselves? Make ourselves a
drug-addicted underage drag queen!’ Still, it’s not as awful as
anything president Bush has done.”

About autobiographies, Felice says, “I have almost perfect
memory—which is awful if you’re my boyfriend—but when I
first started doing my memoirs, my publisher Penguin said it was a memoir in
the form of a novel because it had direct conversation in it. But if you
asked the people [quoted in it] they say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what
was said.’ I care what the truth is. But it’s up to each person
to do it. When someone says their book is a memoir it should have more truth
than fiction in it.”

In his always-entertaining literary travels, Felice has rubbed elbows with
the rich, the famous and the infamous. “Crystal these days is so retro.
In the ‘60s everybody did it, and it’s not attractive. It’s
so tried, tested and failed. I’m not surprised to see the wreckage. I
was hanging out with the Andy Warhol crowd and crystal was their drug of
choice. They all used to come up and shoot up in my apartment and left
baggies of leftovers by my fireplace.”

Felice, now 62, also outed actor Anthony Perkins some years ago. “I was
not the only person he was sleeping with,” Felice quips. “He was
married and had kids at the time. When I wrote that in an Advocate interview
with [Perkin’s former beau] Tab Hunter, people said, ‘Picano is a
name-dropping slut.’

“But,” Felice adds, “as long as I have the power to piss
off people I feel pretty good.” V

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