Can you tell us a little bit about your background?  “Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl / With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there / She would merengue and do the cha-cha …”

When I moved to L.A., people were selling spec screenplays at auction for millions of dollars. I planned on doing the same thing, and retire in three years (five seemed way too long.) That didn’t work out and I fell into journalism the way other people step into a puddle — or, as it turned out, dog poo.

Meaning, I worked in Hollywood, ate buckets of jelly beans while seeing a staggering number of free movies (screenings), going to parties and premieres that I’d forget before I got home, and breaking stories. Like, Botox. I knew my days were numbered the year I dreaded the prospect of another Academy Awards. Undiagnosed, I was suffering from Red Carpet Weekly Burn-Out.

Fortunately, I’d started writing my first novel and continued that project while working as a journalist.  That first novel was supposed to parachute me out of journalism the way screenwriting was supposed to buy my Italian Villa. Silly me, I thought there was money in novel writing. It was a total shock when I realized, five hundred agent rejections later, that I wasn’t the next Jacqueline Susann (or, even, Sidney Sheldon – and he evaded the I.R.S. on yachts.)

 

What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?

About the same time it takes Joyce Carol Oates to transcribe “found” writing in the wo/men’s room. My first book was/is titled ”                            ” and you’ll never read it. Or, not read it until later this year, and probably not under my real name and definitely with another title (seven, and counting.) In it’s current form,  ”                          ” (or, Untitled) is a four-part, trashy Hollywood Roman a Clef. Pop an Ambien and, if you must, think: “Gossip Girl” meets “The O.C.” & “Valley of the Dolls.” Better, deposit two hundred thousand dollars into my Pay Pal account, and you can read the PDF.

 

As for the second book, the one that’s actually been published. How long did that one take?

When people ask that question, I hesitate. Ten — twelve — uh … years? I’m still not clear if writing a book is the same as publishing a book. Because within the publication process, especially between the first, and then second editorial letters, the copy edits, the proofs – I rewrote (and wrote) hidden.

 

What about these genres interested you the most?

The first genre – the trashy Hollywood roman a clef – interested me because I was invested in that world – Hollywood – and living some version of that life –version as in, barnacle attached to whale. I wasn’t famous, but I got some of the access and a few of the perks. Because that novel was was “fiction” I could write / say the nastiest things I wanted about people I could never, in real life, get away with. I had very detailed plans about selling out.

As for the second genre, I don’t know. Is “literary fiction” a genre? I was surprised when hidden was described as “literary.” That was, truly, a complete accident. With hidden, I was going more for Sweet Valley High but instead of blond twin girls, queer runaways with kinky black hair, reparative therapy, and trans sex workers.

 

Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?

I’ll defer to Julia Roberts on part two of the question. I remember hearing or reading her say something like, ‘Besides the fact that I’m incapable of anything else?’ And to bring the Pretty Woman lifestyle full circle, I’m not Richard Gere’s type. Oh, wait, he was in American Gigilo. Okay, so to bring the whole  sleazy Hollywood romantic comedy trope full circle, turned out I looked horrible in heels, and the seventies were so long over, by the time I got to L.A., the used car lots were all out of Yellow Mercedes 280-SLs.

What sealed the deal, writing wise, was working in various departments of a Big Hollywood (talent) agency. On paper, I was perfect: I typed (fast), went to the right school, and knew how to dress like a sexy Mormon boy (white shirt, tie, and “slacks.”) But what puzzled — and frustrated — everyone to no end was the fact that I couldn’t roll calls. Patch people through? Holding on line forty-two? Leave word? Despite my best efforts, this skill set completely evaded me and I was reduced to sitting in the CEO’s office — who nobody ever called — reading trashy Hollywood roman a clefs, and jumping whenever the phone did ring.

 

What have you learned in the process of promoting hidden?

One, straight people have no problem writing stories about their lives — romantic or otherwise — and expecting everyone will be intensely interested by their latest book, and that it will be reviewed and discussed — widely. But straight people are almost aggressively disinterested in gay people’s lives, an ignorance that happy to exhibit itself, usually on television. The most recent example of this was Whitney, from The Hills, on Chelsea Handler’s Show, “outing” Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

Two, I should have written hidden under a female pseudonym (“Laura Albert” came to mind). Imagine, a novel about a straight white girl who’s sent to a bootcamp where she was sexually assaulted, endured behavior modification, and escaped. Oprah, Vogue, and Elle would have been all over it the way they’re covered all those tiger books. Alternatively, if I’d been a twenty — thirty or forty something straight guy who wears dorky glasses, I could end up on the cover of Time. And be invited to kiss Oprah’s ring. I would have been God. Or, oh — wait, what’s his name again?

Three, when a tall, blond, best seller authoress who writes nonfiction about gay teenagers, and fiction with computer code promises to give your book a blurb (“Yes! I’ll do it”), don’t hold your breath. She won’t. The closest you’re going to get to an endorsement from her is an illegible signature inside the hardcopy of her latest, award winning book you just bought retail at Diesel Books in Brentwood.

 

Honestly, you sound kind of bitter about straight people —

No, I think you mean the People magazine incident.

 

Sure, what was that about?

At the beginning of January, People magazine was going to run a piece on hidden. They requested a copy sent “as fast as is humanly possible.”

 

You’re —

— lying? No. hidden was described as, “Not a good fit for the People reader.” Which I took to mean, unless gay people are being shot, or killed, killing themselves, being bullied, or pretending like they want to be straight people ie., getting married, or joining the military, straight gatekeepers don’t want anything to do with them.

Or, if they do allow that in, then gay people exist to provide the “tragic” narrative, the “B” story, the aw-aren’t-they-cute story – or, the campy sidekick. But queer main characters with concerns that are central, any narrative featuring straight people in supporting – or, even non-existant – character? – No. Forbidden.

Oh, and the sex-between-two-male-teenagers scene? I think that kind of freaked People out, too.

 

How do you approach development of your characters? Where do you draw the line?

They’re all me. The Seven Faces of Tomas. Lifetime keeps calling about some TV movie, but we’re stuck on casting. I can’t decide if Margaret Cho, Roseanne or Anne Heche should play me. Personally, I prefer Anne, because of her whole Celestina persona. But she’s a blond and her “people” say she refuses to wear a wig. I ask you, what sort of actress is that? With that sort of “additude,” how does “Miss” Heche ever expect to win the People’s Choice Award?

 

I’m not sure what you mean by, ‘developing characters.’ Do people do that? With Play Dough? Or, is that like the Santeria / Voodoo Doll thing Michelle Pfieffer does in Stardust?

For characters and, you know, other inspirational “stuff,” I’m all about my Ouija Board. Ramtha is the only other writer I see working this way or, you know, to have been smart enough to realize, the afterlife’s chocked (chock?) filled (full?) with dead people who are so dead they’re quite literally, dying to tell their stories. This is the first I’ve talked about this, but I’m about to launch a 1-800-NOVEL-WRITE phone line (not to be confused with NaNO writing month.) For ten dollars, literary minded psychics will give you a three minute (not including connection time which, depending on demand, could be as high as twenty minutes) character from the beyond consultation.

 

On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?

I mix it up: I alternate between blowing bubbles at my cat, chasing dust motes around the sofa, eating, feeling fat, staring at the ceiling and — I’d say, “praying,” but closing my eyes, and slowing my breath always ends with me taking a nap. On slow days, when I’ve cleaned out E-Bay buying this one type of jacket I like (I have several hundred), I pick up the phone, and start calling random numbers out of the white pages. I doodle (happy looking flowers that always makes people ask, “Did Drew Barrymore draw that?!?”) and buying books I have no interest in reading (or, already own.)

 

And…Drawing or cutting lines?

I guess that wasn’t made clear: I don’t use razor blades or Bolivian anything. But in terms of Hopscotch? Yes, it’s true, I hold several titles. Everything being “equal” (nothing is), my Double Dutch Reign (’84 – ’87, mid-June), ended when Yolanda followed up on her threat, “I’m gon’ knock yo’ fking mouth out.” I also did some time on the ice: I was the Novice (Pacific Northwest, ’87, Fall) Bronze Medalist in the Jr. Jr. Ladies Competish. The only other line I can think you’re asking about is the “line” flicker switcher gig I had when I was doing manual labor, and worked in the electric department of Hollywood Squares.

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TOMAS MOURNIAN's fiction debut, hidden is based on his article about the little known world of underground safe houses for GLBT Youth. Mournian has written for The San Francisco Bay Guardian, Marie Claire, and Los Angeles, among others. Mournian was awarded the Eli Cantor Chair at Yaddo, studied at UC Berkeley and lives in Los Angeles.

2 responses to “Tomas Mournian: The TNB 
Self-Interview”

  1. […] a Rauschenberg inspired collage photo set. Excerpts below or, to read the complete interview, go here   TheNervousBreakdown.com […]

  2. […] essays (that I wrote, for free) for Y.A.R.N., The Advocate, and W.E.T.A.’s InReads and a self-interview for TheNervousBreakdown. How I blogged for Queerty.com (which paid – a whopping fifteen dollars per post.) Outside […]

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