Chris Adrian, the author behind The Great Night, recently visited the KQED studios to record an episode of The Writers' Block, which will be released next week (listen to his episode). Until then, get to know him a little better with this Q+A, in which he talks about the magic of San Francisco and the inspiration he found in Buena Vista Park.
Your latest novel, The Great Night, takes on the Bard's A Midsummer Night's Dream. What sparked your interest in tackling that specific material?
Chris Adrian: I had wanted to try retelling a Shakespeare play as a novel for a long time, but could never choose from his abundance of riches, or figure out what my contribution would be to make it worth appropriating something from him; it always seemed like I would need to have something urgent to tell that would fit necessarily into one of his stories. Then I moved to San Francisco, and was consistently exposed to Buena Vista Park. I had to walk through on the way to and from work usually, and it's not a very long stretch of the imagination to think of it as a place where magic might happen, especially at dusk and dawn when, shrouded by fog or bathed in a particular lovely sort of light, it is frankly magical-looking. Finally, I had a relationship fall apart in just the right way that made it suddenly urgent and necessary to write about love and A Midsummer Night's Dream was the perfect vehicle, and Buena Vista Park the perfect setting, for the story I wanted and needed to tell.
Figuratively speaking, is there another play, novel, or album you wouldn'tmind reinterpreting or reappropriating?
CA: There are a couple Dead Can Dance albums that I think would make nice children's books. Though only for particular sorts of children.
The backbone of this novel is Buena Vista Park, a virtual forest smack inthe middle of San Francisco. What compelled you to build a story around that particular location?
CA: The striking otherworldly beauty of the place was compelling as was the fact that it has traditionally been a container for secret and illicit activity. Part of my affection for the place, like my affection for San Francisco as a whole, is inspired by its role as that sort of container, and it was nice to write about the park and the city also just because I love them.
What are some other SF spots that strike you as magical or noteworthy?
CA: Gee, most of the city. And it seems like there are always new physical locations to discover -- partially hidden stairways or weird groves of trees or bald little hills. And there are places that are not necessarily physically magical or noteworthy, but are made that way by the people who gather in them. Drag salsa dancing in an otherwise unremarkable Mission backyard comes to mind.
Being a writer, a student at Harvard Divinity School, and a pediatrician, it seems as though you're living multiple lives. If you had to imagine yourpast incarnation, where and when would you have existed and what would youhave been doing there?
CA: Some kind of 18th century pirate or monk, I think. Or both, if that's at all possible.
You've said in the past that the events of September 11th hijacked yourimagination. What's taking over your brain these days?
CA: I think that was probably a permanent hijacking, but there's been a continued imaginative fallout about the ways personal morality shapes or is shaped by national morality. Also, magic ponies.
In an interview with McSweeney's, you mentioned that you had a crush on Thomas Jefferson. If you could arrange three crush-worthy historical figures to fight for your hand, who would they be and why?
CA: John Calvin, because maybe if I made out with him I would finally understand him. Peggy Guggenheim because she sounds so smart and fun and also because that would be like getting a permanent Guggeneheim. And Teddy Roosevelt because he's such a handsome little bear. But instead of them fighting for my hand, we would all live in polyamorous harmony.
What was your coming out experience like?
CA: Very late! I came out when I moved to San Francisco, where it was a little like revealing to everyone that my hair and eyes are brown.
Was there anyone you looked up to as a queer icon, while you were growing up?
CA: I was so closeted as a kid I barely knew how to identify a gay icon, so perhaps the closest I had to that was Jaime Sommers. She wasn't gay, but I knew even when I was six years old that I wanted to be her instead of Steve Austin, her bionic male counterpart, that I wanted to have a receptive, all-hearing bionic ear instead of a penetrating, all-seeing bionic eye, and that she had something he lacked, something I wanted to have myself, namely fabulousness.
What's the last album you fell in love with?
CA: Kate Bush's Aerial.
You're on stage at a karaoke bar. What are you singing?
"Feelings." But it's the Jaime Sommers' version from Bionic Beauty and I am wearing her dress.
What was your first concert?
CA: A Frank Sinatra concert with my parents when I was fourteen. I fell asleep.
If you could live inside one movie, which would it be and why?
CA: The Never-Ending Story. For the Luck Dragon.
Look for Chris Adrian's episode of The Writers' Block next Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at kqed.org/writersblock. And be sure not to miss each episode as it becomes available by subscribing to The Writers' Block podcast!