Authors Talk: Felice Picano and Mel Bossa on the Future of Books

By Neal Broverman

Originally published on Advocate.com April 25 2012 1:00 AM ET

We asked two of our favorite queer writers, legendary Violet Quill member Felice Picano (The Book of Lies), and bisexual Canadian scribe Mel Bossa (Suite Nineteen), to discuss the act of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Both had interesting things to say about the future of the printed word, with Picano talking about the excitement he still feels about putting a book out — he has two new ones this year, Twelve O’Clock Tales and Wonder City of the West — even after publishing bestsellers and winning the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award in 2009. Bossa, a Montreal-based mother of three, discussed why as a woman she finds male characters easier to construct, and compares the act of writing to doing opium.

Felice Picano: I’m told we are in a “post-literate age” in which books, magazines, and newspapers aren’t important. Yet, you Mel, a younger person, are committed to writing books. Why?

Mel Bossa: We’re changing the way we relate to one and other, and maybe even transforming our world through social networking and blogs, but I believe that just as some children still draw with crayons on paper even though they can pop a disc in a Wii and draw by swinging a stick through the air, some people will always be inclined to read books, no matter what other diversion the world throws at them. Actually, I think the crazier the world is going to get, the more solitude and reading will seem appealing. But, I’m a dreamer and an idealist. Why do I write? Why do I do it to myself? Well, writing to me is a little like chasing the dragon is to an opium addict. I don't enjoy most of the chase, but when I sit back after a writing session and realize I don't even know what songs were playing in my headphones for the last three hours and have no idea how I wrote the scene... That's the perfect hit for me. So I keep returning to it, hoping it will happen again.

Bossa: When you first started out, writing gay fiction, Felice, it was much more political. You belonged to a small group of men and women who published, and thus recorded history.

Picano: Yes. Publishing a GLBT book was a political act: rebellious and dissident when I began. I did the first book tour by a queer in 1979 and they hired bodyguards. What did they expect? Protests? Assassins? Mainstream reviews of The Lure, asked “How dare you write this positive view of gay life?” Being a queer writer was to be utterly fearless or go under.

Picano: But hey, Mel, why do you write mostly male characters?

Bossa: I’ve never had a woman character possess my mind and spirit yet. Writing about men, and especially queer men, is liberating, challenging, sexy, and completely addictive. The male characters are little fragments of my personality I had to tame in order to meet my gender’s expectations. Writing men is slowly putting me back together. FELICE PICANO MEL BOSSA X390 (PROVIDED) | ADVOCATE.COMPicano: Mel, younger friends say labels like gay, straight, bi,
etc. are passe, too limiting and even kind of Identi-Kit. Do you agree?

Bossa:
I’m not afraid of losing my identity because I've had to protect, hide,
nurture and try to understand it for so long, that no one could ever
steal it away from me. When I absolutely need to define myself in a
particular situation, I’ll say that I am queer or bisexual. As far as my
writing goes, I'll let the readers label it. Some call it gay fiction,
or bi fiction, or M/M fiction, and all those tags are fine with me.

Bossa: Felice, you have two books coming out this year. After all this time, do you still feel as excited about a book coming out?

Picano:
Each book I’ve written is an experiment. I know people like my “strange
stories,” so the BSB title, Twelve O’Clock Tales, should do well. The
short novel from L.A.’s Modernist Press, titled Wonder City of the West,
is unlike anything I’ve done, a fantasy set in 1935 Hollywood. I’m
curious what the reactions will be.

Picano: What inspires you, Mel?

Bossa:
Music. I have soundtracks for every one of my books... I also do
volunteer work for a crisis center and schools, so I meet many people
and do a lot of active listening. This fills the well of my imagination,
but more importantly, it keeps me connected to reality, which in the
end, is what I need to write good fiction.

Bossa:
What kind of books would you like to see more of in the coming years?

Picano:

I’d like to see more GLBT sci-fi and fantasy. Sci-fi writers in the
’60’s and ’70’s did a lot with “other” sexualities. Since then it’s gone
backwards—pandering to tweens! My 1995 sci-fi novel, Dryland’s End, is
either loved or hated because it deals with sexual and gender issues
intrinsic to the future. It’s set in a Super-Techno-Matriarchy. In its
sequel, a teenage boy is impregnated against his will for political
reasons and must flee and discover why. I fucking dare someone to
publish it.

Visit FelicePicano.net for more information on Picano, and MelBoss.WordPress.com to read more on Bossa.