Johnny Diaz is
experiencing what he calls "first-book jitters." It's
exactly one month before the national release of his debut
novel, Boston Boys Club, and he stumbles a bit when
asked what he thinks about the portrayal of
Hispanics--particularly openly gay Latinos--in pop
"Are there any
openly gay Hispanic portrayals in pop culture?" he
questions, curled over a cup of coffee in a crowded
cafe in the heart of Harvard Square in Cambridge,
Mass. How about the younger nephew in ABC's Ugly
Betty or even Ricky Martin? "Honestly, I can't
think of one portrayal of an openly gay Latino in
contemporary popular culture," Diaz explains. "It's like a
Latino code of silence. We know you're gay, but it's
in our machismo nature not to talk about it."
Diaz says he's
determined to depict a multifaceted professional Latino
who happens to be gay. "That's one of the reasons why I
wanted to write this book." he explains, wearing a
short-sleeved shirt during an unusually cold spring
day in Boston. He rubs his arms for warmth and
jokingly says he feels like a "Cuban popsicle" throughout
the interview. "Hispanics are always portrayed as
either street thugs, cleaning people, or as the
gardener. And the Latin gay guys I've seen are always
hot, overly sexualized tricks from Miami."
In Boston Boys
Club the former reporter for The Miami
Herald and current staff writer for The Boston
Globe follows a trio of friends as they search for
that perfect guy at an ultrahip boy bar in Boston, the
Club Cafe. While Diaz insists his story is a
fictionalized account of his life after moving from
Miami to Boston five years ago, the 34-year-old author
admits that he intertwines real-life locales (like the Club
Cafe, which is in Boston's South End),
events, and yes, people in Boston Boys Club.
character, Tommy Perez, covers Hispanic-related issues at a
paper similar to The Boston Globe," he says,
adding that his alter ego works at a pub called The
Boston Daily. "Tommy lives in Harvard Square,
and I used to live near Harvard Square."
character, Kyle, described as the lean, preening model and
former reality show star who makes a red-carpet entrance
into the club every Thursday as if a swarm of cameras
still follows his every move. The acclaimed journalist
claims that Kyle wasn't inspired by Dan Renzi, Diaz's
former boyfriend whose romance was chronicled on MTV's
Real World: Miami more than 10 years ago.
"Kyle is not
Dan," he shoots back. "There are a lot of former
reality stars out there who want to be models. The
characters in the book are all composites of people
I've met and known over the years."
Renzi, who has
relocated to Miami after spending years in Los Angeles,
laughs out loud when Kyle's background is described. "C'mon,
how many former reality stars does he know with
aspirations of being a model who ultimately becomes a
public speaker?" jokes Renzi. "I mean, the name of the
show Kyle was on in the book is called The Real
on-screen boyfriend says he likes the excerpts from
Boston Boys Club he's read so far. "We
talked about the book over the phone last night, and I still
love the guy to death. We'll always be friends.
However, there's the character and there's Kyle's
story line, and they're two different things. While the
description sounds a lot like me, the path he takes
throughout the course of the book has absolutely
nothing to do with me."
When asked if
people still recognize him from his Real World
relationship with Renzi, Diaz nods. "Yes, it still
follows me everywhere I go. When I see reruns of that
season I recognize my voice and my face. But I can't believe
it's me. I was only 23 years old back then...in my
first serious relationship...and it shows."
Cuban-American author believes the MTV reality series--which
featured the openly gay Pedro Zamora in The Real
World: San Francisco dealing with the ups and
downs of living with HIV--has lost its edge over the
years. "It has become a big AA convention," he muses.
"For me, the show lost its focus since Real World: New
Orleans. Back then it was less about looks,
getting drunk, and hooking up, and more about the cast and
While Diaz tries
to distance himself from his Real World past, he
embraces the comparisons critics are making with his
book to HBO's Sex and the City. "Move over
Candace Bushnell, Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and
Miranda; Tommy, Mikey, Rico and Kyle are on the scene.
Summer reading season is almost here and I can't think of a
better pre-season recommendation than Boston Boys
Club," writes Lisa Alvarado, author of The
Housekeeper's Diary and reviewer for the
Internet's Blogcritics Magazine.
love the show," he gushes. "With Boston Boys Club I
wanted to make a gay version of Sex and the
City, and I wanted to showcase gay Hispanics in a
recently moved to the Boston suburb of Dorchester, says his
goal is to create archetypal characters who tug on the
heartstrings and tap into that always universal search
for love. "I describe the book as a 'Same-Sex and the
City' because men and women of various backgrounds
related to that show, even though it was about four straight
women and their search for Mr. Right," he adds. "I
hope that readers who pick up Boston Boys Club
will relate to one of the characters, even if [those
characters are] gay or Hispanic."
For his second
novel--Miami Manhunt, slotted for
release in 2008--Diaz focuses on two Cuban-American
twins--one is a gay movie critic, and the other is a
straight English teacher. "The second book deals more
with family and the dualities associated with being a
gay Cuban-American. The structure is similar to Boston
Boys Club; it's all about the lead character's
search for love."
Has Diaz found
his Mr. Right? "Yes," he says with a smile. The
writer's Cuban-popsicle facade slowly starts to melt. "He's
very humble and doesn't like being in the spotlight.
But yes, I've found my Mr. Right."