I love chatting with my friend Caraway Carter. Our conversations are always freewheeling adventures about life, love, books, and adventure. I was thrilled that I finally landed him on the show to talk about a book I’ve heard him refer to many times over the years: “Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin.
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Books discussed in this episode:
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
The Marvel Universe movies in order
Star Wars the Machete order
Great British Baking Show
Prince of Hearts by Caraway Carter in 1001 Dark Nights Book
Fated Mates Podcast
Tales of the City the Series
Hearts Repaired by Caraway Carter
Queer As Folk
Band Sinister by KJ Charles
Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney
The Eighth Night by CC
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EPISODE 041 TRANSCRIPT
Hello, Bookworms, welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where we talk about your favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today I’m so pleased to talk to my friend Caraway Carter. Caraway has worn numerous hats during his life. He’s been a furniture salesman, a dresser, a costumer, an actor, a rabble-rouser, a poet, and he’s currently a writer of relationship fiction that reminds his readers that it’s never too late for love. He lives that tagline since he married his husband on Halloween at the age of 49. Talking with Caraway is always a wild ride. And I am thrilled I finally got him on the show to talk about why “Tales of the City” by Armistead Maupin is the Best Book Ever.
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JULIE STRAUSS: Hi, Caraway. Welcome to the Best Book Ever Podcast.
CARAWAY CARTER: It’s great to be here.
JS: It has seemed to me, through the pandemic, that you have really maintained a level of creative production that most people are not managing. What is inspiring you to remain so creative lately?
CC: I wasn’t creative for, I would say, until about May. I mean, we watched every MCU movie and we watched the entirety of Babylon Five. We watched all of Babylon Five and some days we would just go out at noon and watch like seven episodes in a day because what else are you going to do? I mean, you couldn’t go anywhere. Right? So we watched all of that. We watched the Machete order of star Wars Universe. I dunno. It’s a very weird order, but it worked really, really well. So we watched all of those. And then we started watching home shows. And baking shows, the great British Baking Show. And then we watched all of Nadiya’s show, the first show. And then we watched all of Home Town. And so we started just watching a ton of TV and we just were just watching TV and then I got sick. And then, um, Alexis Rourke, said you should write a short story for this anthology. And I said, uh, I’m not really writing anything. And she goes, well, I think you should really write this. And I thought, well, it’s probably, they’re not going to pick it because it’s a gay story. And it was called Prince of Hearts. It fits into my “Professions of Love” series.
JS: Do you think it’s all that input? I’m using Becca Syme language here, but do you think it’s all that input you had at the beginning of the pandemic? What do you think has been causing you to be so creative and productive? Where so many people have absolutely just stopped in their work lately.
CC: What I realize is, my adaptability… So I’m not working anymore. I’m focusing on my writing. It lets me escape. It lets me finally do what I never had the chance to do because I would work for eight hours a day. Then I’d spend, I was actually out of the house, like, 10 to 12 hours a day because driving to work, working, driving home from work traffic both ends. And then I’d get home. We’d go out to dinner and then I’d have no time to write and then I’d go to bed and then do it all over again. I only had Fridays and Saturdays to write. Um, so when I got furloughed, I wrote something the next day. [I wrote] Well, I’ve been furloughed, so I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’m going to watch a lot of TV. Then I started noticing things and then I just slowly progressed and it picked up and I just found myself writing something every single day. Once it just started rolling it’s like, everyday I would wake up and say, Oh, I have to write something. And they varied. Sometimes they were super political. Sometimes they were super stressed out. I actually have had tons of people say, Oh, my God. I look forward to reading your shelter in place every day. My day is incomplete if I don’t read your shelter in place. And that has encouraged me to continue writing it. So I think that once I found out that my short story got accepted into the anthology, I got a kick in the ass and I said, okay. They, they liked this story. Hearing back from other people made me just more excited about writing more stuff. And so it just snowballed and ideas just kept coming into my head and I write them down now.
JS: Tell me about your reading life. What is it like, and has it changed in pandemic times?
CC: It has. I actually, I got on a huge Kresley Cole kick? Do you ever listen to those or read them? I’ve been listening to them. The guy’s accent for the majority of them is, he’s got like a Scottish brogue and his voice is like butter. It’s like so sexy. And so like, yeah, I listened to like 15 of them. I was following the Fated Mates Podcast. And so I would read it, I’d listen to it and then they would talk about it the next week and then they would discuss. And so I went through that with them. Then I started listening to Jess Michaels, who has good books. Lately, I’ve been reading a ton of craft books.
JS: When you read craft books, do you also listen to those on audio or paper?
CC: One that really helped me a lot was 2K to 10K. So I was reading it and I was listening to it. Um, the book that we’re talking about, I read it 30 years ago, so I got the audio so I could listen to the audio of it. And so I was reading and listening along.
JS: How did you originally find this book that we’re talking about today? “Tales of the City.”
CC: So there was a gay bookstore in West Hollywood in the, I want to say, the early eighties. And it was like the first gay bookstore I’d been in. It was like the first gay book I picked up that I really fell in love with. And I read them, I swear, I, every week I would go out and get the next copy. I remember just running through them, reading them. I worked at the Beverly center in West Hollywood at that time. I was taking the bus in from Covina. Cause I lived in Covina, California. I didn’t have a car. And I had gotten a job at the Beverly center because I wanted to be gay and out do all those things. I went there and I got the book and I would read it on the bus to and from work. I just loved it. I wanted that lifestyle and I never was that kind of person. I was, I think there was a scene in the book where that’s towards the end, where Michael says something about how he’s got a fat ass and so he’s not gay. And Brian says, you guys know he’s got a fat ass, gays with fat asses don’t go out. And that was me. I was a fat guy who just didn’t feel acceptable. Cause in the eighties it was all about size. And I was, I’ve always been a large guy. I did go through a period where I lost a hundred pounds and I was super thin. I had more sex when I was fat. So I didn’t stay thin very long.
JS: It wasn’t a good pay off, then!
CC: Yeah. I felt good. I looked good, but I was actually, my friend said you’re an asshole.
JS: Yeah, because you were hungry all the time!
JS: So was the appeal of it, on your first read-through, was it that you had not seen that idealized lifestyle in print before? Or was it, did you really feel like it was that well-written?
CC: I think what I liked about it is this has a layer of mystery in it, and it has a layer of romance in it, and it has a layer of dirtiness and pot and just all this other stuff that is just so unique. It was like something that I had never read before. It was like he was talking to me like I was really involved in these people’s lives. When I was doing research on the book I found out that the book, the first book Tales of the City was actually a series of articles. Which is why each of the chapters are so small because it was a serial that was released in first in the Marin paper and then the San Francisco Chronicle picked it up. Every week he just posted something. And then he said that based on what people sent him, he would change stories or he would change the story based around what other people sent.
JS: If you were to describe this book, how would you summarize it for someone who had never read it?
CC: I would say it’s a slice of life in the seventies.
JS: How did you feel about re-reading it? Have you re-read it at all since the first time you read it 30 years ago?
CC: I did. I, uh, I read it to my husband, who is not up on pop culture and is younger than me and is autistic. So, it took, it was hard for him to grasp a lot of it because the chapters don’t flow. It’s like, this character’s life, and then this person’s life. It’s almost like a George RR Martin. And then each chapter is a different person. But yeah, I mean, I’ve read it a lot when I – it’s like home. It’s like, I’m picking it up and it reminds me of, that time, you know? I was a little bit disappointed in the mini-series that Netflix show that came on because it didn’t feel like the first book to me. Does that make sense?
JS: Well, I haven’t seen it. I was going to ask you that and I haven’t seen the series. But felt very, very familiar. There was something very California, 70s hippie that was just very, very familiar to me. And so I was curious if they were able to capture that in the series.
CC: I think I watched one or two episodes and was just like, this doesn’t feel like it for me. And I didn’t really like Mary Ann and that one as much as I liked during the other ones. I didn’t remember her being such a horrible person.
JS: Do you like her in the book?
CC:I love her in the book that I love Mary Ann because Mary Ann has that adventure quality that I always wished I could run away. I have run away. I ran away. I sold everything I owned to move to New York once and I lasted for, like four weeks, three weeks. And then I took a bus down to Florida where my family lived and I said, Hey, if I ever was to be in Florida for vacation to think I could stop by? And they said, sure. And I said, Okay, I’m at the bus station. Then I stayed in Florida for a few months and realized how horrible that was. And then I gave back to California. So I’ve, um, you know, in my life I’ve been a lot of places.
JS: Were you always chasing this Mary Ann experience? Yeah, I think so. I think I always wanted, I always wanted to find a place where I felt comfortable, where it felt like I belonged. And actually I finally, where I live now, I really feel like I belong here. I live in Bixby Knolls in Long Beach.
JS: Is finding your place a function of Bixby Knolls, or is it just a function of being the age that you are and finding your partner? Does it matter where you live?
CC: I think so. I think place is an important thing. I have lived in places where I didn’t feel comfortable. It is a very progressive city. Our mayor’s gay, and it’s just a very comfortable place to be. I just like it. And it’s like a small town, you know?
JS: I love books that can convey that sense of very special, very small sense of belonging in a vast place. And I really thought you get that in this book.
CC: And then that’s when I really realized that, I write – my husband said the same thing – I’ve always written a little like Armistead Maupin in that I love writing sagas. Like, big stories with lots of characters. But I write super sexy. Like on the first page of my first book, “Hearts Repaired,” a blowjob happens like three paragraphs later. I say that my books, my Professions of Love series is like “Tales of the City” meets “Queer as Folk.” Because “Queer As Folk” was all about the sex and all of the, you know, the party stuff and all the weird stuff. And “Tales of the City” is about how it’s such a large city and yet everybody knows everybody. What I love about “Tales of the City” is how small of a world it really is. I mean, it is even our lives. Uh, I call my husband, my Husbear. He was reading his old Live Journal posts to me the other night and saw that I commented on a post he wrote five years before we met each other.
JS: Oh my God.
CC: Yeah. So it’s just like, weird how close people can be. When I look at Facebook and I see who people are friends with. How’s that possible, you know? It’s just so weird to me.
JS: It’s interesting that you market your books, that the tagline is “Tales of the City” meets “Queer as Folk.” Because the other thing I was thinking as I was reading “Tales of the City,” I think I might’ve read it in college. It sure felt familiar as I was reading, I remember back in college thinking like it was kind of known as a shocking book.
CC: Oh, well, I can see that a little bit.
JS: But reading through it this time I was going, what was the big deal? And I do remember the controversy when the initial series came out, that it was protested a lot because it was so shocking and Oh my God reading it now, you just think, we were uptight back in those days. Cause it’s not a big deal. Okay. That cocaine is bad. I get that. And that child, the guy who was a child porn guy, that’s very bad.
CC: They were more worried about the homosexuality in it. When he was writing it he had a contract that had a list of all of the gay characters in the stories and he couldn’t have more than so many of them. I read that in a Wikipedia article where he said, yeah, they had a list where he couldn’t go over this number of gay characters, which is why not all of the story is about Michael. But I think the thing I really loved about it too, was it showed so many different levels. It showed lesbians, it showed gays, it showed bisexual people. It showed, you know, that men could be, whores. And why are you calling that woman a whore? I just finished with a scene where Brian was looking for somebody to go to a party with and, you know, he dated a mother and a daughter. But I remember when the series was coming out and people were protesting because people didn’t like gay people. And we have come so far from them. Where now I don’t think, I think that that’s why when they did the new series, they really had to introduce different aspects of stuff because we’re open about it now, but I could see. Yeah, where I was shocked when I read it. And now I’m not as shocked by anything. I was like, when I went, when I watched Bridgerton and I was like, Oh my God, what’s he doing to her on the stairs? You know? And I was like, and then I remember I loved it. I think it’s a wonderful show. And I did, I understand that one scene, but.
Somebody challenged me to write a Regency novel and, um, somebody from the Plague of Players, who’s British, gave me who I should write about. So he goes, you should write about these people. And so sometimes I’ve been reading some Regency stuff.
JS: Do you know KJ Charles?
CC: Yes. I know people always suggest KJ Charles to me. I follow KJ on Twitter and I’m super intrigued. Sometimes I run into, well, I don’t want to read their stuff because I don’t want their stuff to end up in my stuff.
JS: Keep KJ Charles, on the back burner for once you finish your Regency because, I’ve only read “Band Sinister” and it was honestly one of the best books I’ve ever read. Oh my God, it was so good. And I had never heard of her before. And since then I see her on people’s top 10 lists all the time. She is phenomenal, but I totally get that if you’re about to, yeah. You wouldn’t want to do that because I think it really happens. I think you pick up a style. That’s an exercise we used to do in writing classes, when I was in college. You know, for one hour you were supposed to literally just type, looking at a book you like, and type it word for word. And then close that book and then write your own thing. And then you would have, you would write in the style of that author.
CC: I mean, I think I write a little like Armistead Maupin, I think I write a little like John Sanford, who writes mysteries? My four favorite authors are John Sanford, who writes the Prey novels. It’s a mystery series. Samuel R. Delaney, uh, who writes science fiction. Um, I write a lot of my characters are a lot like Samuel R. Delaney characters. Armistead Maupin. And Laura Antiniou. And so I read a little bit of their stuff. I have like, Samuel Delaney was huge in the sixties. And I have a lot of paperbacks. I went into used bookstores. So I have like three of the same book, but they all have different covers. I’m a little bit obsessed. And then when I found out that Laura Antiniou knows Samuel R. Delaney, that blew me away. I wrote this, um, this, uh, I don’t know if I can talk about it,
JS: You have said that so many times!
CC: I know. That’s who I am. I wrote this Jewish secret admirer Hanukkah book called “The Eighth Night.” And in the book, the main character is reading this book called “Dahlgren,” which is by Samuel R. Delaney. The thing that’s super interesting about Dahlgren is that the first sentence of the first chapter is the end of the sentence of the last chapter. So the last line of the last chapter of the book is the beginning of – yes. And so, he says, uh, Oh, you’re you’re reading “Dahlgren.” And he goes, yeah, I am. And, and the guy goes, Oh, I love that book too. And then I have the guy who’s reading the book say the last sentence of the book, right? The beginning. And he goes for you, you know, that’s the end of the beginning of this. And he goes, I know that’s, what’s so cool about it. So anyways, that was like 13 words. For that whole sentence. And so I contacted Samuel R. Delaney, and I said, I really, really want to put this sentence in this book because I think it’ll really connect the two guys, it’s their Meet-Cute. And we talked on the phone, he called me and we talked about it. And he said, yeah, I’m fine with you doing that. So the only people who would really grok it, who would get it, are science fiction readers who know who Samuel Delaney is. The way it reads, it could just be something I made up. But if you read the books, then it’s something cool. But no one’s ever picked up on it. No, one’s told me anything about it and I don’t, there’s nowhere, nowhere on the advertising of the book.
JS: I love stories like that, where established authors are super generous. I love hearing that.
CC: I put him in the dedication: to Samuel whose writing has taken me places I wish existed. And whose words helped me in my main characters find their connection.
JS: Oh, I love it. That makes me so happy. Um, will you tell my listeners all the places where they can find you?
CC: I’m at Carawaycarter.com.
JS: I want to thank you for joining me today and for getting me to read this book, which I love so much. I had so much fun reading and, it’s been so fun talking to you. I hope you will come back next time. Anytime you have a book you want to talk about.
CC: I will. Now I’m going to make you read a mystery next.
JS: Yay. I love mysteries.
CC: Okay, cool. We’ll figure something out next year.
JS: Thank you, Caraway.
CC: Thank you, Julie. Have a wonderful day.
Thanks for listening, Bookworms. For more information on this episode and links to all the books we discussed, please go to our website BestBookEverPodcast.com, or follow the podcast on Instagram @BestBookEverPodcast. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and you can find me everywhere @JulieWroteABook. Remember when you’re doing your book shopping, please help support indie bookstores and this podcast by using my affiliate link at Bookshop.com/Bestbookever.
Thank you for joining me today and I will see you at the library.