So. Why Dorian Gray?
Because I have a disturbing weakness for the Victorian gothic, and if you’re playing in that wheelhouse, Dorian Gray is as queer as they come. Oscar Wilde was a genius, Dorian is his finest creation, and if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.
Putting Dorian’s love of beauty up against a disease that ravages that same beauty seems like the perfect vehicle to showcase his narcissism. How did you come up with that idea?
As per any writer brain, I jump from one interest to the next, and writing this happened to coincide with a fascination with AIDs-era San Francisco and the Castro. Put the immortal, ageless Dorian into that, and the contrast jumps right out. Gay culture has always had a thing about youth and beauty, and Dorian Gray sums it up rather succinctly; place that in a time when all those things were being cruelly taken away, and it’s even more tragic.
The repetitive lines about the appearance of the dying men serve to heighten Dorian’s obsession with looks as well as the desperation of that era. Can you tell us more about your thoughts on those?
Before I wrote the story, I’d watched the documentary We Were Here, and there was one part that stuck with me. One of the survivors talked about how, after burying one partner, he immediately launched into other relationships, which ultimately ended in death too. He said that, even though each new relationship might be cut short, the fleetingness of everything was what made them launch so much faster into the next relationship, and it became a cycle. That’s what the repetition was about: Dorian jumping to the next man, then the next and the next, and not looking back.
Dorian is actually somewhat dislikable from a moral standpoint, yet here he’s managing to be sympathetic as well. How did you manage to keep Dorian’s recognizable features while also making him your own?
Dorian sold his soul for immortality and left behind everyone he knew to die: I’m not sure likeable is the first thing on his mind. But I suppose in this story he’s just another survivor, portrait or not, through a terrible era, which makes him easier to understand. His guilt at the end is the same as described by many of the real-life survivors of the epidemic.
You’ve mentioned that this story is part of a series featuring Victorian gothic characters transposed into twenty-first century LGBT history. Can you tell us more about that?
“Part of a series” might be a strong description, as they’re still in the early stages of planning, but I’m in the process of shaping a collection to go alongside “Golden Hair.” Dracula knocking around Stonewall, Carmilla munching on suffragettes, a gender-swapped Spring-Heeled Jack, the Lost Boys in the trenches, Sherlock Holmes at the Hundred Guineas Club . . .
I know you do a lot of art and design as well. How does story affect your art and vice versa? Do you approach them the same or differently?
I’ve never thought of them being connected, but Golden Hair, Red Lips started with one image—the sign that read “there’s something out there”—and worked out from there, which is the same approach I take to design and art.
Got any forthcoming projects you’d like to tell us about?
After many, many years of procrastination I’ve finally completed the first draft of a novel—a sort of steampunk Victorian detective pastiche featuring Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Queen Victoria as the detective’s sidekicks. With any luck, that’ll be the next thing I shepherd into the world . . .
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