Queer humor, queer joy, and living a beautiful life with Clark Carlton and Robert Rodi

Hello!

Today we meet Clark Carlton and Robert Rodi!

Our guest is novelist, playwright, and producer Clark Carlton. You may know him from his sci-fi/fantasy novel Prophets of the Ghost Ants which launched his Antasy series.

Our featured author is Robert Rodi who has published seven novels, and he also writes comic books, nonfiction, as well as a spoken-word performer and jazz singer.

We’re talking about the book that saved Clark’s life: Fag Hag by Robert Rodi.

Fag Hag is a cult classic. Set in Chicago, the novel is about Natalie who is obsessed with her gay best friend Peter. When Natalie’s attempts to sabotage Peter’s new relationship with the love of his life, Natalie is forced to resort to … let’s say extreme measures.

Connect with Clark and Robert

twitter: @clarktcarlton
website: clarkthomascarlton.com

website: robertrodi.com
Facebook: @RobertRodi

Buy The Books We Featured On This Episode

Visit our Bookshop or buy Fag Hag directly: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9781469953168

For Robert’s Merry Men: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9781620105474

Parallel U: Freshmen Year (written by Robert under the name Dakota Rusk)

Parallel U: Sophomore Year (written by Robert under the name Dakota Rusk)

Become an Associate Producer!

Become an Associate Producer of our podcast through a $20/month sponsorship on Patreon! A professionally recognized credit, you can gain access to Associate Producer meetings to help guide our podcast into the future! Get started today: patreon.com/thisqueerbook

Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Stephen D., Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.

Quatrefoil Library

Quatrefoil has created a curated lending library made up of the books featured on our podcast! If you can’t buy these books, then borrow them! Link: https://libbyapp.com/library/quatrefoil/curated-1404336/page-1

Transcript

[theme music]

J.P. Der Boghossian: Welcome to the podcast This Queer Book Saved My Life!

My name is J.P. Der Boghossian. I’m a writer, LGBTQ health educator, Lambda Literary fellow, and founder of the Queer Armenian Library.

This is the podcast where lgbtq guests share the queer books that saved their lives with the very authors who wrote them. Why? Because I believe that through these life-giving stories, we’re connecting to this exciting, and messy, and sometimes scary, but also loving queer world of ours.

What are we exploring today? What’s that feeling when you’re reading all these LGBTQ books and they are honest and intense and poignant, but you’re not getting a lot of positivity? And then, someone recommends a new novel to you and its real, and raw, and nobody dies, and it celebrates how we live really beautiful lives?

My guest is novelist, playwright, and producer Clark Carlton. You may know him from his sci-fi/fantasy novel Prophets of the Ghost Ants which launched his Antasy series.

We’re talking about the book that saved his life: Fag Hag by Robert Rodi.

And Robert is here with us for the conversation.

Fag Hag is a cult classic for sure. Set in Chicago, the novel is about Natalie who is obsessed with her gay best friend Peter. When Natalie’s attempts to sabotage Peter’s new relationship with the love of his life, Natalie is forced to resort to … let’s say extreme measures. 

Robert published the novel in 1992, and in addition to his other six novels, Robert also writes comic books, nonfiction, and is a spoken-word performer and jazz singer.

This is our Season 3 finale and it is a delight. Stay tuned to the end of the episode for what’s coming up this summer now that our season is concluding, but right now: Welcome to This Queer Book Saved My Life!

[theme music]

J.P.: Hi Clark, thanks for being here.

Clark Carlton: Good to see you.

J.P.: Good to see you, and Robert, Hi, how are you?

Robert Rodi: I am great. Thanks for asking.

J.P.: Thank you both for being here. A quick shout out to our promotional sponsor, Quatrefoil Library. They are an LGBTQ library and event space in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. They are one of my favorites, especially because they have set up a section of their e-lending library for our podcast. So if you can’t buy the books we talk about on the show, you can still read them. We’re including links in the show notes, and as always, visit them at qlibrary.org. Okay, in past episodes when I’ve said that guests have done all the things, that kind of pales in comparison to both of you. I guess I want to ask questions like, How do you sleep? But I guess we can start with simple introductions. So Clark, tell us about yourself, screenwriter, reality TV producer, author, share it all.

Clark: Well, but truthfully, you know, I made most of my living working in other kinds of jobs. Writing has just been that thing where you make money once in a while, you gotta have a backup.

J.P. So you’ve done MORE? Oh my gosh.

Clark: I absolutely have. So I hold the world’s record for seeing Schindler’s List over 400 times, which was related to a post-production job I had for many, many years. For years I was a chef at Project Angel Food in Los Angeles, where we provided meals to people who were homebound with AIDS and other threatening illnesses.

I currently make most of my money as a property manager, flipping houses, that kind of thing. So I love to tell you that I had this brilliant career as a writer and made millions of dollars, but it would be a lie. Still,  I love writing and reading. I loved reading Rob’s book back in 1992. I’m still writing now and still getting books out there.

J.P.: Love it. Thank you for that. And Robert, fiction, nonfiction, comic book, spoken word, jazz singer, rock and roll front man, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Robert: Well, you know, Clark and I are older, so we’ve had more time to accomplish these things. Quite a bit more time than you have, I suspect.

J.P.: But still…

Robert: But still, it’s just, as a writer for a long time, I had the freedom to pursue whatever I wanted to pursue. I spent a year on the canine agility circuit,  competing with one of my dogs, and ended up writing a book about that. I spent some time. in Italy, getting to know the city of Siena and their bareback horse race culture. Then I ended up writing a book about that. It all seems to sort of feed into the writing. Lately I’ve had, because of the change in our society since we’ve had successive Republican administrations, I’ve had to go back to work nine to five. But I work in Television. There have been many books written about TV but not one of mine yet at all.

Clark: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Robert: It feeds the writing.

J.P.: What kind of dogs do you have?

Robert: I have two Collies and two Shelties. It’s like the same dog in four separate sizes, like Russian nesting dolls for dogs.

J.P.: A question I like to ask guests and authors when they come on the show because I love seeing how this answer plays out in the conversation we have.  Clark and Robert, what were your most impactful stories that you read growing up? What were those stories, either in books or movies or TV, that really kind of shaped who you were? Clark, I guess you want to go first?

Clark: My favorite book after all this time is still The Catcher in the Rye.

J.P. Der Boghossian: Oh.

Clark I think what that book really comes down to is it’s about someone who is very reluctant to leave childhood, who’s very reluctant to completely break with innocence. Someone who’s over sensitive to all the personas that people are going to project as they become adults and navigate through life. It’s one of those books I used to reread almost every year, I haven’t in a while, but it still speaks very strongly to me. Then the other one, because I’m a science fiction person, is Dune, which is most science fiction readers favorite science fiction novel. Just It’s incredibly original and inspiring, trippy and very psychedelic. It feeds into my need for visions and escaping to someplace else besides boring suburbs. Those are the two.

J.P.: What’s your take on the new movie?

Clark: I absolutely respect it and I enjoyed it. I also like the David Lynch version very much. It’s very flawed, but it’s also just very beautiful. It’s a strange, weird movie. I’d actually seen it before I’d read Dune. So it made me have to read the book and find out what the hell was really going on. Since then, it’s one of the few book series where I’ve… read just about all of them. I don’t know how many they’re up to now, about 20. They’re the ones that Herbert’s son co-wrote with another author. I enjoy most of them.

J.P.: Yeah, there’s a lot. That’s great. Thank you. Robert, how about for you?

Robert: I just want to say first that Clark, I didn’t know that Dune was that big an influence on you, but now I can see that it is because Clark has written a few of his own novels that involve the same kind of world building. What do you call it? Prophets of the Ghost Ants? Is that correct? 

Clark: Correct. Yeah.

Robert: I highly recommend those for lovers of Dune.* As for me, when I was in grade school, I read a short story by Shirley Jackson called One Ordinary Day with Peanuts. and it completely rewired my brain. I won’t say more than that. You have to read this story. It melted my brain and then remade it. I spent most of my adolescence reading everything that Shirley Jackson ever did and just falling in love with the idea of this commonplace suburban world actually being populated by freaks and ghosts.  I mean, they are basically us: just the horror of everyday life. I’ve never actually written anything like that myself. I try to, but it always comes out as comedy. She was a big influence on me.

J.P.: One Ordinary Day with Peanuts by Shirley Jackson, okay.

Robert: Yes.

Clark: God, I just read a bunch of her stories and I haven’t gotten to that one yet, so I’ll definitely read that.

Robert: It’s a short story.

J.P.: So is it published independently or is it part of a collection?

Robert: It’s in a collection. I can’t remember which one.

J.P: Okay, we’ll look it up and we’ll include it..

Robert:  I may have oversold it because if you know her idiom at all, you’ll probably see what’s coming. But I had no idea. I mean, it’s basically the same sort of structure as the lottery where at the end you’re like, whoa!

J.P.: Okay, well we will include that on our bookshop page.

Robert: Oh, wonderful.

J.P.: We include links to books that we talk about on the show.  I’m going to include that in there. Okay, well, Clark, do tell us what was the book that saved your life?

Clark: The book that saved my life was Robert Rodie’s Fag Hag. It’s not that there weren’t some very good Gay books out there. There’s one which I completely revere. I don’t think Rob’s a fan of it, but it was called Dancer from the Dance and it was by Andrew Holleran. That guy is a brilliant writer and he completely captured the loneliness of Gay life. *Rod captured some things in Fag Hag. This guy captured the obsession with male beauty that is so prevalent in Gay subculture. The book ultimately was not a celebration of Gay life. Not at all. It was, you know, 350 pages of grievances.* But it was truthful and it’s a book that still haunts me to this day. I mean, it was just so lonely and it’s a theme that he carried, hollering, through his other books. It’s amazing. In the end, ultimately I felt like, wow, there’s really nothing very positive here, you know. There were some other books as teenagers. I don’t know. I’m sure Rob has read The Front Runner, but that was like this book that we, as closeted teenage Gay guys, we passed around to each other. There were some positive portraits of Gay people in there, but spoiler alert, one of the characters is killed in the end, you know? Then around the same time, I loved Larry Kramer’s play, The Normal Heart, just a brilliant play. He had written this book, Faggots, which was not unlike Holleran’s work. It was a depiction of the excesses of Gay life and of what it was like to live in Manhattan in the late 70s and on Fire Island. It was just this tempest of multiple people having endless sex with each other and this obsession with that. I think the fact that he called the novel Faggots said everything about. how he felt about it.

Not much positivity, not at all. I mean, I was waiting for this book to come out and then there were others, you know like Swimming Pool Libraries. There was a touch of self-loathing in all of them. It was coming out of an atmosphere where we really hadn’t embraced acceptance. We were just getting there. Then a friend of mine, when I was working as a chef at Project Angel Food, was telling me about this funny book that he read, and it was called Fag Hag. I just thought, wow, that’s just audacious just to call it Fag Hag, you know. Even then we were having  a conversation about it, and I said, well, it’s called Fag Hag. I mean, it’s like, I thought we weren’t supposed to use that expression anymore. Even now, people ask this question, like, what are we supposed to call these women who are women who love men, who love men? What are we supposed to call them? We went with fruit fly for a while. It was just a reality and Rob depicted that reality. We all know that woman. We’ve all met someone like that, you know? But the thing about the book was that there was a pathos to her situation, but it was funny. It was this depiction of Gay life, which was the most realistic one I had read. And it wasn’t about how terrible it all was. There were Gay characters that were, functional and living a good life and self-respecting and it’s The first Gay book where the couple who were involved end up together And stayed together! It didn’t end tragically. One of them didn’t kill himself or kill the other one. So it was just great. It was, you know, we’re here, we’re Queer. It’s not a bad thing. It’s really pretty good. There’s a lot of advantages to it. We’re beautiful. We can live the beautiful life. That was really, really refreshing. It was just wonderful.

J.P.: Robert, how would you describe Fag Hag? What’s the plot without giving away too many spoilers for folks. How would you describe it?

Robert: It’s told from the point of view of the woman in the title, Natalie, who is in love with her best friend Peter, who is a Gay man. The first part of the book shows how she has worked out a system of completely subverting and ruining every single relationship that he gets involved in until he meets… and this was something that I also wanted to do, I wanted to do a few things that no one had done before. I wanted to make the Gay romantic hero that he eventually falls in love with completely unlikely. So he’s this conservative gun owner who is so alien to Natalie’s experience that every trick she uses to try to break them up backfires and they end up together. She goes to extreme measures to win Peter: extra legal measures. There’s a crescendo and a climactic confrontation.

Clark: Yeah, and no spoilers, but it really does have  this great build. I think one of the more interesting characters is that sort of negative guy that you would see in these previous novels  named Will. He’s that vicious queen who comes to every party and has to insult everyone and do it in a very underhanded way, which is even more lethal. It’s really interesting to see what happens to him towards the climax

Robert: He sort of wandered into the novel from the boys in the band!

J.P.: Oh no!

Robert: He never found his way out again!!

J.P.: But we all know that person as well.

Clark: We do know that person.

J.P.: Clark, so you were working as a chef?

Clark: Yeah.

J.P.: Put me in that moment for you. What was life like for Clark at that time as you were getting this novel?

Clark: It’s interesting because the novel that I just completed is about that time. It’s based on the time in which I was working as a chef at Project Angel Food in 1989. And yeah, it was one of the things that Rob handled really well. In 1992, we still did not have a handle on the AIDS crisis. We had AZT. but the cocktail was about three years away. So it was at that point in time in which we were all living with AIDS. It was still maybe, I think for a lot of Gay people, it was the most dominant factor in our lives as a community. I just remember that the pride parades at that time were not about clubs and discos and bars with floats. dancing boys in bikinis, it was one hospice after another, you know, marching down the street. It was still a tough time. But at the same time in Rob’s book,  these are people who’ve accepted it. That subject of AIDS is not avoided at all. I mean, it’s there, but it’s one of the things that made the characters admirable and likable is that they’re living with it and above it and handling it. They’re responsible about it. 

J.P.: What pulled you in as you were first reading it?

Clark: Well, that was funny for one thing. Even as I was rereading it, I was laughing out loud. I mean, it’s just got lots of surprises. It was so well-observed. It was nuanced. The character seemed real. It’s got a lot of depth to it. It’s not in any way just because it’s funny: a superficial novel. It’s some really good psychology. You absolutely feel for Natalie, the lead character. She’s not laughable. I mean, she’s got some serious problems. What she does is just so extreme. It’s so funny. And it kind of speaks to you about that woman who was in your life, who is so much like her.

J.P.: At the time, did you have a Natalie in your life?

Clark: Ha ha No, I was pretty good about discouraging anybody from falling in love with me who I couldn’t precipitate that with. I mean, I just couldn’t do that. I just definitely didn’t want to do that. But my partner at the time, my first partner I was with for 13 years, always had a woman in his life. who was in love with him. So I could definitely relate to Peter and to Natalie. Definitely, could relate. But I related more to Lloyd because Lloyd was the one who was coming into a situation where Peter had this very important person in his life who was absolutely in love with him. None of the women that were in my first partner’s life. who were in love with him were trying to destroy our relationship or sabotage it, but they definitely were always on his side whenever we were arguing. So there is that element and that’s what you do when you write a book is you exaggerate things. You heighten them. You dramatize them. In Rob’s case, you…  satirize the situation.

J.P. :As you look back at that time and you’re finding this novel that’s funny and kind of the first time you’re reading a novel that’s funny, is there a particular moment or scene that you recall that you’re like, Oh, this is perfect. A scene that really struck you.

Clark: Too many. Yeah, I’d be spoiling the ending, but it’s the ending which is just really, really delicious. It’s when this character Will from the play, The Boys in the Band, finally gets confronted by a lot of people in his attempt to sabotage all of them. It’s just really satisfying. But there’s many satisfying moments throughout the whole thing. There’s a lot of people who are all taking themselves very seriously and very self-indulgent and Rob’s making fun of them all in a gentle way. So it’s not vicious.

J.P.: I’m curious. I mean, that was obviously a heavy time and you had a very heavy job, right? That you were working at very serious, very necessary things and the novels that you talked about earlier were very serious, right? They were very intense and, and necessary. I don’t want to take away from those. What opened up for you though, while you’re reading Fag Hag, is you’re getting this humor. You’re getting this kind of joy, maybe I don’t want to project too much. What opened up for you after reading this the first time?

Clark: Well, it was nice. Rob was the first that I can remember. But after that, there was a trend. There were some other funny novels that came out. There was one that was called, I believe, Love Junkie, which could have been called Fag Hag. It was a really funny novel. Later on, there was a book called Pizza Face about a young Gay guy growing up in suburban Georgia, with bad acne and his situation was that he was in love with his straight best friend. But I think what it was is that it was really the beginning of acceptance of Gay people in the United States and the world and not as this anomaly or as fringe but a reality. We were out of the closet now. and finally could write about ourselves in a funny way. We could criticize ourselves in an open way. It was time to do that. It would be a little while before Will and Grace, but it was the beginning of that. We were no longer in the closet. And even much later when we had a reality television show, I think it was called Boy meets Boy, which is like the first dating thing that was sort of like a take on The Bachelor. It’s like, oh, we can be as bland and as superficial as straight people and have a stupid dating show.

J.P.: Can you share more about that idea?  I think I’m hearing of humor being another level of acceptance?

Clark: Yeah, it’s as soon as we’re able to make fun of ourselves that we’ve made progress, that we’re not completely sensitive. I was not a huge fan of Will and Grace, but the thing that I liked about it was that, especially the character Jack, was not hiding his Gayness. He was flamboyant. We’re all… close friends with flamboyant people and have come to embrace them and enjoy them and celebrate their flamboyance. But there was this trend, especially in the early years of Gay liberation, which was to say, oh, we’re really not that different from straight people. We go to basketball games and eat pizza and drink beer. And… A lot of us are actually very straight acting. I mean, one of the things I remember at that time was I went to get my haircut one time from a guy and he thought he was being  complimentary and he said,  I know you’re Gay, but you don’t look Gay or act Gay.

J.P: Cut.

Clark: He said, you should get together with me and my partner. He’s an interior designer. but he doesn’t look or act the part.

Robert: There’s some self-loathing there.

J.P.: Yeah.

Clark: There absolutely is. It was like, wait, whoa, whoa. We’ve got to be who we are. We’re not assimilating. There are definitely some Gay men that are more masculine than others. But I think what the glorious thing now is that drag is mainstream. That we have everybody watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s not fringe or weird. It’s something that’s celebrated and that everybody can enjoy. But that was being stuffed away. That was being pushed away. There were similar things happening in Black liberation where Black people for the longest time felt like our progress is being assimilated and showing white people that we’re like them as opposed to, no, we’re not. We’re black. We are a little different. We’re going to celebrate our differences.

Robert: For a long time, Sidney Poitier was the accepted face of Black America. It was a while before we got Richard Pryor, you know.

J.P.: I’d like to fit in a quick break here because I want to share with listeners about how they can become an associate producer of our podcast through Patreon, as well as how they can buy all the books through our bookshop.org page. See you all on the flip side. 

J.P.: Welcome back. I’m talking with Clark Carlton and Robert Rodi about Robert’s novel, Fag Hag. Robert, we were just talking about the idea of humor as another level of acceptance. So I’m curious then, where did Fag Hag come from? Were you thinking about,  we need a humorous novel in the Queer publishing world? Where did it come from?

Robert: I think I did think that. I think stories are important. I like reading stories that reflect my life back to me. Like Clark was saying, at that point, publishing was mainly novels about coming out and we had novels about the AIDS crisis. Those are two completely valid subjects for Gay novels. I had my own coming out story, but it wasn’t worth putting down on paper. I hadn’t really dealt in any meaningful way at that time with AIDS, but I did have this friend, this woman friend with whom I’d had an interesting few years and I thought I could write about that because you do see those women everywhere. I didn’t want it to be cruel. I didn’t want it to be tragic. So it had to be funny, which I ended up having a gift for.

J.P.: Did that affect how you could sell it? Were a lot of people passing and saying only tragic coming out stories or AIDS novels are the only ones we’ll publish? Or did you find it, folks were really receptive to it?

Robert: We sold it right away. I think the title, the title may have helped.

J.P.: Oh good!

Robert: It’s a provocative title. It’s confrontational!.

J.P.: It is.

Robert: Honestly, I think if it had been called something else, it might not have sold at all. We would not be speaking today.

J.P.: Well, I’m glad that you chose that title. Was Natalie based on a real person then?

Robert: Oh yeah.

J.P.: Oh, go on. Tell us.

Robert: We lived in separate states. It was a woman who was an editor who sold a few of my first short stories and I met her on a few occasions. We used to talk on the phone quite a bit. She invited me out to what I thought was a week in Manhattan. When I arrived, I learned that she had bought a house way out in Long Beach, on the tip of Long Island, I think nothing to the south, till Antarctica!  She took me out there. We had to change trains like three times. That’s where we stayed for like a week. She was corralling me in this den. I was so young that it was like three or four days before I realized why. It was rough. 

J.P.: Oh, wild. Interesting.

Robert: She abducted me. I remember she was a big admirer of Japanese culture. So everything was tatami mats. There were no chairs in the apartment so I used to go out to the beach and there was an outcropping of rock that was faintly chair like and I would just sit there all day. Eventually, I think she realized that she was losing me. She took me out to dinner in Manhattan: Not even Manhattan. It was in someplace like Garden City. I don’t know where but we went out of course for sushi. There was a cute waiter who ended up buying all of my drinks. I was very young and cute back then. I didn’t find that out until she got the bill and got furious and hustled me out of there and never took me out again. I later learned that it was because he had comped my drinks and she felt threatened. Yeah. I couldn’t escape because I didn’t know how! I didn’t know how to get back to Manhattan with all those train changes. I was stuck. It was eye-opening.

J.P.: Oh my God, okay, so what was that like then, trying to capture… Natalie based off of your friend was that kind of an easy thing to do or what was that process like?

Robert: For me it was an attempt to try and understand, telling the story from her point of view, because my thought was, she knows I’m Gay. Why would she subject herself to what was ultimately going to be a week-long humiliation? I wanted to understand. So I put myself in that position to the extent that I could be telling that story from Natalie’s point of view.  I think I learned to understand that people do crazy things for love. Going back through our foundational myths of Western civilization, it’s all about tragedies for love.

J.P.: So the novel could have taken a very serious turn. I mean, you could have written it as a thriller, you could have written it as a literary novel. So was there a particular point where you said, no, this needs to be funny, there needs to be a comedic element to it, or did that come organically out of the process of a few drafts?

Robert: Like I said, I have a facility for humor and that came through and I just decided to go with it. It’s very difficult for me to not write funny. I’ve been working on it.

Clark: I don’t want to put words in Rob’s mouth so he could disagree with me, but I think it was Kessler who said that life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think. Rob is definitely a thinking person. It’s what we have in common. I think we both tend to look at the world and life as a comedy. I wouldn’t want to look at it any other way.

J.P.: Was the main hero character then based off of you? Or creation?

Robert: To the extent that he was largely oblivious, he was based on me. I tried to make him sort of an ideal: so incredibly gifted and gorgeous and yada, yada. So he’s not entirely me!

J.P.: Was there a part of the novel that you look back on and you’re like, Oh, this was my favorite part to write. Like this just came so easy. I was laughing while I was writing it. Is there that section or scene?

Robert: Yes, Natalie’s mother is one of the supporting characters. This is one of the things that I know Clark will probably attest to as well. Sometimes when you are writing a novel, you have a character that you designed to serve a certain function who will rebel against that function and sort of take over. I had Natalie’s mother there as someone that Natalie could talk to about what’s going on. She would be explaining to the mother and at the same time explaining to the reader. But once that mother got on stage, she would not get off. She would not shut up. She took over. She became one of the, for me, the real joys of the novel. Anytime I could bring her back on, I did.

J.P.: Interesting.

Clark: I think when writing’s really going well, your characters are leading you,

Robert: Very much so.

Clark: When they surprise you, then you know that you’re really going in the right direction. When you are saying, wow, she planned to kill his sister, and you surprise yourself, you know that it’s going well.

Robert: That’s happened with every novel ever written. Some character has stepped forward and just refused to see the spotlight.

J.P.: Interesting. So walk me through how both of you met.

Clark: Rob and I did have an acquaintance in common. He was an acquaintance of mine. But I had met him one time. He came into the kitchen at Project Angel Food and told me that he knew Rob.  I let him know that I had a play that was gonna be in Chicago. He gave me his phone number and Rob returned my call. We had tacos. I let him know that I was really unhappy with the casting of my play. He told me a little bit about the theater itself. I ended up still having a really good week in Chicago, which is just a great city. It was still kind of fun to put on a play. Somebody who saw it at the after party came up to me with a glass of champagne and asked me about eight, nine really smart questions. Then he pointed to his boyfriend and said, he’s like the character in your play. So it was like this moment of connection. But I also got to connect with Rob at that time.

Robert: We’ve stayed in touch ever since. I mean, regularly.

Clark: Exactly, so.

J.P.: I love to hear that. Clark, what was it like? What were you feeling? It could be nervous, you could fanboy, you could… Ha ha ha.

Clark: Hahaha

Robert: I think I made it easy for Clark because I had been on this draconian diet for like a week before he came where I just ate no fat of any kind. It was the 90s. But when I went out with him, I decided to go off the diet because what the hell, you know, you only live once. We went to that taco place and all the grease and the fat hit me like alcohol. I felt like I was drunk. I don’t know if you remember this, Clark, when I drove you back to your hotel, I ran two stoplight! I felt dizzy.

Clark: Ha ha ha 

Robert: I felt like I was, well, I felt drunk. I felt intoxicated. And so I remember dropping him off and saying,well, that was a hell of a first impression. Never hearing from him again!

Clark: I do remember.

Robert: Well, that was a hell of a first impression. Never hearing from him again.

Clark: Yeah. Well, actually, I think it was not so much a diet. I think it was cabbage soup.

Robert: Yes, it was! That was it.

Clark: Yeah, it was a cabbage soup. Yeah. That was a very popular diet in the 90s

Robert: Yeah, you could lose like 15 pounds in 10 days

Clark: I remember that one of the fag hags in my life, for lack of a better word, her diet that she relied on through the 80s was apples and coffee. So just apples, just black coffee, until you lost that five or 10 pounds and could fit into whatever you needed to fit into for the event coming up this weekend. He he he

Robert: Never sleeping a wink would probably help with that as well.

J.P.: Wait, so you were only eating cabbage soup?

Robert: There’s a diet that was big in the 90s, which was like a 10-day diet with cabbage soup. That was the base of the diet. And there are different foods you could have every day. It got to the point if you stuck through it long enough, you got to have a steak on day five or whatever it was. It worked. Fortunately, now I don’t care anymore. You get to a certain age.

J.P.: Clark, I’m curious, was there anything new that you learned about Fag Hag after meeting Robert, or a different take on it, or did anything new come up for you when reading it again after meeting Rob?

Clark: I liked Rob immediately. I think we got on like a house on fire. It’s a music cliché.  I just was grateful to have somebody else who wanted to write about Gay life in a way that was funny. A person who saw the world a little bit like I did. It was a popular book. It was my friend, Jim and I, who told me about it. We’re comparing notes about it in the kitchen. I was telling him I was reading it. You know, we just loved it. Then I went on to read all of Rob’s other Gay books after that, which had the name of a type of Gay person. There was Closet Case, There was Kept Boy…

Robert: Drag Queen.

Clark: Drag Queen, yep. Then there was also whatever happened at Princess Paragon, which still works like that. Much later there was a really funny novel called Bitch Goddess, which had a Gay sensibility in it. Sometimes when you’re reading, you wanna laugh. And you want them to be substantial apps. You don’t want cheap little titters. You want something with some meat to it. 

J.P.: As writers and readers, how has the landscape for Queer publishing, or just Queer books in publishing, changed, if at all, since the late 80s, early 90s for each of you?

Robert: It’s changed a lot. In the 90s, publishing was really the only place you could find Gay stories. That and the stage. But the stage was not a mass medium. So guys in Arkansas or Montana, for them to have Gay stories, they had to read. They had to buy books. That sort of blew open in the past 30 years with movies and TV shows. So it’s more difficult now to sell a Gay-themed book. Also it’s very difficult.

J.P.: Rewind that for me, it’s more difficult to get a Queer book published these days?

Robert: Well, I, I’m just going by my own experience.

J.P.: Okay.

Robert: Maybe it’s just because I’m a known commodity. People are looking for other voices now, younger, more diverse voices. 

J.P.: Oh, okay. I see. I’ve had other authors that have been on here that will get feedback from, you know, agents or publishers such as we already published a book like that  seven years ago and we don’t need another one and yet we’ll have 17, new novels about straight people getting divorced this year. I was wondering if it was an issue of how the publishers were trying to quote unquote sell and what they think is sellable of Queer books.

Robert: It’s probably a little of both, actually. That’s just my take.

J.P: Thank you for that. Clark, how about for you?

Clark: It’s interesting. I remember before I was reading Rob’s novels, I was a subscriber to Christopher Street, which was this great literary magazine. It came out once a month. It was kind of irregularly printed. Sometimes it would come out twice a month, and then not for a few months. But it was loaded with lots of good stories. Rob was a featured writer and at one time, got a big splash page of him. I think he was called the literary lion at the time.

J.P.: Oh nice.

Clark: It was a way that I had gotten introduced to many other Gay authors. Then of course it just stopped publishing. And I know that there are some Gay books out there which are targeted specifically to teens. My niece Megan gave me one of them. I think it’s called What If It’s Us?  I haven’t read it yet, but it’s a picture of two teenage Gay guys and they’re sort of looking over their shoulder at each other, like, what if it’s us? So, you know, I mean, my God, if I had that book when I was in high school, I mean, shit, you know, that would have been just a godsend. I say that as an atheist. One of my favorite writing experiences was writing a play, the one that Rob saw, he saw the Chicago version. At that time, I loved going to Gay theater. There were so many interesting Gay plays that were being performed in the 90s, and they were sort of connected to Gay literature as well. We could finally do this openly. Boys in the Band may have been the one that broke through, but after that, there were a number of them. There were a number of Gay theaters. There is just not that ferment right now. There’s just not  a sort of big Gay theater scene. In LA, we have Highways in Santa Monica and Celebration in West Hollywood. There was like a new Gay play, every month. I went to see them all and a lot of them were wonderful. We had Del Shores writing some really interesting plays. I guess you would definitely have to say that Tony Kushner’s plays all of a sudden these things entered the mainstream. David Sedaris, I don’t think is really considered as a Gay writer anymore. He’s just a mainstream writer. Same with the books, David Levitt’s books, who I just really admire has probably as much of a straight readership as a gay one. So in some ways I would say that we’ve succeeded. We’re integrated now. Our stories, our characters, Gay people are a part of many films and television series. Will and Grace had a second run recently. So we’ve kind of succeeded.

J.P.: Absolutely. I’m curious both as writers, how are you processing all of the book bans and the don’t say Gay bills and laws that exist now?

Robert: I don’t know if I’m processing that as a writer. I’m processing it as a thinking human being. I also am processing it as someone who has been an enthusiastic reader of history for 45 years. Sometimes that’s not really comforting. When you’ve seen the cycle of empires and you realize we may be on the downward arc for this one, it’s very alarming. And it’s all part of this pattern that civilizations go through, reaching a peak of equality and representation and then losing it.

Clark: It’s absolutely alarming. At the same time, I don’t think they can stop us. I mean, I think the United States may be splitting up. We talk all the time about California, Oregon, and the state of Washington, leaving to become the specific states of America. We’re not gonna let that happen here. We just simply aren’t. And I think that the availability of the internet, even in places like the deep South. makes it impossible  to really ban books. I think they’ll try um but  ultimately I think we’re going to succeed. Our voices are not going to be squelched. It’s not going to happen because we have other ways of reaching people now that we didn’t have just 30 years ago.

[music]

J.P.: I want to thank Clark and Robert for being on the show today.

Clark has just finished a new novel titled Fame Whore

You can head to Clark Thomas Carlton .com for updates. There you can also check out Clark’s paintings as well the latest in The Antasy Series which kicked off with the first novel in the series: Prophets of the Ghost Ants. Clark told me that this series is getting gayer. A gay character in the series will gain prominence as he turns from aspiring fashion designer to military commander.

Robert’s comic book series has been collected into a graphic novel called Merry Men. It is a retelling of Robin Hood’s story where all of the characters are gay – which is why they have to live in Sherwood Forest. With each of the Merry Men, Robert explores different facets of queerness.

Robert is at work on a YA series called Parallel U – where all the students are from parallel universes. Robert’s written it under the pen name: Dakota Rusk.

Clark said the series is fantastic and a Netflix series waiting to happen. Robert has a website at robertrodi.com, but he told us that his Facebook author page is the best place to keep up with him. Search for Robert R O D I.

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Well, this is not only the end of our show today, but this is the end of Season 3! It’s been a wild season. Apple Podcasts listed us as New and Noteworthy two times! We hit some new highs on the Apple Podcasts book charts. This season we were #38 in the U.S., #14 in Australia, #9 in Armenia, #7 in Canada and Greece.

None of this would be possible, I mean, none of it would be possible without my Executive Producer (and partner) Jim Pounds. Send him all the love on Facebook for everything he does. Thank you Jim! We also wouldn’t be where we are without our sensational Associate Producers Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Ollila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shea, and Sean Smith. And our Patreon subscribers! Awen Briem, Stephen D., Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard. Thank you!

So, here’s what happens next: I’m on Summer Vacation! And since summer vacation is all about beach reads and catching up on all the books you haven’t gotten to yet, we are featuring new episodes of 7 Minutes in Book Heaven every Tuesday for the rest of the summer. New episodes of This Queer Book Saved My Life! return this September. And I’m calling it Season Infinity, because when we’re back we will be an on-going bi-weekly podcast. No more seasons. Just episodes into infinity!

Follow us on social: we’re @thisqueer book on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

If you want to join the team, we will be having our next Associate Producers meeting this July. Associate Producers invest $20 per month on Patreon and they get seasonal access to how we run the show and to give us feedback on what we do and the future of our podcasts. If you’re vibing with what we’re doing here, check out my video on why you need to consider becoming an associate producer on our website: thisqueerbook.com.

As always, our Bookshop.org store is open featuring all the books we feature and chat about on the show. thisqueerbook.com/bookshop

Be back here next Tuesday for a Season 3 lookback!

Until then, see you queers and allies in the bookstores!

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