More Tales of the City with David Ciminello

Hello!

After reading about the characters in this book, I made it my mission to have their kind of life for myself.

Today we meet David Ciminello and we’re talking about the book that saved his life: More Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin.

David Ciminello is a Lambda Literary Fellow and author of The Queen of Steeplechase Park. As an actor, David guest starred on Seinfeld (“The Barber”), Murder She Wrote, Matlock, and Kojak. His original screenplay Bruno was made into a motion picture directed by Shirley MacLaine and stars Kathy Bates, Gary Sinese, and Jennifer Tilly.

In More Tales of the City, the tenants of 28 Barbary Lane have fled their cozy nest for adventures far afield. Mary Ann Singleton finds love at sea with a forgetful stranger, Mona Ramsey discovers her doppelgänger in a desert whorehouse, and Michael Tolliver bumps into his favorite gynecologist in a Mexican bar. Meanwhile, their venerable landlady takes the biggest journey of all–without ever leaving home.

Connect with David

website: davidciminello.com
instagram: @djciminello
Facebook: facebook.com/david.ciminello

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Visit our Bookshop for  new releases, current bestsellers, banned books, critically acclaimed LGBTQ books, or peruse the books featured on our podcasts: bookshop.org/shop/thisqueerbook

To purchase More Tales of the City visit: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9780060929381

To purchase The Queen of Steeplechase Park visit: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9781942436614

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Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
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Transcript

This transcript is auto-generated by our recording platform Riverside.fm. This transcript does not include episode narration and contains the original full interview between J.P. Der Boghossian and today’s guest. It is approximately 85% accurate and will include spelling and grammatical errors. For any quotation purposes, we strongly recommend referencing the audio.

J.P. Der Boghossian
So David what is the queer book that saved your life?

David Ciminello .
Sure.

David Ciminello .
Yes.

David Ciminello .
Ah, the queer book that saved my life is More Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
And how would you describe it to folks who haven’t read it yet?

David Ciminello .
Um, it is the ongoing story of a group of disparate characters, outcasts and others, queer and otherwise marginalized characters that leave their families of origin, strike out on their own, and create what Armistead Maupin calls a logical family.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
And what did that mean to you, Logical Family?

David Ciminello .
Logical family, well, in the book, Tales of the City, Mrs. Madrigal, the infamous landlady says early on, my dear, you have your biological family and you have your logical family. And as a queer person, as queer people often have to…

strike out on their own, leave their families of origin, leave their homes, leave their hometowns, and create families for themselves with friends and lovers. And so that’s what I ended up doing. I ended up leaving New York and New Jersey. I grew up in New Jersey and went to Los Angeles to become an actor. And it’s there that I found my logical family and sort of came into my own as a queer adult. Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
So how did the novel come to you? How did you find it?

David Ciminello .
Thanks for watching!

There was a bookstore in West Hollywood in Los Angeles called A Different Light at the time. It was a gay bookstore and I have a bookstore fetish. I love bookstores. I love books. And so wherever there’s a bookstore that, you know, I will find it and I will be in there. And that’s where I found The Tales of the City books. And they were these really, they were large paperback books with really colorful covers. And I guess I was attracted to the covers and I picked it up and I started thumbing through them. And there

There were several of them. It was a series and I just started reading them and I thought they were really amazing.

Yeah, they were chock full of queer, optimistic queer representation, which up until that point, all of the books that I read that were queer or that had queer characters, it was always about struggle. It was always about the hard stuff. It was always about torture and suffering. And these books are not about that at all. I mean, there’s hardships in these books, but these books are about queer characters and queer people living their lives

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Thanks for watching!

David Ciminello .
authentically and joyfully.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Isn’t it amazing how when you read something like that for the first time as a queer person, how revolutionary it can seem, how deeply profound it can seem. And when I talk to like non-queer people about that, they can’t get their heads around it. They’re just like, well, that’s just life. And I’m like…

David Ciminello .
Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
For you, for you that is. Like we have to go through a lot of stuff to be able to get to that point. And that’s why it can be so profound, which is leading me to my question. Take me through or tell me a little bit about your life and your family before reading Tales of the City.

David Ciminello .
Right, right.

David Ciminello .
Oh, wow. Well, as a little boy, it was clear that I was different.

I fell in, when I was three years old, I fell in love with Barbra Streisand. My mother had Barbra Streisand’s first album. And there were two songs on that album, one called The Three Little Pigs and the other one is Come to the Old Supermarket and Old Pete King, Come to the Supermarket and Old Pete King. And I used to listen to those songs and the whole album over and over and over and over again, I was obsessed with her, I was in love with her. And when I was a little older, maybe about eight years old or so,

David Ciminello .
my mother’s sister who was in high school at the time was going to the movies one Saturday and she was going to see this movie called Funny Girl. And I got wind of the fact that Barbara Streisand was in this movie. And I was like, Barbara Streisand? She’s in a movie? I can see her? And I begged and begged and begged and begged to go see this movie. And my aunt who was in high school didn’t wanna be saddled with this eight year old very begrudgingly took me to see this movie. And this was back in the day where, you know,

, right? , where they still had red velvet curtains that would part, you know, to reveal the silver screen. I mean, going to movies was a real experience back then. And I remember when that movie started, you know, you only see the back of her in the beginning of that movie and that leopard coat as she approaches the marquee at the Ziegfeld Theater. And I kept talking to my aunt, is that her? Is that her? And my aunt was just like, just be quiet and watch the movie. She enters the theater, she stands in front of that,

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Oh

David Ciminello .
mirror you see her face and she turns the collar down and she looks into that mirror and she says hello gorgeous and I mean you know that was it and when that tugboat went by the Statue of Liberty while she was singing Don’t Rain on My Parade my queer heart just exploded. I was that was it was a done deal.

So yeah, and another thing about growing up was that I was obsessed with Barbie dolls. I loved Barbies. I wanted a Barbie desperately. I begged my parents for a Barbie. My cousins, my girl cousins would hide them when I came over because they knew I would make a beeline for those Barbie dolls. And I found neighbors that had Barbie dolls and I played with them. And when I was about , nine or years old, I was caught by these neighborhood bullies playing with these Barbies.

That was it. You know, I mean I was pegged I was Kind of viciously tossed off the school bus The junior high school bus I had to find another way to get to school Yeah, yeah, yeah Well my Not literally thrown off the school bus, but I was um It felt that way, you know, honestly, I mean I remember that morning

J.P. Der Boghossian .
What? Wait, what does that mean? Like you were thrown?

David Ciminello .
I was late, I was late for the school bus. I remember I had to run to the school bus stop and the bus was already leaving. It was packed with kids and I was waving my arms and chasing after the bus and the bus stopped and the doors opened and I jumped onto the bus. I couldn’t find a place to sit. I remember going down the aisle. I ended up going all the way to the back of the bus and that’s where all the really tough kids, the bullies sat and I mean, all hell broke loose.

I mean the screaming and the pushing and the shoving and the punching and yeah, I remember sitting in sixth grade the first day of school shell shocked, just completely shell shocked for the entire day and it was like that every morning and my father had to drive me to school.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
David.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Hmm

David Ciminello .
For some reason it was calmer in the afternoon. I was able to take the bus home. I was able to, as long as I got to the bus early enough, I was able to take a seat close to the bus driver and in the front, which was safe. But standing at that bus stop in the morning, riding that bus to school in the morning was impossible. Yeah, yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
It’s… Ugh.

What comes up for me when I hear that, and it’s so difficult to hear that, and I don’t know, it’s rough for me about how we talk about kids being so innocent and not recognizing how they are internalizing so much of this hatred, you know, it’s learned, this bigotry, and then what ends up manifesting is…

David Ciminello .
Mm.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
It’s hard for me, even now, I still try to process it to be like, you know, they were kids, they were internalizing this, but it was like, it was a kid who taught me the word fag. It was a kid who was the first one that, you know, punched me and showed physical violence for being queer, right? And even then, it was the presumption of being queer. It wasn’t actually like I hadn’t come out or anything like that, you know what I mean? And so it’s this…

David Ciminello .
Mm.

David Ciminello .
Right.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of work, I think, that needs to be done there. And it can be, I think, as traumatizing when it’s your peers who are doing that to you. It’s so, it’s so difficult. Um, I, I’m curious about.

David Ciminello .
Oh yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
If we might fast forward a little bit in time, like what was, so you left your biological family, I’m assuming they were in New York, New England area and then you were going out to LA. So was that a, and you were going there for your career, but was part of that also to like get away from them? Like did you find yourself needing to leave your biological family? Was there like tension there?

David Ciminello .
Mm-hmm.

David Ciminello .
Oh, well, I wasn’t out to them. So I wasn’t able to be, you know, although I think on some level, of course, they knew, but it wasn’t official. And I had a girlfriend in high school.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Okay.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Mm-hmm.

David Ciminello .
As a result of the trauma of being bullied in middle school, I put on, as a lot of queer kids do, a coat of armor. I butched it up. By the time I got to high school, I had become James Dean. I didn’t talk. I had a jean jacket. I had the marbles in the pocket. I had a girlfriend. I had no friends.

David Ciminello .
Yeah, so going to LA was a way to escape all of that. It was a way to get away from New Jersey in the past. It was another opportunity for me to reinvent myself in a way.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
What did that look like, the reinvention?

David Ciminello .
It was a journey to my true self. It was…

You know, I was on two paths when I went to LA. I was on the path of trying to become a professional actor in an industry that at that time, especially was incredibly homophobic. Ironically, you know, I couldn’t be out. I couldn’t be who I was. It was a dangerous thing to do. You know, I had to be quote unquote straight in order to be a successful actor. And on the other hand, I was meeting friends

I met a guy who became my first significant partner. We moved in together. I had an apartment. We went to swap meets. We bought pottery. We had a community garden in Hollywood. So this was going on concurrently to trying to be a professional actor. It was a real dichotomy. And eventually what I came to understand for myself was that…

being queer, being my authentic self, living my authentic life joyfully was what was most important. And if that meant not being an actor, then that was okay. I found writing and writing was a way for me to freely and joyfully express myself. Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
So how did Tales of the City help with that reinvention?

David Ciminello .
Well, In More Tales of the City is the famous letter to mama that Michael Tolliver writes. The character of Michael Tolliver in this book gets sick at one point, he contracts a virus, ironically not AIDS, this is pre-AIDS, but it’s a virus that…

David Ciminello .
makes him paralyzed and it goes from his legs and it could go up into his lungs and kill him. That’s a possibility. Eventually, I mean he does survive, but while he’s in the hospital he gets a letter from his mother extolling the virtues of Anita Bryant. She’s married to a, he comes from Florida and she’s married to an orange grower in Florida. And so this was during the whole Anita Bryant

a thing. And so he gets this letter from his mother extolling the virtues of Anita Bryant and her Save the Children campaign. And his response to that is to write a letter back telling his parents who he is. And that letter that Armistead Maupin wrote for Michael Tolliver is really an amazing letter. I mean, he very beautifully, very eloquently

David Ciminello .
addresses all of homophobia’s greatest hits in that letter in a way that’s just astounding and jaw-dropping. And when it came time for me to come out to my family, to come out to my grandparents in particular, that letter, the Dear Mama letter, was an inspiration to me and helped me write the card that I wrote to my grandparents, letting them know who I really was.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
For folks who may not know, Anita Bryant is kind of the precursor to what’s happening in Florida today. It kind of feels like Florida’s repeating history. If you Google her and you’ll see exactly this is the roots of Don’t Say Gay and book banning and Save the Children and all of that. Really, Anita Bryant. I…

David Ciminello .
Right.

David Ciminello .
She was fierce and intense and she got a lot of coverage. I mean, the cover of Time Magazine, she was all over the news. There of course is that famous video where someone who was queer showed up at a press conference and hurled a pie in her face. And she said, well, at least it was a fruit pie. Which yes, is funny, but horrifying at the same time, and certainly illustrated the exact kind of dangerous hypocrite she is.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
a lot.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
It’s amazing.

Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Mm-hmm. We didn’t know about glitter bombs back then. Or maybe didn’t think to do that, but I are there is there a or are Is there a sentence or two from the letter that really stood out to you? and Maybe how you wanted to write your own letter that was most meaningful for you

David Ciminello .
Hahaha!

David Ciminello .
Yeah, yeah.

David Ciminello .
That’s a great question. So I’m just opening the book here. In the book, Michael Tollover writes, I wouldn’t have written, I guess, if you hadn’t told me about your involvement in the Save Our Children campaign. That more than anything made it clear that my responsibility was to tell you the truth.

that your own child is a homosexual. And I never needed saving from anything except the cruel and ignorant piety of people like Anita Bryant. Yeah, I just love that.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Mm.

David Ciminello .
And he goes on to say, I’m sorry, mama, not for what I am, but for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life, revulsion, shame, disbelief, rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes.

Yeah. You know, and he goes on to say, you know, mama, I wasn’t recruited. No seasoned homosexual ever served as my mentor. But you know what? I wish someone had. I wish someone older than me and wiser than the people in Orlando had taken me aside and said, you’re all right, kid. You can grow up and be a doctor or a teacher or a lawyer or an actor or a writer, just like anybody else.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
What did it feel like to read that the first time?

David Ciminello .
I don’t know, I just felt like I could breathe. It was so affirming and…

David Ciminello .
Yeah, just affirming.

and true.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Right. Yes. Isn’t it amazing when you read those for the first time? Yeah. What opened up for you then, after reading more Tales of the City? What opened up? What was possible for you to do? Did you immediately start writing the letter to your grandparents? How did it impact what came in life for you next?

David Ciminello .
It was the truth.

David Ciminello .
Reading the tales of the city books was, it just made me understand that this was the kind of life I wanted to have for myself. That I wanted to have a life like the characters in the tales of the city books. I wanted to be a member of a logical family. I wanted to live in a world where it was okay to be who you were, no matter what that was.

You know, and I made it my mission to create that for myself and to stand proud, loud and proud in who I was as an individual, as a queer individual. And that these books started me on the journey of doing that, of realizing my true self and my true identity. They were an inspiration to me. Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Did you find him animatrical?

David Ciminello .
That’s a great question. There are many Animagicals. I found Animagicals, I found Michael Tolliver’s, I found Marian Singleton’s, I found Mona Ramsey’s. All of these characters in these books popped up in my life in one way or another. Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
that. In the pre-show emails, you were sharing about how Amherstead Maupin and the Tales of the City helped inform your own creative practices and wanting to move into literary pursuits. Can you share a little bit more about that?

David Ciminello .
Sure. I loved Armistead Maupin’s style of writing. I loved the short chapters, the pithy chapter titles, and mostly I love his use of humor. You know, even in the face of tragedy, there is humor, and he uses humor to illustrate…

how you can overcome obstacles and survive tragedies and live a joyful life. Yeah, and always humor. So in my own writing, in writing the Queen of Steeplechase Park, it was really important for me to write a book that was really inclusive, that was again, what I like to call,

optimistic queer representation, chock full of optimistic queer representation. Short chapters, pithy chapter titles, and lots and lots and lots and lots of humor, I hope.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Oh, yes. I’ve seen that. Very pithy chapter titles. Take me through then the process of wanting to write your own letter to your grandparents and to come out. Like how much of Michael’s letter did you find informing writing your own?

David Ciminello .
I mean, I find it funny. I hope people do.

David Ciminello .
Yeah.

David Ciminello .
Um, I’m trying to think back now. Uh, in the letter that I wrote to my grandparents, it was important for me to let them know who I was, to let them know that I had created a life for myself that made me really happy. I included a photograph. I remember of myself and my boyfriend at the time. I wanted to introduce them not only to who I was, but to my life and to my partner, my boyfriend and.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Mm-mm.

David Ciminello .
Yeah, yeah, that’s what I remember most.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
And your parents didn’t want you to send this.

David Ciminello .
Oh, God, no. My mother begged me not to send this letter, begged me not to come out to my grandparents. She pulled out all the stops, including telling me I don’t think I love you anymore, which she later denied. She later denied that. But my mom was, at that point…

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Really.

Oh

David Ciminello .
she had come around, you know, initially she, when she, well, I want to say found out I was gay, but she had found, she actually found out I was gay through a book. When I had moved to the West Coast, I had left behind a box of things that were in my apartment. And I guess in this box, I had left this at my parents’ house in the basement and in this box was Christopher Brom’s

David Ciminello .
And so I got a phone call when I was in Los Angeles living with my partner. And it was my father and my mother. I lived in a house in Wayne, New Jersey. We had one phone line, but there were five phones, you know, all on one line. So I guess my mother was on the line with my dad. And I said, Hi, dad, how you doing? And he said, I’m good. Good. I said, what’s up? He said, well, your mother and I would just like to know if you’re gay.

And I said, that’s what I said. Oh. And I said to my father, would you really like to know the answer to that question? And my father said, yeah. And I said, yeah. And then I heard my mother just went, oh my god. Click. And she hung up. And I hadn’t spoke. She didn’t speak to me for the better part of a year.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Oh.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Oh

David Ciminello .
But my dad stayed on the phone. I talked to him for an hour. I told him my entire life story through my queer lens. You know, I remember that time I came home when I was in my twenties and I was so upset and I was crying and I had to run up to mom’s room and sit on the bed and talk with her. I couldn’t tell her why I was upset or what I was upset about. That was the first time my heart was broken. That’s when my relationship with a guy by the name of Tim didn’t work out

broken and I carried him through step by step all of the major things that had happened in my life up until that point and was completely honest about what exactly was going on in my life you know and he was great at the end of that phone call he said well David I just want you to know one thing I love you and I always will you know and it took a little time for my mom to come around and I think you know

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Mm.

David Ciminello .
My mother was a woman who suffered. I was listening to your podcast with Alice and Bickdell, and I have to tell you, I loved it. And the subject of depression came up with parents. And my mother was a woman who suffered from severe depression. And she was not a person who was able to live her life fully and authentically. She didn’t know how to do that. And the idea of doing that terrified her. And so…

when she found out I was gay. I also have a younger brother who’s two years younger, who’s also gay. There’s two of us in the family. Yeah, in fact, I said to my mother, mom, no matter what you have, it’s gonna be gay. Because she also had a dog, we had a Pekingese that was a lesbian. I said, mom, whatever you have, it’s gonna be gay. So just give it up. Ha ha ha.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Oh no way.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Wait, wait,

David Ciminello .
Because when the dog went to the dog park, she was only interested in female dogs. And the bigger the dog, the better. Like if she saw a female German Shepherd, made a beeline for that German Shepherd, was not interested or would have nothing to do with any of the male dogs. And my mother said, you know, I think, I think Bibs is a lesbian.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
So that’s actual behavior. I mean, I just, you know, all my pets are just automatically queer. I just project that right onto them. But this is like actual behavior. That is great.

David Ciminello .
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So my mom was really, she wasn’t homophobic. She was okay with homosexuality, but she was really terrified of the family finding out, of her parents finding out, of the aunts and the uncles and the cousins finding out and what they would think. And she was terrified that they would blame her.

was sort of all rooted in her own insecurities and nothing else because she eventually she totally came around. You know, I had her tap dancing in the kitchen with my boyfriend. She was fabulous. You know, she was great. But initially it was it was an adjustment for her.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
No.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
What made you… You didn’t have to come out to your grandparents. What made the, what precipitated, like what was like, yes, now I know that I need to come out to them. What was that moment for you?

David Ciminello .
That’s a great question. My life in Los Angeles was this sort of hero’s journey of me coming into my own as a queer adult and it was really important for me to not hide behind any sort of…

walls to all these walls that I built around myself as a queer kid and as a young adult and then as an actor. I wanted to tear those walls down and just stand in my true identity. You know, and I was close to all four of my grandparents growing up. I loved them and I felt a lot of love from them. So it was really important for me to have them know.

exactly who I was. Yeah, because I love them. You know?

J.P. Der Boghossian .
How long did it take you to write the letter? And how many drafts?

David Ciminello .
Oh, probably not long at all from what I remember. Yeah, I wrote the letter fairly quickly. I’m sure I wrote another second draft and I was actually I was really, really excited to write the letter and really excited to send it. And I was not really concerned about what the response would be or what the reaction would be. That really didn’t matter to me. What was most important for me was to just let them know who.

David Ciminello .
And the card back I got from my grandfather, from my father’s father, was, well, Grandma and I got your letter. I want you to know that it was a sad day for us. I can’t remember what the rest of the card said, but I do know at the end of the card he did say that he loved me. So I thought, well, that’s it, you know, that’s a good place to start.

David Ciminello .
My mother’s mother, this is a really interesting coming out. So I didn’t write her a letter because at that time I was going back East to do research for the screenplay I was writing. I was going to my elementary school. They were having their annual spelling bee and I was invited to attend. And my grandmother was at that time staying at an assisted living facility and I surprised her. I walked in and…

to her room and she was sitting on her bed, facing the window with her back to the door and she was playing one of these little computerized games. And I just, I say, grandma, and she turned around and she said, oh, David, I thought you were in California. I said, no, I’m here, I’m here to visit you. And I took her, she made me take her on a tour of the place, she wanted to introduce me to everybody. So I pushed her around in her wheelchair and then we ended up on this terrace outside

As was always the case when I would call her on the phone, when I would speak with her, when I would see her, she would say to me, David, do you have a girlfriend? So we’re sitting there on the terrace and she said to me, David, do you have a girlfriend? And I looked at her and I said, no, grandma, I don’t have a girlfriend. And I had a picture of my boyfriend at the time in my wallet and I opened it and I handed it to her and I said, this is Richard, this is my friend.

Do you know what I mean, Grandma? And she was looking at that picture and looking at that picture. And then she looked up at me and she said, yeah, he’s your girlfriend. And I said, yeah. I said, she looked back down at the picture and I said, are you okay? Are you okay with that? Is everything all right? She said, yeah. As long as you don’t do drugs, that’s fine. That was it.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Mm.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Ha!

David Ciminello .
Yeah. And, you know, I let my mother know that I had told her mom and she got really upset. And I remember the next time I talked to my grandmother, I let her know. I said, Grandma, I told mom, you know, that I told you I was gay and. I just started crying. I became so overwhelmed. And my grandmother said, David. And I said, yes, grandma. And she said, I love you. You know.

So it’s all good.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
You said that you didn’t necessarily need a response to your letter. Was that expectation set up based off of how Armistead wrote the novel and how Michael writes his letter?

David Ciminello .
Yeah, yeah, because I had, again, going back to this concept of a logical family, I had created a world for myself like the world in More Tales of the City, like the worlds in all the Tales of the City books, and I was so happy to have a logical family.

that it didn’t matter what other people thought anymore. The bullies couldn’t hurt me anymore, you know? I was safe. I was as safe as I felt reading these books.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
I love that. That’s such an important point to make, that you have to be in a place where you can.

come out, ideally, you know, you have to be in that place where you’re feeling supported because so much I feel of like coming out, we displace ourselves, right, we become attuned to the other person that we’re coming out to and taking care of their feelings and how are they dealing with it. And it’s like, wait a minute, this is about, this is about me, the person who’s queer that’s, you know, that’s coming out. And so I think that’s a really important distinction that you’re making there of.

David Ciminello .
Yeah, yeah.

David Ciminello .
Right.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
how important it is to be in that place where you feel loved and cared for. And if it goes south, that you have that logical family to rely on, to center you, to take care of you in that moment. And I think that’s, you know, as people are navigating coming out these days and wondering, you know, do I come out at , you know, do I come out at ? Like, how do I do that? How do I navigate that? That’s a really, I think, important distinction to make that, you know, do it on your own terms, but also do it in a space where you have

people surrounding you, your logical family, your chosen family who can support you through whatever happens, right? The good, the bad, the ugly.

David Ciminello .
Yeah.

Yeah. Yeah, it’s a process, you know, coming out and coming to terms with yourself as a human being, whether you’re queer or not, you know, it’s a process and everyone’s process is different. And everyone has to do it in their own time and in their own way. And to, and hopefully you come to a place as a, as a queer person.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Yeah.

David Ciminello .
where you’re secure in who you are, and it doesn’t matter what other people think or say. That’s not going to affect your happiness. And that’s where I was, thanks to, in part, to Tales of the City and Armistead Mopin. Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
It’s so true.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
And speaking of, thanks to Tales of the City and Armistead Mopin, talk to us about the Queen of Steeple Chase Park.

David Ciminello .
Um, yeah, so, uh, well, the queen of steeplechase park. Should I read the description of the book or do you want me to just talk about it? Okay. Um, the queen of steeplechase park is the absolutely positively practically almost true story of infamous burlesque queen and magic meatball maker Bella Donna Marie Donato. So it’s based on the life of my great aunt who, um,

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Sure, you can do both.

David Ciminello .
Here’s another story about my mom and I watching television. Back in New Jersey when I was growing up, there was a thing called the movie. So at every day there was a movie that was aired and it was before the news which came on at six. And they would have Natalie Wood Week and they would have, you know, Angela Lansbury Week. And I remember it was Natalie Wood Week and I was watching the movie Gypsy. And it was during the Gotta Have a Gimmick number.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Oh boy.

David Ciminello .
strippers teach Gypsy, the Natalie Wood character, what it is they do and how they do it. And at the end of the number, I looked at my mom and she was laughing and she had this little cat that ate the canary smile on her face. And I said, what’s so funny? And she said, well, you know, my aunt used to do that. And I was like, what aunt? And she said, my aunt, Emily, your great aunt Emily, was a burlesque performer. She was a stripper in Coney Island. And I was like, wow, you’re…

kidding and it really it made perfect sense to me because my great aunt amelie was living in california at the time

and she would just blow into town like a human hurricane. She was this larger than life character, an extreme extrovert who would come into town and have the entire family in stitches. And she had a gorgeous, bodacious figure. She was, as she told me very proudly, a Triple D. And as I grew up, there were other stories that came to me about her that were often whispered, the fact that she got pregnant

years old, the fact that she was an incredibly wild, promiscuous girl, the fact that when she had the baby, it was taken away from her. It was adopted away from her without her consent. Her father had her sterilized without her consent, which was legal in the s because she was so wild. And then she ran away from home.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Oh, so when you said this was based on a family member, this was like based on a family member, like a lot, oh my goodness.

David Ciminello .
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, yeah. And then she ran away to Coney Island and became a burlesque performer. Those are the basic facts of my great aunt’s life that I took. And with those facts, I created Belladonna Marie Donato and the Queen of Steeplechase Park, which is as much, if not more, an expression of who I am as it is for her. But it’s definitely captured her spirit.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
So I feel like you need to put a recommendation label, some might, I might say, maybe say a warning label. The food descriptions in here are so good that I’ve been reading it and going, damn it, I need to read this at an Italian restaurant. Because you start, you’re so good at it, that I’m like, I want meatballs right now.

David Ciminello .
Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
I want some spaghetti and ravioli right now. And so I’m like, it’d be so great to be sitting at an Italian restaurant and be like, okay, I would like that now off the menu. Hang on, let me read a few more chapters. Okay, now I want this off the menu. Like, well done, sir. It is fantastic, particularly in that scene where Belladonna is like, I think, ate and learning to make the sauce for the first time. And I’m sitting there and I read before bed and I’m like, and usually I’m not like hungry there and I’m like, oh my gosh, I can smell this right now. And I’m like feeling hungry.

David Ciminello .
Yeah, I grew up in a family of incredible cooks. My grandmothers, my great aunt, my mother, they were all amazing, amazing cooks. So I grew up with great food. Thank you, thank you.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
what comes through on the page.

Absolutely. And then you have a pansexual character in there as well, which I thought was very interesting that you identify them as pansexual. What was the thinking behind that?

David Ciminello .
Yes.

David Ciminello .
Um

That’s a great question. So, you know, for me, my great aunt was…

just a celebration of life. And I wanted the book to be a celebration of life, of eating, of drinking, of having sex. And I wanted it to be a celebration of the entire spectrum of life in the way that Armistead Maupin’s books are. So I wanted to include all kinds of characters, queer characters, pansexual characters, trans characters, drag queens, straight characters. I wanted them all to be there.

because my great aunt goes to Coney Island in particular, which has a very circus-like atmosphere, I was able to do that. But yeah, so the character I think you’re referring to is Francis Anthony Mozzarelli, which is the young boy that gets her pregnant at .

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Mm-hmm.

David Ciminello .
I don’t know JP, he just dropped into my head as this beautiful pansexual boy who sweeps Bella off her feet. Yeah, and it doesn’t matter.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
And reading that first chapter of him, you can see exactly why. It’s such a beautiful chapter. The arc that you give and the journey that you give to him.

David Ciminello .
Yeah, yeah, and it…

David Ciminello .
Thank you, yeah, no, it doesn’t matter to Francis, male, female, whatever, you know, as long as it feels good, do it. And that’s the way life should be.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Is there an Anna… Is there an Anna Magical character, do you feel? In the novel? Yeah.

David Ciminello .
in the book? Oh, I think that my great aunt is the animatrical character. You know, she’s the lens through which we see all of these other characters. She is a mother figure in the book. She’s a mother to all of the people, all of the characters that she encounters in a way that animatrical is in Tales of the City. Yeah.

She’s this mythic, iconic, colorful character.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
So you read this series by Armistead Moppen, and it has this profound impact on you. And now you’ve written, congratulations, this novel that also incorporates, in a different way, the idea of logical family. I mean, you made it your own, is what I mean by different way there. Now having completed the novel and it coming out, how has your idea of chosen family and logical family changed?

David Ciminello .
Hmm. Yeah.

David Ciminello .
Oh, um, I don’t think it has. I, yeah, I think that, um.

J.P. Der Boghossian .
Oh.

David Ciminello .
You know, your family is, it’s who you surround yourself with. It’s who you choose to surround yourself with. We can all make our logical families queer or not. You know, we have our biological families, but we also have our family of friends and loved ones and lovers and partners and husbands and wives and children and grandchildren. Yeah, it’s the human condition, isn’t it?

for us to just sort of create our illogical families, whether you’re gay, straight, or otherwise. That’s the beauty of being a human being. That’s the beauty of life.

[music transition]

J.P. Der Boghossian
I’d like to thank David for being on the show today.

Fun fact The manuscript for The Queen of Steeplechase Park was originally , pages. So what we have now is actually book one of the Bella Donna triology! Which means David is currently at work on books two and three.

If you’re in Portland Oregon, or there abouts, David will be at Broadway Books on June at pm. He’ll be in conversation with author Joanna Rose. He also has upcoming events at Literary Arts and the Willamette Writers Conference.

To connect with him on these events, to order his novel, to get updates on books two and three, you can follow him on Facebook or visit his website david shiminello dot com. Links in the show notes and an our website.

Thanks for listening today! Thanks as well to our executive producer Jim Pounds. Accounting and creative support for our podcasts is provided by Gordy Erickson. Our associate producers are Archie Arnold, K. Jason Bryan, and David Rephan, Natalie Cruz, Jonathan Fried, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olilla, Joe Perrazzo, Bill Shea, and Sean Smith. Our Patreon subscribers are Steven D, Steven Flam, Ida Goatberg, Thomas Mckna, and Gary Nygaard. Our soundtrack and sound effects were provided through royalty free licenses. Please visit thisquerbook.com slash music for track names and artists.

We are on social media at this queer book and at jp der boghossian on Instagram. We also have a Facebook page.

As always, you can connect with us through our website thisqueerbook.com.

If you want to be on the show, fill out the form on the homepage. And until our next episode, happy pride!