By Don Church & Tony Schillaci
Best-selling author, biographer and film historian William J. Mann is such a movie fan that he even picked the coffee-house lobby of a movie theater in Provincetown to talk with us about his two newly published books; one a definitive biography of Elizabeth Taylor and the second another of his compelling gay novels.
When he met with us at the Art House on Commercial Street and ordered a raspberry iced tea, we immediately compared this darkly handsome and gym-toned guy to the title of his latest acclaimed book, “Object of Desire.”
We were immediately put at ease by his friendly greeting and genuine charm as we asked how he created the “Object of Desire” plot filled with plausible tension, conflict, twists, turns, and inhabited by vivid three-dimensional characters.
He explained there were two ideas he’s had on his mind for some time. “The first one,” he said “was a report about a girl who went missing in Florida in 1974, and I wondered what kind of impact it would that have on her family?” The second story idea was about a gay guy and his life from the age of fourteen to forty-one.
The two ideas were combined by using the missing girl and the gay guy as her brother, the book’s central character, Danny Fortunato – the object of desire. The story begins in Connecticut when Danny’s a boy of fourteen and his sister goes missing, to age twenty-one and he’s living in West Hollywood, and finally at forty-one in Palm Springs.
These are places Mann knows from personal experience: born and educated in Connecticut (high school and an Masters degree in English from Wesleyan in Middletown), writer, editor, publisher of Metroline in the early 90s; time in West Hollywood, and a resident of Provincetown in the warmer months and Palm Springs each winter.
“Object of Desire” is a page-turner if ever there was one. It’s about love and family, but it is also very sexy! The object of Danny’s desire, at age forty-one is a younger guy, and addresses the question, said Mann of “what are the obsessive attachments that we have in our lives? When does an object become an obsession?”
The novel is as riveting and sensual as his successful Jeff and Lloyd trilogy of novels, “Where The Boys Are,” the best-selling gay novel of 1996; “The Men From The Boys,” and “Men Who Love Men,” but it also has the mystery and darkness of his “All American Boy.”
When asked if he would add another volume featuring Jeff and Lloyd, the central characters in the popular trilogy, he laughed “they’re too old now, nobody cares about them!”
Although ‘William J. Mann’ is imprinted on his books and is used in his popular blog, he’s a casual, regular jeans and tees guy – easy to engage in an adult conversation. When we caught up with him for this story, he had just come from a session at his gym in P-town and was pumped up both physically and mentally. This energy is reflected in all his writings.
This Connecticut-born writer uses his home state in most of novels, and although he insists the main character in each one is not autobiographical, as avid readers of his fiction – we’ve read them all – we can’t help but think of Danny and Jeff as part literary invention, part Mann’s own experiences.
When we mentioned that his novels will be looked upon in the future as chronicles of gay history, he said, “I was asked at a Tennessee Williams Literary Festival what it was that I considered my strength as a writer. Being a gay man, I am engaged in popular culture and can write about it from an insider’s point of view – and yes, I’m fully conscious of writing about the gay movement and culture from the past to the present.”
His books vividly and powerfully take the reader into the world of circuit parties, drugs, gay bars, sex and the internet. The situations and characters are all the more believable and felt because of his keen observations, profound insights into gay culture, and an uncanny understanding of human nature. His fast-paced, expert storytelling has been praised by leading literary critics as reflected in the continuing sales of all his novels.
Speaking of popular culture, Mann segued into talking about his other recently published book, another of his thoroughly researched biographies that has gotten rave reviews: “How To Be A Movie Star – Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood.” And, take it from us, this Elizabeth book is a great read! Just when you thought you had heard or read everything about her remarkable life, Mann digs deeper and supplies more documentation than all previous biographers.
The New York Times said, “These are the sorts of details a reader craves from a celebrity biography, and “How to Be a Movie Star: Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood” doesn’t skimp on them.” And the Sunday Times of London said, Mann is “zooming in on key periods. drawing on new interviews with the star’s colleagues and friends, and meticulous research in the MGM archives…what emerges is a richly enjoyable biography.”
Mann explained that “Elizabeth Taylor created a myth, a legend. All the antics and shenanigans of Brittany Spears, Paris Hilton and that crowd can be traced to Elizabeth Taylor. She manufactured a public life and I wanted to know how did she make it happen?”
We asked him if Elizabeth had been cooperative while he was researching the book. “Not cooperative, but not obstructive either. I was not able to speak with her, but her camp said ‘good luck with it.’” Having read the book, we were once again stunned at the depth of research, interviews, quotes and input by close friends and fellow actors that the serious historian in Mann had mined to create this fascinating biography.
“Would you be happy if Elizabeth Taylor phoned you one day and said how much she enjoyed your book?” we prodded. “That probably won’t happen, but I am hoping that she does read it, and that one of the people surrounding and protecting her will let me know what she thinks.”
Mann told Metroline that the people who were most inspirational in his career are John Preston, a gay novelist; screenwriter Gavin Lambert, and Dominick Dunne, who helped him with “Kate -The Woman Who Was Hepburn,” a biography that reveals the truth about the Hepburn-Tracey ‘love story’ and her affairs with both men and women. It was named one of the “100 notable books of 2006” by The New York Times.
When Mann and we had finished this exciting conversation, and went to shake hands, he instead gave us each a great big hug…another testament to this talented guy’s warmth and openness. He is truly a person we admire and respect.
Mann is also a great role model for young gay people who would like to carve out a rewarding life. His personal story is posted on his Website and on hundreds of Internet pages. Just Google William J. Mann.
And this holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, what better gift than giving his books, especially to young people who might be inspired by the path he has taken in life.
William Mann and his husband, Dr. Tim Huber, are private people who live quietly in what the former says “are the two most beautiful places on earth” Provincetown and Palm Springs. He loves them so much he uses them in his novels and writes so poetically that even readers who haven’t visited them will see a clear Technicolor picture of these two major gay destinations.
For more information about William J. Mann, including his fiction and non-fictions books, ordering them online, a schedule of his personal appearances, book-signings, lectures, and writing courses, go to www.williamjmann.com.