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Wright to Writer: A Naked Civil Servant for the 21st Century

Updated: Nov 4, 2020

Filmmaker and producer, Fenton Bailey, best known for RuPaul's Drag Race, Party Monster and Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, quizzes author James Maker about his book, AutoFellatio: A Memoir.

Photo credit: Mathu Andersen

What is your writing process?  Write by hand or computer? A particular time and place? 

When I write, I write in the mornings. I'll have an idea and will want to be at my computer by 5AM.

5—7AM are 'magical hours' when the world around you is still quiet, stretching, and beginning the day. For me, the writing part is over by around 12PM. Then lunch. The afternoon is an hour or two's editing. By 3PM, that's a full day's work. I 'clock off'. Every writer has his or her rhythm and it corresponds to their natural habits and biorhythms. Experience, in my case, has taught me that writing in the evening produces, in my opinion, second-rate material. 

Seasons can affect a writer, as they can affect anybody else, depending on one's geographic location. Living in the London (England) area, I love to be outside during the summer months and resent being 'chained' to a desk. One would not feel this in California, where the weather is more year-round sunny and clement. I wrote my autobiography, 'AutoFellatio' (Inkandescent)  whilst living in Spain, with the later chapters being written after my return to the UK after ten years. In my mind, writing is very much a 'winter project', but I feel that this is probably very understandable to anyone who has suffered from Seasonal Affective Syndrome (SAD), or depression. Keep busy during the winter.

Apart from the jotting down of notes, I never write in long-hand. I discovered the typewriter at age 12 and I love the keyboard. Mechanography gives rhythm, that word again. In that sense, and despite my 57 years, I'm quite 'modern'. I associate writing in long-hand with a quill, ink, a failing light, a scarcity of candle, a small cup of rough wine, and a window with a cracked pane. Authors who profess to write in long-hand are anathema to me: odd individuals.     

What writers or books do you love and why?

Generally, I like the works of mid-twentieth century American writers. They have made much more of an impression on me than French theorists, who are much triumphed in European (and possibly American) universities. There is this great, tremendous spirit in 20th-century American writing which is expansive, invigorating, energized...virile. This vast landscape into which many Europeans poured (many others too, of course, but I speak as a European) and which was wild and brutal, and which was rapidly civilised by agriculture and the transformative progress of concrete. 

Top of my list is 'Last Exit To Brooklyn' by Hubert Selby Jnr. followed by 'And The Evening Sun Turned Crimson' by Herbert Huncke. Both of which were greeted as inadmittedly transgressive texts. The former is much more famous than the latter. I feel sure that I was probably the only tourist to visit Key West to see Tennessee Williams' former home on Duncan Street — ignoring all signs to celebrate Ernest Hemingway. Truman Capote is the most eloquently concisive writer that I have ever read. I think Bret Easton Ellis' 'American Psycho' is an absolute literary masterpiece that is, at heart, a study in profound ennui and status-oriented hyper-neurosis. The murders, themselves—although graphic and seemingly 'misogynist'—are nightmarishly cartoon satire. I like the British author, J.G. Ballard, who produced some of his best work in the mid-1970s, often involving the theme of dystopia, and I like Ronald Firbank (an English author who was published in the early part of the 20-century) for his wit and ability as a 'dissembler'.   

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?

I would be the manager of my own businesshouse travel agency—specializing in Latin America—living somewhere in the leafier districts of outer South London. I would not have ventured into neither music nor writing, so I would most probably have married my childhood friend, Cherelle. No children. A life of shared interests and companionship, and trifling affairs on both parts whose details need never intrude upon the other partner. It would be an Anita Brookner novel. In the UK, there are profile-crammed websites specifically geared to married men who desperately want to have encounters with other, preferably married, men. 

When writing what do you do during your breaks / how do you refresh yourself? 

When I'm writing, I don't have breaks. This is because it's usually a 3—4 hour burst, and apart from having a cigarette in the garden, I don't take breaks. I realize that admitting to being a smoker puts me actually below a non-smoking serial killer. 

I just learned a shorthand expression that the kids use today; tl dr which equals too long didn’t read.  So basically people aren’t reading books. How do you as an author combat that? 

Ignoring Attention Deficit Syndrome for one moment, I think the kids are right. Let me explain: firstly, there is this trend of novelists writings longer books, pressurized by publishers who think that 450-page novels 'give the reader value for money'. This is not true. Often, 450-page books are books that could be successfully condensed to 250 pages by a skilled editor. A great many books should probably be shorter. Secondly, in the 21st-century, we like to be engaged in interactive activities, even as recreation. So the idea of sitting down and reading a book is possibly viewed as a very 'passive' experience. But it isn't a passive experience. A good writer gives life to his or her characters and these form and figure in the mind of the reader. I believe that a fiction writer should leave 'spaces' and blanks' for the imagination of the reader. They fill it in. 

So, the answer is not for the author to simply 'combat' the easily fatigued reader. The writer has a new challenge to entice that reader to continue with his/her book, by 'upping their game' and by perfecting their craft to the best of their ability. Getting the reader engaged and hooked; making them want to turn the page to the next chapter. This has always been true, always, and it's more relevant now than ever. 

Shorter, better-edited books would help to cure this. It would also be good for the authors.

'A Naked Civil Servant in Court Shoes. But Funnier. And Tougher' Mark Simpson

James Maker first trod the boards in 1982 as a dancer and backing vocalist with The Smiths, and was erroneously known as “The Fifth Smith”. Later, he became lyricist and lead singer with the 1980s indie group, Raymonde, and 1990s “gay” hard rock group RPLA, releasing the albums Babelogue and Metal Queen Hijack respectively. He has appeared in the film Middleton’s Changeling opposite Ian Dury and Billy Connolly. In 2004, he supported the New York Dolls on their comeback tour at the Royal Festival Hall in London, and at the Move Festival in Manchester. In addition to performing spoken word sets, he is currently working on a new satirical work inspired by his time in Spain.

Fenton Bailey is a producer and director, known for Party Monster, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures and RuPaul's Drag Race. Along with partner Randy Barbato, he is a founder of the production company World of Wonder.

Photo credits:

Fenton Bailey by Mathu Andersen

James maker by Justin David.

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