When I first moved to New York City in 1995, one of the upcoming writers I heard rumor of was Terminator. He was supposed to be this 15 year-old who was a prostitute living in San Francisco. There were rumors that he was an alias for Dennis Cooper. There were all sorts of bizarre stories. I knew that Terminator had many supporters and fans like writers Joel Rose and Bruce Benderson. Terminator was included in an anthology of memoirs, Close To The Bone. But the novel I heard about never materialized. Finally this past spring I got a galley of Sarah, which was finally coming out. I read a few pages and all my expectations were surpassed. I hope this book is just the start and J.T. Leroy has many great stories to come.
J. T. Leroy still lives in San Francisco. I talked to him on the phone
AL: I first heard about your work through people like Joel Rose, Catherine Texier, and Bruce Benderson. It was one of the interesting things I heard about back in 1996. They were going to publish some of your stories, then their magazine folded. Your editor, Karen Rinaldi, moved to Bloomsbury. There was a bit in that anthology Close To The Bone, but years passed until the novel finally came out this year. Why was there such a long wait?
JTL: It's all really funny how it all happened. It was an amazing time. That first book that I was working on back then will be coming out next year. Sarah is really my second book. I stopped writing for two years. I wasn't happy with what I was doing. People like Mary Gaitskill really helped. She read my stuff and told me what I was doing wrong. She sent me a bunch of books to read, everyone from Nabokov to Flannery O'Conner, and taught me to notice what they did. I had to stop writing for two years and just absorb it and read. When I started writing again the first thing I wrote was this story called "Meteors." I sent it to Mary and she wrote me back saying that she thought it was genius. The next thing I wrote was Sarah. I thought that it was going to be one chapter in the book. I sent it to Karen and she told that I had a book here. When she left Crown Books, I thought that I lost my original book deal, but Karen had brought me with her to Bloomsbury.
AL: I remember that Bruce Benderson talked about you and was going to show me some of your early stories, but I never saw anything, until the anthology....
JTL: That Close To The Bone anthology came out when I was 17 years old. Yeah, that early work needs a lot of editing. People talked about how raw it was and it has a lot of emotion, and people liked it. I think now if that stuff had come out, people would have just talked about my age and my story. I felt that if the stories can't stand by themselves, I'd rather not have it come out.
AL: When did you actually start writing?
JTL: I started seeing a therapist when I was 13. He was teaching a class
for people who wanted to do psychotherapy. He knew I didn't like social
workers, so he asked me to write something, to explain how it was, something
about my experiences with social workers. I couldn't pass this opportunity
up. I wrote something and I felt something click. He told me the response.
I was really hungry for that attention. I had only gotten attention that
related to my body of how I looked. Soon my work was given to a friend
of his who was an editor, named Eric. Eric gave me feedback. He was the
first professional writer. Eric had studied with Sharon Olds.
AL: Prostitution is a strange world and it's varied, but not many people have access to such stories as told in this novel. What do you think of the world of prostitution in general?
JTL: It's a hierarchy. You got your high class call boys, who have their beeper boys. Many of them don't do drugs and are really healthy. Then there's the ones who hang out on Polk Street where your whole existence is about doing drugs. You don't have much time to reflect. I wasn't able to write anything then. I had to stop drugs and certain behaviors that kept me from feeling things. Writing was one way for me to survive. When I'm writing I'm the safest. When I'm not I'm doing negative things.
AL: What sort of bands do you like? Are there any CDs that you have liked recently?
JTL: Oh yeah. I listen to Django Reinhardt. Unfortunately I like a lot of pop, like Aimee Mann, Superdrag, and Silverchair. He's a real cool guy and he's my age. I think it would be cool if he sang "I'm A Boy." You know, The Who song? I like Sunny Day Real Estate. I talked to Jeremy, and he's Christian, but he doesn't know what he's talking about. I know the Bible backwards and upside down. He says that he takes the Bible literally. That would seem anti-gay and anti-abortion. The Bible says it's okay to beat your child. Besides that, I like his music. I want to get the new Sinead O'Conner and Supergrass. I don't like country music. Mother listened to Punk Rock. My all-time favorites are Jawbreaker and Jawbox.
AL: Seen any films lately?
JTL: I'll tell who my favorite actors are. Kevin Spacey. Because he's so goddamn sexy. And Edward Norton. Fight Club was so great. I know Chuck, who wrote the book. Helena Bonham Carter has a line in that movie: "I never was fucked that hard since grade school." She thought that it meant high school. When they told her what it meant, she freaked out. She also didn't want to say that other line about the abortion. They fought over that. Every film with Edward Norton is worth seeing. I like seeing feel good movies. I like that sweetness. You know that scene in Sarah where La Loup is going to cut his balls off? Where he ends up just cutting off his hair. That would be like caring about the main character and then they kill him for shock value. It's like "I was gypped."
AL: But he had to suffer, because La Loup cut off his hair, and he felt ugly.
JTL: Right. It was bad and horrible.
AL: So you are working on a screenplay, and the first novel will come out next year. What else are you doing?
JTL: I'm also working on a sequel to Sarah. I have been writing articles for the NY Press. John Strausbaugh has been great. He lets me interview just about anyone. I interviewed Suzanne Vega. We talked about books and I sent her a galley of Sarah. She loved it. Suzanne wrote a blurb and joined in the readings. It's great to do interviews and communicate with people. It's better than drugs and sex. I wouldn't trade it for the world.