A Kiss But Don't Tell
In love with a rock star

Douglas A. Martin had sex with a rock superstar, and his new book doesn't reveal who it is. Outline of My Lover, to be released by the literally underground publishing company Soft Skull Press in May 2000, tells the surreal story of Martin's childhood in a broken home in working class Georgia, his burgeoning sexuality, and his desire for celebrity, both figuratively and literally.

See also...
... by Nick Mamatas
... in the Dirt section
... from November 29, 1999

Martin worked with R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe in the past, and even wrote a book of poetry called The Haiku Year with the alternative rocker. So it's no surprise that, even under layers of postmodern linguistic gymnastics, Martin's never-named "lover" in the new book seems familiar. "The fact that he's a rock star has always been more a metaphor for me," says Martin. "When I read Duras' The Lover, I have to ask myself where the parallel is in my life... I grew up with the radio telling me that [idolizing rock stars] was the way to express my passions. Living in Athens, Georgia, writing around Michael, he has also been less of an inspiration and more of a reality."

Reality is fluid in Outline of My Lover. The book is fictionalized, and is being marketed as a novel, not just to protect the innocent (guilty?), but because of Martin' s own fractured postmodern identity. The narrator of the book is "dead," after a fashion. Martin explains: "The book takes off as fiction for me, because it was written from a place of mourning... The narrator of the book is no longer me, those are no longer the circumstances of my life, and I wanted to explore what led to creating those circumstances."

Martin starts exploring those circumstances early on in the book, with his parents' divorce and his brush with death. As a small child, trapped and wheezing under an oxygen tent, the nuns who came to visit him only murmured about the sin of his mother's divorce and her need to return to the Church. As a boy, he enjoyed pretending to be a girl, and his stepfather became abusive when Martin came out of the closet. By high school, he was sleeping with men, living in the dingiest apartments in town, and dancing in local clubs on the weekends. That's where he met his "star."

Another aspect of Outline of My Lover is the bathos of Martin' s circumstance; he is more than just another artistic gay runaway with a hunger for celebrity and a taste for the Southern gothic. He comes off as a sort of postmodern Tennessee Williams. "I've always thought about how I'm a Southern boy but would not be called a Southern writer ... I want to write a Southern novel that perverts all of those conventions by embracing them. I am a product of the South, but I'd be the first peach thrown out."

Thrown out, but then picked up by Soft Skull Press. Soft Skull, which is run out of a basement office in New York' s Lower East Side, has made its name publishing the poetry of alternative rock stars like Stipe and King Missile's John S. Hall. The Skull's senior editor Sander Hicks rejects the notion that it is just a vanity house for rock stars. The company broke out of the micropress ghetto by appealing to the alternative rock scene, "but not by jerking off to the postmodern pretensions of 90 percent of contemporary poetry."

Instead, Soft Skull is pushing the envelope by publishing Douglas' kiss-but-don't-tell novel. "People think it's a kiss and tell, and then it turns out to be an artful work of literature the caliber of Marguerite Duras or Anne Carson. Publishing can be a pretty crass business. It's nice when you can subvert expectations," says Hicks.

Martin wanted celebrity as a child and fell in love with it as a young man. Does he still want to be a star, or has he been burned? "Celebrities are people who have learned how to not offend others. I want to be able to keep learning, not just watching the stasis of the same reenactments."

Nick Mamatas is a New York writer currently living in exile in Jersey City. He writes regularly for The Greenwich Village Gazette and The Disinformation Company.