Scenster legend James St. James turns to fiction to create the fiercest teenage underdog
One of the few people to emerge unscathed from the late early-’90s Manhattan Club Kid scene, James St. James became an unlikely chronicler of how the quest for fame and glamour led to homicide. His 1999 book, “Disco Bloodbath,” an expos? of the events that led Michael Alig to murder his live-in drug dealer Angel Melendez served as the basis for the 2003 movie “Party Monster,” starring Macauley Culkin as Alig and Seth Green as St. James.
“I got to know the whole cast pretty well,” St. James remembers. “What was most fabulous to me, was watching Seth and Macaulay who are both very straight guys just throw themselves into the roles. They had so much fun being fabulous faggots”
St. James thinks more straight guys should spend a month in his heels.
“And I promise you, he’ll come out a more fabulous heterosexual,” St. James promises.
Consequently, the news that St. James had written “Freak Show” (Dutton Juvenile, May 2007, $18.99), a gay-themed novel for a teenage audience, titled was greeted with understandable skepticism. Even St. James himself still has trouble believing it.
“When I was first approached for this project, my first reaction was: “‘Good God!’ They usually try and keep me away from the teens! I thought I was every mother’s worst nightmare just below, say, Marilyn Manson!” he laughs.
The more I thought about it, St. James realized that he did have a story worth telling.
“I know how to survive being an “‘outsider’ or “‘freak,’” he says. “So I created this character, Billy Bloom, who is the ultimate outsider, a gorgeous, wonderful person who ultimately succeeds in life because he is a freak.”
A recent transplant from New York City, Billy is forced to attend a private high school in Florida populated with Aberzombies, Bible Belles and plenty of other teens who can’t comprehend the fabulous being who’s arrived in their midst, but can’t wait to beat the crap out of him.
St. James acknowledges that most of “Freak Show” was inspired by his real-life experiences.
“Billy is me. That’s my life, my school, my house, my first boyfriend and my insulting childhood maid. Except, I have to clarify, I have wonderful parents. Billy’s parents are not my parents!
But the book has two parts: The first half is autobiographically inspired; the second half is utopian aspiration.
“The last half of “‘Freak Show’ is the me I wish I would have been: I never ran for homecoming queen, like Billy does.,” he explains. “I think Billy is ultimately stronger and a better person than I am. He’s an idealized version of myself.”
Whereas earlier gay novels for younger readers were far fewer, and often ended on depressing or cautionary notes, “Freak Show” has a decidedly fabulous ending for the protagonist, which the author was keen to write.
“I think it’s a pretty wonderful time to be young and gay, right now. Yes, there is bullying and homophobia and hate crimes, but there are so many wonderful things happening, too,” he explains.
“Teens today are so much more accepting and tolerant. There are Gay/Straight Alliances at high schools, teens taking their same-sex partners to the prom, even transgender prom kings and queens! So there really hasn’t been any negative reaction to “‘Freak Show’ that I’ve seen. So far all of the reviews have been very positive, and I think that’s a reflection of the times.”
Although busy promoting “Freak Show” at signings and appearances across the country, St. James says he’s “working on another teen novel. About gay teenage werewolves, I think.”
Does the novel contain a particular message?
“I wanted all the freakshows out there to know that, Yes! life is going to be hard,” he says. “Anytime you against the status quo, you are going to get shit. But it’s the good fight that you will win. And you will be a better person for having fought it. There is a glory in being different. And it’s yours to experience. Just don’t be afraid to take it as far as you can.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 1, 2007.