Wordsmiths T Cooper and Felicia Luna Lemus certainly have their own storytelling styles, but these lovers’ respective works follow similar trajectories. Nothing is every permanent in their stories.
The sand shifts at the precise moment their protagonists seem to have it all worked out. Their impermanence bleeds into everything, from family history to gender and sexuality to interpersonal relations. Lemus’ new novel Like Son follows Frank, a thirty-year old who has to unearth the meaning of a photograph his dying father hands him.
In Cooper’s Lipshitz 6, or Two Angry Blondes, recently released in paperback, the 100-year-old history of a family starts in the pogroms of Europe and ends with the last offspring impersonating Eminem.
This queer couple’s unique manner of brandishing the written word make them a perfect addition to The Style Issue.
We sent their friend and Queerty contributor, James Withers on a mission to mine their minds for a look into their literary idiosyncrasies, the evolution of their relationship and the difference between German and American readers. And, as we find out – um – straight away, this trio has more in common than just writing. They all love gay porn. Who knew?
James Withers: Okay, let’s start with something all three of us love. Who is your favorite gay porn star right now? I’m all about Mason Wyler.
T Cooper: I’m still all about Ion Davidov. I guess I’m old school that way.
Felicia Luna Lemus: Does Pamela Anderson count? God, I love her! As you know, T and I have a bedtime reading series which basically consists of me tucking T in bed and T picking from a pile of fabulous literature for me to read aloud until we either get too tired or frisky or bored to keep reading. Past reading series selections have included Pamela Anderson’s two novels, Nicole Richie’s novel and American Girl: Stories to Live By. I do my best to keep the reading lively and T adds commentary and frequently acts out scenes along the way. How the hell is this an answer to your question? Well, First Hand is also a regular part of our reading series. Although I don’t have a favorite gay porn star right now I love my gay boy porn.
JW: Felicia, your novel, Like Son just came out. What is it about?
FLL: Like Son is about a thirty-something post-skater-punk trans-dude hottie named Frank. When Frank’s father dies, he inherits a mountain of hyperbolic tendencies – along with a pretty foxy suit and fedora collection. Basically, Frank moves from Los Angeles to New York City in an attempt to run away from his crazy family and make a life for himself, but of course things are never so simple. You know that Peggy Lee song, “Is That All There Is?”–the one that crazy punk singer Cristina remade in the 1980’s? That song is in the novel during a pretty pivotal point and it pretty much captures the story in a nutshell.
JW: Is that you on the cover?
FLL: I wish that were me! It’s actually a 1924 Edward Weston portrait of an avant-garde historical figure named Nahui Olin. She was a total fire-starter; she named herself “The Apocalypse” and she lived in a monastery she converted into a mansion where she threw wild orgy parties that all the coolest artists and scene-makers flocked to. She was tragically gorgeous and fierce. A total haggard drag queen with all her seams showing! I adore her, and although I don’t want to give too much away, it just might be possible that Frank’s grandmother had a torrid affair with her in the 1940’s
JW: T, your Lipshitz 6, or Two Angry Blonds is now in paperback and you recently were in Germany for a book tour. How was Germany and how is a book tour in Europe different from one here in the States?
TC: I’d say they put authors and their work on par – culturally – with movies, music, and TV. It’s pretty amazing, and I was psyched that I got to tour there twice in six months, visit about 15 different cities, meet a bunch of people who are really into my work and not like being dragged by wild horses to the bookstore kicking and screaming like they often are here. Germans were paying $10 dollars per ticket for my readings, wanted to be read to for a good hour and change.
FLL: What, all the questions aren’t for me?!
JW: Are you presently on tour for your book, Felicia? How is that going? Any crazy stories you want to share?
FLL: My tour has totally rocked! I love touring. Except for that one time I stopped at a New Jersey rest stop and, long story short, my D&G sunglasses fell in the disgusting toilet!! What’s a girl to do? I mean, have you ever seen, let alone smelled, what it’s like in one of those bathrooms? There’s like 40 million stalls and, oh god, I just can’t get into this story. My hands break out in a sweat; it’s like post-traumatic stress disorder. Suffice to say, I Lysol-ed the hell out of my sunglasses. I’ll probably be dead in a few months, but touring is great. It really is.
JW: In both of your novels, you have central characters whose gender isn’t safely defined. Did you two talk about this as you were writing or was it something that just happened?
FLL: We talked about it, but we’d both been working on these stories since before we even met. I’d been working on Like Son since before I even wrote my first novel, Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties. That said, meeting a charming and brilliant and foxy twink like T sure didn’t discourage me from bringing Frank to life.
TC: I think it just happened. It’s sort of our lives, so it makes sense that it plays into our work. Come to think of it, differences in gender expression and transgender characters and people are a part of everybody’s lives, so it’s a little surprising to me that more people aren’t writing about it. Like, you know how all the self-congratulatory Hollywood movies have a depressed or cool gay cousin or brother in them, helping the main, normal characters better themselves and make the right decisions? Why not have a cool or depressed transgendered character in the next Meg Ryan love story? She or he could help Meg get over herself and hit the sack with Tom Hanks!
JW: Aside from trangenderism, you two are also similar in terms of having two novels under your belts. What do you know about yourself now as a writer you didn’t know when your first work came out?
FLL: I now know that I know nothing.
TC: I can second that about her. Just kidding. About myself too. I think anytime I feel comfortable about my skills or where I’m at in my “career,” I end up feeling suspect of that sentiment, because ultimately, my hope is that I’ll be learning new things and pushing myself endlessly with each subsequent project.
JW: Do you share a typewriter? Act as each other’s editor? Compare where your books are on Amazon.com? Share book groupies?
FLL: Typewriter? How quaint! But, seriously, T is my first and most trusted reader. As for our Amazon rankings, come on. Do you really think we even know our Amazon rankings? He was ranked number 4 in all of Germany when his German edition came out!! The boy came home and asked me if I realized I was dating “the David Hasslehoff of German letters” – film footage of drunk David slurring and slopping a hamburger all over a Las Vegas hotel room aside. T’s a total rock star there. I went hunting for my Pam Anderson red bathing suit as fast as I could!
TC: We do share groupies. I mean, aren’t you one? No, it’s an honor having Felicia as my first reader on most everything I write – fiction, non-fiction, cease & desist letters, whatever. She’s brilliant, and I trust her opinion implicitly. We might not always agree on everything, but if we did, it would be creepy, don’t you think? Oh, and I just checked Amazon, and her book is 20,000 slots higher-ranked than mine right now. I’d never compared our books like that before, but thanks for giving me the idea. I feel really great now.
JW: I’ve known T for ages, but I don’t know how you two met. What’s the story? Was it romantic? Seedy? Both? Do you want to tell the truth about New Orleans and the toilet?
FLL: Our relationship is always romantic and seedy. That’s just the way we roll. And as for that toilet in New Orleans, although it may have looked awfully suspicious when you walked into our hotel room and I was naked in bed with my hair knotted and my mascara smeared and T walked out the bathroom in a wife-beater and boxers and with his arms dripping wet up to his elbows, it was totally innocent. Really, I swear.
TC: Honestly, the toilet was running incessantly, and I felt it was my civic duty to fix the toilet to stop the senseless waste of water. You came in at a very awkward moment–yes–as I had just had both arms in the toilet tank “up to here” is the particular phrase I think I uttered, gesturing above my elbow, but you never believed me. I don’t think you believe me now, so why are we bothering?
And as for how we met? I read her first book and thought she was hot in the full-bleed photo on the back cover. I asked Michelle Tea for Felicia’s e-mail address and then sent a letter of introduction. It was very proper and old-fashioned and not – at that point – lascivious at all. She wrote right back, all excited, and said that she not only knew of me, but also was teaching my first novel, Some of the Parts in her writing class at UCLA. We had dinner when I was out in L.A. shortly thereafter, and the first time I saw her, I knew – the way you know – and then she moved to New York City and lived a couple blocks down. The next thing I knew, she was barefoot and naked in my kitchen.
JW: T, you edited a book called A Fictional History of the United States with Huge Chunks Missing and Felicia has a piece in that. Felicia what did you have to do to get your submission accepted?
FLL: Ever heard of a casting couch? Enough said. Oh, and I’m the author of two novels and numerous other short stories, I graduated top honors in college and I have a masters degree but, whatever.
TC: Indeed, I did get blowjobs from everybody in that book, including Girls Against Boys bassist and Akashic Books publisher, Johnny Temple.
JW: Felicia, why is it when all three of us go to certain eatery on Eighth Avenue, we get treated like the hired help and Mr. T gets treated like gay Little Lord Fauntleroy? Do you remember how that queen at the door looked at us over his freaking bifocals?! Also why we were in charge of the drinks at his reading at Bluestockings?
FLL: There’s also a gift shop on Avenue A where T gets the royal treatment. If you ever want to buy an overpriced coaster or juice glass set or some shit like that and you want it wrapped very prettily for free, ask T to take you.
As for you and me, we’re simply the loudest, wittiest and prettiest fag/ hag duo ever. We’re clearly just too much for mere mortals, James. Honey, I was in charge of serving the custom-made gourmet cake. You were the one dispensing Pabst. What that says about our roles in T’s eyes, I’m not sure.
TC: I don’t know what either of you are talking about.
JW: In terms of work what is in the future for you two?
FLL: I’m T’s domestic goddess. I bake delicious gluten-free cupcakes for him. I tend to the garden. I put new sheets on the bed. I kiss T’s darling muscled feet. Hooray for his years of university rugby! I’m also working on a new novel. The details are top-secret at this point, but I can reveal, as Princess Hilton is so fond of saying, “It’s hot.” Anyone whose anyone will want to read it.
TC: I’m leaving tomorrow for a writers colony in the Hudson River valley, and I have another residency at a different colony coming up in October. I’m in the early research stages of my third novel, which is – roughly – about 1960’s cults. Besides that, I’m supposed to be making myself rest because I’ve essentially been touring for 15 months straight for four editions of two books in two countries. I know I can read aloud; I’m just not sure I can write anymore, so I’m going up there trying to figure it out.
T Cooper and Felicia Luna Lemus photographed by Erica Beckman