RH: In the introduction, you make a distinction between writing a
reality-based roman à clef and a work of fiction inspired
by real events.
GI: The real issue is the technical criteria by which somebody
could bring a libel action. My mental position while writing the book
was that I was translating a lot of images that were coming through
the television, magazines and newspapers. It's very important to
deconstruct those images, to be able to comment on them and make
judgments about them without dealing with that whole area of the
law having to do with 'malice' because for me, writing the book
didn't entail any malicious feelings towards anybody who supposedly
(or actually) resembles these characters.
The problem I have with the whole notion of whether this is
roman à clef or not or whether the characters resemble
real people is this: if characters in fiction didn't resemble real people,
if they didn't behave like human beings, nobody would bother to
read the book. The intention of the book was not to make some
statement about actual famous persons, but to interpret the kinds of
roles that certain people play in this media configuration and how
they affect things.
RH: And for every quality that makes the reader look at a
character and say, "Oh, this is so-and-so," there's other elements to
the character that don't match up with some particular figure in
some particular trial.
GI: Virtually every person who's written about this book has
focused on this issue, but it's not what was uppermost in my mind
while I was writing . It wasn't important to me whether there was a
resemblance to somebody that could be named. I didn't feel in many
cases that I was writing about actual people. I felt I was writing
RH: So what is the issue at the heart of this novel?
GI: I felt I was dealing with the whole phenomenon of child
abuse and dysfunctional families, family pathologies that get
expressed in violent ways, and the way that society deals with those
issues. One year, everybody believes any kind of story about people
being victimized by their parents, and the next year they decide they
don't believe any of these stories because they've heard enough. It
just seems to be a very unreal way to deal with problems that are
obviously epidemic. I was trying to write about the way people's
attention is guided back and forth by the media, but nothing ever
gets solved, nothing gets resolved, nothing gets done.
Everybody's willing to punish, and hold people responsible for their
actions, but nobody's willing to accept responsibility for creating a
society where these things happen. Nobody wants to say that they
themselves are responsible or culpable for the things that happen in
the world that they live in, and if they do get caught, they want a
book contract. It's very strange. If you think about what would have
happened to Andrew Cunanan if he hadn't killed himself...he'd
probably have his own talk show by now. And that might not be the
worst way to deal with some of his problems.
RH: It was a bit unnerving to read about a fictional
murderous gay hustler in Southern California while Andrew Cunanan
was running loose. I don't know if you want to talk about
GI: The character resembles Cunanan. What can I say?
I've read almost everything about him, and it sounds like he was a
really nice guy who just snapped. But you have this outpouring of
stuff in the press: he's the epitome of evil, the perverted monster.
People remember he watched Tom Cruise movies, so now he's
obsessed with Tom Cruise. More and more stories are getting
manufactured to account for something we really don't know the
causes of... The key issue for me is that the police didn't even pursue
the matter very energetically until a celebrity got killed. That's one
of the pathologies of the United States, that celebrities are the only
people who have real lives. I had a cousin bludgeoned to death in
Florida some years ago, and because he was a truck driver from a
poor family, it seemed to me like the police made no effort to find
the person who killed him. And his family weren't the kind of
person to trot their grief in front of the camera and cry on cue. They
just dealt with it.
RH: Let's get back to why you picked the Menendez case as the
core of this novel. Apart from the family abuse, what else about this
trial held your attention?
GI: Because the defendants had already admitted they did the
crime, the trial became a town meeting on why it happened. At least
in the first Menendez trial, there was an effort to find out why this
stuff happened, all the possible elements that caused it to happen.
The simplest explanations -- rich spoiled brats etc. -- were only seen
in the cheapest forms of journalism, like Dominick Dunne's articles in
Vanity Fair. He was making pronouncements as a journalist that
were entirely unethical in my view. I personally feel that if you're
acting as a journalist, you don't have the right to just declare to
millions of readers who's guilty of what in the middle of the trial.
You're not supposed to do that.
I don't think Dominick Dunne has any special insight into anything.
I've read several of his books. They're very entertaining trash, but
the quality of mind is banal and predictable, and the fact that he
couldn't see more sides to the Menendez case than his own crummy
narrative is damning, because a good novelist, even one completely
convinced of all the things he concluded about that situation, would
at least have imaginatively taken himself to a different place and
looked at it from a different point of view. He's had a tragedy
involving homicide in his life, so he's supposed to be the great expert
on homicide. But he's just a Jackie Collins type of writer -- in fact,
she's a much better writer than he is.
RH: Of course, he does have that novel about the Simpson trial
coming out in a few months. Are you recoiling at the prospect of yet
another book about the Simpson trial?
GI: I never found the Simpson story very compelling to begin
with. I thought the white Bronco chase was the most remarkable
element of the whole thing. The rest of it was just another sordid
story about a guy killing his wife, probably during an meth-induced
psychotic episode, then getting away with it because he had millions
of dollars to hire these...prostitutes to defend him. I feel a lot
of contempt for that defense team. But then I also feel a lot of
contempt for the prosecution; I can't say that I found them any more
attractive. It's my personal belief that the state suppressed a lot of
drug evidence because they wanted to get him on first-degree
RH: The Bronco chase is an example of how television packages
non-events so that 'experts' can come in and sound off. We saw that
again with the houseboat standoff in Miami.
GI: I have a greater problem with the 'experts' than anything
else. I don't mind seeing the houseboat or the Bronco chase. That's a
normal expression of human curiosity. But I couldn't figure out
where they got these birdbrain 'serial killer experts' they found to
talk about Cunanan and the difference between a serial killer and a
spree killer blah blah blah. All you need to do is go to the drugstore,
buy five paperbacks on Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, and you'll
know everything the 'experts' know.
RH: There were some, very few, intelligent commentators like
Edna Buchanan. And then at the other end of the spectrum, you've
got John Walsh coming in, ranting, "He starts out killing a couple
homosexuals, and then he starts killing innocent
GI: Yeah, right. Buchanan had the only realistic take on
Versace, one anybody could have put together, which was that he
knew Cunanan somehow, and Maureen Orth also reports that
Cunanan dropped Versace's name every chance he got. So it's a fair
surmise that somebody informed Versace that there's this guy on a
killing spree talking about him all the time. He might even have been
shown pictures of Cunanan, who knows? Witnesses say Versace
walked to his cafe using a different route than usual, appeared
nervous and agitated, didn't stop for coffee. It's logical to conclude
that he ran into Cunanan in the street, recognized him. They may
have had words, or it might have been just a look, and then Cunanan
thought he was going to call the police, so he shot him. It's the
simplest, most logical explanation, and the simplest explanations are
usually true. We won't ever know, but...
RH: Meanwhile, we get the spectacle of the media attempting to
warn gays across America of the dangerous threat, displaying a
GI: What kind of sensitivity is it when the guy's referred to in
the tabloids as a pervert? When he's consistently described as
flamboyant and loud and so on? Maybe he was loud, who knows? But
he doesn't sound to me like somebody who was obviously cuckoo. He
sounds like a normal queen. Maybe he was taking crystal
methedrine, I don't know. Something happened between him and
Jeffrey Trail and David Madson that we don't know about. But we do
know that Trail called a friend in San Diego just before he was
murdered and said, "I've got to get out of here. They're going to kill
me." He didn't say "He's going to kill me," he said, "They're going to
kill me. So what did that mean? We don't know. But the whole idea
that he had a master plan, that he was going about this deliberately,
that he was a criminal genius...I've known criminal geniuses, and I
don't think he was one.
The people who knew him that didn't have an interest in getting
their faces all over television said that he basically a nice guy, a
bright kid. Very well liked, very normal within an elastic definition
of normality that we should probably all have.
RH: So do you have a new writing project lined up yet?
GI: Well, I'm thinking of doing a book on Andrew Cunanan.
(smiles) It depends on whether I can stay interested. If I do it,
it will be a novel. I would have considered a non-fiction book if he
had been taken alive, but I think there are just too many questions
that won't be cleared up. In the absence of whatever he would say if
he'd been captured alive, it's hard to consider doing a non-fiction
book; there's too much we can only speculate about. And it's more
fun to do a novel anyway.