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The Chat with Christopher DiRaddo

DIRADDO, CHRISTOPHER 1, credit Vincent Fortier

Christopher DiRaddo’s sophomore novel, The Family Way (Esplanade), is a dynamic and rich exploration of queer family, parenthood, and the deep bonds of love that sustain us. He’s our guest this week on The Chat.

Writer Ann-Marie MacDonald calls The Family Way "a love letter to families, chosen and otherwise, and an engagingly bittersweet tale of the city of Montreal."

Christopher DiRaddo is the author of two novels: The Family Way and The Geography of Pluto. He lives in Montreal where he is the founder and host of the Violet Hour LGBTQ+ reading series.

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Trevor Corkum: The Family Way explores many ideas of family: families of birth, chosen families, and new family configurations. Why was it important for you to tackle this subject in your new novel?

Christopher DiRaddo: I wanted to write a book that would have been helpful for me to read as a young gay man. In my early twenties, I had no idea what the rest of my life would look like. I only knew that it would be different from those in my family and my friends from high school. But I still couldn’t picture it.

What would life be like without a traditional family? Would I be lonely? Forgotten? Bored?

In the end, the opposite happened. It may have taken me a while to find them, but my chosen family has made my life so rich and full and rewarding. I wanted to offer the young me a chance to see what domestic queer life might look like—from all the folding of laundry and cat drama, to the love and sex and holidays.

TC: Through Paul, the book’s 40-year-old gay protagonist, you look at changing ideas of parenthood in particular, thinking through Paul’s role as a sperm donor to his best friend, Wendy, and her partner, Eve. This is an increasingly common situation for many men, in particular gay men. How did you approach writing about sperm donation and the various relationships Paul navigates in the process?

CD: Well, I’ve been through this experience twice now (for good friends living in California). In fact, baby number two just arrived in March and we’re all very happy. So, the book comes from an authentic place.

However, it’s not a memoir. Although the whole process of creating another life was fascinating, there wasn’t enough real-life drama to sustain a story. Still, I found the topic ripe for exploration. Having a child was not something I ever thought I’d get to do as a gay man, and it brought up so many feelings and emotions (and conversations at dinner parties). I felt like I had something to say about parenthood and what it really means to be a father when you’re a gay man.

TC: You also do a fabulous job exploring the many forms of friendship that exist among gay and queer men. Paul’s friends are lively, witty, relatable guys who see the world through vastly different generational lenses. Where did you draw from to create these characters? Any of the characters more challenging to write than others?

CD: I was such a lonely kid growing up. When I got older, I worked hard to fill my life with friends (and I cherish each and every one of them). No one character in this book is based on any one person. They are shaped from a chorus of voices that have been in my ear for decades. There’s this Auden quote I think of when I think of my friends. “Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.” I find that true of my friendships. We make each other laugh, and that’s why we love each other so.

 

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“Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.”—W. H. Auden

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In terms of challenges, Charles might have been the hardest for me to write. In many ways, he and I are opposites. Charles is obsessed by youth and is not attracted to men his own age (he’s in his 50s). I’ve never understood the rampant ageism that exists in the gay community.

TC: Paul turns 40 over the course of the novel, and some of his friends are older. Midlife can be a time of fear or reckoning for many queer men. Can you talk more about why it’s important to write (and read) books that explore the realities of ageing for gay men?

CD: There’s this ridiculous idea that a gay man’s life ends at 25. That you age out of being attractive, or desirable, or even useful passed a certain point. But life doesn’t end at 25. For me, it only began. My 30s and 40s were fantastic. No longer was I looking for validation in the same places I did in my youth. And I may indeed be older, heavier, and greyer (and wiser) today, but I wouldn’t trade in any of my wrinkles. There’s a beauty to them. So many gay men never got to get older. I’d prefer to celebrate age and portray older gay men as sexy, attractive, smart and living full lives. One thing about us: even though we age, we still remain young at heart. Play is always an important part of life.

 

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There’s this ridiculous idea that a gay man’s life ends at 25. That you age out of being attractive, or desirable, or even useful passed a certain point. But life doesn’t end at 25. For me, it only began.

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TC: The book comes out a time when so many queer Canadian writers are achieving recognition. One of the many hats you wear is as creator and curator of Violet Hour, a queer reading series in Montreal. What do you make of this golden age of queer CanLit, and can you talk more about changes or trends you’ve seen over the years? Where are things headed, and what’s it like to be in the middle of it all?

CD: We are lucky to have a readership in Canada that is not afraid to read works that might challenge them and are outside of their experience. Books that offer a window, rather than a mirror. And with diverse queer titles garnering more mainstream success and accolades (for instance, the last two Canada Reads winners), I’m sure we will be seeing more publishers looking to broaden their appeal and look for new voices.

Another thing I think we’ll be seeing more of is small, yet strong, communities being born around books. That’s what happened with the Violet Hour. And that’s what’s being done by indie publishers like Metonomy Press or Arsenal Pulp. Their readership is fervent about the authors they publish, and they are eager to connect. I also think book clubs will be big again. In 2019, I started the Violet Hour Book Club in collaboration with Never Apart. I have learned so much from each of these meetings. What’s clear to me some 27 titles in, is that there is a hunger among queer people for opportunities to connect and exchange thoughts and ideas while also making new friends. And it’s all centred around books.

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Excerpt from The Family Way (Esplanade Books) by Christopher DiRaddo, used with permission

After we were done, I said goodnight to Kate and headed home. I texted and called Michael several times to tell him I was on my way, but there was no answer. Why did he insist on keeping his phone on silent?

It’s moments like this—when I can’t reach Michael, or haven’t heard from him in a while—that the worst flashes through my head. I know it’s unlikely, but sometimes I think that maybe he’s hurt, or been in an accident or got arrested for smoking pot. It was bad when we first met and he was still skateboarding. My imagination would go to a dark place where I would see Michael’s limp body being surrounded by strangers—passersby in the street who had seen what had happened and would stay with Michael until the ambulance came.

It was like that when my mom was alive too. I hated her job. I hated knowing that she spent her days trapped in a metal fuselage travelling 35,000 feet above the ground at top speed. Sometimes, I’d get these unwelcome thoughts of the plane crashing. A scenario would find its way to weasel into my brain and show me images of the aircraft losing control and my mother having to take her jump seat, spending the last few moments of her life in fear and thinking about me and my sister. I don’t know where these images came from, but they’d present themselves without warning and refuse to go away.

For a while I tried to negotiate with them, force myself to finish my homework or clean the house from top to bottom in exchange for her safe arrival. Then I’d wait for the call from her to come in, telling me that she had arrived at her destination. It wasn’t much different than the calls she asked me to make when I was young and would head off to play at a friend’s house. “Call me when you get there,” she’d say as I ran out the door. It was a simple ask, one I wished Michael understood. I always checked in with my mother. I never saw her concern as an intrusion. It was just a way to show her love—like telling me to drive safe every time I borrowed the car. After she was gone, I found that I missed those requests the most. There was no one to worry about me in the same way any more.

April 22, 2021
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