“More fun than a sex party!”
Long before Ru Paul eyed his first pair of six inch stilettos or Boy George donned his colorful caftan, a handsome young man from the small town of Round Rock, Texas barnstormed the stages of Europe’s most lavish theaters and night clubs as Barbette, a beautiful aerialist drag queen who became a scandalous sensation throughout the Roaring Twenties.
Performing his erotic, high wire and trapeze routine in lavish, feminine regalia, Barbette shocked audiences by revealing the true nature of his gender at the very end of his act.
From a child who picked cotton and walked his mother’s clothes line to headlining at the Moulin Rouge in spectacular drag, Wildflower reveals long-forgotten secrets of this enigmatic performer: his arrest in London on morals charges, his bout with polio, his infamous collaborations with some of Hollywood’s greatest stars— Orson Welles, Vincente Minnelli, and Judy Garland, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis as well as his hidden affair with French surrealist Jean Cocteau.
Wildflower captivates with every page, dramatically revealing the startling and at times heart-breaking story of Round Rock’s first and greatest drag queen.
1. Where did you get the idea for the novel?
I came across an item in the local Round Rock paper about Barbette, this drag queen who grew up in the town. (I happen to have a residence there.) I kept on mulling over what must have it been like for this kid who picked cotton to become a scandalous drag sensation in Europe during the Roaring Twenties. The whole persona of Barbette was almost mythological to me. I had this idea to run a parallel story of a teenager in present day and juxtapose it with the story of Barbette. But after I researched more about Barbette at the Round Rock Library, I completely changed the direction of the book, only featuring this enigmatic drag queen.
2. Your title. Who came up with it? Did you ever change your title?
Is it the longest title in printed history? Haha! I think ‘wildflower’ as a word perfectly symbolizes Barbette, whose real name was Vander Clyde Broadway. Somehow he managed to bloom in this extraordinary way no matter his life circumstances. The rest of the title was my own revenge on people who like to think Round Rock doesn’t have gay people residing there. In fact, Round Rock is the childhood home of the most sensational drag queen of the twentieth century. But Round Rock is coming around. Last year, as a part of the town’s anniversary celebration, they had a ‘Barbette Run’—a drag race—if you will. So things change and people have a sense of humor.
3. Why did you pick this genre? What do you like about it?
All three Kyle Taylor novels have some sort of historical aspect to them. I think the Kyle Taylor reader is someone who enjoys an engaging story set within a unique historical context. For Wildflower in particular, it was a total challenge. I grappled with writing a Seabiscuit type of book, but I decided I could reveal Barbette’s life in a more vivid way in the historical fiction genre.
Wildflower spans sixty years of a man’s life. You have this built-in story arc you want to be faithful to, but at the same time you are making choices—what to put in and what to leave out, what to emphasize. It’s a bit like conducting an orchestra. I have no doubt, other writers could take Barbette’s story and tell it in a different way. That’s the dynamic of this genre.
4. Since becoming a writer, what’s the most exciting thing to ever happen to you?
Hollywood called and said they wanted to make a movie out of one of my books! Well, not really! So far, Kyle Taylor toils at his computer—all guts, and no glory, I’m afraid.
5. What book are you currently reading or what was the last book you read?
Grisham’s Sycamore Row. And I want to get Goodwin’s Bully Pulpit next.
6. What is your writing process?
Wildflower was a bewitching book to write. I thought I was in for a much easier ride, but what I found was as I settled to write each event in Barbette’s life, I had to research like mad to understand people, places and events before I could move from my outline to writing the scene.
For example, I had to delve much more deeply in the Parisian surrealist movement of the twenties. I had to understand Jean Cocteau’s obsession with Barbette. I studied Cocteau a great deal—the lovers he took during this time, his addictions, his films and books. Barbette is woven into Cocteau’s world. It was quite an education for me.
So I got into a routine—I would review my outline in the afternoon, and research like crazy in the evening. If I felt confident enough to complete the scene I would write in the morning or else I would keep on researching. It was a yearlong process from start to finish.
7. At a book signing, do you just sign your name or do you write a note? How do you come
up with stuff to say?
Alas, I’ve never done a book signing. Who knows, maybe this year in Austin?
7. What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Kyle Taylor is very private. I will say I feature cameos of my dog Winston, in various forms, four-legged or human, in each novel.
8. How do you react to a bad review?
Writing is a craft. I enjoy reading bad reviews because I think they are instructive. They can reveal whole new viewpoints as an author you don’t even think about. But I do feel sad if something I worked so hard on for people to enjoy didn’t come off. Kind of takes the wind out of your sails!
9. How did you celebrate the sale of your first book?
For Wildflower, I took Winston out for a hotdog and ice cream at the Round Rock Sonic. He demanded royalties!
With all his might, Vander swung the trapeze as high into the air as he could tolerate, the muscles in his feet screaming out. As he reached the apex, he released his feet, tucked into a tight ball and did a backward somersault. In an instant, he was bouncing on the safety net, thrilled by what he had just done!
Bobby Fuller stuffed his cigar into his mouth and applauded loudly. Audrey too was impressed. From the platform, she did a swan dive, turning onto her back at the right instant for a soft landing on the safety net. She then walked over to where Bobby and Vander were standing.
“Now, son, I need you to be honest with me. You’re new to this aren’t you?” Bobby asked as he stared intently at Vander.
“I did shows in my back yard—on the wire. I’m good!” Vander said trying to sell himself. He wanted more than anything to get back up to the trapeze.
“You a run away?” Audrey asked with her hands on her hips.
“No. My momma sent me off today on the train, from Round Rock.”
“He’s got balance,” Audrey said. “It’ll take him time to train.”
“I’m a fast learner! I even doubled up my studies and finished high school two years early!”
Bobby rubbed his chin. “We’ve only got a week, ten days tops, to get him trained. If we don’t get this act back on track, they’ll can us and then where’ll we be?”
Audrey’s pale blue eyes looked serious. “Did you see, how he moved his arms? He sure looks the part. He’ll look sweet in a dress.”
Vander’s mouth dropped. “A dress?”
Bobby Fuller scowled, “The part’s for a female trapeze artist. Didn’t y’all read the advertisement?”
“We’re the Alfaretta Sisters!” Audrey interjected. “World famous aerial queens.”
Vander Clyde was trying to absorb what they were saying.
“He’s got a good figure, not quite a man yet,” Audrey said looking over Vander’s body. “A little taking in here and letting out there and Lydia’s costumes could fit.”
“You ever put on a dress, boy?” Bobby asked. “It’s no big deal. Wouldn’t be the first time a boy in a trapeze act did it.”
“You look better in a dress, up on a trapeze,” Audrey encouraged. “More beautiful, the dress flows, you know.”
Vander remembered Miss Nelson told him all the actors during Shakespeare’s time were men or boys and they played the female parts as well.
“Like Shakespeare, you mean the way the boys played the girl’s parts?” Vander asked.
Bobby and Audrey laughed.
“Yes, son, just like ol’ Will Shakespeare!” Bobby chuckled. “You’ll get five dollars a week—no pay until we get the act back up. Deal?” Bobby extended his hand.
Vander Clyde couldn’t believe it was all happening so fast! He enthusiastically extended his hand. “Deal!”
Kyle Taylor is the author of Wildflower, Exposition and Billion Dollar Dreamer. The Kyle Taylor character debuted in Billion Dollar Dreamer as a journalist who was assigned to write a story about high school history teacher cum overnight billionaire John Driskil. He resides in New York—and of course he is a work of fiction! You can contact Kyle at BillionDollarDreamer@gmail.com.
a $25 Amazon gift card to the commenter who leaves the best question or comment
The more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: http://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2014/04/virtual-book-tour-wildflower-by-alan.html