Edge of Fantasia
Set in an alternative Australia, colonised by the French, where same-sex marriage is as normal as men’s outdoor sex parks and prime minister’s wives mingle with un-dead rock divas. Author James McKenzie tells Michael Magnusson about his e-novel Janis and Saint Christopher and how digital publishing served to ‘kindle’ his love for writing.
James McKenzie is best known as the long-time host of Australia’s longest running queer radio program, 3CR’s In Ya Face. McKenzie is also a writer and has released his first novel Janis and Saint Christopher as a digital e-book.
Set in a very alternative Melbourne, the novel is set in a parallel city that was not founded by the British but by French explorers and called Saint Christopher.
McKenzie said he wanted to construct a reality very different to Australia’s British heritage and its culture of burying things that made people uncomfortable. And that extends to burying so much of the Aboriginal culture.
So in this ‘noveau France’ things seem perfect, same-sex marriage is allowed and conservative politicians are now models of tolerance.
High profile radio host, Scott Parker is married to Ryan Morris who operates an outdoor sex park for men. Scott wears a Saint Christopher medallion for luck but when he loses it, things start to get a little weird.
Weirder still are some of the fantastical characters in McKenzie’s story, including the 1960s rock legend Janis Joplin, who has been transformed into a fantasy inversion of her real self.
For a start, Joplin didn’t die from a drug overdose in 1970 and, instead, lives on, staging a come-back with a cover version of Helen Reddy’s ‘I Am Woman’, comes out as lesbian on 60 Minutes and finally falls in love with a woman of Aboriginal and European descent while on an Australian tour.
“I only ever intended her to be a cameo character but she just refused to go away,” McKenzie says.
“But it was wondrous bringing her back to life as this wise character that guides the other characters who are much younger and whose lives are out of control.”
McKenzie said all of the characters, like Joplin, are quite on the edge in this gay fantasia.
“But the book also explores what happens when something that’s currently a gay fantasy goes wrong.
“Currently in Australia same-sex marriage is still a fantasy, it’s not a reality.
“But in my alternative reality it is happening but it’s not so much an exploration of same-sex marriage but more in that aspect of the book what happens when same-sex marriage goes wrong.”
In Janis and Saint Christopher a same-sex marriage collapses, McKenzie says, in quite a spectacular way, with Ryan having an affair with an AFL footballer that came out on Scott’s program.
McKenzie says that he introduced the footballer to give the story plenty of ‘sexual spice’.
“And then, of course, there’s a gay cop,” he adds.
“He’s probably the most risqué character in the book. Some of the stuff he’s into is quite shocking as it all turns out. So then I needed a right-wing counter point to all that and, of course, in this alternative reality John Howard has quite a different face.
“I really wanted to explore that as well as the politician’s wife; in the book [it] turns out that her parents were friends of Jeanette Howard and I constructed a plot line where Jeanette comes in and is like a right-wing counterpoint to these quite left-wing, out of control characters.
“There’s a scene where she actually meets Janis Joplin and something outrageous happens.”
Queer fiction and other alternative writing is something that has flourished with the advent of e publishing and McKenzie thinks this alternative publishing universe perfectly suits his alternative vision.
“Having e-books also makes writing more accessible.
“There’s only so much you can put in a physical bookstore but what you can put out there in the internet is endless.”
“It opens up publishing for more diversity and that’s what I’m about at 3CR, providing a voice. I quite like the environmental side of e-book publishing as well.
“There’s no paper, no chemicals and they are always accessible.”
Janis and Saint Christopher was McKenzie’s return to writing after 15 years. In an earlier, unpublished, screenplay, the characters were almost impossible to bring to life. Now they are larger than life.
“I’ve had a completely different relationship with the characters,” he says.
“They seem to write themselves, I know that sounds weird, but I was surprised about how they appeared and their development just flowed.”
[Image] Rock legend Janis Joplin is re-imagined in James McKenzie's novel, Janis and Saint Christopher.
Janis and Saint Christopher is published by BookBaby and is available from a variety of online distributors including amazon.com, kobobooks.com, bizrate.com and bookworld.com.au