Montreal author Christopher DiRaddo burst onto the literary scene with his 2014 novel The Geography of Pluto. It was an auspicious debut: Queer lit icon Andrew Holleran said of Pluto, “Its real location is the human heart — which is why I could not put it down.”
In April, DiRaddo releases his sophomore novel The Family Way (Esplanade Books) about a 40-year-old gay man who explores the meaning of family as he helps a lesbian couple get pregnant. DiRaddo also has two short stories in the upcoming Here & Now: An Anthology of Queer Italian-Canadian Writing (Longbridge Books).
DiRaddo got his start in the queer trenches at Divers/Cité, Montreal’s original Pride organization. He is the founder and host of the queer Violet Hour reading series and book club, President of the Quebec Writers’ Federation, and is an LGBTQ programming associate for the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival where in 2018 he co-founded the Blue Metropolis Violet Literary Prize, an annual award presented to an established Canadian LGBTQ writer for their body of work. We recently sat down for a candid Q&A.
Was The Family Way inspired by real-life events?
When I was young I operated in activist circles around Pride. Today we aren’t living in a post-Pride world, but we’ve gotten a lot of the things that we fought for. At the same time, our lives are very different than traditional heterosexual families, and I wanted to showcase and celebrate queer family.
I was approached by two really good friends to help them start their family and I said yes. I was in my early 40s and, like gay men of a certain age, there were certain things I never thought I would do. We never thought we’d get married, never thought we’d have kids. I don’t think it was really something I thought I would ever be doing. But here I was doing it. The whole process was fascinating to me, all the things that I needed to do. So I fictionalized it and turned it into a story.
What is the message of The Family Way?
The message is families come in all shapes and sizes. I’m very lucky, I’m very close to my biological family, I consider them family. But I also have a chosen family. Queer people have worked really hard to have our relationships seen as legitimate in the public eye and in my novel I wanted to legitimize different kinds of families.
Was the writing process different this time around, compared to your first novel, The Geography of Pluto?
It was much faster. Pluto took me 14 years to write and this one took about six years.
I think this time I knew how to write a book. There was a lot of learning that first book. I wouldn’t say that I have mastered the writing process but I feel like I know what to do. Family Way also came out very, very quickly because there was also real-life proximity to the experience.
How important is your mentor, Montreal author Peter Dubé?
He is extremely important to me. He was my mentor for Pluto. We knew each other a little bit before then, just by being two writers living in Montreal. But he really was able to help me change that novel, help usher me along without being overbearing. Some mentors impress their own personal style or vision onto a younger writer. I never got that with Peter. He could see what I was doing and the water in which I was swimming, then tried to help me develop my stroke. We’re extremely close. He’s also family to me, I love him very much.
You took over communications at Divers/Cité in 1997. How important were Divers/Cité
co-founders Suzanne Girard and Puelo Deir in your life?
They were huge mentors for me. I chose not to write about Divers/Cité in Family Way because it’s so associated with those two people. I felt if I were to write that my character worked at Divers/Cité, then readers would think my book is autobiographical. It’s not. My character works for Montreal Pride. It’s like some kind of parallel universe. But Puelo and Suzanne were huge.
I studied journalism and communications at Concordia University but got all of my real-world training at Divers/Cité. It was baptism by fire. It really put me on my path. I also learnt community is very important to me, that I wanted to build community, help people come out of the closet and feel better about who they are.
That has stayed with me in my Violet Hour evenings. It’s grassroots, we’re not really making any money, we’re doing this because we love our community. And we want to give writers a stage.
Divers/Cité helped you and queer Montreal grow.
I will also say Divers/Cité wasn’t perfect. I loved how DIY it was but I also had issues with it, which was part of the reason I left when I did. I remember when Air Canada and Molson were our only real sponsors. It was really important because Divers/Cité got really expensive to produce. After a while, even with Divers/Cité, it just becomes a carbon copy of itself. You end up doing the same thing. But after not having Pride last summer because of COVID, I don’t know if we need all the bells and whistles. I don’t need any Pride festival to spend tens of thousands of dollars on superstars. We just need to get together and celebrate. I just want to see my friends walk on the street. See some eye candy, have a drink, dance and sit in the Village like we used to do on St. Catherine Street. Hats off to Fierté Montréal, but bigger doesn’t always mean better.
Looking back now, I loved how DIY Divers/Cité was. I’m so happy I was a part of it.
Do you feel writing novels is another way to remember our past?
I think it’s extremely important to remember our history, I think we often forget where we come from. I’ve had a lot of time in the past year to reflect on this, and yes, novels definitely are a way to record history. I hope my books complement the work of others who are
documenting our moment in time.
Do you miss LGBTQ bookstores like Montreal’s much-lamented L’Androgyne?
Very much. That’s another reason why I created the Violet Hour. The bookstore experience is not just about buying a book and reading it at home. There was the social aspect of it, walking in and talking to people about what’s happening in the city. It was just always such a great focal point for what was going on. I miss those kinds of interactions which I hope audiences can still experience at the Violet Hour. Violet Hour also brings readers and writers together to discover new queer writing. There is so much of it. Besides, people who read are sexy.
Do you identify as a gay writer or a writer who happens to be gay?
I’m a gay writer. I’m only interested in telling stories with queer characters. I want to write the books I want to read. I feel like there’s more authenticity in that. So, yeah, I’m a queer writer. And I am not concerned if that limits my commercial prospects. Success for me is really for my books to land into the right hands, meaning the person who needs that book at that time. That may be 500 people, may be 1000 people, perhaps 20,000 people. But even if it’s just 500 people, I think that’s pretty amazing. So I just leave that to the universe. All I can really do is to kind of put it out there.
INFOS | The Family Way de Christopher DiRaddo published by Esplanade Books
(from April 21)