Interview with Ulysses Dietz
by Sherry Perkins
Interviewing authors is always a treat, especially when the author has a wicked sense of humor, a genuine sense of exuberance, and has interests similar to those which interest you. To be fair, authors who have different interests are fascinating in a another way–one that is often enlightening. Ulysses was simply entertaining and open. Plus, he’s not only an author; he reviews books too.
He mentioned he had no current author photos for use in this interview, so he sent this one. It’s appropriately titled, “The Pandemic Selfie, 2020.” I was a bit alarmed that he felt the need to quantify the selfie as “2020,” the implication being there might be subsequent pandemics. Egad, man! Don’t go there!!
In any event, I know you’ll enjoy getting to know Ulysses as much as I did.
- You do book reviews on multiple platforms. What advice would you give someone just starting to do book reviews?
I write my book reviews for my own pleasure—to express the pleasure I got from reading a book. I also write reviews to support writers I admire, whose work (whether it’s the first book I’ve read, or part of a long series) deserves promotion and support. I don’t publish negative reviews if I can avoid it. I’m not out to prove a point or to hurt any aspiring writer’s feelings. I am not a nitpicker, and I’m not a snob, but I need good writing and at least some effort at editing.
- Do you have a favorite book genre to review? What elements of the genre are “keepers” for you?
This is both easy and difficult to answer. I have long been a voracious reader, but in my late 50s discovered a new world of literature about gay men. That has become my focus, since for most of my life as a gay man I’ve been deprived of a literary world in which I could see myself. I love romance, but I also love fantasy, historical novels, detective and paranormal fiction; as well as young adult/new adult fiction—and memoirs. I need good writing and strong characters, and a plot that doesn’t insult my intelligence. What strikes me most about any book is the ability of the author to make a standard trope fresh and emotionally involving.
I am always happy to find a new gay man who writes good books—but don’t insist on that in any way. Conversely, gay men who write books without central gay characters (because the sell to a larger audience) don’t make it onto my list. Somehow I think that gay men of my generation never felt validated growing up—even if their lives were not difficult. So what I read and what I love is definitely colored by my own life and how I see the world.
- Speaking of keepers, I understand you’re a museum curator. How did that happen? What do you enjoy most about curating? Do you have a favorite piece of furniture, statuary, artwork, jewelry or textile, etc? What is it?
Now here’s a rabbit hole you might not want to go down! I fell in love with old houses, historic houses, when I was an adolescent, and that evolved into caring about the stuff inside old houses. I was working as an intern (aka volunteer) at a great old house in upstate New York when I was nineteen, and realized that people actually got paid to do this for a living. That is when I knew I was going to be a curator. I was a decorative arts curator (generally, that’s household furnishings, but also contemporary craft and modern design) for 37 years. It was a dream career.
The best thing, without doubt, about being a curator is working with objects—unlocking their stories and sharing those stories with your museum’s visitors. In Newark, not only was I in charge of a 25-room Victorian beer baron’s mansion (part of the museum), but I managed a collection of over 40,000 objects at the Newark Museum (just one of six departments), and in my years I purchased 1100 things to add to that collection. I have lots of favorites, each of them loved for a different reason. I love furniture, silver, ceramics, quilts, jewelry, old stuff, new stuff, modest things, grand things.
- I read, when you were discussing your books, that you tend to write about what you know–museums, old houses, traditional things, antiques. Do you find you connect to readers with those same interests or is it more about the characters you write?
“Write what you know” is either brilliant, or limiting. Most of the writing I’ve done in my career was about THINGS, so there you have to write what you know. I mean, that’s the point. But in fiction, I write more about what makes me passionate. I have done lots of bits of research for my fiction writing, but mostly to make sure I’m correct about something that I think I already know. I knew about the French Revolution and about Paris during the Reign of Terror—but I researched background things to make sure that what I wrote about in Desmond rang true.
One reason my novels have old houses in them—because a house is such a great metaphor for the person who lives there. Same with things—objects become keys to unlocking mysteries, stories that shed light on characters. The reason I have written about museum curators in all three of my novels so far is that NOBODY gets curators right—not one Hollywood film or novel that I’ve read gets curators or museums right.
Character is important to me, because I know the people I’m writing about, and want the reader to know them the way I do. My characters don’t have to be complicated or damaged, but they need to be authentic, believable as people.
- How important is family support in your writing career? I know several authors who struggle to find “balance” between family and career. Do you have any suggestions for finding that balance?
This makes me laugh. Of course my museum writing was fully supported by everybody around me. My family loved that I was a curator—weird, but somehow kind of smart. The gay fiction, especially with vampires? Not so much. My late mother did say nice things about the writing of Desmond, but other than my husband of 45 years, who is also one of my best editors and most loyal supporters, most of the people in my actual life dismiss my fiction as a somewhat embarrassing sideline to my real life. Now, the writers I have come to know—mostly online, but a few in person—are all great supporters. It’s a nice community, because we all care about the same things and we all love reading.
- And in a somewhat circular fashion, we find ourselves back at tradition and history because you are, in fact, a relative of Ulysses S. Grant. Can you talk about what that’s like?
If I ever get my memoir published, everyone will see that I spend a good bit of time dealing with this, because my name, and my understanding of my name’s origin, had a big influence on my life.
The short layout: great-great grandson. Long layout: Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia had four kids. Their eldest son, Frederick Grant, married Ida. They had two kids, Ulysses III and Julia. Ulysses married Edith, and they had three daughters. Their youngest daughter was Julia, who married John and had four kids. I was the third kid, Ulysses.
- What is your favorite passage from your most recent release, “Cliffhanger”? Where did you get the idea for it? How long did it take you to write the story?
Ooh, favorite passage. So hard because several of my favorite moments are totally spoilers. But, I love the passage at the dinner party at Homer’s apartment, where Homer reveals to Xander’s grandmother, Estelle, that he had a longtime partner who had died many years earlier. That scene tells us a lot about Homer, but also about the Browne family. It lets us see what Xander and Alex mean to Homer, and how the mystery on which they’ve stumbled has managed to change his life.
I think Cliffhanger took me a good year to write. I finished in the early fall of 2020, but kept tweaking it until I sent it to JMS Books.
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