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Ordinary People 

Poppy Z. Brite moves away from the dark worlds in her new collection, The Devil You Know.

Truth is stronger in fiction. And for New Orleans author Poppy Z. Brite, that conclusion has allowed her to turn a page in her work.

Previously, Brite had spent much of her career in the horror genre and had received some acclaim within the field writing about her native city. However, moving back to New Orleans after a number of years away, she began to realize that to fully describe this city and its inhabitants she needed to turn away from the dark and fantastical.

"I don't want to seem like I'm turning my back on a genre that's been very good to me, and I don't know what I'll be doing in the future, since just a few years ago I didn't know I'd be doing this," Brite says. "But my interests do seem to be going in the other direction from horror, and I've come to feel that it's not a particularly useful genre for writing about New Orleans; I think it encourages a lot of the cliches that mar so much fiction about the city, including much of my earlier work. I'm tired of the idea that every story concerning New Orleans has to be dark, decadent, macabre, scary and bleak. I just think there are more interesting sides to the city."

Brite gives us a few of those sides in her new collection of short stories, . The book, as Brite explains in the preface, contains entries from both her genre fiction past and her new realistic view. The author's apology is further useful for her longtime fans because she illuminates the reasons behind her transformation and her mindset for each piece. Wisely, she chose not to place the stories in chronological order, so there is no clear line of demarcation and no reason for her horror readers to put the book down.

In fact, her more recent offerings within the collection prove to be the most intriguing and satisfying. Among the highlights is her portrayal of the culture of food. "Marisol" is a harsh reminder to any restaurant critic that their reviews are taken to heart. "Poivre" displays the precarious position that a favorite eatery holds for a local gourmand in a city of many culinary choices. "O Death, Where Is Thy Spatula?," on the other hand, demonstrates to what lengths a connoisseur will go to preserve a dining experience.

For Brite, whose husband, Chris, is a local chef, the ubiquitous New Orleans restaurant and its intertwining of diners, staff and owners is a natural setting to describe the everyday lives of New Orleanians. Brite employs this background to delve into two of the book's reoccurring characters, G-Man and Ricky, a gay couple who owns and operates a fine-dining establishment. In "Bayou de la Mere," they are vacationing in a small Louisiana town when G-Man, while visiting a Catholic church, makes the astute observation, "Sure, New Orleans is Catholic, but it's different there. More ... I don't know ... more adaptable. You're a lapsed Catholic out here, they're gonna make you think about it every damn day of your life." It seems that environment is crucial not only to creative chefs, but to gays and recovering Catholics as well.

In their other appearance, "A Season in Heck," G-Man and Ricky are a model couple for a teenage boy who is on the verge of coming out. Their own coming-out story was related in Brite's recently published novel, The Value of X. Relating the lives of gay characters isn't anything new for Brite -- she's been doing it all along. This also accounts for her belief that she won't lose too many fans with the change.

"I don't feel that my fan base was ever really made up of hardcore horror readers because I've always written about gay characters among other things, and horror can be a very conservative genre," she says. "I think a lot of horror readers were turned off after my first novel by the fact that I wrote about these 'nasty homosexuals.'"

By breaking convention, Brite has cultivated, perhaps inadvertently, readers who will follow her as she leaves the horror genre behind. If not, there are always others out there. "I'd like to keep my old readership, but I know some won't come along," she says. "I've already seen a review from Amazon.com that said it wasn't 'dark and dangerous.' Well, if that's all you ever liked about me, then good riddance."

click to enlarge "I'm tired of the idea that every story concerning New Orleans has to be dark, decadent, macabre, scary and bleak," says local author Poppy Z. Brite. "I just think there are more interesting sides to the city."
  • "I'm tired of the idea that every story concerning New Orleans has to be dark, decadent, macabre, scary and bleak," says local author Poppy Z. Brite. "I just think there are more interesting sides to the city."

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