Maupin reaps the laughs at the Novello Festival of Reading

If you're an Armistead Maupin fan, you know that the secret of Anna Madrigal, one of his beloved “Tales of the City” characters, can be found in an anagram of her name: “A man and a girl.”

Clever literary trick. Also a total accident, Maupin told a Novello Festival of Reading audience Thursday night.

A fan who wrote Maupin in the 1970s said he'd discovered the anagram, and with it, Anna's secret – she's a woman who was once a man. Maupin recalled to an ImaginOn audience of 300 his shocked response, which can't be repeated in a family newspaper. But it drew big laughs.

Maupin had people laughing from the minute he walked on stage and announced: “I appreciate you all coming tonight, when you could be in Elon listening to Sarah Palin.”

Maupin, who grew up in Raleigh, made his name with his six-volume “Tales of the City” series, which began in 1976 as a San Francisco Chronicle series. It follows gay and straight friends through free-sex, gay liberation and AIDS. His 2007 novel, “Michael Tolliver Lives,” continues their stories..

Charlotte author Malcolm Campbell interviewed Maupin, and audience members also posed questions.

Describing his marriage in California this month to husband Christopher Turner, Maupin said the ceremony was lovely, but basic. “I've been to too many where the people are held captive, and they have to go through all this crap before they get to eat.”

Asked about his writing process, Maupin said he works slowly, “continually filled with self-doubt,” polishing every sentence and paragraph before moving on.

That's a luxury he didn't have when he was churning out 800 words, five days a week, for the newspaper serial. “I just had to tell myself, ‘It's just going to be on the bottom of somebody's birdcage tomorrow, so don't be so precious about it.'”

That remark got laughs, as did his response to an audience member who asked: “Did you actually go to a Rock Hudson pool party?”

“Oh,” Maupin replied, “it was so much more than that.”