Owen Keehnen – An Interview

Today, I’m joined by writer and historian Owen Keehnen for a quick fire Q&A. Keehnen’s newest book, The Matinee Idol is a sexy M/M romance set in silent era Hollywood. The Matinee Idol has just been released from Wilde City.

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When were you happiest?

I’ve had some wonderful trips with my partner Carl, but last year I took a road trip alone to Mount Rushmore. A long road trip by yourself is mythical, and pretty awesome. Self-reliance in action. I am always happiest exploring new places.

What is your greatest fear?

That I will cause someone irreparable harm. I could not live with that guilt. I also have a fear of being boring.

What is your earliest memory?

The feel of holding a soft red doll in my hand. Also looking down to see my own feet. These two memories are probably age four or so and might even be two things happening at the same moment.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?

I admire anyone who goes the distance for their beliefs and to help others – saying that – probably Larry Kramer and/or Cleve Jones. That level of heroics is inspiring. This answer changes, a lot.

What is the trait you deplore most in yourself?

I can be jealous, but in the most petty of ways. Very embarrassing and juvenile, but I’m not as bad as I used to be.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

I was raised Catholic so almost all my pleasures are guilty… I guess movies – especially glossy Hollywood films from the golden era or horror movies, especially the “Giallo” Italian horror films from the 60s/70s. Extremely stylized decor is the common element here.

What is the worst job you’ve done?

I’ve had a lot of bad jobs, but the worst job I’ve had was probably trimming evergreen trees during the summers… think machetes, bees, and sap. The worst job I’ve done, some columns I wrote years ago can be pretty embarrassing and self-righteous to reread – so I never do. I cringe at the thought of rereading them. But how bad is all that stuff really, I mean, most times you learn a lot by having or doing a crappy job. I am a pretty fast learner when it comes to repeating shitty experiences.

What is the love of your life?

I have a few. I’m fickle. I love writing and animals and movies too. I love thinking what I do matters – contributing to the LGBTQ community in different ways – through writing and my organization work. I remember how hard it was to be gay as a kid and doing what I can to make it easier for today’s and tomorrow’s youth and making a difference gives me a huge natural high. Even if other parts of my life are in chaos, doing the right thing in terms of community service makes me see my life as worthwhile.

Which phrases do you most overuse?

I tend to describe things as being a nightmare a lot… bus rides, social gathering, relationships, customer encounters, etc. Also I tend to use okee doke way too much for someone outside a Doris Day movie.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

Great question because I love history. It is an obsession. Probably the turn of the century (1900) because things were just starting to be filmed so I watch those snippets on you tube a lot and project there in my mind. That time period was such a bridge between key eras, so much was going on. I don’t know what I feel about reincarnation, but I feel very comfortable imagining myself there.

When did you last cry, and why?

At a super sappy Hallmark made for TV movie about Christmas a couple nights ago. I fell for it – hook, line, and sinker. I can be a real softy when something hits me just right. Timing is probably the biggest factor.

How do you relax?

I love watching TMC – black and white movies while laid out on the couch with my dogs. Reading a really good book. If I am in a state of anxiety, doing something/action is always the answer for me. Researching can help me relax, doing something nice for someone.

What is the closest you’ve come to death?

That one is a toss up – I’ve almost drowned and almost choked on my own vomit during my drinking and drugging days. Probably the latter was closer, moderation is just not in my DNA. The key is avoiding the ways that can hurt you, and using it in ways that benefit you. Then tendency for excess is not the bad thing, it’s where you aim it.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

I wish I had the energy I had when I was in my twenties. I could get so much accomplished, however, in my twenties all I wanted to do was get high and get laid.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I think not caring that I didn’t know how to do something and just doing it anyway. I guess this could be considered naivete, but looking back I reframe it as heroic. This is especially true with every facet of writing – novels, interviews, poetry, porn, etc. Some people worry so much about making a fool of themselves by failing. I have lots of fears, but not that one. That blind spot is sort of an asset. I’ve made a fool of myself plenty of times, but it has always worked out and it is much better than not trying. As a result I’ve done lots of different things.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?

Probably my parents. I loved them deeply. They were good people, but damn I was a handful. For so many years I hated myself and that just translated into being a little shit. I was crazy and unsure and lashed out and acted out in a million different ways. They worried so much about me. I wish I could just go back and say, “Please forgive this kid, and please realize that all this obnoxious behavior that you don’t understand has nothing to do with you.” In the end they both knew I loved them, but every once and a while a memory surfaces that causes me to cringe.

What keeps you awake at night?

I can get into worry ruts and cannot fall asleep. Then I start to obsess over what a rotten night’s sleep I’m getting, start calculating, “If I fall asleep now I’ll get four hours of sleep…” etc.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I’ll Be Seeing You – the Jo Stafford version.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who lived a full and adventurous life and gave back to his community.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Don’t be overly concerned about what other people will think because chances are they aren’t thinking about you anyway. We’ve all earned the right to be as eccentric as we want to be. Another importance lesson is the firm belief that setting new goals and trying new things is always good for the soul.

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Owen Keehnen has had his fiction, essays, columns and interviews appear in dozens of magazines and anthologies worldwide. Keehnen is the author of the humorous gay novel Young Digby Swank (Wilde City Press, 2013), the gay novel The Sand Bar (Lethe Press, 2012) and the horror novel Doorway Unto Darkness (Dancing Moon Press, 2010). He also authored the reference book The LGBT Book of Days (Wilde City Press, 2013). Along with Tracy Baim, he co-authored Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow (Prairie Avenue Productions, 2011), Jim Flint: The Boy From Peoria (Prairie Avenue Productions, 2011), and Vernita Gray: From Woodstock to the White House (Prairie Avenue Publications, 2015). He is also the author of several M/M novellas for Wilde City. Over 100 of his 1990s interviews with various LGBT authors and activists were collected in the book We’re Here, We’re Queer (Prairie Avenue Productions, 2011). He edited the Mark Abramson memoir For My Brothers and co-edited Nothing Personal: Chronicles of Chicago’s LGBTQ Community 1977–1997 (Firetrap Press, 2009). He was also a contributor to Gay Press, Gay Power (Prairie Avenue Publications, 2012) and wrote ten biographical essays for the LGBT history book Out and Proud in Chicago (Surrey/Agate, 2008). Keehnen is the co-founder, senior biographer, and board member of the LGBT organization, The Legacy Project which seeks to bring proper recognition to LGBT people and their contributions throughout history. He was the author of the Starz books, a four-volume series of interviews with gay porn stars. He has had two queer monologues adapted for the stage, served as co-editor of the Windy City Times Pride Literary Supplement for several years, and was co-founder of the horror film website RacksAndRazors.com. He lives in Chicago with his partner, Carl, and his two ridiculously spoiled dogs, Flannery and Fitzgerald. In 2011 he was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame and currently serves on the board of the organization. 

Connect with Owen on Facebook.

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