Interview with Michigan born Aaron Krach

By Kevin Riordan

Like his narrator, the young author of the striking debut novel "Half-Life" really is a product of the same Los Angeles high school that produced iconic '60s and '70s model Cheryl Tiegs.

But unlike the gymnasium at the fictional Angelito High School, the Alhambra High gym isn't named for a celebrity. Who knows, perhaps it will someday be named for Aaron Krach, whose "Half-Life" (Alyson, 312 pgs., $13.95) is as an evocative story about being young and gay in a very particular time and place.

Born in Ionia, Michigan and raised in Los Angeles, Krach (pronounced "Krock") has written a book that's a lyrical and vivid series of snapshots of the city where he came of age and came out. A Manhattan resident for the last decade, the author spoke recently by cellphone as a car service ferried him uptown to a photo shoot with a 300-pound nudist/exhibitionist.

Just another Saturday morning in the life of a rising photographer (Krach's work has been shown at a SoHo gallery), journalist (he's a senior editor at the new men's magazine, Cargo) and author. "

You'd be amazed, it's so glamorous," Krach says, referring not to the photo shoot, but to the world of the newly published novelist. "From the day I got the call (from Alyson) my life hasn't been the same." He's kidding; already a veteran journalist (Out, Instinct, HX) at age 32, Krach is alternately saucy and serious - and thoroughly charming - during our chat. "I'm not used to being on the other side of an interview," he says, describing reactions to "Half-Life" as everything from "it's a really great book about nothing, or a really great book about too many things."

So what is it about?

"I love stories about life-changing events that happen over a weekend," he explains. "Or those sort of in-between experiences where we change. The book is about simple, everyday life and how little, magical things can happen if you pay attention."

His 18-year-old narrator Adam Westman is an out gay senior at Angelito High. He and his equally out friend Dart hang around the 7-Eleven ("the Sev"), fantasize about guys, and can't wait to graduate. Adam lives with his little sister, Sandra, and their dad, Greg, a chronically depressed drug addict whose death leads to a meeting between Adam and a dashing gay cop nearly 20 years older. And yes, they fall in love.

The Los Angeles of "Half-Life" is almost a character in itself - lush and lyrical, yet stark, even haunting. Krach says it's a city "of my memory, and of my fantasy." He says time and distance helped him focus on Los Angeles "without distractions" - although he had to check maps to make sure he recalled street names and locations accurately (occasionally, he didn't).

Getting the details right was essential, Krach says, because he wanted the book to be "as authentic as possible." Indeed, one of the signature strengths of "Half-Life" is its richly textured re-creation of the intensely introspective languor of teenage life - even though the author himself hasn't been a teenager for more than a decade (he graduated from Alhambra High in 1990).

Again, Krach says, time and distance "gave me the freedom to make that place what I wanted it to be." Unlike his narrator, "I was sort of a freak in that I loved high school," he continues. "I had the hottest boyfriend...although the poor guy has gone on to become a born-again Christian...Of course I was lonely and confused and totally f-----up about being gay, but I had the whole world ahead of me."

That sense of possibility (mixed with uncertainty, if not a dash of dread) gives "Half-Life" a lovely resonance; the novel is both wistful, and hopeful.

"This is a little embarassing," Krach says, "but I still get a little choked up when I read the ending."

But as for the notion - advanced by this interviewer - that the Alhambra High gymnasium could someday be named for him, he says, "I can't stop laughing."

Aaron Krach's photographic work can be seen online at www.paulsharpegallery.com/ Visit www.aaronkrach.com.

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