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September 3, 2002

Winter solstice

By Eric Rangus

Growing up, Andrew Beierle always wanted to be a writer.

While still developing a handle on his vocabulary and signing up for electives for his junior year of high school, Beierle saw that one of his choices was “journalism.”

“Is that writing?” he asked a teacher.

“Sort of,” was the reply.

A career was born. Beierle eventually graduated from Penn State University with a journalism degree and moved on to a major daily—The Orlando Sentinel—where he spent four years before entering the world of campus publishing.

Three years as a medical and science writer at Brown University set Beierle up for a job at what is one of the most stable positions on this campus: Editor of Emory Magazine, a title he has held since 1980.

“In the last 54 years, there have only been three editors,” Beierle said. “There’s something about this job that inspires loyalty.”

There’s something about it that inspires excellence as well. Since Beierle took over as editor, the magazine has racked up more than 50 awards for its design and content, including a “Magazine of the Decade” award in 1987 from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the most prestigious reviewing body in the industry.

Not bad for a publication that, prior to Beierle’s arrival, then-President James Laney described as “uninteresting, outdated and unattractive.”

“I believed that, in order to make the magazine successful, I needed to approach it from a commercial point of view in terms of the writing and presentation,” Beierle said. “It needed to be competitive with anything that came through somebody’s mail slot. It needed to have interesting, well-written, engaging journalism.”

“Andrew’s top priority is protecting the integrity of the magazine,” said Paige Parvin, one of the magazine’s two associate editors.

Beierle has guided the magazine through several changes, without a dip in quality. The product now may have shorter stories than it did in the 1980s (a nod to a market with a shorter attention span), but it also touches more parts of the University and the layout and graphics are consistently outstanding.

Beierle doesn’t write much copy for the publication anymore. Instead, he focuses on the website (which is almost all his doing) and guides the work of his staff.

“I’d like to think that I am a good editor, and part of what I do is engender good writing in the people who come to work for me,” Beierle said. “I think invariably—and I hope this doesn’t sound egotistical—the people who leave the magazine are better writers than when they came.”

It’s not egotistical if a claim is backed up, though.

“I didn’t want to take a job where I felt I wouldn’t learn anything,” said Mary Loftus, also an associate editor. She had 20 years experience as a journalist before coming to Emory, like Parvin, in December 2000.

“Andrew is the best line editor I’ve ever had,” Loftus continued. “My stories are always better after he sees them. I know that I won’t get away with mediocre or sloppy writing. He has a sense for what’s appropriate in every context.”

Loftus, by the way, has no intentions of leaving anytime soon.

Beierle isn’t going anywhere, either, although his work outside the University has been pretty successful recently.

In April, Beierle’s first novel, The Winter of Our Discothèque, was released. To describe the darkly comic tone of the novel, Beierle came up with the term “camp noir.”

It maps the journey of an 18-year-old Florida gas station attendant who is taken in by a Svengali-like mentor and eventually whisked off to New York, where he performs on Broadway and becomes a popular fashion model. The story is played out against the flashy backdrop of gay culture in the 1960s and 1970s (hence the disco tie-in) and ends with the advent of AIDS in 1980.

Discothèque draws its lineage from a short story Beierle wrote in college. For years, he tinkered with it, finally putting the manuscript aside in 1980. In 1992, he picked it up again, and seven years later, after many scattered hours and a couple of revisions, Beierle had a product ready for sale.

Of course, selling a novel aimed at a gay audience is not an easy task. For two years, Beierle and his agent shopped the book (receiving “very encouraging rejection letters” along the way) to publishers big and small, until it was finally accepted in February 2001.

After being told the novel was accepted by the Kensington Publishing Group, Beierle spent four hours on the telephone calling everyone from his sister to his old college roommate.

The editing process followed. It was pretty painless; in fact, rather than having to cut large swaths of prose, Beierle’s editor asked him to add 40 pages to flesh out some of the characters’ backgrounds.

And what a group of characters they are. Their names read like soap opera stars—or maybe pool sharks. His main character, Tony Alexamenos, is pretty conventional. But then there’s Connecticut Jones, Tuxedo Malone, Valentine Rittenhouse and Dallas Eden.

“I had a lot of fun with the names,” Beierle said. Rittenhouse, for instance, is a tony section of Philadelphia (Beierle grew up about 40 miles from the city in Bucks County, Penn.). And the name “Dallas Eden” is supposed to represent both the good (the Garden of Eden) and bad (the John Kennedy assassination) sides of a character who can be both incredibly generous and ruthlessly self-centered.

The style of the book, which is very over the top, also is extremely descriptive. The appearance of characters is painstakingly detailed, and Beierle devotes a great deal of care to describing his settings. It’s a very effective tool for what is a very visual and sensual subject.

“The hardest thing for someone to do when they’re just starting to write a novel is to develop a style or a voice of their own,” Beierle said. The descriptive nature of the book, Beierle said, is a product of his journalistic background—observing and recording details.
He said he remembered walking through Greenwich Village in New York and scribbling notes. Those jottings became the sights Tony saw on his first visit to the city.

The book has received strong reviews from critics and readers. Publishers Weekly called it “high spirited [and] rousing,” and it carries a four-and-a-half-star (out of five) customer review rating on After spending several months in the top 20 (peaking at No. 3) of the online retailer’s sales of gay fiction, the book now sits at No. 32.

“It’s kind of insidious to get all caught up in that,” Beierle said of his sales ranking. “But at the beginning, when the book was released, it was a trip to see your name at”