"Are you jealous of us?" is how North Morgan's latest novel Into? (out May 22) begins. By its end, protagonist Konrad Platt will give you countless reasons both to be and not to be. Into? portrays the emptiness in lives full of sex and dumbbells of "gays living in big metropolitan areas heavily involved in the scene" with "big muscles and violent abs and handsome faces and lots of disposable income and innumerable sexual partners, each one hotter than the next." The book is a cross between a time capsule and one giant brag that is as sad as it is titillating. In an offhandedly nihilistic voice, Morgan explores how current cultural connectedness gives personal loneliness a particular sting of failure. The result is a meditation on the ennui of the Instagay.
"You know what’s annoying in terms of those Instagays, which I guess maybe I’m part of even to a lesser extent because I don’t have 100,000 followers?" asked Morgan, who at press time had just under 31k followers. "It just seems kind of fake. Everyone presents that idealized version of themselves."
I caught Morgan by phone in his hotel room the first Saturday of this year's Coachella, before he hit the fairground, just like his protagonist does in the book. That's just one of several similarities Morgan shares with Platt—both live in Los Angeles by way of London (Morgan was born in Greece; Platt in Germany). Both have found themselves in patterns of having unsatisfying app-facilitated sex with strangers. Both study and emulate the backwards-baseball cap wearing ways of bros. (The straight-guy worship runs so thick in Into?, Platt practically salivates over boat shoes.)
Oh, and both are hot as hell.
"When people write about gay life, it’s almost always from the perspective of being on the outside of the perceived-attractive gay guys," Morgan said. "It almost feels bitter. It felt like there was nobody writing from the inside about the inside. That’s valuable to me."
Morgan estimated "a good 40, 50 percent" of Platt is him, explaining that his outlook is more positive than his protagonist's. But the lines sometimes blur.
"That’s actually confusing even to me at this point," he said. "There comes a point where you write a character for so long where you think, 'How much is that really me and how much is made up? If I keep writing this character, do I become him?'"
Into? pulls back the curtain on masc4masc bravado to reveal the mask4mask reality. Everyone's playing a character at all times in their superficial social interactions—that includes Morgan who says he stays in character on social media and doesn't discuss personal things like his relationships and day job as an analyst in market research.
There's an app's worth of filters on his writing, in fact. Into? is made up of, in Morgan's estimation, "80 to 85 percent" of his third novel Love Notes to Men Who Don't Read, which was released briefly in 2016 by the U.K.'s Limehouse Books, before Macmillan's Flatiron imprint swooped in to buy the rights. Love Notes was based on Morgan's London Preppy blog (2007-2014), which itself was based on a weekly email newsletter he started writing to his straight friends about his newfound wild gay life after he came out at 25 ("It was just so absurd compared to what we were doing"). He's also writing all this under a name he assumed later in life (Morgan was born Constantinos Tserpelis). Morgan's writing has undergone so many refractions in a book about refractions to make Into? something of a formal exercise.
That he began writing about gay life because of what he observed in the scene after coming out, as opposed to the internal and solitary unrest that drives so many gay writers to the page, has given Morgan's writing a superficial sparkle and satirical bite. At 38, Morgan is a few years older than his protagonist, and claims he's less scene-oriented than he used to be (but don't they all say that?). Aside from revering the early works of Bret Easton Ellis, Morgan said he wasn't much familiar with gay literature before he wrote what would become Into? Given its exploration of the inner life of the muscle-bound gaybro, this generation's clone, though, comparisons to Andrew Holleran's 1978 classic Dancer from the Dance are inevitable.
Morgan finally picked that book up and saw himself reflected back.
"I thought when I was reading it, ‘Well, it seems like nothing’s new. Everything has happened before. Everyone has thought the way I think,’" he said.
Pre-order Into? now in preparation for its release on May 22.