Friday, March 20, 2009

Mark Hardy Interview

I am happy to share with you my interview with Mark Hardy, author of Nothing Pink. You can read my review of his book, here. It's a novel that I described as "rich in detail and character development. This is one of the first truly compelling male/male romances I've encountered where it seems authentic and not "issue"y if that makes sense."

Tell us a little about yourself and your road to publication.

I grew up in several Virginia towns. My father, like Vincent’s was a preacher, so we moved often. In the early 90s, I moved from NC to NYC to live with my partner Jim. In November, we had our 17th anniversary. I started teaching in NYC public schools and have been working in education sixteen years. For the past eight years, I have lived in North Carolina where I teach third grade.

Early in my career, at a workshop on the teaching of reading, I heard a presenter, Kathleen Tolan, proclaim that all children had the right to find themselves in books. I realized that as a child, and a teenager, I never had. A year or two after that, I took a two-week summer writing course at the University of New Hampshire. In this course, taught by author Carolyn Coman, we wrote a short story. Carolyn showed my short story to Stephen Roxburgh. (At the time, Front Street was only a few years old.) Stephen and Carolyn took ten years patiently helping me learn to write and deliver a final manuscript. Today, there is little left of that original short story except Vincent and Nothing Pink.

What inspired you to write Nothing Pink?

Learning to teach children writing inspired me to write. Kathleen Tolan’s speech inspired me to tell this story. Once my characters were living and breathing, they inspired me to tell their story for them. Along the way, a host of patient and loving folks encouraged and inspired me to keep writing. I was inspired by the idea that gay people might see themselves and might hear God’s voice themselves. I was inspired by the idea that Nothing Pink might confront the religious establishment and get people talking publicly about these issues. Finally, I was inspired by the dream of getting the story right and writing it well.

At some point in my mid-twenties my mother, in tears, asked me, “Mark Anson, what exactly do you believe?” I was inspired to answer that question for her and myself. When she asked the question, I did not know the answer. The process of writing this novel, helped me work through my own beliefs.

How long did it take to write and see through to the finished product?

Ten years, give or take. I lack discipline and my life was interrupted by calamity and procrastination, sometimes for months at a time. I teach elementary school which requires a good deal of physical, emotional and creative energy. But as my wise mentor always said, “Every novel takes its own time, has its own story.” I had to grow personally before I could write this particular story. I am eternally grateful that my publisher and all others involved in this long process allowed me the time it took. They continuously encouraged me to give the book the time it needed.

Were there any surprises along the way?

My partner thinks this answer is a copout, but: Everything was a surprise. At the onset, all I had was dreams, desire and incredibly naive misunderstandings about how novels come to be.

Do you have a favorite character, a favorite scene, a favorite quote?
Answering this question, I feel like a parent who is asked to choose a favorite child.

Favorite character?

Impossible choice.

Favorite scene?

I have changed my mind several times, but I think I’m going to stick with the scene after the magazine burning. Robert applies merthiolate to Vincent’s cut stomach. They kiss.

In my mind, this is what fully qualifies Vincent to be, what his church labels, a “practicing homosexual.” Vincent’s religion does not believe one goes to hell for being homosexual in orientation. Only when a person submits to those evil desires and commits “homosexual acts” does that person sin. Some define sin as acting against one’s true nature. When Vincent allows himself this physical pleasure with Robert, I believe he demonstrates having truly heard and believed the voice of God. At last, he is what God created him to be. Robert allows and enjoys the kiss because he heard God’s voice, believed what he heard and was finally free to take action in response to his God-given desires.

I envy the tender care-giving. The innocence. Technically, this is neither boy’s first kiss, but it is. I am proud of Robert and Vincent for making out a long time. They don’t regret or rush or even come up for air.

Favorite quote?

Another hard one, but last night when preparing for a reading, I came across a line in the mane-braiding scene. Robert is teaching Vincent to braid Happy’s mane. “’Like this,’ he says with the rubber band between his teeth.” Robert is here now, to show Vincent the way to self-love and happiness. Robert’s words are muddled by the rubber band. On their journey, there will be obstacles to overcome, but Vincent will find his way, “Like this.” Could this be what God is saying as well?

What would be on Vincent's play list?

Air Supply, “All Out of Love”
Commodores, “Three Times a Lady”
Bread, “Aubrey”
Elton John “Candle in the Wind”
Styx, “Babe”

When he knew Momma and Daddy were gone, he’d listen to “Brick House” and let it all hang out.

From the very beginning, Nothing Pink's authenticity shone through. Why did you choose to begin the book inside the church, inside Vincent's mind, as he hears his father once again give an altar call?

My editors and I worked hard to achieve authenticity.

When I started to write NOTHING PINK, I thought it was Vincent’s and Robert’s story. Over time, my editor, Carolyn Coman, helped me realize this story is about Vincent and God more than it is about a gay boy falling in love or a boy reconciling with his parents. Once it became clear that Vincent’s struggle was with God, it made perfect sense to open the story in a sanctuary, with the altar call scene. It illustrates his true dilemma, his wants.

Did you spend a lot of time in church growing up? Is that how you got all those little details to feel so right?

Again, much hard work went into those decisions.

My father was a preacher, much like Rev. Harris. I was in church every time the doors were open unless I pretended to be sick and stayed home to watch Wonderful World of Disney and Wild Kingdom. For most of my life I was in church: Sunday School, Sunday Morning Worship, Youth Group, Youth Choir, and Wednesday Night Bible Study.

Because the parsonages we lived in were always next door to the church, I often spent time there when no services were going on. I would play the piano, sing and preach from the pulpit microphone, type love letters and poems on the church’s Olivetti electric. In the nursery, I would rock plastic babies to sleep, pretending they were the offspring I feared I’d never father. In my father’s study, I would scour his Biblical reference books and concordances, searching for information about homosexuality and how to cure it.

Even though they were very spiritually conflicted times for me, I cherish every moment I spent in church. The church people I grew up among were caring and creative and talented and generous and wise. They nurtured me in every way imaginable. Congregation after congregation took my family into their fold. I have no ill will toward my upbringing in the church. I am grateful for every second I spent in a pew.

Is there anything you’d like to tell kids/teens going through such emotionally tough times?

Several things:
1. Don’t regret being born gay. Celebrate your God-given orientation and your community. Gay people are leaders in every profession, in every artistic medium, in every social and political movement, in every sport, in sacrifice and service to others. Be proud to be among the chosen.

2. Even though the cost for being ones true self is incredibly painful at times, living a lie is constant pain.

3. Find like-minded and like-spirited folks. Cling to them. Do all you can to lift them up high.

4. When people call you faggot or gay, say “Thank you for the compliment,” or “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” I sometimes tell people, “If you’re trying to insult me, call me greedy or unkind. Being called gay is a compliment.” If you don’t actually say any of these things, believe them.

What do you love about writing? I love the magical, transcendent nature of it, the way the unconscious mind takes over. I love creating with words something that can live in another person’s mind and emotions. I love giving myself over to this supernatural process. I love the company. The smartest, most kind and generous people have come into my life because of writing.

What do you find the easiest?

Everything that happens once I face the blank page.

What do you find the hardest?

Resisting valid excuses to procrastinate. Resisting urges to rush the process. Resisting the urge to tinker too much, too early (another procrastination strategy, I suspect).

How do you find time—do you find time—to keep reading? Do you have any favorites of the year?

I never feel as if I find enough time to keep reading. Because I teach elementary school full time, I read many education articles, books, blogs and correspondences. When an author I love writes a new book, I pre-order it and finish quickly. I do the same when someone’s recommendation of a new book captures my attention. I read to procrastinate, even to avoid writing sometimes.

Favorites I read in 08, or favorites that came out in 08?

Garden of Last Days, Child 44, The Lucky Place, Black Stars in a White Night Sky, Peace, Locomotion, Talk, The Boy Who Dared, Thaw, Isabel and the Miracle Baby, Debbie Harry Sings in French, One Whole and Perfect Day, The Story of Edward Sawtell, Serena, Hotel de Dream, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, just finished an ARC of Clay Carmichael’s Wild Things, due in May, from Front Street.

If you had twenty-four hours, a time machine, and a limitless supply of money, what would you want to do?

I’d gather all my family and my closest friends. I’d invite (or bribe) some people I’ve always wanted to talk with (writers, musicians and artists mostly) to join us. Dorothy Allison, Michael Cunningham, The Dixie Chicks and Dolly Parton would accept my invitation. We would congregate in an enormous kitchen and spend our time cooking and eating and laughing and talking and singing and telling stories.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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