Author Interview | Meet Author and poet William Hart and his latest release #authorinterview #memoir
As a staple in the publishing industry, I get the opportunity to meet authors from all walks of life. From the moment I touched base with William, I liked him. His personality is one where we connected on so many levels. He’s a writer to keep your eye on, for I see a bestselling future for him. I asked him to sit down with me for an interview and he agreed. Grab your favorite beverage and join us. William, take it away:
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
I believe names are important in anyone’s writing, and in fiction, which I write most of the time, I create the names of characters very carefully. That’s because I strive for realism, and nothing jars with that style more than names that sound made-up. Some writers create names with symbolic meaning, but I don’t. I rarely run across a symbolic name in real life. I do pick names that match a character’s national origins, and I pick names that suggest to me the character’s personality, though I can’t describe that process with any precision. I choose names I like for characters I like and names I don’t like for characters I dislike. It often takes a long time to get a name just right, but it’s worth the effort because it helps readers see the fictional person as real and hints at what that person is like. A character name that is on the money works not only for readers but for me as author, because it helps me buy into the fictional world I’m trying to establish.
What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?
My most important accomplishment was not something I pulled off alone. It was a team effort. After I got my doctorate in English, I accepted an untenured teaching job in ESL (English as a Second Language) at a public university in Los Angeles, where my wife and I live. In my first weeks on the job, I was dismayed to discover that my ESL program was designed to flunk out students whose first language was other than English, which amounted to all of my students. On our campus, non-native English speakers were a two-thirds majority. Ten of us untenured lecturers banded together to fight the racist power tormenting our students and of course us. Our rebel crew generated such a shit storm on that campus over a period of five years that in the end our writing program was investigated by the US Department of Justice. Our English department almost lost it academic accreditation and was forced to completely revamp its ESL program into one that served the needs of students rather than the whims of our tenured faculty, many of whom believed our students didn’t belong in college. I fictionalized this scandal to provide the background for my first novel, Never Fade Away.
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
I don’t have much advice, because each writer is unique in talent, so that what works for me probably won’t work for many other authors. But I do have one tip for those beginning on the writer’s career path. Most of us, at the start, are so fired up by our calling that we dream of our creativity providing our income, allowing us to write all the time. A very few are able to accomplish this. But most of us spend a long time developing the skills needed to earn significant money. And in fact, the vast majority never become self-supporting from writing only. Therefore, I advise finding work that doesn’t conflict with the writing, but that pays the bills. I did this and received a bonus I didn’t expect. More than half my books have come from jobs I took in order to survive financially.
Are you a plotter or a pantster?
Back when I was a teacher, I planned every course meeting in detail rather than “winging it,” so it shouldn’t be surprising that when my writer’s hat goes on I plot everything except short poems. I do let my creativity flow, but when I do it’s in the context of an established plot that I can modify while writing as I see better ways to tell the story than exist in my plans. For me, mixing carefully detailed planning with creativity is the best way to go, because it draws strength from two very different methods of accomplishing the job.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I read every review I hear about and I try to thank every reviewer, even those who are negative. Generally speaking, reviewers provide the most effective promotion that books receive and it strikes me as wrong to bite the hands that are feeding me. I might feel differently if most of the reviews of my books hadn’t been quite positive. Overall reviewers have been kind to my literary efforts, and some of those who have been critical have helped me improve as a writer. It so happens that reviewers are writers too, and it seems silly on my part to be disrespectful to those I want to respect my work. I sometimes review books for other authors and from that I’ve learned reviewing isn’t easy, though it is usually easier than the creative act.
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
I’m currently working on a lightly fictionalized memoir about one of my friends, a quadriplegic marijuana dealer operating outside the law. He was my dealer for about twenty years before California passed medical marijuana legislation and I decided to go legal as a buyer. His story is interesting to me partly because his life is interesting, especially from the time his mother’s boyfriend accidentally sent a .38 caliber slug spinning through his fifth cervical vertebra, sentencing him to a wheelchair for life. My friend, needing caregivers daily, hired two undocumented immigrants from Tijuana, one a terribly attractive 18-year-old Chicana fashion model, the other her older sister, less attractive physically but an incredible workhorse, capable of succeeding at three outside jobs in addition to her work for my buddy As luck would have it, my friend fell head over heels in love with the beautiful sister, while the less beautiful sister fell in love with him. The story takes place in a south central L.A. neighborhood with street gangs and an assortment of unusual and entertaining characters, including two other paraplegics that my friend met and bonded with in his rehab hospital. If you think the paralyzed can’t live wild, turbulent, yet productive lives, read my book to find out how they can.
Do you write naked?
Although I sleep naked, I write fully clothed. Why would anyone write naked, I wonder. Seems a bit ostentatious. However, I would add that if being nude helps anyone produce better work, go for it, absolutely.
Have you ever been in trouble with the law?
I might have gotten in trouble with the law a number of times, but skated every time except one, when I was fifteen and hated automotive speeders. To punish my enemies I formed a team with my brother and a friend of ours, a team devoted to ambushing violators of our vigilante justice with sling shots from behind the hedge that bounded our backyard on one side. Who knew that plugging cars with slingshots would prove attractive to other teens--neighbors, school friends, and members of our roller racing team. Using an escape route that followed an undeveloped alley running the length of our block, we eluded the motorists who got out and tried to catch us, until the day nine of us gathered behind the hedge, too many to escape one super pissed off speeder who caught our slowest two miscreants and summoned the cops. All nine of us got busted by four cops and one police dog, acquiring juvenile rap sheets and the stern disapproval of almost twenty parents. A chapter of my memoir Roller Rink Starlight is devoted to this true crime story.
Do you drink? Smoke? What’s your vice?
My vice for many years was smoking weed. But it’s legal now and also has been recognized as a medical treatment. In my case, marijuana helps me relax , helps me sleep, and cuts the pain of my arthritis. Still, getting stoned may remain a vice for me because I do it so often, every day in fact—though my total consumption is low, a half ounce per month. Do I smoke weed when I write? Definitely. In fact, I always toke up before I write, because it aids my writing mood and stimulates my imagination. Could I write well without weed? Maybe, but it doesn’t seem worth trying. Marijuana has become an inextricable part of my writing process. By contrast, alcohol seems to negatively affect my writing. I tried it once and while spinning out words I thought I was producing a masterpiece. When I sobered up though I discovered my masterpiece had gone as flat as a flat tire. Long live weed, a principal tool in my writer’s toolbox.
What do you want your tombstone to say?
I want my tombstone to read, “He stood up for what he believed in.” To my mind, having strong beliefs is important to any person, and if one is unwilling to back up his beliefs, that person is more sheep than human. Sometimes I pay for standing up, but usually it’s worth it. And anyway, my personality is such that I don’t have much of a choice.
Do you have any scars? What are they from?
I have many scars. Some are from childhood accidents. Some are from fights. Some are from my years as a sheet metal worker and a laborer more generally. Since I turned sixty, scars have been added to the map of my body from major surgeries, including a heart bypass and two total knee replacements. I’m not exactly proud of my scars but I’m glad I have them because they remind me I’ve lived a life of physical engagement, which I am proud of.
Thank you, William, for the in-depth interview. It was so great to get to know you better. Readers, scroll down to learn more about his latest release, Roller Rink Starlight: A Memoir.
Title: Roller Rink Starlight: A Memoir
Author: William Hart
Genre: coming of age memoir; romance memoir; sports memoir
Publisher: Epigraph Books
William Hart’s true coming of age memoir begins when at fourteen he joins an amateur roller racing team comprised of both sexes and loaded with RSROA national champions. A varsity sprinter in track, he soon excels at speed skating.
Insiders know roller rinks are conspiracies to turn singles into couples.
The main storyline follows Hart’s early education in romance—piquant, humorous, harrowing, and laced with major life lessons. The setting: Wichita, Kansas, early 1960s, when the sexual repression of the 50s still prevails, except in rare zones of marked liberation. Adults have their watering holes, teens the rink, where they can experiment with their budding sexualities. Immersed in powerful mood music they glide in pairs through darkness under stars and make out in the bleachers. Falling in love is ridiculously easy, as we see in the adventures of teammates, parents, and certainly the author. Hart fell hard for a gifted racer, his kindred spirit, costar of many of his most indelible memories.
This sports memoir about love and roller-skating chronicles poignantly the ecstasies and perils of 60s high school romance against a backdrop of flat-out athletic competition.
My brother and I were in school when Mother had her first coronary. I remember Dad talking to us in the living room that evening. He called the thing by its name, “heart attack,” but soft-peddled the event, saying it wasn’t serious and that Mom was “going to be just fine.” All she needed was “a few days rest in the hospital.” Well, she rested at least a week before the doctors decided she was well enough to receive a visit from her two sons. I asked Dad if Katy could go.
We picked her up at her house and when she opened the front door to me and I saw her dressed up for the first time I got one of the nicest surprises of my youth. My quite pretty girlfriend, then fourteen, had become a beauty. She was wearing a dress that was perfect for her, a white satin juniors number hemmed at the knee and cut low enough on top to show the gold locket I’d given her resting against her healthy-looking upper chest. Her sun-bleached dark blond hair, freed from its ponytail, fell to her shoulders, providing a more sophisticated, grown-up look. Pink lipstick and a touch of eye shadow enhanced that look. The dramatic change in her appearance reminded me of Cinderella and I wondered why Katy didn’t wear her hair down all the time. Today I can understand. For someone with her practical mindset that probably would have required too much fussing. Yet she’d chosen to fuss on this day, maybe with her older sister’s help.
As we entered the hospital room Mother smiled up at us from her pillow. It was her familiar smile—bright, slightly buck toothed and infectious. It meant in this case that she was fine, no damage done, despite her dispirited hospital hair, the drips feeding her arm, and the monitoring machines calibrating her grip on life. As her smile faded I noticed she looked older, quite a bit older. She looked tired too. It hit me then, as it hadn’t before, that she’d actually suffered a HEART ATTACK. People died of those! I tried imagining my world without my mom and drew a blank. Maybe I was afraid to imagine such a world.
“I’m glad you came, Katy,” my mother said. “You look so pretty.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hart. I hope you get better soon.”
“That’s sweet of you dear.”
Watching them together I was struck by Katy’s respect for Mother, which I hadn’t noticed earlier though it had likely been there. My girlfriend’s humble body language and soft voice would have been appropriate in talking to a saint. Katy probably found in my mom the qualities she missed in her own mom, and while she couldn’t become my mother’s daughter, she could become her daughter-in-law. I think she wanted that at least as much as she wanted to be with me. She may have dressed up that day to make a good impression on the family she hoped to join.
Late in the visit I began wondering if I’d made a mistake by bringing Katy along. Mother was so fragile I thought she might be uncomfortable sharing her room with such a striking tribute to feminine youth, loveliness and good health at a time when she herself lacked those qualities more than she ever had. Besides, the visit was supposed to be about our family supporting Mom, not about Katy and me spending time together. Katy’s resemblance to an underage bride, purely a matter of chance, couldn’t have helped matters. But if my mother felt in any way put upon, neither Katy nor anyone else was allowed to notice.
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William Hart is a novelist and poet living in Los Angeles. After earning a doctorate in English from the University of Southern California, he taught college writing courses in LA and wrote. Now he writes--fiction mostly--while helping produce the documentaries of filmmaker Jayasri Majumdar, his wife. Hart's work has appeared in several hundred literary journals, commercial magazines, newspapers, and anthologies, and fourteen books.
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