Today’s interviewee is author, actor and general Good Egg, Donald L Hardy, who has recently had his first novel – LOVER’S KNOT – published by Running Press, set around the turn of the century Cornwall.
Speak Its Name: Tell us a little bit about Donald L Hardy and your writing career to date.
Donald L Hardy: I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and when I turned forty had a midlife crisis of Biblical proportions. I got rid of everything, moved to California, moved onto a sailboat and lived on it for 11 years.
I’m an amateur actor (though a good one), and I love reading and dogs (and dogs tend to be fond of me, too).
My writing career isn’t really a career yet; I’m just starting out.
SIN: Can you tell us a little about how you started writing; was it something you have always wanted to do?
DLH: I’ve always liked it, of course, and have been fairly good at it, but it wasn’t anything I’d considered seriously. Mostly it was long chatty emails to friends. I hadn’t really written anything since, god, college. I’d tried my hand at a fantasy novel, which didn’t work out (too derivative), and an epistolary novella, but it didn’t work either. The parts that I wrote that were actual events, that had happened to me, were good, but if I made it up? Poo. Total poo. I used to say that I wrote very well, but I didn’t have anything to write about. I did write one lengthy manuscript describing somethings that happened to me, and a writer whom I respect, and a college professor I know both said it was very, very good, and I should pursue this. So honest to pete, after getting on LiveJournal and meeting many writer types, I decided to give NaNoWriMo a shot (National Novel Writing Month), and the result, six months later, was a novel. Lover’s Knot is my second novel, though the first published.
SIN: What is your writing process? Do you outline, fly by the seat of your pants or a combination of both? Do you use mood music, candles, no noise, when you write?
DLH: It’s generally a no noise kind of situation. I find music distracting. I live alone, except for my dog, have no television, and almost never play music. I like quiet. Silence, in fact.
Seat of the pants, definitely. Or a mild, mild combination. I don’t write anything down, usually, except perhaps a list of scenes, so I know where I’m going next, and what information I need to get out in the specific scene I’m writing. Generally the entire story is in my head, in terms of its main arc and plotlines. It gets more involved as I write it, of course, and the subplots ripen, but I know pretty much what’s happening from the get-go.
I did outline Lovers’ Knot extensively for the publisher after I’d contracted for it, and I was a little uncomfortable doing so. I felt a bit locked down, and eventually put the thing aside except as really general guide. Several scenes grew much larger than I had originally intended them to be (the bonfire and what follows changing the most). So I prefer to just…keep it in my head.
Also, in direct opposition to what everyone says to do, I edit as I go along. I just can’t help it; I like it to be right, and right the first time. It isn’t, of course, but it tends to lead to fairly clean first drafts.
SIN: What kind of research do you do for your books? Do you enjoy the research process?
DLH: I do mostly web research, but have done some field work. The first novel I wrote takes place in San Francisco, so I actually went to the areas I was writing about so I could get a clear description. In some cases (and this was weird) I found physical buildings that mirrored what I’d “made up,” even though I’d never been in that neighborhood before.
In Lovers’ Knot, I had to do a lot of research, because a) it takes place over 100 years ago, and b) it takes place in a location I’ve never been, nor could I visit. So I did a lot of web research. I hunted over six hours the first day, just gathering information about trains to Cornwall in 1906, before I even typed a word. 99.5% of that information didn’t get put into the book – I didn’t want to become pedantic – but I needed to know it, so I could write about it in the “of course” sort of way that the main character’s point of view would take. I have more thoughts on that, but that’d take pages.
I also hunted photographs of the area around Penzance at that time, and found quite a bit. I wasn’t going to place anything in the book in a real, specific location, but I wanted my more general descriptions to be true. Three photographs actually were specific inspirations for actual descriptions in the book.
And maps. Lots of maps of the period, ordinance maps showing where houses were and what distances are. Immensely helpful. In case you couldn’t tell, I loved it. It was a fabulous way to procrastinate when I was feeling lazy add colour and depth to the story. Seriously, it is a wonderful part of the process. I used to read encyclopaedias for fun when I was a kid (yeah, I was that kid), so research is quite enjoyable for me.
SIN: Can you name something amusing/amazing that you found while researching? Did you use it in your writing?
DLH: In Lovers’ Knot the research was pretty straightforward, and there wasn’t anything I’d qualify as amusing or amazing. There were some curious coincidences: there was an influenza epidemic in that region when I had written that someone died of it, and there were unusually heavy fogs in that region just when I needed heavy fogs.
The only amazing thing was the amount of research it took. I so very much did not want to make (many egregious) errors. I actually kept the online Oxford English Dictionary open while I was writing, so as not to use a word that didn’t exist, or that had a different meaning at that time. I tried to be extremely conscious of using only contemporary 1892 and 1906 usages, in the prose as well as the characters’ dialogue. I didn’t want anything to disrupt the sense of reading a book written in 1906.
SIN: Could you tell us a little about how you develop your characters? Who has been your favorite character to write? The most challenging?
DLH: Being an actor helps immensely. I’m used to having the words on the page in front of me, and then I develop a character from them. Anyone who’s seen different actors in the same role can testify to the wide difference in interpretation that can happen. In writing, I follow the same process: How old is this person? What is his backstory? What does he think or say about himself? What do other people in the story (or play) say about him? What does he want?
The characters seem to develop themselves, also. It’s rather odd. I start with an idea of what they’re going to be (Jonathan quiet, Langsford breezy and outgoing, for example), and then I dive in. They generally announce themselves through their dialogue, and grow the most through conversations. I’m very dialogue driven as a writer (no surprise in someone who’s been onstage since the second grade, I suppose). I’m also most at ease writing dialogue. Prose passages give me the heeby-jeebies.
By the time I’ve finished, the people in my stories are very real to me, just as the characters I develop onstage are very real. It strikes non-theater people as a bit peculiar when I refer to my onstage characters in the third person (“He did this tonight, and it caught me off-guard”), but they do exist outside me. The characters in the books do much the same thing. They’ll even have conversations inside my head, conversations I don’t plan. One actually said (and I typed it, not realizing I was doing so) “If you make me describe one more room, I’m going to smack you into the middle of next week.”
Given that my characters are dialogue driven, the difficult ones are those who don’t say much, and who are repressed in some way. I had one character in a story who was terribly anal retentive and up tight, and since her chapters were written in her point of view, I had a bitch of a time simply getting the words down; again a case of an actor taking on the characteristics of his role. It was completely stifling.
My favorites? Well, several characters in my first (unpublished as of yet) book were a ton of fun to write. They’re very funny – in some cases outrageous – and were a hoot to spend time with.
In Lovers’ Knot, I was pretty protective of them all. It wasn’t an easy book to write; the characters go through quite a bit, and there were times I wanted to totally change the entire thing, so that everything could turn out well for everyone. But then it wouldn’t be the story that was there for me to tell.
SIN: What do you think is the level of sensuality/heat in your books? What can readers expect from your books with respect to sexual content and sensuality?
DLH: Please! They’re ENGLISH. There will be NO SEX, PLEASE.
Actually, that’s a joke. But the heat level? If people are looking for graphic descriptions of wild sexual acts, they certainly aren’t going to find them in my stories. I’ve joked from the start that this is probably the only M/M Romance ever written that has no description of the hero’s equipment. Or anyone’s for that fact. Let’s say I’m a big fan of “Fade to black” and “Lights up on our heroes having the metaphorical cigarette.” I think that readers have really fertile imaginations, and I encourage them to use them.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t, um, passionate moments in this book. There is one scene, in a little cottage…well, let’s say that after writing it, I wanted to have a cigarette. But in terms of (cough, cough) throbbing members and quivering buttocks, well, there aren’t any. There is romance, and emotion and such, but romance in a fairly old fashioned sense of the word. For me, it’s about loving someone very, very much. That’s always been more important to me than sex.
In reading (and writing), however, it’s purely a personal preference. I generally skip the written descriptions of sex in books that I read because it’s usually not critical to the storyline and interrupts the flow for me. And even if it is plot critical, I…well, I just don’t like to read it. I think it’s because my favorite fiction is fiction from the earlier part of the 20th Century, in which it simply doesn’t exist (and Austen, where it certainly doesn’t). So when I’m reading and there’s a graphic sex scene, I’m pulled out of the story.
Someday I’ll write a big old ranty blog post about it, I suppose (as if this isn’t ranty enough), and offend absolutely everyone.
SIN: Without spoiling the plot for readers who haven’t read it, there are a couple of very traumatic scenes in Lover’s Knot, can you describe how difficult they were to write?
DLH: Very difficult. Like, stomach knotted, crying as I typed difficult. I was in completely unknown territory, and, again as with my acting, I identified physically and emotionally with the characters as the scenes unfolded. It wasn’t fun. In fact, I put it off as long as I could, until someone finally wrote me and said “You HAVE to write this. GET TO IT.”
That was a time I wrote straight through the night. I also posted it as I wrote it, as several people were there online and real time for moral support. They had a rough time, too. My characters are, for the most part, very likeable people, and these weren’t very likeable moments for them.
SIN: Do you have a strict writing schedule? How do you balance your personal and writing time?
I don’t have a strict schedule. When I’m on deadline, I can be relatively disciplined, although it helps if I have people sitting over me, metaphorically, and screaming “WHERE ARE THE WORDS!!??!!”
When I’m on holiday, I do have a solid schedule, however. Odd that, I suppose. A typical full writing day, when I’m up at the resort where I go to write (The River!), is: wake up about 9:00, and have coffee. Reread what I wrote the day before and meddle with it, cleaning up typos and grammar problems and fixing words and punctuation I don’t like. Lunch. Walk the dog. Come back and meddle some more. About three or four in the afternoon, the new material starts happening. Fast dinner, then write until about ten. Hot tub (amazing stuff happens in hot tubs: entire scenes appeared in my head). Then meddle some more, or write new stuff if I’m really on a roll. My output on that schedule is about 4,000 – 8,000 words a day, when I hit stride. I’ve done more, but that was exceptional. I’ve also been known to write straight through the night, wrapping about six in the morning. Needless to say, I’m in bed until noon after that
But in general, I’m afraid I’m a bit of a dilettante. I spend my time after work (I have a very time consuming job, and a hell of a commute) between my two main interests: acting and writing, with a smattering of reading thrown in. The one with the most pressing deadline usually gets the upper hand. And between them, my nights and weekends are fairly full. My personal time is my writing time. Or my acting time. I really have no other personal life (except the dog).
Wow. Was that as pathetic as it sounded? =-D
SIN: What was your first published story? What was it about?
DLH: The first thing I had published was an essay about the passing of my two dogs several years ago. It’s called “Puppy Whipped,” and is in the Alyson anthology Paws and Reflect: Exploring the Bond Between Gay Men and Their Dogs.
SIN: What did you spend your first advance on?
DLH: Rent and furniture. I was moving off my boat and into my new place, and needed it. BADLY.
SIN: Were you nervous over reader reaction when Lover’s Knot came out? How much does reader response mean to you? What do you hope readers get from the book after they’ve read it?
Was I nervous? What’s with the past tense? I’m very nervous about reader response. I joke that my friends like my writing, but that’s their job. Even those who are being scrupulously honest in their beta reading know me, and though I’m not belittling the input at all, it’s quite different when someone simply picks it up off the shelf, pays money for it, and then reads it. All conversations about literature and art aside, it’s my job to entertain that person, and if I don’t, I’ve failed. It comes, I think, from having been an actor for umpteen-dozen years. Acting is both art and business, and if an actor or director loses sight of that, he’s failed, to my mind. I view writing the same way. It’s all very well when I’m writing for my own amusement, but another thing altogether if some person’s going to plunk down the cost of my book and read it. Damn right I’m nervous.
I hope…I hope the readers are taken to a place and time, and are immersed in it. I don’t know if they’ll take anything away from this book, but I hope they’ll be fond of the people they meet there, and satisfied with the experience, with the story, the language, and everything about the book.
SIN: Please tell us about the projects you are currently working on; what can readers expect to see in the future?
DLH: My current project is a stage adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for the theater company with which I work. I’ve begun, and we’ve scheduled a staged reading in July. A fully mounted production will happen July, 2011.
HOWEVER. There are other book-like things percolating, also. There’s a steampunk murder mystery thing that announced itself during the writing of Lovers’ Knot that almost derailed that project. There’s a novella I wrote during the writing of LK that wants turning into a full length novel, though I’m not quite sure how as yet. A friend of mine and I are planning on a series of mysteries set in the 1940s in either LA or San Francisco. And I’m still (always) shopping my unpublished manuscript around, hoping it gets some interest.
My bet’s on the LA stories. Maddy and Monkey (the main characters are named Madeleine and Montgomery). Rather like the Thin Man movies, I think, except that Montgomery is gay, of course. A gay, something-over-fifty actor. Where do I get my ideas?
SIN: Are you ever planning to write about the characters in Lover’s Knot again?
DLH: As you know, I did write An Unexpected Christmas for SIN’s advent calendar, which was an awful lot of fun. It felt like I was actually at Trevaglan, being the proverbial fly on the wall, and watching everything unfold. It was like visiting old friends.
Beyond that, I really don’t think so. If I do, they will be secondary characters in someone else’s story. There may be more short stories (a friend said she wanted at least one a month, thank you very much), and if there are ideas, I will, but I don’t think another book. This was their great crisis, and they’ve come through. I want them to have their Happy Ever After.
SIN: Where can readers find out what’s new and how can they contact you?
DLH: I have a website: http://www.donaldhardy.net/ which has an email link. This has most of the information about things I’ve done and will be doing, but I don’t maintain it myself, so it might not be totally up to date. I’ve started a writer’s LiveJournal: http://donaldhardy.livejournal.com , but it’s pretty thin at the moment. I’m going to transfer some of the public posts about Lovers’ Knot over to the Livejournal, and start to keep writerly stuff there.
And that’s all! You said I could be as chatty as I liked…you of all folks should know better!!
SIN: Thank you, Donald – and we wish you every success with the book – there will be a review up on the site later this month.