Interview with Author William Hart

1) How did you get into writing?

     I’m pretty sure it was my mother who inspired me to become a writer, when I was very young. She was a public school teacher responsible for kindergarten and first grade, and by the time my brother and I came along she had developed a most arresting manner of reading stories to her classes. She mimicked the character’s voices, adding her own highly amusing facial expressions to create entertainment at least as involving as the early television shows we were watching. The stories I remember best were taken from the Pooh Bear books, Winnie the Pooh and those that followed. Mom’s performances in our living room held my brother and I mesmerized—like her students must have been. The experience of her reading to us is unforgettable, and I believe it had much to do with both John and me becoming writers.

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2) What inspired you to write your book?

     When I was fourteen, I joined a roller racing team at my local rink that turned out to be one of the best speed skating clubs in the country. Many of my teammates were national champions and so it was easy for me to set my goals high as I was developing as a skate racer. I was a varsity sprinter on my ninth grade track team, and those skills translated well to my new sport. Within a year I became one of the fastest roller racers my age in the country. As I was developing my skills, I attracted the attention of a very pretty girl my age who had taken second at nationals a week or two before she asked me to join her in a couple’s skate. Both of us, having found the mate of our dreams, fell in love for the first time, and for two intense, thrilling years that girl hung the moon for me. Both my new sport and my first romantic relationship made that period the most memorable of my life. Once I became a writer it was natural for me to want to write about those heady days of my youth, though it took me decades to figure out how to do it.

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

     There were many pretty girls at our roller rink. In addition to my girlfriend, who was slow to develop physically, there was a second girl my age who developed a woman’s body a little early. When my girlfriend balked at pursuing a complete physical relationship, both because she didn’t feel ready and because she didn’t want to become a party girl like her quite irresponsible mother, I became frustrated and dropped her for the girl who was much more willing to give me what I thought I wanted. Later, I realized I’d made a terrible and costly mistake. I’ve felt guilty all my life for what I did when I was sixteen. The primary message of Roller Rink Starlight is that sex is a poor substitute for love. When confronted with a choice between the two, pick love, because it is more valuable, much rarer, and holds the promise of a relationship that is deep and long lasting. There are many other messages in my book, but that’s the main one.

4) What drew you into this particular genre?

     I’m usually a writer of fiction, and so it was natural for me to try to tell the story I most wanted to tell as a novel. Over many years, as I was writing other things, I tried three or four times to write my novel about love and sex at the roller rink. But every time what I produced seemed false to me, like music that is tinny, or an argument based on lies. Finally, as a senior citizen, I tried telling the story exactly as it happened, except that I changed some names to protect privacy and to avoid hurting people. Written as a memoir, the story came pouring out of me, true to life and I believe moving and meaningful. Apparently the story meant so much to me I had to tell it like it happened, full of the ecstasies and warts of real life. 

5) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

     I’m not active on any social media. For example, I have a Facebook account and over 300 Facebook friends, but only rarely do I interact with them in that forum. Basically I’m reactive rather that proactive. That is, if one of my Facebook friends messages me, I answer. But I don’t often message others first or try to sell my literary works on Facebook.

6) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

     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 others. 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. In fact, the vast majority never become self-supporting from writing alone. Therefore, I advise finding other 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. 

7) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books on the horizon?

     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.

8) Are you a plotter or a puntster?

     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.

9) 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.

10) How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way they sound 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.     

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About the Author

William Hart is a novelist and poet living in Los Angeles. He writes while helping produce the documentaries of PBS 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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