It was a dark and stormy night… somewhere… more likely than not. All I know is that – for me – it was dark because my room is dark and I rarely open the curtains. It may well have been night but I don’t wear a watch and my body clock was fried after a run-in with a cattle prod (another story, another time). It wasn’t stormy though; unless it was one of those quiet storms you never hear about.
To be frank it doesn’t really matter about the general luminance and exterior weather conditions. What actually matters is that I was conducting an interview with prominent (he protrudes into three of my very favourite dimensions) internet-present author and occasional Canadian Mark A. Rayner.
We discussed the decline of sea shanties at length. We formulated a new theory of life, the universe, and everything bar Miley Cyrus. We broached the subject of sex but decided that it wouldn’t be fair to our respective partners and the distance thing would be a killer. Mainly we talked about books, writing, publishing, authoring, and other related synonyms. If you want to know a little bit more about writing and getting your work published then this interview could be just the thing you need; if you’re interested in sea shanties then I’m afraid that section was cut for brevity’s sake.
ME: My readers – based on search referral traffic – are perverts and I like to cater to their needs so first thing’s first… this book we’re about to talk about features sex. Weird sex. Animalesque-human sex. Some might say “forbidden sex”. Some might say “the sort of sex the Catholic Church would cover up for decades if their sexual cover-up goons weren’t so busy with all the paedophilia and other related shenanigans (not that there’s necessarily any cross-species sex going on in the church (donkeys feature at Easter but I don’t really recall any other major animal featuring heavily in the New Testament which is probably why a lot of them don’t go to church in the first place (also: they’re not stupid))). Now that I’ve peppered this opening paragraph with terms that deviants are likely to type into Google perhaps you could talk about how easy or difficult it was to write the sex scenes, what sort of research you conducted, and how much of you went into the sex scenes? Hopefully in a manner that won’t get you fired from your job. Although: what a story!
MARK: The writing of sex scenes is notoriously fraught with pitfalls, and many great writers have made complete asses of themselves in attempting it. In fact, each year the Literary Review has an award for the worst sex scene – worst writing, not worst sex and I should note that John Updike has been nominated four times. So, why write sex scenes at all if it’s such difficult territitory? Oh what a giveaway! Because it’s an important part of the human experience, and because, let’s face it, sex is quite funny – I mean, if you’re not in the middle of it. So I acknowledge that writing a sex scene is rather difficult. (You’ll notice I avoided using the word hard.) I just sort of use my imagination, and the Internet is a wonderful resource, of course. Not that I would use it for anything BUT research purposes. How much of me is in the scenes? Well I’ve written it, so it’s come from somewhere in my brain, I suppose, but a lot of what happens is rooted (oops) in the characters – their motivations, thoughts and emotions. And sometimes it feels like the characters just get beamed into my head from somewhere else. (The naked channel, probably.)
ME: The book is called Marvellous Hairy and it would be fair to say that it might prove difficult for bookstore owners to determine where to stock it since picking a genre – one that already exists (we’ll have none of your Dewey Decimal-defying "Fabulist Satire" around these parts) – would ultimately boil down to drawing a topic from a hat. Did you have a target audience in mind? Who is going to like this book? Do you fear a backlash from librarians? They are a vengeful sort after all and many of them disguise their old, musky book scent with lavender which is a crime against nature and confusing to those who try to locate the elderly by smell.
MARK: My hope is that people who enjoy Douglas Adams, Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, Christopher Moore, Terry Pratchett, and Chuck Palahniuk will get a charge out of Marvellous Hairy – basically people with supple minds and well-developed senses of humour. Regarding librarians: there is nothing more frightening than a cross librarian, especially if they’re armed with some kind of plasma weapon or a cutting-edge taxonomy. That said, many librarians secretly wait for the day when a Chosen One will break the shackles of their Dewey Decimal system, when a freedom-loving publisher will shatter the tyranny of the Library of Congress. Excelsior!
ME: Like many people who studied the works of Shakespeare at school I came to loathe all his writing with a passion. Clearly, you’re a bit different (I didn’t say "strange in the head" but I was thinking it) since your book references A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What the hell is wrong with you? No, don’t answer that question. Answer this one: Shakespeare, eh? (That was a question; not a Canadian impression for your benefit.)
MARK: I’m mostly hoping that Marvellous Hairy can get on some university reading lists (sales, baby) and it seemed like making Shakespeare references might help. Also, I was desperate for an underlying structure and theme that I could parody. I’m pretty sure Shakespeare would have approved.
ME: They say everybody has a book in them and often they’re saying it in a figurative sense rather than a literal one. Even I may have a book in me. Even perhaps people reading this. Not that man who walks down my road in a skirt, though. He’s probably got an oboe in him rather than a book. And not a good oboe either. Weirdo. I’ve been put off writing a novel for the same reason as many people: I’m lazy and there’s not enough time and there’s always something to watch on TV and I’ve got a pile of DVDs to get through. How do you do it? Tell me about writing. What’s your process? Did that sound bookish enough?
MARK: Wailing. Pain. Anguish. Much beating of the forehead against my keyboard. (I go through about two a week – keyboards that is, not foreheads, though my friends have taken to calling me Qwerty, because of the letters stamped in my skin.) Once I’ve gotten through the self-flagellation part of the morning, I drink some coffee, and then procrastinate by writing something for my blog, The Skwib. That usually takes about forty minutes or so, and then I’m really ready to get to work. (Which is when I take the dog for a walk or play a video game, or prepare a lecture for class.) Then I have lunch. People are remarkably understanding about this process, especially if I’m buying.
ME: People reading this will probably want some advice on writing if I’ve peppered this article with just the right phrases to entice them in and quite clearly I’m not the man to give them any of the good stuff. But you may be! Or you might be able to fake it! Do you have any advice for would-be authors looking to write and publish their very own labour of love? What about an anecdote? Everyone loves an anecdote about writing. I challenge you to find someone who doesn’t!
MARK: My advice for budding authors is that if you can possibly do anything else, you should avoid writing at all costs. It’s an extremely nasty business; first of all, there’s the damp and dark. Then there’s the danger of explosions and cave ins, not to mention all the close-harmony singing. No wait, that’s coal mining in Wales. But metaphorically, that’s what writing is like. (Without the close-harmony singing, which I quite enjoy.) Publishing right now is a crazy business, so just be prepared for how difficult it will be – that said, it’s probably one of the best times in history to be a writer just starting out. There are so many ways you can get your words in front of an audience. Making a living off it, though, is extremely unlikely. (I still have a full-time job, for example, which helps fund my "fiction habit".) Marvellous Hairy started life as a short manuscript in Anvil Press’s Three-Day Novel contest – the idea is to write a 30000-word "novel" in three days. When I wasn’t typing like a madman, I spent a good part of my long weekend huddled under the desk, nursing a bottle of Balvenie. I’m not sure if that counts as a writing anecdote so much as a cry for help.
ME: There is nothing actually marvellous about being hairy; I have this on good authority from my wife. Clean-shaven is the order of the day where my face is concerned and if by some random roll of the evolutionary dice I had been cursed with a rug-like back then I would either be a) wifeless, or b) the proud owner of an annual subscription to the nearest waxing emporium. Yet you think hairy is somehow… good? Explain, Mr hirsute-loving writer man!
MARK: You should come with me on my yearly winter visit to see my brother in Ottawa. When it’s 30 below, and a wicked wind is tearing down the Rideau Canal (where, dementedly, you have decided to spend the afternoon skating), you will understand how marvellous it is to have a hairy face. But it’s true, 88 percent of wives and girlfriends are not in favour of copious hair growth. The secret is finding that other 12 percent.
ME: That’s a lot of women to find. We may have to call you the literary lothario. Anyway, budding authors will want to read what you’ve written so they don’t come up with the same idea when they decide to write their own book. In order to do that they’re going to need to buy your book and it’s my understanding – I may be wrong – that you can do this using something called an internet coupled with an exchange of monies. What an age we live in! What I’m saying is: how do people buy your book now?
MARK: Yay! I haven’t scared you away! There are so many choices: you can buy it on Amazon.com, or direct from the publisher for about 10 pounds (both get you the actual paper book, which is adorable – it’s 296 pages, but only 4 by 6 inches in size.) You can also download the eBook from Smashwords for 2 pounds. And if you want to listen to the book, you can check out the podcasts here, iTunes, or at Podiobooks.com for free!