In the journey to find happiness, we face many obstacles that threaten to keep us from it.
In his book entitled “Nothing Pink,” author Mark Hardy describes one such journey set in 1970s Dry Fork at the foot of White Oak Mountain.
“‘Nothing Pink’ is a coming of age, coming out story, in which teenage Vincent, the son of a Southern fundamentalist preacher, reconciles the religion of his youth and his sexual orientation. It is also a romantic story of first love and a story of unconditional, family love,” Hardy said.
The novel, which explores the conflict between lead character Vincent’s traditional Christian upbringing and his inescapable feelings of attraction to love interest Robert, explores Vincent’s developing relationship with Robert juxtaposed against the relationships he has with his parents.
Hardy said he drew inspiration from multiple sources in writing Vincent’s story.
“Authors like Dorothy Allison, Leslie Feinman, James Baldwin, and Michael Cunningham, and, of course, Carolyn Coman, who told powerful, poignant, painful stories with astounding beauty and grace,” Hardy said. “There was also this unexplainable understanding that there was a story inside me that had to gestate and be birthed, or I would suffer somehow. Also the need to offer a story to youths, especially those struggling with religion and homosexuality, like the story I wanted and needed to read when I was a teenager myself.”
Hardy shared that “Nothing Pink” is closely connected to his own development.
“From the earliest writing, the protagonist of my novel was always based on me, always struggling with his sexual orientation and his religious beliefs, simultaneously trying to rid himself of his gayness and to fully realize it,” Hardy said.
Hardy explained the parallels between “Nothing Pink” and his personal experience as a young gay man in the South.
“The story itself is not autobiographical. There was no Mark and Robert. I was far too afraid of hell and inevitable persecution by my peers. However, Vincent is definitely based on me. But more the ‘me’ I wish I had been than the ‘me’ I actually was as a teenager growing up in Dry Fork in the 1970s. The places and people and particular details of the novel are either autobiographic or very close to it,” Hardy said. “Vincent’s struggle was also mine, but I did not make the spiritual journey of self-acceptance he makes until I was a decade older, in my mid-20s, when I came out. I was 24 when, lying on my own bed, in a bubblegum-pink room in Charlotte, North Carolina, I heard a voice, loud and clear, just like Vincent did, say, ‘I haven’t changed you because I made you the way you are.’ It was through the long writing of the novel that my own journey of self-acceptance was brought to completion.”
Singer Barry Manilow has a place in “Nothing Pink,” as his music was popular during that time.
“I have been a fan since age 10. When I started writing, I was encouraged to gather scenes by putting my characters in situations and settings and seeing what developed. I knew Vincent and Robert had to have an initial meeting. I knew his parents forbid secular music. I loved this Delta 88 my own father had and wanted to use it in the story. I, myself, used to listen to 8-tracks in the car as it occurs in the novel,” Hardy said.
“It seemed perfect fodder for fiction and so I had Robert come over and catch Vincent off guard, seat-dancing. I just needed a song. During my own car-sitting era, I was jealous of a neighbor/friend who had memorized Copa Cabana. After that scene was written, I started collecting all of Mr. Manilow’s music and listening to it as a muse for the novel.
“My job required a lot of driving back and forth from North Carolina to New York City and I would listen to my CDs, the novel writing itself in my head, sobbing, crying up and down I95, across the Long Island Expressway. In the same way that God speaks to Vincent through the music of Barry Manilow, God spoke to me, and in a way, wrote this novel through me. My own spiritual realizations and transformations through Barry’s music and the writing of the novel are parallel to the ones Vincent makes through Barry’s music and his relationship with Robert.”
Featuring Manilow in the story had an unexpected consequence for Hardy.
“After the novel came out, a friend of a friend, who is one of Barry’s dancer/singer/choreographers got Barry a copy. He loved the novel and when he toured in Raleigh, he invited me to the show, and for afternoon tea on the terrace of the hotel. We had a lovely chat. That night, he added the song “All the Time”to the concert. He stumbled with the words of one phrase and after the song was fully sung, said, ‘I’m sorry, Mark.’ I cry now just remembering it,” Hardy said.
The setting in which the story takes place, Hardy said, was easy to select because he grew up in Dry Fork.
“I knew the difficult work was to discover the emotional and psychological journey of the character and it made sense to set my story in the physical places of my youth. In doing so, I was able to draw on the actual, specific details and particulars that were etched vividly in my memory, which freed up some creativity and imagination for the other parts of the story,” Hardy said. “Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Dry Fork of my youth was, and still is, an incredibly beautiful spot on the globe, one filled with amazing people – beautiful, kind, interesting, colorful Southern characters – a place that imprints itself deeply on those who dwell there.”
The time in which the story is set is also no coincidence.
“Very similar to ‘Why Dry Fork?’ I could draw on the actual details of my life. That era is interesting and nostalgic to many. Although, for young adult readers, the 1970s are almost historical fiction,” Hardy said.
Hardy offered some advice for young people struggling to come to terms with who they are.
“I would want them to learn to listen to and trust the still, quiet, but true voice within. And that there are many spiritual communities and religious denominations that are fully inclusive of and welcoming to LGBTQ folks – ones who don’t think we’re sinners. I would also want them to know that it is possible to live a completely full and happy life with no involvement in organized religion. I would try to connect them with a few of the multitude of resources out there that can help them navigate this journey. I would encourage them to find like-minded people: gay brothers and sisters as well as straight allies,” Hardy said.
Hardy added that he believed religion as it has existed in the southern United States for the past 50 years has done “hoards of damage.”
“The collective suffering couldn’t be calculated, but it has also done great, great good. I feel this way about myself, on an individual level. A lot of the pain and confusion and suffering and self-loathing of my life was the result of the religious beliefs of my upbringing,” Hardy said. “But, just as much of what is best about me comes from that same religious upbringing, religious texts, sacred songs, religious parents, and church community.
“The members of the churches of my youth were the most loving, best role models I can imagine. This is especially true of the members of Oakland United Methodist Church when I was Vincent’s age. I could not have grown up in a more loving, supportive community. Of course, they all knew I was gay and it wasn’t spoken about publicly. I was allowed to get away with the heterosexual facade I was trying to construct, but I never felt anything but love from those folks.”
Hardy shared some of the dangers faced by LGBTQ people as a consequence of religious and social persecution.
“Suicide attempts by LGBTQ youth are four to six times more likely than for straight youths. Many of those are due to factors related to religious aggression and condemnation. Often, the very religious authority figures doing the condemning are later caught in gay sex scandals,” Hardy said, adding that resources like the Trevor Project Hotline are available to provide support during crisis situations.
Hardy said that his book has received much praise from critics.
“The book was very well reviewed, by Kirkus, the Lambda Literary Review, and others. The feedback that has been most important for me has been from those who have seen their own transformation and self-acceptance in Vincent’s story, and especially those whose personal transformations have been aided by it. Some of the most exciting feedback came when Paul Ferguson chose to adapt the novel for the stage and now, for film as he is finishing a screenplay.”
Without spoiling the experience of reading the story, Hardy was willing to set an expectation for how the piece of nostalgic fiction would end.
“It does have a happy ending, and a horse named Happy. I always knew that it had to end well for Vincent and God,” Hardy said. “‘Nothing Pink’ is absolutely about accepting oneself, and also about accepting others. It is about letting love matter most.”
Hardy ends his emails with the phrase “love your way,” a simple phrase that perfectly illustrates the purpose of his work as an activist.
Brewed Awakening will host a book signing with Hardy on Saturday, March 12, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.