Mark Kendrick Talks About Writing, Gay Issues, and Sci-Fi
edited: Sunday, March 24, 2002
By Duane Simolke
Posted: Sunday, March 24, 2002
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A Stonewall Society Interview, by Duane Simolke. Conducted March 22, 2002. Plus reviews of Mark Kendrick's first two novels!
DS: First, please tell us about where you live and where you grew up, as well as how either of those have affected your writing.
MK: Iíve lived in Chicago since 1989 with my partner of 14 years. Before that, I lived in California and Wisconsin, and spent a year in Japan, but I grew up in Texas. Virtually nothing about my childhood environment has influenced my writing. I wasnít particularly encouraged to be a writer while growing up, even though I constantly wrote poetry, short stories and wrote school plays all my teenage years. Perhaps I inherited a previously dormant gene or something, since there are no other writers in my immediate or extended family.
DS: Your first two novels (Desert Sons and Into This World Weíre Thrown) involve a gay teen couple, Scott Faraday and Ryan St. Charles. Where did you get the idea for those characters, and for their stories?
MK: I was stationed at Twentynine Palms (the Marine base) in CA when I was 18, and visited nearby Joshua Tree Natíl Park as often as I could. So, Desert Sons was greatly influenced by my love of the desert in general and the Mojave in particular, thus the setting. Ryan is a composite of several people Iíve known over the years. Scott is perhaps my alter ego, but doesnít resemble me in any recognizable way. Many of the events that take place in the story (the trip to Parker and Crescent City, rappelling in the Monument, and many others) were taken from my past, but I greatly altered them to fit the story. All in all, I weaved a mixture of real and imaginary events together. I didnít come out until I was 23, so perhaps the story is a reflection of idealizing what it might have been like if I had had the courage to do so in high school.
The sequel came as a complete surprise. Ron Donaghe (author of Common Sons, The Blind Season, etc.) suggested one. I had no intention of writing one. But Iím not kidding when I say this: I woke up one morning and the storyline began revealing itself to me. I started writing it down, and within a week I had a complete outline for the sequel. I really had no idea that Scott and Ryan would force me to write about them again or that the new characters would be in the sequel.
DS: I gather from comments at your website that you mostly seem interested in reading and writing science fiction. So, why the detour from that for your first two books?
MK: Good question. Iíve loved science fiction since I can remember. And I set out to write what I love to readóbut I got sidetracked. Regardless, Iíve discovered that my first two novels have helped to fill a gap that was missing in gay fiction for quite a while. At the time I was writing the first one (it took about 5 years to work out the plot, characters, etc.), stories like PINS, The World of Normal Boys, Rainbow Boys, and others that fit into the same general category, hadnít been published yet. Now those, other similar novels, and my contributions, have filled this gap. The next novel on my slate will definitely be sci-fi, and will feature gay main charactersósomething thatís noticeably absent from that genre.
DS: Your novels have sold well at the online bookstores. Have you had the same success at walk-in bookstores?
MK: Theyíve sold online beyond my wildest expectations, I might add. I havenít really pushed the issue for the more traditional outlets, although there is an independent Chicago bookstore in the heart of Boys Town that I negotiated with to carry Desert Sons. Itís sold quite well there. Iíve received some wonderful email feedback from local readers as a result, so I know I could expand my brick and mortar market and get a wider audience that way. It just takes time.
DS: How much does being gay affect your writing, and how much does being in a long-term gay relationship affect your writing?
MK: So far, Iíve been writing about what I know (with a healthy dose of imagination). Being gay helps to keep us visible in the world of contemporary fiction since weíre everywhere in real life. As for being in a long-term relationship, well, itís helped to create a stable home environment where I can do the grueling work of spending long hours with my characters, and doing the editing thatís required.
DS: What are some books (gay or otherwise) that you especially like?
MK: Thereís your fiction collection entitled The Acorn Stories, which I really enjoyed reading. There are the novels I mentioned above along with War Boys, Maurice, the Riverworld sci-fi series, every one of Michael McCollumís sci-fi novels, some of Andre Nortonís pure sci-fi works, and lots and lots of other science fiction way too numerous to mention here. Recently, Iíve been reading as much gay fiction as I can so I can keep in touch with what other authors that write in that genre are doing in the marketplace.
DS: Do you write anything besides fiction?
MK: Iíve written volumes and volumes of poetry, some gay-themed, but most of it is not. Despite the fact that I couldnít stop writing poetry for decades, my poetry Muse ceased functioning once I started writing novels. I was always of the notion that I would eventually be a novelist and only pursued having one poem published.
DS: What can visitors to your website expect to find?
MK: Excerpts from my published works, teasers from upcoming novels, some of my better poetry, links for authors and aspiring writers, and a few photos.
DS: What are the most important issues facing gays right now?
MK: I think the marriage and adoption issues are at the forefront. For those of us in long term relationships, this issue, which is being dealt with in a very adult fashion all over the Western world, except for in the US, is a real problem. I donít have the solution, but hereís what I would say to our elected officials whoíre opposed to it, ďGet past your medieval philosophy and thinking: weíre not going away.Ē
DS: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
MK: Make a step sheet, create biographies, trace out your plot, and have an end in mind. I recommend making sure you create characters that people can strongly identify with. Have those you trust read your manuscript and get their feedback. Edit until your hands fall off, then use the stubs to continue. Itís hard work and it requires a lot of attention, but itís worth the effort. Beyond that, find an agent and plead mercilessly. If that doesnít work, try the print-on-demand route.
DS: What should readers expect from you in the future?
MK: At least four, if not more, sci-fi novels featuring strong gay characters, time travel, inter-dimensional travel, intrigue, high adventure, lots of conflict, and all at great prices!
DS: Is there anything youíd like to say to your readers?
MK: The responses Iíve received from my first two stories, in review form and via emails, are nothing short of amazing. In addition, I entered a whole new world by corresponding with other authors, as well as with fans of Scott and Ryan. Itís a great feeling to know that Iíve touched other peopleís lives with my work. People have even told me how their lives have changed knowing my characters! Thatís saying a lot and lets me know that what Iím doing has a purpose far greater than what it seems on the surface.
A Novel by Mark Kendrick
Book review by Duane Simolke
In reading Mark Kendrickís first novel, I often forgot about the plot, not because it didnít interest me, but because Kendrick succeeds so incredibly at bringing readers deep into the minds and hearts of his two main characters: Ryan and Scott. Of course, the various conflicts creep back into the narrative, causing new problems for these believable and complicated teenagers. Both boys are still coming to terms with their sexual orientation, while trying to understand their intense love for each other. Kendrick also writes science fiction, and it will be interesting to see if he can deliver the same character-driven novels in that genre as in this admirable example of gay fiction.
Into This World Weíre Thrown
A Novel by Mark Kendrick
Book review by Duane Simolke
I loved Mark Kendrickís debut novel, Desert Sons, and canít wait for the impending release of his first science fiction novel! Still, I was surprised and happy to learn of his plans to first write a sequel to Desert Sons. Though I found the ending of the original completely satisfying, it also left some open possibilities that this book explores.
While Desert Sons deftly handles the difficult and sometimes dangerous coming out process of young lovers Ryan and Scott, the sequel finds that lingering tensions remain, while new challenges continue to surface. Infidelity, jealousy, town gossip, and buried feelings threaten to destroy their relationship. Worse yet, the threat of violence looms constantly in their lives.
Fans of Desert Sons will surely cherish this conclusion to its story-lines. However, I also suggest it to fans of gay teen ďcoming outĒ movies like Beautiful Thing, Get Real, Boyís Life, and Edge of Seventeen. In fact, Kendrickís first two novels would both make great movies themselves!