Taking a hard line with Wayne Hoffman

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Tuesday May 23, 2006
Share this Post:

Gay journalist Wayne Hoffman's debut novel Hard (Carroll & Graf, 2006, $14.95) makes political activism sexier than it's been in years. It doesn't hurt that main character Moe divides his time between arranging safe-sex parties, doing his part to keep the exchange of journalistic ideas open and free-flowing, and giving the best blowjobs in Manhattan. As hot as it is humorous, Hoffman's Hard is the hard-to-resist read of the summer. I spoke with Hoffman shortly after the book's publication.

Gregg Shapiro: What is the genesis of Hard?

Wayne Hoffman: I started writing the book in a bathtub in Mexico. The writing took a year and a half of my so-called spare time, and was done in places as diverse as Provincetown and Managua, Rome and New York City. But when it comes to writing a book about "the greatest cocksucker in New York City," the writing isn't the most rewarding part. The research is!

The "Hard" sections of the novel provide the reader with insight into some of the characters.

I had always envisioned these chapters standing alone, giving the book a supporting structure. The novel focuses almost exclusively on action, what people say and do. That was a deliberate choice on my part. But I did want to have a place to explore what the characters were thinking, what motivated them to do and say certain things. That's where the "hard" parts came in, as a way to flesh out characters without interrupting the action as it was happening.

As a journalist with considerable experience in the gay press, was it inevitable it would figure prominently in your debut novel?

Hard focuses on several issues that are important to journalists of every stripe: truth, accuracy, ethics, neutrality. But for a lot of gay journalists, there's an ongoing tension between the professional demands of objective journalism and the political leanings that motivate us as activists. The sex wars of the 1990s were a prime example of how different people resolved that internal conflict in different ways.

The novel is set in the New York of the late 90s. Is that a period not sufficiently explored in print?

Coming between the fashionably defiant fierceness of Queer Nation in the early 90s and the equally important but completely different push for marriage and adoption in this decade, the late 90s were witness to a tremendous churning and change of perspective in gay America, around issues from sex to HIV to family values, however you define them. Something huge happened in those quieter years that we've only begun to understand in retrospect.

Hard also comments on the activism, AIDS and sexual, of the period.

While the late 80s and early 90s saw queer activists fighting against straight homophobes and conservative politicians, the late 90s saw queer activists fighting among themselves. The issues hadn't changed much — HIV prevention, personal freedom, public health, government intrusion on our sex lives — but the actors and their positions had certainly changed.

AIDS as a subject was beginning to disappear from gay lit, but this year it's made a return, in John Weir's What I Did Wrong, Patrick Ryan's Send Me, and Hard.

I think that many writers got tired of "writing about AIDS," per se. But you can write a novel that includes HIV without writing an "AIDS novel," as we now see. It's similar to the "coming out story," another genre that seems pretty well-worn on its own. As an element of a broader story, though, coming out is still an experience that resonates for many of us, even if we don't want to read an entire book about it. We can incorporate these themes into larger works.

Bear culture figures prominently in Hard.

Moe is struggling with his body image, and only reluctantly accepts that there are men out there, whether they call themselves bears or not, who think he's hot just the way he is. My goal wasn't to put a spotlight on bears — although I'm always happy to do that, particularly in my own apartment, in some sort of circle formation — but I did want to make sure that my characters represented some range of types that are often overlooked. Some of the main characters in Hard are young, some are white, some are hunky, but none are all three at once. In real life, most gay men don't look like they belong in a Calvin Klein underwear ad. Thank God for that.

Hard addresses the gay generation gap in the relationship between Max and Moe.

I'm something of a daddy-hunter. I love and lust after older men. I'm 35, but still looking at guys 20 years my senior. I've spent a lot of years talking to older men, and trying to understand our different perspectives on everything from sex to musical theater. Even though I enjoy both sex and musical theater with older guys, we're coming from different places.

Hard does a good job of portraying the small gay world, even in a city as vast as NYC. Max is directing the play by Moe's nemesis Frank, Frank's cohort Emmett is Dustin's therapist, Kevin is hired by Frank as an escort. Are you ever surprised by what a small gay world it is?

This is how gay life works for people who are immersed in the community. There are plenty of gay people who don't spend much time in the "gay world," but for those of us who live or work primarily in the gay world, it's a shockingly small scene. Three degrees of separation, maybe. Two, if you include the people whose names you never got!

Hard doesn't shy away from sex, and contains some extremely erotic and graphic passages. Did that present a challenge when it came to finding a publisher?

I needed a publisher that would keep the explicit sex without thinking of this as a one-handed read. Carroll & Graf understood that a book could be serious and filthy, hilarious and angry all at the same time, graphic without being pornographic.