Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts, a novel. He is a cabaret columnist for Edge NYC and a critic for the Bistro Awards, for which he is also an Awards Committee Member. I am proud to say he is also a close, long-time friend of mine and he's just published his memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart, now available at Amazon.com. http://www.amazon.com/Quarter-Inch-My-Heart-Memoir/dp/1938459245/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401208111&sr=1-1&keywords=kevin+scott+hall
Dj Buddy Beaverhausen: Hello, Kevin, and welcome to our Q&A regarding your memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart, which will have its book launch June 3rd.
One motif that's conveyed quite powerfully in your book is the conflict within people's darker side and higher self. Did you consciously convey this theme in A Quarter Inch from My Heart or did it develop organically as you wrote?
Kevin Scott Hall: I’ve always been very aware of the close proximity between good and evil, cruelty and altruism—in myself as well as others. I think the world would be a better place if each of us could honestly realize that we have the capacity to do both good and evil. It is our challenge in life to choose good as often as possible. I can’t say that I consciously thought of that while I was writing, but I’m not surprised that you found that. I think about that duality constantly in my life.
DBB: Your last book, Off the Charts, was a novel. What made you decide to tackle the memoir as a form of literary expression? And, subjectively, how did the experience of writing A Quarter Inch differ from that of writing Off the Charts?
KSH: I never thought I’d write a memoir, but after this experience I thought to myself, “I have to write this down. Nobody is going to believe this happened. I can hardly believe this happened!” I thought it would be easy at first because I was just recalling the story. But no, you have to go deep. Off the Charts was a lot more fun to write. The memoir became a way for me to channel my grief and to make sense of tragedy. I need to find meaning in my life and writing a memoir helped me to do that.
DBB: The book largely focuses on your relationship with your friend, Maurice (who makes a truly fascinating central character). But, woven into the fabric of this memoir are you remembrances of your friend, Neal, and your near-fatal stabbing on the streets of New York. What makes these incidents necessary to the main thrust and storyline of your book?
KSH: Neal was a friend since childhood and he probably knew me better than anyone else, and we had gone through those awful high school years together. I lost him a few months before Maurice came into my life. I chose to start with losing Neal because I think that loss really shifted the ground under my feet and I was having trouble finding my bearings. When Maurice arrived, I was probably desperate for a friendship and so made some decisions about taking in Maurice that I may have questioned a little more thoroughly if I’d been in a more stable place, mentally and emotionally.
As for the stabbing, many years before, I think that was a watershed moment in my life that caused me to be very wary of strangers and shattered a trust that I have always had about people’s basic goodness. So revisiting that time in this book, I think, draws a parallel to how, ten years after, I was able to trust a stranger to the extent of inviting him into my home and allowing him to stay. The title comes from the fact that the blade came a quarter inch from my heart, literally. With Maurice, I kept him a quarter inch from my heart. It’s debatable now whether that slight emotional distance protected me and him, or whether we lost out on something that would have been even more amazing.
DBB: New York City is the setting for most of the events that unfold in A Quarter Inch from My Heart. But, in a sense, it also comes across as another character in this story, I feel, continuing the theme of the conflict of darkness and light within. Again, I wonder if this was by conscious design or a subconscious one?
KSH: This was definitely subconscious design, but no less real than a conscious one. You will see that the book is populated with all kinds of people who represent the best of humanity and the worst. But you’re right—there is even a meditation on good neighborhood versus bad.
DBB: During your friendship with Maurice, he stole and used your credit card. For me, that would be unforgivable. How did you find it possible to ever again trust, and remain close to, someone who did that?
KSH: In the moment, it was unforgivable. But he had a way of pulling me back in. It was like a child stealing from the cookie jar, not a scammer who was cleaning out my bank account. I almost didn’t notice it because the purchases were so negligible. By then, I was so deeply involved that there were greater issues than his using my credit card to buy a few things at Duane Reade. And in the greater picture, I think it was more important for me to be able to forgive, and for him to be forgiven.
DBB: You write Maurice was clinically bipolar. I sometimes think there's something a little schizophrenic about being able to create; to being artistic. I mean, I think you have to let yourself be a little crazy and "outside yourself" at times. Do you think there's a kinship, or at least a fine line, between the creative process and insanity?
KSH: I think he was bipolar. That was a guess later on, after discovering a bottle of pills he had. It made sense when I read up on the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Maurice was incredibly creative and gifted, much of which I didn’t discover until he was gone. But he was creative in the way he lived his life and experienced moments. Much more so than I was. I think insanity and creativity go hand in hand. I’m not saying we should strive for insanity in order to create—no! But I think when we, as creative people, are in our zone, it’s a pretty insane place to be. Beautiful, but hard to understand for the uninitiated.
DBB: A Quarter Inch from My Heart is, among other things, a story about faith in your fellow man, in God, in your spiritual beliefs and it's about your support network of family and friends. As with all good autobiographical writing, in the specific and personal, apart from the first-person point-of-view, there is a greater, universal epiphany all readers should be able to connect with. What do you think that might be in your memoir?
KSH: Ooh, great question. First of all, I’m grateful that readers are finding things in this book that I had no idea were there. One epiphany might be that we should never count anybody out. Everybody has value, everybody needs love. Who knows—even the guy who stabbed me, although I have no interest in exploring that. The other might be—and I’m borrowing this from Mary Gulivindala, who wrote one of the Amazon reviews—that there is no road map to life. Things happen, and we negotiate the curves as best we can. I think the more we are armed with all of those things you mention in your question, the better we are able to deal with such things. But I don’t recommend people make the choices I made. It worked out for me, but it was high-risk behavior.
DBB: I know you to be a very devoted and caring friend, and I know how protective you are of the people in your life. In the book, you struggle with boundary issues regarding your protectiveness with Maurice and question your own motives regarding this. At what point, do you think, does Christian duty become more of a Christ complex, and where does one draw the line?
KSH: Well, that was the problem. I was negotiating each turn as it came; I didn’t draw a line. I was not as perfect and loving as I thought I was, I had a lot of maturing to do. There’s a basic Biblical commandment that Jesus says: “Love others as you first love yourself.” I think people misunderstand that because most people do not love themselves. And so the love they give is full of conditions and inside—and sometimes outside—they are angry people. We’ve seen people like that in our churches, right? This is the good news? Look at the sour puss on your face! We need to learn to love ourselves first—and I don’t mean treating ourselves to material things or becoming a braggart (that’s insecurity, it’s not self-love)—but deeply and honorably taking care of ourselves. I did give love to Maurice that was beyond anything I could muster up on my own—I was trying to draw from the well of my faith—but I was often doing so at a cost to myself. I was not equipped to deal with his issues, really, and there was often a question as to whether I was going to save him or he was going to destroy me. Basically, humans should be in the business of helping, not saving (thank you again, Mary!), and we need to find where that boundary is.
DBB: Earlier this year, I interviewed Dr. Frank Spinelli about his memoir, Pee Shy, which, like yours, was a very dark and candid recounting. It must be very difficult to explore and re-live painful experiences. Why put yourself through that?
KSH: At first, I thought it would be easy. After all, I knew the story, I just had to tell it. However, when my publisher read my story, he came back with a lot of red marks and questions on the manuscript. Basically he asked, “Where are you in this?” In other words, I was telling it like a journalist, but with memoir you really have to put your heart and soul on the page. So each succeeding draft became more difficult. There were times when I was bawling my eyes out as I was writing, like that scene with Diane Keaton in “Something’s Gotta Give.”
I very much agree with that quote from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We don’t solve the problems of our past by choosing to turn our eyes away from them. To overcome them, we need to go all in.
It was very difficult and I never want to write a memoir again. However, it was like six years of therapy. In the end, I did put the grief behind me and, having revealed so much about myself here, I now feel quite strong, even fearless.
DBB: So, God sounds like Darth Vader you say?
KSH: [Laughs] Now that I think about it, it could have been Kathleen Turner. I don’t believe God has a gender.
DBB: Can you give us further details about the Quarter Inch from My Heart book launch?
KSH: Yes, I’ll be doing the launch at Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village. This has been a place I’ve called home for the last 15 years, and it figures very prominently in the story. So if people come to the party, when they read the book they’ll have an exact picture in their mind. Jacqui Lewis, the senior minister, who also played a significant role in the book, will also be there and she’s going to talk with me for a few minutes about the book. So you’ll get to meet the real Jacqui too. And I’m going to sing a couple of songs. In the last few years, people have only known me for writing, but I had a long career as a singer/songwriter. I have to warm up my voice, though! It is out of shape!
DBB: Congratulations, Kevin, on a job well done. I highly recommend A Quarter Inch from My Heart to everyone as a rivetingly good read they should add to their book list. And thank you so much for doing this Q&A with me.
KSH: Thank you. These were wonderful questions and got me thinking more about the book as well.