1ON1: Reality Check with Author Mark Haskell Smith

When was the last time you picked up a book? If you can’t remember the last great novel you read, but vividly recall the dress last season’s bachelorette was wearing when she handed down the final rose, then you’re long overdue for a heaping dose of prose.

Luckily, author Mark Haskell Smith has just the book for you. It’s called Raw: A Love Story and it explores a tangled web of reality television stars, the pompous intellectuals who despise them and everything in between. Interested? I thought you might be. You can read our review of Raw  HERE  and read on for an in-depth look at the book, the author and true beauty in an oft-superficial world.

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Mark Haskill Smith

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How did you come up with the idea to write Raw: A Love Story? What was your inspiration?

I was fascinated with how our culture celebrates celebrity and denigrates intellectual achievement. It’s like we trust someone on Jersey Shore to tell us the “truth” about a topic but not, say, a scientist or an expert in his or her field. And I was really taken with how we elevate people who – and let’s be perfectly honest – have accomplished nothing more than appearing in a sex tape and turn them into “stars.” It’s a really strange phenomenon. At the same time I wanted to look at a segment of the literary world that is pompous and annoyingly pretentious. I wanted to bring those two disparate worlds together and drive a stake through their hearts.

How long did it take you to write the book?

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I did a first, rough draft really quickly, maybe in five or six months, and then took another year and a half to revise it.

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The central characters in the book, Sepp, Harriet and Curtis are all so different but still share similar facets. What did you enjoy most about creating these personalities?

They seem like extreme characters, the snobby book reviewer, the sweet natured imbecile, and the frustrated Brooklyn hipster and yet, they’re pretty much based on real people that I either know or have met. I really enjoyed bringing these characters from these different worlds together, to explore the subcultures they come from, and try to show how mainstream culture is really a collection of smaller subcultures.  

Beauty and the physical body are prevalent themes in Raw: A Love Story and also in—dare I say it—“real” life. What’s your perspective on the U.S. cultural emphasis on physical beauty.

That’s a great question and it’s funny you ask because I’ve just written a nonfiction book called Naked at Lunch: A Reluctant Nudist’s Adventures in the Clothing-Optional World where I looked at the history of nudism and what nudists are doing nowadays. A lot of what people who are into nudism say is that being naked is about body acceptance, about not letting the current beauty obsession affect their self-esteem and self-worth. So looking at it from that perspective you start to see how the emphasis on “being beautiful” as a measure of personal worth is really a destructive concept. Accepting your body, being happy with it, can be a liberating experience for a lot of people. Personally, I think being healthy and physically fit and happy is way more important than looking like someone in a magazine or on a movie screen.  But that’s a very anti-capitalist notion and advertisers and marketing people hate this idea. They want you to buy fashion and cosmetics; it’s a multi-billion dollar industry.

I have to ask—do you watch any reality television (aside from research for this book). If so, which shows are your guilty pleasures?

My guilty pleasure for years was The Amazing Race. Is there anything more fun than watching a suburban soccer dad losing his shit while trying to drive stick shift in Portugal? It’s a great show. Obviously for the book I watched a ton of shows from Jersey Shore to The Bachelorette to Real Housewives, basically anything that was on. Right now I’m trying an experiment where we’ve turned off the TV in our house. It’s been six months and I can’t say I feel like I’m missing anything.

What is the most fun/rewarding part about writing?

This will sound corny but I really like exploring ideas and learning new things. I especially like that about writing nonfiction, I get to go out in the world and meet interesting people and get a new perspective.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer but, looking back, it seems like this was the trajectory I was destined for. For sure I was always a big reader.

Do you have any advice to give other artists/writers/creatives that you wish you had been given early in your career?

Don’t pander. Don’t waste your time trying to figure out what may sell or what’s “hot.” Create the thing that you’d like to see. That’s how you develop your own, unique voice, and ironically, that’s the thing that will become “hot” someday.