Curiouser and Curiouser: What’s your favorite part in the movie Frank? It might be easier to ask if you have a favorite line…
Rob Hart: My absolute favorite is this exchange:
Jon: The torment he went through to make the great music.
Frank’s Mom: The torment didn’t make the music. He was always musical. If anything it slowed him down.
It’s a very romantic notion that art needs to come from a place of pain or can only exist when it’s filling something that’s broken. And good art can come from places like that. But people under estimate how much is ass-in-seat work (most of it) versus how much is divine angelic inspiration birthed by drugs or depression (not a whole lot).
That’s the moment when the movie went from very very funny to really profound and important.
C&C: It is exhausting to deal with the whole “tortured, mentally ill alcoholic” persona as the only legitimate path to true artistry. I loved that about Frank, too. There was joy in his Head, and that there was a hindrance to it coming out. But if you were told you had to have a “gritty” or “checkered” past as a backstory for your book jackets, what would your fake past be? Don’t say circus roustie. I call that backstory.
RH: I recently read an article in the New York Times about a group of environmentalists who chase down and stop illegal fishing trawlers. It’s totally a vigilante thing, because the laws governing the sea are sort of piecemeal and confusing. And at one point they were chasing this notorious vessel through a part of the ocean so dangerous and remote it’s called the Shadowlands. And I don’t even like the ocean but it made me want to be a vigilante boat captain.
C&C: How did you meet your wife?
RH: We worked at the same newspaper–I was a reporter and she was an intern. And I had a bit of a crush on her but she was involved with someone.
We stayed friends, even after I took a gig working in the paper’s Albany bureau, and then one weekend I came home and she was single and we got together and it went from there.
C&C: Do you have a hair maintenance routine? Products and a schedule and all that?
RH: None. I dodged a genetic bullet. My dad is losing his hair. Both of my younger brothers are losing their hair. I have pretty good hair and I don’t have to put junk in it. Life is good. I’m going gray and I am so totally fine with that. I can live with gray hair. It makes me feel fancy and distinguished.
C&C: What do you have in your pockets?
RH: Right now: A Swiss Army knife.
When my daughter was in the hospital recovering from surgery, my wife and I would order take-out so we didn’t have to be away from the room for too long. And one day we got Chinese Mexican, along with Jarritos, which is a Mexican fruit-flavored soft drink. The bottles aren’t twist-off and the nurses’ station didn’t have a bottle opener. Surprise surprise. I can open a bottle with a lighter but no one had a lighter. I was going to MacGuyver it when a doctor turned around and was like “Use this,” and he handed me a Swiss Army knife.
At that moment I realized how insane it was that I didn’t carry one. It’s great for opening bottles and cutting things and slicing my finger open accidentally.
C&C: Speaking of slicing fingers, have you ever had stitches or broken any bones? What was your most serious injury?
RH: I have never broken a bone, and apparently there’s a reason for that: So my jaw is misaligned. At one point a long time ago my dentist thought he would need to break it and reset it, so that my teeth didn’t wear away or the joints wouldn’t go all wonky or something. The good news is we’ve since abandoned that insane, terrifying course.
But at the time, he said that my bone structure was so dense he wasn’t sure if he could break it conventionally.
I don’t know what he was basing that on, or what the science was there, but I have to assume that means maybe I am a superhero?
Most of my injuries are kitchen related lately. I burnt myself real good taking a lamb roast out of the oven this past Easter. Last year I cut off a tiny bit of the tip of my finger dicing garlic for curry. But yeah, then sometimes I’m absentmindedly playing with my knife and then I’m like hey what’s that oh I’m bleeding again!
No major major injuries. I guess technically the blown disk in my lower back (a neurosurgeon referred to it as “shredded” and asked me if I fell of a roof or something [which, no, I did not]), but you can’t even see that by looking at me, and what’s the point of bragging about an injury no one can see?
C&C: Has being a dad made you less of a douchebag, in a general sense?
RH: I hope so. It’s made me more mindful of parents whose kids are having a meltdown in public. I used to think it was the worst noise ever and those parents needed to get their shit together. Now I understand how utterly irrational and unreasonable babies are.
But it’s also made me more mindful of wanting to have a positive influence on the world and make sure I’m building something good for her. It made me want to write stuff that’s more hopeful. I’m even getting into a YA fantasy series right now, because I want her to have something to read when she’s a kid.
I always liked kids but was also happy to not have one and was on the fence for a while about this whole thing, and it’s amazing how having one just re-wires your brain. Sometimes when I’m at work I get sad because I can’t play with her right at that moment, and then I flip through goofy pictures of her on my phone and that helps a little.
C&C: What’s the coolest thing about your baby girl?
RH: Anything and everything.
I was having this conversation with my wife just this morning. Ninety-five percent of what she does is incredible and adorable. Pretty much everything but the pooping and the screeching and when she tries to rip my beard off my face. Everything else is great.
I’m so excited to have a girl. When we found out a few people were like, “Oh, are you disappointed?” Like just because I’m a dude I should want to have a son.
Fuck that. Having a daughter is great. She’s going to be the world’s first superhero. I have proof: My sister’s friend does cosplay and made her a Wonder Woman outfit. This is literally the cutest thing that has ever existed. Tell me I’m wrong. I’m not.
Shoulders: A dragon that morphs into a Celtic knot (I was 19), a tribal phoenix (to mark the completion of my first terrible unpublished book).
Upper arm: A skull and crossbones with ‘trust me’ written underneath (a play on a Vonnegut sketch).
Left forearm: A hydrogen atom. That’s the most recent. It’s the symbol on Dr. Manhattan’s forehead in Watchmen, but it’s also the most basic element in the universe, and I like that. It was also a celebration of getting a job where I could have a tattoo on my forearm and that was okay.
I’m in the market for a few more. Something to mark my first published novel. Someone for my daughter, now that she’s had her second–and probably final–heart surgery. I’m meeting with a tattoo artist this weekend!
C&C: Since I sent the first question, you’ve probably met with your tattoo artist. What’s the plan, Stan?
RH: It’s an old-school anatomical illustration of a heart, for my daughter.
I’m also planning to get a tattoo for New Yorked. And I’m on the verge of thinking I should get a tattoo for every book I get published? I’m still not sure about that. It sounds romantic right now but it might get tiresome down the line. I do want to get one for the book, because it’s my first published novel.
The heart comes first. That’s the one that feels more immediate.