Q&A With Author Mark Brennan Rosenberg
Photo courtesy Mark Brennan Rosenberg
Mark Brennan Rosenberg’s first book, the 2011 essay collection Blackouts & Breakdowns, was a Time Out New York Critic’s Pick last December; his second book, Eating My Feelings, will be released April 19. In the meantime, Rosenberg has embarked on a 45-city book tour , taking place primarily not in chain bookstore, but in social and community hot spots. On Wednesday, March 7, the tour will take him to Richmond’s Book Holders, just off Virginia Commonwealth University’s campus. We caught up with Rosenberg to ask him about his books, the gay scene they describe and what touring has taught him about the gay experience in America.
GayRVA: What stories are you trying to tell with your first and second books, respectively?
Rosenberg: I have tried to overcome an enormous amount of obstacles in my twenty-nine years on this earth, some with great success and others, I’ve failed miserably at. “Blackouts and Breakdowns” basically depicts my drinking career from first drink to last drink and how all of my relationships were affected during that time. In “Eating My Feelings”, I detail what life was like as a fat, gay child whose brothers and sisters were all skinny and straight. In adulthood, I’ve had to deal with the self-image issues that resonated from that as well as trying to live up to the standards of what a gay male twenty-something should look like in New York City. In both books, the general theme is that you can overcome any of life’s problems without having to change who you are on the inside.
You’re stopping in Richmond, Virginia, which has a thriving gay culture/scene on a city level, but at a state level, we’re among the more regressive states pertaining to gay rights. Obviously this phenomenon isn’t exclusive to Virginia, but why do you think you see this paradox of a gay-friendly city in a gay-unfriendly state?
It’s very funny that you ask that question because two of the cities we’ve gone to thus far that have been very diverse culturally in very regressive states have been two of my favorite places we’ve gone to thus far: Phoenix, Arizona and Fayetteville, Arkansas. Both cities have bustling gay communities, though you would never think it because they are in such conservative states. Fayetteville is the home of University of Arkansas so on any college campus, no matter where you are in the country, I feel you are going to find a ton of diversity. I believe that no matter what state you live in, the gay community naturally gravitates toward metropolitan areas. If you can’t make it all the way to New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, you’re automatically going to go to the largest city you can. In Virginia, it’s Richmond. In Texas it’s Austin or Houston. In Arizona, it’s Phoenix and so on.
Between your first and second books, how did the writing experience differ for you, or stay the same?
When I began writing “Blackouts”, I was still drinking and when I eventually stopped, I added the sobriety aspect to the book. I actually began writing “Eating My Feelings” before “Blackouts” was even published. There was a lot that I still wanted to say that just didn’t fit into my first book. While the style is the same in both books, I believe “Eating My Feelings” is directed toward a much broader audience. I knew what I wanted to say with “Blackouts” and how I wanted to share my experiences but with “Eating My Feelings”, I wanted to take it to the next level because no matter who you are, everyone has a relationship with food and how they view themselves in the mirror, so I wanted to make sure it related to everyone in some fashion. The editing process for my second book was more elaborate and I rewrote the ending about ten times in order to make it the best I believed it could be. I am extremely proud of both, however the editing and rewrites for “Eating My Feelings” were a painstaking process and I am very proud of the outcome and thrilled that I get to share it with the world on April 19.
Are there stops on your book tour where you feel like describing the experience in a city as huge as New York is less relatable for the audience?
We have stopped at many cities where there are large gay communities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Austin; however, the places where I feel we’ve made the most impact has been in the smaller cities like Tempe, Tulsa and Fayetteville, AR. There are gay people there ,believe it or not! Many of them have always wanted to go to New York but have never made the pilgrimage because they either can’t afford it or life has gotten in the way, but they are still fascinated by it have always wanted to go, so in essence, I am trying to bring a little bit of that debauchery to them. “Blackouts and Breakdowns” is about life experiences, i.e., coming out, drinking too much at one point or another and sleeping around. Everyone, gay or straight, can relate to something in the book in one way or another.
You’ve gotten sober since the events recounted in your first book, but it doesn’t seem like your aim is to be super-penitent and angsty about that, or to be judgmental towards other people who are still drinking. Do you think that, as a society, we put too much emphasis on judging people for addictions or simply bad habits?
We live in a judgmental society. I think a lot of us view people with alcohol or drug problems as degenerates who sleep in cabs and beg for money. Conversely, I believe there are those who view people who have overcome their addictions as people who now point the finger at everyone who picks up a drink and fortunately, neither of those things are true. Many of the people I was friends with when I drank are still my friends and I still hang out with them just as much, if not more so than when I drank, I just happen to refrain from partaking in consuming alcohol now. “Blackouts and Breakdowns” was never intended to be a book telling the reader why they shouldn’t drink, it’s my experience – no one else’s and is unique to myself and is meant to be entertaining. On the flip, there are plenty of people who have reached out to me and told me that “Blackouts” has helped them get sober, which is more rewarding than a winning the lottery. It’s comedy, and sometimes comedy can be the best way to entertain and enlighten.
“Blackouts & Breakdowns” is a Time Out New York Critic’s Pick; how did that accolade make you feel, and what effect has it had, both sales-wise and creatively?
Being a Critic’s Pick in Time Out NY was a highlight of this journey, that’s for sure. “Blackouts” is my first book so it was an absolute honor to have that accolade before leaving New York and touring the country. Whenever someone praises me highly, I see that as a time to raise my game to the next level and be even better than the best I can be. It certainly didn’t hurt book sales. Finding out about that was a once in a lifetime moment that I will never forget in my life.
In your interview with The Advocate, you talk about what a big part going out in general and, to a lesser extent, partying, plays in American gay culture. Do you think that with the recent gains in marriage equality in the country, that lower-key, more domestic gay culture is on the rise? Or alternately, do you think it’s been there for a while and it’s starting to get more attention?
I got a lot of shit about my interview with The Advocate when I said “gay guys party too much” and to that end, I am certainly sorry if people took that the wrong way. If you are single and live in a big city; gay, straight, bi-sexual black, white, green, it doesn’t matter, you will go out, you will drink too much at least once in your life and you will have an amazing time doing so. It is a fact that alcohol and drug abuse is more prevalent in the LGBT community – it’s a statistic that has been proven time and time again, that I am certainly not making up and something I have researched in great detail during my time volunteering LGBT sober houses and detox centers. However, what separates us from the animals is our need to pair off and mate. Everyone wants to be in a relationship, even if you say you don’t, you do; it’s part of being human so the fact that the LGBT community is able to express their love for each other and get married legally in more places than ever is wonderful. I think what it really comes down to is an age thing. When you’re in your early twenties, going out and partying is part of life that everyone does. As you get older, your priorities change and you want to settle down. We’re always going to party (whether we drink or not) no matter our age, but finding out what is really important in life is something that comes with age and so most people eventually grow out of that “drinking and druging” faze and focus their priorities on other, more important things.
Mark Brennan Rosenberg will be at Richmond Bookholders, located at 720 W. Grace St., at 6:00 p.m. on Wed., March 7.
Zack Budryk, a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, has been writing since age 10 working towards a career of advocacy-based investigative journalism.
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