Area attorney, musician, art gallery owner and author Mark Paul Smith said he wrote the first draft of his latest book, Honey and Leonard, in the mid-90s while he was struggling with addiction.It was, he recalled, “written in a hazed frenzy.”
After 15 years of sobriety, Smith “dug the manuscript out of a drawer” and said he could “feel addiction dripping off the page.
“It was a shocker,” he said. “It was like, ‘Whoa, I thought I was fine back then.’”
Drugs and alcohol can be a kind of “rocket fuel” that can provide “some inspiration,” he said.
“Some good stuff came out of the bad stuff,” he said. “But in the end, if you keep drinking, you’ll kill yourself like Hemingway.”
Smith doesn’t miss those days at all.
“In fact, guess what?” he said. “This’ll shock ya. Life’s more fun without it. Who knew? I could have saved a million bucks.”
Smith said he had to get knocked off his high horse and end up down on his knees.
“And by ‘down on my knees,’” he said, “I mean I had to accept a higher power in my life. I’m not saying it’s Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha. I don’t know what it is. I just know it’s not me.”
Honey and Leonard, which can be purchased via Amazon.com and at the Castle Gallery (owned by Smith and his wife, Jody Hemphill Smith) is about an elderly couple that goes on the lam and becomes an international cause célèbre in the process.
Among the many aims of the book is banishment from common English usage of the word “elderly,” he said.
“The book says you can be vibrant and vital well into your 70s and 80s,” he said. “In fact, you can be in love! You don’t have to be just elderly. I think elderly should go the way of the word retarded. Don’t use it anymore. It’s not nice anymore.”
The Honey of the title struggles to make what she thinks she knows about love fit her current circumstances, Smith said. She thinks loving Leonard might cure him of Alzheimer’s. She wonders if she can continue to love Leonard as Alzheimer’s progresses. And she ponders what the ravages of age mean for her own lovability.
What she realizes (and this goes back to revelations Smith has had in his own life) is that it’s “more important to love than to be loved,” he said.
“You can have a stadium full of people love you and it won’t do you one bit of good if you can’t love at least one of them back,” Smith said.
There was a time in his own life when Smith sought the love of stadiums full of people. After a stint as a newspaper reporter in the 70s, Smith went off to seek fame and fortune as part of a rock band called Wyler.
He describes Wyler as “a seven-man band touring the southern United States and working steady during the disco era.”
The band found especially enthusiastic audiences on the Bayou south of New Orleans, he said.
“The band got to the point where we met with (Bob) Dylan’s manager,” Smith said. “He was going to sign us, and I realized, ‘I don’t understand any of this.’ So I went to law school so I could negotiate my own rock n’ roll contracts, none of which were forthcoming.”
Smith’s father was a lawyer who taught his young son cross-examination at the breakfast table.
“He’d say, ‘Who were you out with last night? How many sisters does he have? What’s their number? I’ll call them. What time did you get in? Really? Because your mother and I were up then.’”
Smith said that everything he did for the first 30 or so years of his adult life was dedicated to changing the world.
“I tried to change the world as a hippie protester,” he said. “I tried to change the world as a journalist. I tried to change the world through rock n’ roll. And, finally, I tried to change the world through law. I’m sad to report that the world has changed me. I have not changed the world.
“For everybody who is out there now trying to change the world,” Smith said, “I’ve tried it from every angle and, as far as I can tell, it ain’t changing.”
The only thing you can change, Smith said, is yourself.
“That’s kind of what Honey and Leonard is about,” he said. “How to change yourself.
“Here’s the deal. Life is a spiritual obstacle course. It’s designed to see if you can get over yourself. That’s the whole game.”
We are all destined, perhaps, to believe at one or more points in our lives that we are at the center of the universe, Smith said.
“That is a trap we are all in,” he said. “And one way out of the trap is to love somebody more than you love yourself.”
Smith, who describes writing a book as “the most fun you can have with your pants on,” is already hard at work on his next tome.
It’s called Rock and Roll Voodoo.
“It’s about my band in New Orleans and on the Bayou,” he said. “I’m about 70 pages into it, and I’m having a ball.”
Smith describes it as a roman à clef.
“That is fact disguised as fiction,” he said. “Because, lord knows, this protagonist is doing stuff I would never dream of doing.”
Smith eschews the “violence porn” that infects so much entertainment these days and encourages authors to write about real life.
“It’s not always pretty,” he said. “It’s not always thrilling. It’s long stretches of boredom punctuated by sheer terror. But that’s life.”