Art Imitates Life

Tacoma writer Mark Lindquist’s ‘Never Mind Nirvana’ closely resembles his lifestyle and work

by Betsy Model

The Olympian

Dichotomy: Di-chot-o-my (di-KOTT-e-mee) noun. Separation of different or contradictory things: a separation into two divisions that differ widely from or contradict each other. See Mark Lindquist, Tacoma author.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had nothing on Mark Lindquist.

By day, Lindquist is an attorney, a Pierce County prosecutor in the Special Assault Unit. By night — and by weekend and vacation and any other spare moment the Tacoma resident can find — he’s a fiction writer whose latest novel, “Never Mind Nirvana” (Random House, $21.95), has been earning him major book sale figures, critical acclaim, and a wearying number of national book signings and author interviews.

Boyishly good-looking in a very Brooks Brothers kind of way, he’s also got a demeanor and poker face that just begs for you to pull out a rubber chicken to see if you can get him to smile.

What’s so at odds is that Lindquist’s controlled manner is being displayed by someone who’s been known to refer to his real-life courtroom adversaries during live radio interviews as “Dumb and Dumber,” who pens rather graphic sex scenes — including a memorable moment on the Seattle Center’s monorail — with apparent ease, and whose latest book protagonist refers to his fictional opponents — also lawyers — as Satan, the Minion, Satan’s Little Helper and Beelzebub.

And if the release of “Never Mind Nirvana” and accompanying exposure also drew enough attention his way to earn him a place on People magazine’s recent “One Hundred Most Eligible Bachelors” list, Lindquist could seem to not care less.

“It happened to coincide with the book release,” shrugs Lindquist. “What can I say about it? It’s good publicity for the book.”

Umm, duh.

Folding his 6-foot-6-inch frame into a chair at Tacoma’s Harmon Brewery, Lindquist is still in his suit from the office, hungry, tired and, he admits, not terribly excited about doing another interview. It’s been a long day, he explains, he’s in the middle of a difficult trial, and he’s still pretty tightly wound up. Perhaps if he could order some food …?

Twenty minutes later, Lindquist’s mood has lightened along with his appetizer plate, and he’s prepared to talk about Pete Tyler, the main character in “Never Mind Nirvana” and the man that most everyone assumes is really Mark Lindquist, thinly veiled.

And certainly readers would have a right to wonder. Whereas Pete Tyler is 36 years old — or as Tyler laments periodically throughout the book, “almost forty” — he is still roughly the age as the author.

Like Lindquist, Tyler is a prosecuting attorney in a district attorney’s office in Washington state, assigned to the sexual assault unit, single, tall and a Seattle native.

Like Lindquist, Tyler is wondering what life would be like were he not quite so driven, not quite so single and not quite so … guy-like.

Like Lindquist, Tyler is deeply entrenched in the Seattle bar and music scene, with his classic question to any woman that he thinks he might want to get close to being “Who do you like better, Nirvana or Pearl Jam?” as if that one single question will find him the answers — to life, to love and to aging gracefully — that he can’t seem to find anywhere else.

But there, Lindquist swears, is where most of the similarities between him and Pete Tyler end.

“I don’t drink that much, and I never drink during a trial,” says Lindquist, “unlike Pete who drinks before, during and after. Tyler was a musician in a band and I wasn’t. Pete prefers living to thinking (and) I think I’m more introspective than that … definitely more so than Pete.

“Oh, and of course,” adds Lindquist with his first tentative smile of the evening, “I’ve never slept with 500 women the way Pete has. I mean, the band member-groupie thing and all that.”

Christy Fletcher, a literary agent with New York-based Carlisle & Co. and Lindquist’s agent, thinks that part of the success of the book is due to the Lindquist/Tyler similarities.

“You know, for the reader I think there’s this teasing mystery as to what’s fiction to Pete Tyler and what’s really about Mark Lindquist,” muses Fletcher. “That and the fact that Mark has his character asking questions that I think most late-30s people — especially guys — are constantly asking themselves. ‘When are you a bona-fide grown-up?’ and ‘What constitutes being an adult?’

“I also think,” continues Fletcher, “that Pete Tyler is the kind of guy that a lot of women love … a guy who they believe, behind all the hard drinking and smoking, is really lovable, is reachable and who wants to make a meaningful connection. He just doesn’t have a clue as to how to do that.”

One connection that Lindquist has proven himself absolutely able to make happen for both his character and his readers is Seattle’s music scene and the entire music genre of the late ’70s through early ’90s. The entire book revolves around Pete Tyler’s preoccupation with music, whether it’s the fame of his past that’s all but disappeared now that he’s “a suit,” or his trolling for someone to ease his loneliness at clubs like The Crocodile, the Alibi Room, the Cha-Cha or the Lava Lounge.

Lindquist has liberally peppered “Never Mind Nirvana” with bits and pieces of song lyrics that Pete Tyler seems to equate with real life and real emotion, and he talks about both local and national bands and band members of such groups as Nirvana, Hovercraft, Mudhoney, Hole, Pearl Jam and Everclear as if they were the boys next door.

Of course, in much of Western Washington some of those band members were in fact the boys — and girls — next door. And that, Lindquist admits, is why he wanted to center “Never Mind Nirvana” in the Seattle area.

“There’s this truly amazing music scene here that you can’t find anywhere else, really,” Lindquist said. “I mean, other cities have clubs and bands and concerts, of course, but it’s so heavily condensed here that it’s a culture unto itself. When I was in Los Angeles writing scripts, I wrote about L.A.’s culture, and script writing. But, being a Seattle native and having returned here, I knew my next book would be based around Seattle’s culture, and music.”

The University of Washington graduate’s return to Seattle came following a lengthy stay in Los Angeles, first as a student at the University of Southern California and then as a well-known, fast-track screenwriter for the Hollywood movie industry.

In fact, together with a couple of other mid-20s uber-writers — such as Bret Easton Ellis, author of “Less Than Zero” and “American Psycho,” and Jay McInerney, author of “Bright Lights, Big City” and “Model Behavior” — Lindquist and his gang of single writing friends were dubbed by Hollywood’s elite as the “Brat Pack” writers, the ones expected to take by storm, and keep by storm, the Hollywood movie scene.

Lindquist chose to opt out. “I hit a wall … I was dry. I needed to leave writing for a while, leave LA. I’d always had an interest in law, in prosecution in particular, and I decided to come back up to Washington and enter (Seattle University) law school. I’m not sure that I ever intended to actually practice, but I (clerked) in the Pierce County prosecutor’s office and they made me an offer following school that was too interesting to pass up.”

Like being able to write about things and people specific to his work?

“Well, I don’t ever write about a specific person in the office or in a case,” Lindquist said, “but there’s no question that I write what I know about, whether that’s script writing or practicing law. There’s just so much fascinating stuff in the courthouse that it finds its way into the writing and into the characters.”

And Lindquist is quick to avow that none of the characters in “Never Mind Nirvana” are actual profiles or caricatures of his co-workers or court staff, although many of the names used in the books are variations of the same folks often seen in the halls and offices of both workplaces.

In spite of that, Lindquist claims, he’s seen little teasing about the book, its storyline or the People Magazine “eligible bachelor” designation.

“It’s part of my life outside of the courtroom, outside of the office.”

As is Lindquist’s continued interest in writing. “Never Mind Nirvana” is his third novel (following “Sad Movies” and “Carnival Desires,”) and in his spare-spare time he continues to write the occasional book review for The New York Times Book Review and the Seattle Times.

More importantly, he says, he’s got the nucleus for his next novel. “I can tell you this much,” Lindquist smiles, “it will be based here in the Seattle area again and there will probably be an element of the law, of a lawyer, in it.”

Lindquist pauses for a moment, cocks his head towards a speaker that’s playing track after track of slightly edgy, pub-atmosphere music and leans forward, smiling. “Hey, hear that song? I love that song. Modern English, doing ‘I’ll Melt With You’…”

Seattle-based free-lance writer Betsy Model, a former correspondent for NPR and the BBC, writes for more than 30 publications.