About the Author
Thomm Quackenbush (1980-present) was born in Beacon, New York. He is a novelist and teacher in the Hudson Valley. He has been previously published by Cave Drawing Ink, The Journal of Cartoon Over-Analysis and Paragon Press. Website: http://xenex.org.
Books Available at Amazon.
What genre(s) do you write? Why do you write the stories that you write?
I write contemporary fantasy, though I’ve always liked the term “supernatural fiction” or “magical realism”. I try to tie my fantasy as close to the real world as possible. Much of the history in my book is reported to have actually happened, incredible though it sometimes is.
This level of fantasy is simply how I tend to see the world, the “what if” daydreams most people seem to forget. What if the odd looking cabbie is actually a nosferatu trying to keep a low profile? What if some people really are soulless? What would that mean? What if the person ranting on the street corner isn’t completely mad, but is instead so overwhelmed by information from the fairy realm they cannot intelligible communicate? I suppose I am given to magical thinking, but it seems a lot more fun than remaining moored in the concrete.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I think it was nearly always known I was a writer, even before that was a concept I could articulate. The moment the “Writing” grade on my elementary school report cards went to the content of what I wrote rather than my abominable penmanship (it is still awful, thanks to typing), I always had A’s without much effort.
In fifth grade, largely because I did not care to make a schmaltzy card for the bulletin board, I wrote a poem called “Rainbow of Tears”, composed entirely of things I thought sounded poetic, with no real grasp of the point of poetry. My mother still thinks this is the best thing I have ever written.
Even once my first novel, We Shadows, was published, it was an uphill battle telling people I was actually published. No, I didn’t self publish. Yes, Double Dragon is a legitimate publisher and is well respected.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I spend a lot of time wandering about my town with my artist girlfriend. I love how we can discover new sights and our responses are, respectively, “how do I fit this into my series” and “I wish to draw this.”
What books are currently on your nightstand?
While I finished up my latest novel, I read an intensely charming young adult novel named “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Craft of Her Own Making”. Aside from the cutely verbose title, it is reassuring that even some juvenile authors persist in not underestimating their audiences. Kids are not stupid and know when they are being patronized.
I also have a book discussing fairies as a historical and psychological phenomena as research for my next book. I did not fully appreciate how rigorous writing fantasy could truly be if one is remotely conscientious. If I am going to write novels about goblins and vampires, I am going to know exactly how they work from the inside out.
Your Writing Process
Why do you write?
I write because these characters tell me stories and threaten my sanity if I am not prompt with transcribing. The more I write them, the more their stories start to grow and their personalities become organic.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Almost nightly from nine to ten, I sit in a four-by-four closet that conveniently has outlets and a light. I sit on two old pillows at a two foot tall plastic desk on a somewhat out of date mini-notebook computer, and try to write. It does not always work, but I understand the importance of keeping to a schedule.
Writing is not a glamorous life.
I always have some tools with me. I have a personal organizer from 2002 that recognizes handwriting and can voice record, which has proven invaluable on long car rides, because characters are chattier when I have other things I am in the middle of doing. (Now if it could only be waterproof for when they explain something to me while I am in the shower…)
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Start writing now, you haven’t a moment to spare.
Do everything you can to get your work out there, aside from giving your rights away.
Money always flows to the author. If a publisher wants a few thousand for cover design or publicity, they are scammers.
Publicity is essential for new writers. Be as active online as is feasible, including message board and forums that are not necessarily related to writing but one of the topics touched on in your book. Never spam, since that engenders annoyance rather than interest but try to contribute and act as a humble authority on a subject you know. Find people who might want to review or interview you and politely ask. Keep a blog so your readers don’t forget about you between projects.
What would you consider is your favorite part of a book to write? The beginning, the middle or the ending?
When I am near the end, I begin to see the whole picture. I have yet to write a book that ended completely where I thought it would and I am always impressed I have put in facts and foreshadowing for plot twists I didn’t know I was writing. Yet it all fits together so perfectly my fans seem to think my cleverness is more than accidental.
Is there any other genre you have considered writing in?
My family is insistent I ought to start writing children’s books, but I don’t have one of those in me yet.
I have some fans who seem to want me to write erotica, given the fan fictions they produce for my characters and the shipping they do. Likewise, I don’t think I have that story in me. (However, if I ever do, I am certain to write it under a saucy sounding pseudonym. Sex may sell, but I would not want to have my name – under which I also teach – attached to it.)
Most people envision an author’s life as being really glamorous. What’s the most unglamorous thing that you’ve done in the past week?
I work a day job teaching at a residential facility for adolescents who have committed felonies. Having to watch gang members scrub toilets for pocket change or throw games of “Apples to Apples” to bolster their egos would be the bit skipped in my biopic.
How long does it take you to finish a book from start to submission?
I aim for a year. I accumulate notes on future books while I am writing current ones. In November, for National Novel Writing Month, I write out a very weak and scattered first draft. I have managed at least fifty thousand words in November for the last few years, though sometimes only by powering through in the last few hours on the 31st. Over the course of the year, I refine, research, and especially edit down what I have. Around August or September, I like to have a completed manuscript in my publisher’s hands. September and October are largely reserved with making the revisions my editor suggests. I am still wrestling with the manuscript for my fourth book and have most of my first draft of its sequel, so this is an imperfect process.
Do you prefer writing series books over non series or does it matter?
I have only published in this series so far, but I enjoy the continuity. Whenever I am stymied for where a plot can go, I turn to my previous books and see if I have left any threads dangling that can be woven into what I am writing now. It is also fun for me to see what minor characters keep poking their heads out and demanding bigger parts and what characters turned out to be far more minor than I originally intended.
What would you like readers to know about you the writer?
I am still horribly embarrassed when anyone references my books. I am proud to have written them and I want people to read them, I just don’t want to know about it.
I ever tend to fidget when my family mentions my books. When I had my first story published in an anthology, my mother brought it out at a family reunion and my uncle started to read aloud. I had to contrive a phone call I had to make and get away for about five minutes.
What is the best and worst writing advice you have ever received?
I’m not sure of the best, but the worst was definitely that I should make sure all the preceding chapters are perfect before moving on. That is why We Shadows took me years to write. Had I a completed first draft, I would have been far more able to fix what was needed and delete what was not.
Do you track work count or write a certain number of hours per day?
I think it would be nice if I did, but I mostly write when I need to. Thankfully, this tends to be fairly often. The largest number of words I have written in a sitting was 6,000 in a draft of my fourth book. Some days, I don’t do more than scribble out some notes. And occasionally, I need to just read to replenish my tank.
Have you ever had one of those profound “AH-HA!” moments while you were writing? Would you be willing to share it?
In Artificial Gods, my main character was completely disinterested in men. I had a romantic subplot planned for her and she just refused. I was easily two thirds away from the end of the book with her denying every opportunity, then I realized this was not a deficit in the character but a crucial plot point. When I went back to revise, I found a lot of this plot point had been foreshadowed. My unconscious mind is a dangerous and annoying writing partner because it lets me ramble on for twenty thousand words until I figure out what I’ve been writing.
What was the most uplifting moment you’ve experienced during your writing career?
In September, I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Neil Gaiman read a new story at Bard College. Gaiman had been an inspiration since I read the Sandman series. I found him a bit intimidating. However, I brought signed copies of my first two books to give to him. I had been hoping it would be a sparse crowd, but it was over eight hundred. There would be next to no chance he would be signing. After the story, he bid us goodbye and disappeared into a stage door. As everyone pushed to exit, I saw the man who helped arrange this reading. I motioned him over and quickly explained I am an author, Gaiman is an inspiration, the college is an important setting in my books, and could he please get these to Neil. I must have seemed especially urgent because he took them. I was ecstatic, though I joked Gaiman might not get the books and, if he did, might feed them to his dogs.
The next day, I sent Neil Gaiman a message asking if he got them. He did and he thanked me for them. It’s a small thing, I know, but thinking my literary idol has touched copies of my books thrills me.
There have been other moments that startled me more than uplifted. I attended a party and brought out a copy of We Shadows to show an artist the cover design. From across the room, a man shouted he had the book. I assured him he couldn’t possibly. But he did, he’d bought it from me at a convention (my only sale that day) and was slightly in awe when the hostess mentioned I was the author. More recently, I went to a NaNoWriMo meeting and the regional coordinator praised my book out of the blue. I know people buy them, but it still takes me by surprise people read them.
Your book is about to be sent into the reader world, what is one word that describes how you feel?
Anxious. This is the first time the book is totally out of my control and I am terrified a typo has been left in.
How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I have three finished right now. We Shadows and Danse Macabre are readily available. Artificial Gods will be out around March 2013. However – no matter the praise I have received from my beta readers for the last book – my favorite right now is the sequel I am writing, tentatively titled Hunter of Shadows. It brings my characters to some frightening realizations and crises from which all will not survive. A lot of the architecture of that novel has been slowly put in place by the first three and I am excited to see what it will look like at the end.
I think my favorite of my books will always be the one I have yet to finish because it could be anything. Once they are published, it’s all a matter of convincing people to buy them, but the creation is over.
What story haven’t you written yet but would like to? Is there anything holding you back from writing it?
I’ve told my family I will one day write a book about them in the spirit of David Sedaris. However, I think doing so would burn too many bridges if done right.
What kind of research do you do for your books? Do you enjoy the research process?
The foundations for what I intend to write were often poured twenty-five years ago, when I needed to stand on a stool to access the UFO and ghost books my elementary school library possessed. I don’t know why this topic interested me. Now, I find the research process to be one of pleasant rediscovery, as I happen upon references to things I half-remember from childhood and then dive in with vigor. In Artificial Gods, I had the plot more or less fleshed out before I stumbled upon a picture of one of the antagonists, a figure I was fairly sure I had made up. Perhaps I had brushed up against a book on Thelema in my childhood searching – I rather doubt it – but I think there is sometimes just a sort of unconscious repository of these ideas waiting for a blithe artist to trip into.
Do deadlines help or hinder your muse?
I work well with the idea of a deadline, though most of them have been self imposed. It is too easy to find something else to do, something social. I will even do publicity and advertizing rather than proper writing, if I am feeling a bit stuffed up.
Do you outline your books or just start writing?
I start out with a faint idea for what is going to happen. Usually, about halfway through, I run out of steam and need to outline the rest.
Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
A few have started out based on real people, but diverge quickly. I am not burdened by feeling the need to make my characters behave like the person from whom they branched, which does make the writing easier. A character in my first book came from a friend I then had, but I then made the character a charmingly insane drug dealer. Said friend soon after started facing addiction and mental illness, and I have to admit to feeling a bit bad, as though I had accidentally crafted a literary voodoo doll of her.
Is it hard coming up with names for your characters?
To a degree, yes. Several of my initial characters were named by friends, once I described their natures. I know when the name isn’t right, but labor under the wrong ones until my characters introduces themselves to me properly. Gideon, who visits each of my books so far, was named “Gabe” through the first draft of We Shadows.
When I described the character that became Girl, no one could offer a name that sounded right. I found it poignant a character who could manipulate memory did not remember her own name, so she remained Girl. (I have a sequel planned about her going to find her true name, so a whole novel is going to be written because I could not figure out a character’s name.)
Which of your stories would make a great movie? Who’d play the lead roles?
The film rights to my first book were contracted, potentially for a SyFy mini-series, but nothing else has yet happened. On a fan blog, people were suggesting actors and actresses to portray my characters, but none felt quite right (aside from Mageina Tovah, who I was delighted to discover in a Spiderman movie playing a character very like Shane).
Is there a character from one of your books that resonates deeply with you?
No, which I suppose is a bit strange. I give the characters bits of my history to flesh them out, so none are too different from me, but I couldn’t fathom interjecting anything like an author analogue in my works. I did have an early reader accuse me of peppering my books with the sort of woman she imagined I would want to bed, but I believe that’s largely unfounded. With few exceptions, I think my characters would be fairly bad lovers.