Thomm Quackenbush is a fantasy author living in the Hudson Valley of New York. He has written three books in the Night’s Dream series – We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods – with another to follow early next year, as well as many stories. He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted, and was once unwittingly a teenage gigolo before getting sacked for non-performance. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.
Thomm, thank you for being here. Before we talk about your WIP, why don’t you tell us a few things about yourself. Is your present as multi-faceted as your past?
My day job is teaching adjudicated minors English. Given that gangs seem to recruit from outside special education classrooms, this can be challenging on several fronts. I’ve taught two young men who went on to become murderers, but I am fairly confident I also just taught my first student there who will get his MBA.
When not writing, I do a fair bit of research for my books and promotional events. For Artificial Gods, I attended meetings and sky-watches with a group of UFO contactees, though I saw only planes. I have recently fallen in with a group that is researching the possibility of a nest of sasquatches in my town (which is, genuinely coincidentally, the setting for two of my published books and my soon-to-be-published one). This is fairly exciting since I have no idea how I will end up weaving this into a future book, but I almost have to. The Bigfoot researchers are genuinely nice people, whatever others may think of their theses. I also just returned from a stint on the artist alley at Otakon, the largest anime convention on the East Coast. I did not have spectacular sales, but I spoke to a lot of people and made a couple of connections.
Last month, I married my partner of three years, Amber Haqu. We immediately embarked on a honeymoon in California, then to Otakon (she is an artist), and then a vacation with my family, which was about three solid weeks where we did not see our own apartment for more than eleven hours at a stretch, usually while asleep. All this relaxation took its toll. I am thrilled to get back to writing and eating food less than 50% fry oil.
Exercise in lean writing: give us a synopsis of your current WIP in under 200 words.
My next book is Flies to Wanton Boys, explaining why the mythic aspects of the world (called daemons in my series) are so few and threatened with extinction unless Gideon, a reformed murdering body thief who only inhabit small animals at the moment, can convince Shane Valentine that she must have a hand in stopping the Purging from obliterating what remains of the supernatural. Unfortunately for him and for the daemons, Shane despises him for having tried to make her one of his flesh puppets and otherwise tearing her from mundane reality, so she is somewhat of a hard sell on playing messiah to a collection of nightmares and fantasies.
Intriguing! Are you happy with the pace of your work? Do you aim at a specific word count each day?
I don’t know that I am happy, necessarily. I have a half dozen books in different forms, but I think this is the current pace that befits them. If I could spend all day writing, I still don’t think I could work as quickly as my fans (or publisher) would prefer. I work at the pace that allows me to be functional and that will have to suffice for now, unless I can get a sentient operating system that will compile my notes and make sure I am not abusing the continuity.
Plotter, pantser or both?
I keep my plots loose to give my characters room to grow and tell the stories they need. I tried to be more rigid with Artificial Gods, but found that my protagonist Jasmine refused to submit to certain plot points. This ended up being a crucial aspect of her character and made her story much deeper than I initially intended. When I went to revise for my revelation, I found that it was well foreshadows already. Tricky characters.
I do start with an outline and tend to know how the book has to end, but I find surprises in how the characters get there. Clive, a decidedly minor character in We Shadows and Danse Macabre (so much so that he was not formally named in the former and did not appear beyond a name and a few severed, latex feet in the latter), has turned out to be one of my favorite actors in Flies to Wanton Boys, since he points out flaws in supernatural logic while riding the line between funny and pesty. I didn’t intend for him to take on this role, since he only previously existed as proof one of my characters had other friends, but he seized it with apparently characteristic gusto.
What’s your worst enemy in getting that first draft finished?
Wanting to fix it before I have reached “the end.” I spent years getting each scene “perfect” in We Shadows, only to cut 60,000 words of that supposedly perfect draft to get it publishable. I’ve also heard that the scenes I did not labor over are seen as better, so who am I to argue? When I am starting a new draft, I just write and hope I can clarify any tangles of plot during revisions. Until one finishes a book, it’s hard to say what it will actually end up being about anyway.
Have you ever experienced lack of inspiration or drive to write? If so, how do you motivate yourself?
I tend to always have something I should be writing, so I can flit between pieces when one well goes dry (which is likely why I have so many books plotted and half-written while procrastinating my main project). Occasionally, I need to sit and read a whole book straight through to rejuvenate my mind. Either the book will be marvelous and I will be jealous enough to have a fire lighted under me (and the sloth burned out of me) or the book will be dreck and I will want to write to spite those authors.
Reading is always win-win. Could we take a look at your workspace? Is there a particular place you find inspiring for writing?
For the most part, I can’t be too comfortable if I am to be productive. For instance, I am answering this particular question on a hard plastic chair in a Laundromat while a man attempts to fix one of the machines with much banging (I assume he is trying to fix it. At this point, he could also be trying to get out a decade worth of frustration or he might be engaging in a vigorous bout of performance art). In my prior apartment, I wrote on the floor of a small closet on a 9” Asus Eee because it balanced sensory deprivation with discomfort. Now, I write in a corner of my bedroom on a plastic desk or outside my apartment before breakfast. When I moved into this apartment, the agreement was that Amber and I would share the studio space, but it quickly became evident that I would never be able to dig out working space among her cardboard and paint. (She talks about a future apartment, where there is an office for me that she can decorate. Our friends realize she is just trying to talk herself into two studios, since I would want only walls full of butcher paper for outlines/timelines and a strong wi-fi connection. Any furniture or extraneous decoration would simply become something I would play with instead of writing.)
Balancing sensory deprivation with discomfort to write. You just gave me the pitch of this interview. But, hey, Elphie looks comfie! Maybe not after sitting on him for hours though, right? Now your workspace picture is pinned on my Featured Writers’ Workspace board on Pinterest. Apart from Word and Google, do you use any other writing or research tools and apps?
I use WriteMonkey to get a distraction-free draft out of me, since it doesn’t even tell me if I have misspelled something. I have also set it to make a clicking sound as I type, so I have come to associate that sound with productivity and type faster.
I think Dropbox or something of that ilk is essential for any writer and its backup has saved me more than once. The editor for Danse Macabre pointed out that a few chapters were corrupted to gibberish symbols, but I was able to find a copy among the archives that had a nearly complete version of those sections, saving me from tearing out my hair.
Though it may not strictly fall under the umbrella of this question, I am an annual participant of National Novel Writing Month, during which I bang out the first draft of a new book. It helps me to make connections and foreshadowing between books, since I am always two or three books ahead of what are on shelves, and it is so much easier to work with fifty thousand words of imperfect prose than a few pages of unwritten ideas.
I am also a huge fan of pen and paper. I know this makes me a Luddite, but I get my best and least distracted drafts when I am just handwriting. It helps that Amber got me a carbon fiber pen for one of our anniversaries, so I feel obligated to make great use of it.
Let’s bring back the “a pen to a writer” gift! How do you intend to celebrate writing “The End” on your draft?
By immediately starting work on the next one, which is already fifty thousand words thanks to NaNoWriMo. As I see it, I’ve got miles to go before I sleep, to borrow Frost’s phrase. Plus, I have honestly had enough celebrating recently to last me until next year.
Good luck with that! Which book publishing processes are you going to outsource and which are you confident enough to undertake yourself?
For my novels, I am grateful that Double Dragon Publishing handles everything from editing to cover design to distribution. I have beta readers, but it is hard to convince people who are not getting a paycheck that you would like their revisions within the next three months. My wife is currently my best reader and it could be because I can gently pester her over dinner.
I have started posting stories to the Kindle, which has been a fine experiment so far. I intend to make those works that are currently Amazon exclusive more widely available to make room for the next crop. For that, I lean on my artist wife for cover design and farm my editing out to a few interested parties.
Do you have any marketing tips or favorite promotional sites you’d like to share?
I am still experimenting with my approach. I will say that doing conventions and panels greatly increases the interest of the reading public, though it is far from reliable and tends not to be cheap (I have only earned appearance fees from No Such Convention, which is always a fun time). In general, I recommend connecting with other authors online and see what they are up to. Very few authors these days can survive in seclusion.
If you aren’t on Goodreads, get there immediately. At the very least, it will incentivize you to read, but it also has several methods of connecting to interested readers.
True words! Your blog is http://xenex.org. Do you follow a specific branding pattern with your posts or is it a free writing platform?
It is mostly free writing, though I separate it into entries about my life (which I tend to mine for my books) and essays about writing. I’ve tried other topics, but these are the ones I tend to stick to, since I can offer a more informed opinion.
Is contemporary fantasy the genre you will brand yourself with or do you see yourself branching out in the future?
I have plans at least for a realistic comedy centered around my wedding, though it will lean more heavily on fiction than fact. However, it is hard to contest that my fantasy series sells and Double Dragon Publishing is eager to put out as many books in the series as I can write. Any author who says they are not in it for royalties is welcome to sign them over to me.
Anyone to take Thomm up on his offer? 🙂 Would you like to share with us links where we can find you and your work?
For my novels: http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/eAuthor.php?Name=Thomm%20Quackenbush or http://www.amazon.com/Thomm-Quackenbush/e/B004ZQYE5W/?_encoding=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&linkCode=ur2&tag=xenexorg-20&linkId=FW7MA5L7AG5I4ZEI
For me in general: https://www.facebook.com/ThommQuackenbush
Thank you, Thomm, and best of luck with your current project!