I'm thrilled to be introducing a new writing friend this week - Speculative Fiction Writer, Thomm Quackenbush. Over to you, Thomm.
Q: Where are you from, and what do you do when you're not writing short stories or novels?
I live in Red Hook, New York, where most of my books take place. I moved here for a teaching job coincidentally after Danse Macabre was published. Living in one’s fantasy universe does make it a bit richer. My fiancée and I wander or bike the town often, especially now that the weather is improving. I am also a voracious mocker of drive-in movies, blessed as I am to live within forty-five minutes of three.
Q: If you had to choose five books to send to an alien civilisation, what would they be and why?
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, because it would help explain the mistakes, the reasons, and the insatiable drive of humanity. I have long said that I believe that science is the language of the divine. If one wants to talk to God, head out to the forest with a microscope.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, because it is gorgeously written. It is one of those books I can (and do) reread and always find something new. Plus, Humbert Humbert requires the reader to commit to a sort of moral gymnastics. He is reprehensible in his actions, yet so beautiful in his descriptions. I have encountered literate, young men trying to seduce their lovers with passages from the book. I almost cannot blame them, but might want to redirect them to some poetry that isn’t about raping a teenager.
The Complete Works of Shakespeare (which I acknowledge is something of a cheat), because Shakespeare was instrumental to our language, both in words and concepts. I cannot imagine aliens grasping Western culture without thumbing (or tentacling) through Hamlet.
Gun, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, because I think that it will frighten them away from ever wanting to invade us. We are filthy and violent. Best give us a wide berth.
And, finally, The Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini, just to keep the aliens guessing.
Q: What is your favourite writing quote?
"If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it."
— Toni Morrison
I continue to try to write the book I want most to read. I haven’t done it yet, which gives me incentive to be more daring and, frankly, stranger.
Q: What three words best describe your writing?
Researched, occult nonsense.
Q: I notice from your website you are a prolific writer, having penned short stories, three novels, and several scripts. How do you make the time to write?
I think that it helps that I see writing as my way of processing the world. Writing isn’t even second nature to me. It is the only nature, everything reducing down to words and phrases. It is rare that I am not writing something in my head, trying to learn how best to phrase pain and boredom in such a way that I will smile in rereading it later. I do allot myself at least an hour of uninterrupted writing a night, which is to say that I glare at my fiancée when she interrupts it inevitably because she missed me.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your Night's Dreams Series?
Overall, the books take place in a world that operates my consensus reality, heavily reliant on actual historical curiosities. Human beings are the most powerful magical beings ever, but we have given away the vast majority of our power in the creation of gods and their children, called daemons within the book but essentially the satyrs, devas, fairies, and the like that litter mythology. Even were you to see an act of true magic, you would rationalize it away or cancel it out with the force of your disbelief. Thus, I have descendants of gods who act as waiters and baby-eating ghouls who are nurses, because it is better to keep a low profile than to be destroyed through disbelief.
Q: Would you like to share an excerpt?
From Artificial Gods:
Jasmine slouched in the backseat. This was not so bad, she figured. They could just look up at the stars and would be easily dissuaded from searching the town further. Jasmine had gone for most of her life without seeing anything in the sky that should not be there. Statistically, it was unlikely a ship would appear that night, no matter the reputation Pine Bush suffered thanks to Dr. Devareux's book. It would be a relaxing night of stargazing with three people she, on average, endured well.
Once home, she purloined a couple of quilts from the linen closet and set to making hot cocoa. True to her expectations, their talk of aliens and UFOs transitioned into general scary stories, then idle philosophy, and finally into contentedly and silently cuddling as the night found its chill.
Jasmine looked up at the stars, charting for Greg what constellations she could recall from her freshman astronomy class. She heard more amorous sounds coming from Kathleen and Sid, twenty feet away, but put these out of her mind. Greg nestled against her, resting his head on her chest, and she found herself stroking his hair as he fell asleep on her. As she listened to his light snores, the gasps coming from farther afield, she began to look at the stars with wonder for the first time in a decade.
The stars were so simple when she was a kid, a smattering of glowing dust circling the Earth. She did not then know that each was a sun, most considerably more massive than the daylight one she knew. The night sky made her feel infinite before she knew the word. More than once when she was a child, her parents had found her asleep on the back porch with no more covering than the night gave her and would tuck her back into her bed before she woke again.
It changed when she hit her teens, as her body developed into that of a woman before her mind could catch up. Adolescence impelled her eyes to stay at an even keel, to deal with the ground before flickering to the heavens. Night became not dotted with fairy clouds of celestial brilliance, but simply the time when the sun was out of sight.
Until very recently, she never felt any real fear from the night, though she did go through aggravating insomnia for much of puberty. In retrospect, she blamed it on any number of issues: rampant and undiagnosed pet allergies, a bad diet, a vitamin deficiency.
She was desperate for sleep then and even now a little envious Greg snoozed blissfully on the pillows of her breasts. As a teen, she had made an art of creeping around her house, as though sleep were contagious, or in hopes that, in supine states, her family would be more susceptible to the magnetism of her dark-rimmed eyes, and she would not have to be alone in the night. But no one ever woke, and she eventually managed to get a few hours of sleep before waking for school each morning.
Jasmine, for fear of waking Greg, stayed still, staring at the stars until she, too, fell asleep outside, watched over by the heavenly lights.
Q: What do you know now that you wished you'd known at the beginning of your writing journey?
The biggest lesson is that it is much easier to edit a finished book than it is to rewrite individual sentences to “perfection” before moving on. We Shadows took me years to write and most of the “perfect” sentences (60,000 words worth!) were deleted prior to publication.
Another is that publication is well within the reach of writers. I frequently speak to beginning writers who are fed the worst sorts of urban legends; how one has to have connections, how publishers only want Twilight clones, how authors only get 2% of their sales. Last night, I spoke to a presumptive fantasy author who claimed to have never heard of Tor or DAW and assumed these were scammers rather than two of the biggest names in speculative fiction publishing. Do your research before believing someone else’s lies. All you have to do to get published is not give up.
The last is something that big emotions came from big words, to paraphrase Hemingway. We Shadows is a bit clumsy with my attempts to write beautifully rather than well. My publisher’s editor actually complimented me on my vocabulary, which should have been a warning sign.
Q: What are you working on now?
I am doing final edits on my fourth book in the Night’s Dream series, Flies to Wanton Boys. I did a final read through on my Kindle and it is now a matter of making those changes to the actual text. Tedious, but it is the best way I have found to make myself do it. After this book is sent out, I intend to take a small break from my series and write a novel based on my coming wedding, along with a few other projects I have on the back burner.
Thomm Quackenbush is a novelist and teacher in the Hudson Valley. This is his third novel with Double Dragon Publishing. He has been previously published by Cave Drawing Ink, the Journal of Cartoon Overanalysis, and Paragon Press. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. He finds that friends do not enjoy the extremes he goes to in order to research books, as these involve mortuaries and UFO support groups. He posts his work at http://xenex.org
Thank you, Thomm. It was wonderful having the opportunity to get to know the writer behind the books. Being from the UK, I've never been to a drive-in movie. It's something I'd like to experience one day. I agree with your choice of sending The Complete Works of Shakespeare - how many words was he responsible for introducing to the English language? I think it's over 400.
That's it for today. I'll be back on Friday to help Simon Kewin celebrate the release of Hedge Witch. Have a great week.