Tom is an English teacher, adjunct professor, and MFA graduate of Wilkes University, where his mentor was author Kaylie Jones. He is currently shopping a novel, entitled The Optimism Bias, and lives in Scranton, PA, USA. His work has previously appeared in Raven’s Light Journal, Bewildering Stories, and most recently alongside Hugo and Nebula Award-winning authors in the cyberpunk anthology, Altered States.
1. How long have you been writing and what got you started?
After reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings when I was about 12, I was enthralled with the idea that a mind could create a fully developed world and diverse people to populate it. It was an inspirational moment and I set about creating my own fantasy worlds. In grad school, I was afforded the wonderful opportunity to be under the mentorship of Kaylie Jones, a fabulous and insightful author, when I went to Wilkes University for my MFA. After graduating, I began writing dystopian and science fiction works, trying to use the genre as a backdrop to delve into characters. So here I am!
2. What is the best piece of advice you have for new writers?
Read, read, read. Then write. To master the craft (if that’s even possible), one has to know the history of it. What’s been done? How has it been done? Style and technique are worth observing and learning from. It’s the only way to become a competent writer.
3. Are there any writing resources, such as books or websites, you’d like to recommend?
When it comes to submitting stories, I use Duotrope to manage it. It makes everything easier. I tend to be a mess of a human being.
4. What is your favorite type of fiction and who are your favorite authors?
I love science fiction and fantasy, but also the literary canon. Any time I read Hemingway, Vonnegut, and Tolkien I learn something new, see something I haven’t seen, and grow as both a reader and writer. Hemingway’s prose has a beautiful American cadence to it. Vonnegut has a clever minimalism that nobody has been able to come close to. Tolkien reinforces, for me, the vast capabilities of the human mind.
5. What tips do you have for finding time to write?
Like most writers, I won’t follow my own advice. The best bet is to dedicate a portion of the day, even if it’s a half hour, to writing. I’m a teacher by trade, and it’s tough for me to find any time. After a long work day, I come home and then I have grading and planning. So I tend to write short stories during the school year and work on my novel when I have time during the summer. Of course, everybody’s situation varies, so carving out that time and finding a comfortable place free of distraction is the best bet.
6. Do you prefer to outline a story in advance or write on the fly? Why?
An idea pops into my head, usually influenced by an experience, a place, or an individual. After I write what ends up being a very rough draft, I go back and outline. It’s probably a backwards method, but it works for me. Reading the draft gives me a chance to see what needs to happen in the story. Is this scene fleshed out? Is this behavior justified by what comes before? Is it reflected in what comes after? They are nuanced questions that come after the drafting process. Through that, I can refine my work continuously and then get a product I’m happy with.
7. How do you deal with rejections?
I’m immune at this point. A lot of my friends are poets and I see them getting published regularly. This makes me jealous, of course. But I can’t write a dozen short stories for a collection over the course of a year. So I’ve come to terms with the fact that the only way to get published is to submit and revise, submit and revise. It’s worked well. I’ve had about a half dozen stories published now. The best way to handle rejection, in writing and in life, is to let it inspire more determination.
8. What are your writing goals for the next twelve months?
I’ve been working on a novel, called Flash Mob, about a young man inspired by events in his cruddy life to use flash mobs as a form of quick, hard-to-counter social justice. Imagine one hundred people converging on a single spot for a violent demonstration, then dispersing. It would be a nightmare for the authorities and a means for revolution for the disenfranchised. Of course there’s more to it than that– I’ve never been good at pitching my own work. So my goal is to finish that by the end of this summer. After that, I have a few ideas for some dystopian and science fiction short stories gestating in the back of my mind. I plan to flesh them out.
The most significant goal, though, is to see the completion of a short film based on one of my short stories. A film company, Voyager Video, loved the script and began filming recently. They plan to take it to film festivals and have been extraordinarily kind, inclusive, and excited about the project. A few of my friends in the Hollywood screenwriting world tell me that writers are always on the outside, so it’s been nice to have a seat at the table for this project.
9. For the next five years?
Having been recently married and planning on starting a family, it’s tough to look ahead five years. I know that I’ll never stop writing. I’d love to write for a living, of course, but that’s not possible unless you’re Steven King. I love travelling, and travel writing would be a dream come true, but there isn’t really a huge market for it. I’d like to see more of my sci-fi short stories being turned into films. I never thought about them translating well to the screen, but my recent experiences have changed my view. I’ve got a great writing partner, Don McGlynn, who is a phenomenal screenwriter. I look forward to future collaborations with him.
10. Is there anything you’d like to plug? Feel free to share a link.
The film, entitled Solacium, being adapted from my short story just launched its website, Solaciumcorp.com, and it looks wonderful! The Voyager people did a great job with it. My personal site is tomborthwick.com and I blog about politics in NEPA (Northeastern Pennsylvania), as well as writing. I’d love for your readers to check out both sites.
And though it’s redundant, I’d like to plug Theme of Absence! You do great work and the quality of the prose you feature led me to submit. I’m glad to be here!