Author Interview: Tom Mock

a typewriter; text says 'author interview'

Check out my review of Tom Mock’s short story ‘Moon Song’ here!

1.      Paperback, hardback, audiobook?

Paperbacks and audiobooks for me! Hardbacks are nice to look at, but I’ve never enjoyed holding them. I like to read lying down or otherwise folded into the couch, so it’s all pliable covers and cheap paper for me. The magic is in the words, not the wrapper.

Audiobooks have been a recent delight for me. I’m a slow reader, so having a great narrator breathe life into a story while I’m driving back and forth to my parent’s horse farm, or on a long walk with my dog makes the hours disappear. I’ve listened to Rob Inglis read The Lord of the Rings three or four times through now, and I love it more every reading. Alfred Molina does the most sublime reading of Treasure Island you’ll ever hear. Most recently I was absolutely shattered by Donald Sutherland’s rendition of The Old Man and the Sea, which you can listen to in a day.

2.      Pick a genre, any genre!

My knee-jerk answer is Fantasy, but really I think my answer is more like fantastical adventure, which isn’t something they market, obviously, because that’s way to broad, but it covers everything from knights and ronin to swashbuckling pirates and debauched musketeers to great quests to destroy evil rings, and even, to stretch a point, brilliant detectives of a London by gaslamp.

3.      What is the first book you remember reading?

I’ve forgotten the name of the book, but it made me a reader. It was in the fourth grade, and I had to write one of those three paragraph summary book reports. I remember reading being difficult for me. It would make my head hurt and I could never keep the details straight, and then I found myself following this boy in England along on Christmas Eve as a strange old tramp follows him and whisks him away into a world of magic and dark powers and danger. I didn’t want to put it down. I don’t even remember reading it. For the first time the words disappeared and there was just the story unfolding around me. I’d never known a book could do that. Once I finished, that was it. I was a reader.

4.      What book shaped your childhood most?

There isn’t any one that stands out except the first. I’ve always loved animals and fantasy, so I’m sure I would have loved the Redwall books by Brian Jacques, but, alas! No one ever put them in my hands. But the second book that changed everything came in my adolescence, and that was R.A. Salvatore’s Homeland (book 1 of his Dark Elf trilogy). I’d looked at it a number of times in Barnes & Noble, unsure of the cover and the concept of an elf story set underground, but I finally decided to dive in. I can still remember starting the book and having to reread the first page of a drow soldier riding his lizard along the roof of a tunnel before I fully understood all of what was happening. There were compound sentences! I read maybe 18 books in that series in just a few years. Drizzt and the heroes of the hall became my friends through a difficult time. I’ll always be looking for that experience again.

5.      When did you first start writing?

I was sixteen and a daydreamer. I’d learned to play the guitar and thought maybe I could learn to write. In my first serious attempt, I plagiarized the opening of a one-off fantasy book. Just some chainmail and orcs thing. I wrote all of a page over a weekend and it was impossibly difficult, but it was also strangely gratifying because by the end I had stamped this dream down on paper and made it real. I could come back to it. I could even share it – not that I ever did. It seemed a small miracle that anyone could ever write a whole novel (in many ways it still does) but from that moment I was hooked.

6.      What made you want to write? Does it still hold true?

I wanted to write because I wanted to give more shape and purpose to my daydreaming, and because I so loved being absolutely lost in a story, a movie, a series, a comic, any of it. That disappearing into another life has always been a profound experience for me. And it still very much holds true, but it helps sometimes to remind myself if it, so thanks for asking.

7.      What book/poem are you most proud of creating?

The Long Nights is my first novel. The first one I wrote to the end, and then rewrote and revised and rethought and rewrote again over 13 years or so. I learned how to write working on it. I had a very hard time of it, put it down once for two years, had it rejected more than a hundred times by agents and publishers, rewrote it one last time, and now I finally truly believe in it. It has been an immense effort, and I’m proud of what I’ve done. I think it’s a good book too. So far, everyone whose commented on it seems to think so as well, which is delightful. But, as Steven Brust says, you will never do anything harder than write your first book … except maybe write your second book!

8.      Did you publish your first book or is it for your eyes only?

Yikes, is all I can say. I think I got about 84 pages into my first attempt at a novel when I was … 16? I wasn’t writing a novel though, not really. I was learning to write one, and I learn slow, and it shows!

9.      How many books/collections have you published so far?

Just the one! Also, some short fiction.

10.   What genres do you write in (or hope to)?

Fantasy! Both adventure and dark. A little whimsical magical realism. Some mystery. I have an idea for a western, but there doesn’t seem much interest in that genre.

11.   Do you do research for your writing or is it all in your head?

More and more all the time. I’m writing a fantasy adventure with sailing airships right now, and I’ve spent hours researching Napoleonic era money, and looking at sail plans and learning a sheet from a brace just to decide I don’t need to mention it in the book. Hah.

12.   To plan, or not to plan your plot?

I’ve been trying to learn how to outline more effectively, and it’s been working well. I have an awful habit of writing a lot of detailed window-dressing that doesn’t drive the story forward when I’m not sure what should happen next, and forcing myself to think about What The Story Is instead of losing myself in scene details has been very useful. But I never let my initial idea of what a scene should do get in the way of my writing.

13.   What route of publishing have you chosen? Do you plan to stick with it?

I decided to self-publish when my novel was turned away from the golden city of the big 5 – though I received a lot of good feedback from agents. This year I’ve been trying to actually learn about promotion instead of creating a self-publishing plan from thin air. It’s been extremely helpful to follow the advice of my peers and some bloggers online. Imagine that? Seeking out and following advice being useful? I do plan to stick with it, but I will shop my next novel around to agents and publishers as well because I think it would be a really good experience to work with other people who are excited about my fiction and want to get it to as many readers as possible.

14.   If you could live inside another author’s universe, which one would you pick? (Ex: Middle Earth, Narnia, etc.)

God, get me to the Shire pronto! The meadows, the sunshine, the nights at the Green Dragon, the road that goes ever on and on down from the door where it began … Bag End! I could fill up on an uncommon peace there. I have so many times before, and that always through the pages of the books. Imagine being there.

15.   Do you currently have a WIP?

Two, thanks for asking. I could say more, but odd notes and scenes don’t quite count. I’m working on a prequel to my first novel, The Long Nights, and the other fantasy book for a broader audience I plan to call Dannica of the Wind.

16.   Tell me about the character you’ve created who is dearest to your heart.

This is difficult to answer because so many of them are dear to my heart, because I am trying to express something of myself in all my protagonists – to explore and understand. But there is a character from my latest novel, Dannica of the Wind, who is particularly dear to me, and that is because in writing about him I am writing about my father. My dad is 71. His father died at 72. As such, and especially because we are in a pandemic, he has been thinking very much about dying and I have been thinking about losing him. I love him, and these thoughts are very sad. And so I have imbued this character of an old, gruff skyfarer and bounty hunter with much of the personality and especially the faults and peculiarities of my father, and the runaway girl Dannica who has paid him to sail her back the country of her birth gets to know him as if I were meeting my father for the first time. I have drawn from our experiences together, and it has been good to remember them. The character is still a fiction, but it has meant so much to write him as I have. I never want to stop.

17.   What do you consider your *current* magnum opus?

Hah. Well, I have to say the only novel I have out. A fellow author recently reviewed it and said it was “as solid as a diamond! And as brilliant too.” I don’t think I can get better praise than that.

18.   Do you have a favourite romance in your books? Or, if yours features no romance, tell us about your favourite character friendship!

The friendship and love that builds between Dannica the runaway and Quinn the skyfarer, not to mention Tucco the dragon! In my latest WIP is certainly my favorite. Really, that’s what the story is about. Dannica is looking to reconnect with her estranged family, and finds exactly what she was looking for, just in an unlikely place and person.

19.   Do you listen to music as you write? Recommend a favourite writing song.

Yes and no. Anything that can melt into the background works well for me. I’ve fallen absolutely in love with listening to lofi lately. You really can’t go wrong with Chill Cow.

20.   Do you have any character art for your books, whether by you or another artist? (Be sure to credit/link if you can!)

Chris Shehan (@chrisshehanart) did the cover for TLN which is presumably an illustration of the protagonist Joe. I also have the line art he did, which is equally wonderful. I should share it some time. As of now, though, that’s all I have. I would love to see fan art of my characters! The more the better. And fan fiction too! I’ll never understand authoritarian authors who object to people delighting in their work in their own way. I understand disliking a character being whitewashed, but we’re in the business of making waking dreams. It’s ludicrous to get mad at the visions of the willing dreamers.

21.   If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

Follow advice.

This presumes seeking out advice. This doesn’t mean do whatever some writer on Twitter tells you. Think critically about the advice given you. Apply it. Learn from it. Make it work for you. Try to see that advice in the work you love to read. You don’t know what you’re doing and that’s okay. You’re learning to write, not proving to everyone that you’re secretly talented. It’s okay if your work needs improvement. Listen to the feedback of readers. They aren’t experts, but their responses can help you. Think about what they say. People criticizing your work aren’t criticizing you. Improve one aspect of your craft at a time. Don’t be in a hurry. But, please, follow advice. The slush piles and wastebaskets of publishing are full of deeply disappointed writers who are sure they’re better than everyone on the shelves – why can’t they all see it, don’t they know how brilliant I am, I’ve done this my way, by god, and no one has ever done anything like it before, no I won’t change a word, I have a vision!

Take to your work with a light heart. It’s serious business sometimes, but it can also be devilishly fun.

22.   Have you entered any writer contests? Tell us about your experience!

I entered Indies Today best books of 2021 contest. I liked that you could select specific categories for your book to be judged in instead of just having one big free for all. I don’t mind the cost of submission, which was surprisingly low. If someone is going to take the time to thoughtfully consider my work and manage the contest, I think it’s worth it. Besides, it’s hard to make a living in art, and I like being a part of helping the community. I’m hoping for the best in terms of the nooks reception by the judges, though I admit it is inherently strange to pit books against each other. Any recognition would be a pleasure.

23.   Who are your top 5-10 favourite writers?

At this moment my favorites in no particular order are Tolkien (always and forever devoted), Andrzej Sapkowski (so surprising and unique), Robert Louis Stevenson (the grandfather of adventure fiction, Long John Silver you beautiful villain!), Patrick O’Brian (the details, the lustrous language of the sea), Alexandre Dumas (the Romance! The Drama!), Arthur Conan Doyle (Holmes-Watson, I love every page), and lately William Hope Hodgson (taken too soon, but wonderful sensational fiction and cosmic horror).

24.   Link us your book/twitter/goodreads or wherever we can best connect with you!

Delighted to do so. Thanks so much for the questions! Looking forward to hearing from you.

Book: The Long Nights: A Dark Urban Fantasy Novel (Carthage City Ghosts Book 1).
Twitter: @tom_mock
Goodreads: The Long Nights

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