Joe: Before we dive into your backstory, tell us a bit about your upcoming release?
Tommy: The Mourner’s Cradle is a tale of rain, ice, and dead legends. It’s the journey of Anne Sharpe. Her husband, the independent researcher Damon Sharpe, became transfixed by the ancient world and obscure Peruvian relics in particular. He’s spent the last months of his life obsessing over this aspect of his work. Now he’s dead.
Anne finds herself alone in an empty house without answers. When an unwelcome visitor shows up at her husband’s funeral, things begin to unravel. Anne’s fury comes out and ignites her desire to unearth the dubious answers she seeks.
Joe: Tell us a bit (or a lot) more about your childhood. Primary school, High school, etc. How do you think your experiences benefited or influenced your career?
Tommy: The early years weren’t such an easy time for me. I was imaginative to the extent that it sometimes worked against me. My qualities severely compromised my relationship with the social norm, or lack thereof.
Moving ahead, I remember during my last year in high school, the school launched preparations on a literary journal and invited students to contribute. I wrote a story about a young man whose brother was killed in a gang-related incident, and who sought revenge on the gang. It was a bloodbath. I graduated before the journal came out and didn’t order a copy, so never knew whether they had printed the story. This was well before the Columbine incident and school shootings weren’t the norm in those days. Otherwise, I probably would have been hauled in for a psychological evaluation. I actually was called into the principal’s and counselor’s offices and questioned about drugs and talk of suicide on a few occasions, and was accused of vandalism as well.
Joe: Can you recall a moment where you had to choose between being an author/artist and another career? A decisive moment where you decided to go all out?
Tommy: Many people tried to discourage me years ago. Back then, I listened more than I should have, but I’ve learned to ignore people. The only choice in that respect was to do something or to do nothing. The odds of success strike considerably higher with the former option, so that’s the route I chose.
My push into active writing and publication came after moving to a new home and into a new set of circumstances, around 2005. I launched into writing short stories, something I appreciated and still do, given the ability to bounce between worlds at a moment’s notice. It helped me to craft my abilities over the years. Sometime later, I sold some of my short stories to magazines and there it began.
Joe: How did you respond to your very first success as an author? Was it just rewarding, or did it motivate you even more? Or, did it perhaps feel underwhelming, which motivated you to even greater heights?
Tommy: I was happy about seeing my work in print. I don’t know that it motivated me, since I had already committed myself and the question of motivation seemed already answered.
Joe: How has your career as an author affected relationships with friends and family?
Tommy: Most have been supportive, although some wonder why I write what I write. I got a laugh when my mother started reading my short story “Chronicle of the Golden Pyramid” and five seconds into it looked up and said, “So depressing!”
Joe: Which author most influenced your early career? And who still does?
Tommy: We had a lot of books in the old utility room when I was younger. Tolkien was an early favorite. I enjoyed mythology as well, the old Greek, Norse and Mesopotamian tales. When I first began writing, I wrote fantasy as well as horror, but the darker slant of my fantasy material turned off some of the fantasy readers and I gained much more appreciation from the horror crowd.
I’ve enjoyed a variety of authors. I remember reading works by John Coyne, Stephen King, some Alfred Hitchcock anthologies, and even some science fiction authors such as Poul Anderson. I was a fan of the old Twilight Zone. It’s such a mix with me.
Joe: Instead of just focusing on your most successful work, which story are you the proudest of, a story that managed to capture a piece of who you are?
Tommy: Agony of Being. It was one of the earliest surviving short stories I wrote, along with Patient #37. Those two are close in proximity, as it happens, but Agony of Being is the longer story and encapsulates a broader portion of my creative spectrum from those days.
Joe: How do you feel when you don’t make your target words for the day?
Tommy: I don’t set a specific target word count, but I make the effort to write every day. Some days are complete chaos, which means I only gain a few paragraphs or even a single paragraph at worst. But at least that’s something. Other days, I might sit down and write a 6,000 word short story in one session.
Joe: What’s the most difficult topic for you to write?
Tommy: The topic that doesn’t interest me. I do well by keeping it interesting for myself. Otherwise, I don’t tend to stay with it.
Joe: What do you do to distract yourself enough to actually relax a bit? Or, do you always think about writing?
Tommy: The creative aspect never wanders far, but I enjoy music and live shows. I’ve seen a lot of metal acts in concert. I read every day and enjoy traveling.
Joe: Tell us a bit about the people you met while researching a book. Are you still friends with some of them?
Tommy: As an author, my life has become something like a research project, so yes. I’ve met a lot of creative individuals. But some research can be a lonely affair. Visiting cemeteries, for example, because everyone is dead.
Joe: Outside of the actual craft, what is the most useful skill you learned from being an author?
Tommy: I remember the days when I had only a few short stories in print, back around 2007, and I hardly wanted to get out of my house at that time. I didn’t care much to go into public or to deal with others. Off-and-on, those periods of time have presented themselves. When I began doing book-related events and, once my debut novella came out, signings and the like, it gave me more of an avenue to interact with others, and I can connect with others more easily now.
Joe: How did being an author change you as a person?
Tommy: It helps me to focus, but now I have a lot more homework.
Joe: Which response / comment from a reader has touched you the most throughout your career?
Tommy: I’ll go the route of responses rather than specific comments, if that works. When someone comes up to me at a book signing and then I see them at another event or signing, and they want to pick up the new book, I love that. Those people are my readers, and we share a connection through this experience.
My readers are a diverse bunch from a variety of walks of life. Those I’ve met in person, at book signings or any other events, or even connected with across social media, have been intelligent and open-minded, the best kinds of people. I’ll be happy to have them on my side when the apocalypse comes smashing down.
I should mention the friends who knew me before I came into print as an author, the ones who have stuck around and who support what I do. Some of them have told me they’re proud of what I’ve accomplished, and some have even come out to support me at some of the book signings and events I’ve done. Some support me by ordering books I’ve written or been featured in. I notice it and always appreciate it.
Joe: What is your lifelong goal as an author?
Tommy: I have a lot of stories to tell. Hopefully, I will have time to tell most of them, or most of the important ones. I’ll do what I can while I can. I haven’t set a finish line, except death, of course, and after that I suppose it’s over.
Joe: What legacy do you want to leave behind?
Tommy: Hopefully, I can leave my wife some money after I’m dead. And I hope someone will take care of my cats. As for those books and stories I’ve written and continue to write, perhaps they will haunt the world for generations to come if I’ve fulfilled my work as a storyteller and pen-wielder of the dark arts. Time will tell.