Friday, January 13, 2012

7 Questions: Thomas Pluck

Thomas Pluck seemed to shoot out of nowhere in 2011. When did you start writing?

Sorry for the longwinded answer. They say writers have a million words of crap in them, or have to work 10,000 hours before they get any good... and I've been writing a long time.

The first book I wrote was in 2nd grade, about two endangered Komodo dragons defeating a poacher. Through high school I kept a "Journal" where I'd write bizarre humor in homeroom and pass it around, and I wrote 400-odd hand-written pages of an awful science fantasy novel before turning to crime fiction in college. I wrote a dozen or so short stories and began a novel about a recovering heroin addict who hunts down a missing girl for his old boss, but I never completed it. One of my college stories, was accepted by Pulphouse Magazine, which promptly folded; I hunted around and found Blue Murder magazine, which published my first story. So if you've been in online crime for a dozen years, you'd have seen my original, tiny splash onto the scene. Kevin Burton Smith of Thrilling Detective found me a copy of Blue Murder #11, and sent it to me. Felt good to see it again.

I wrote more, but I let doubt get to me- something no writer should permit- and stopped writing for years. Then my grandmother, who raised me after my parents were divorced, passed away from cancer and mortality reared its head. I was a morbidly obese computer gamer at the time. I quit gaming, and started dieting, hiking, weightlifting and practicing mixed martial arts. I lost 140 lbs. in just over a year, and found my confidence again. I started dating and met the woman who would become my wife, and she lived in Brooklyn at the time. A long drive or a couple train rides. And let me tell you, crossing two rivers to meet someone, in New York, that's true love.

Those drives gave me a lot of time to think, and I started tossing around ideas for a novel about kids who were bullied in school, who commit a terrible crime, and only one of them pays for it. Someone told me about National Novel Writing Month and a backlog of words exploded out of my brain, 115,000 words in two months, a novel called THE GARAGE, which I'm rewriting into a crime novel titled BURY THE HATCHET. This time it's from the perspective of the guy who went to prison, not the everyman. The guy is out for revenge. It's a very dark and intense tale of small town corruption, familial anger and betrayal, and strong friendships bonded in crisis. After I wrote the "zero draft" I took a rest from it to thing it out, and short story ideas kept popping in my head.

I heard about Flash Fiction Friday, and began participating. I had a humor, food, movie and beer blog that had been my outlet for writing, and I channeled that into stories. On twitter I met Fiona Johnson, and she read my story "The Last Sacrament," and suggested I send it to a few venues including a new one called Shotgun Honey. They accepted it, and I let the ego boost from that first acceptance carry me into writing more and more, submitting to different markets and treating it as a sort of challenge, to reach as many readers as possible. I can't say I've written a story for a particular magazine unless the editor asked me to do a guest spot, but I am very meticulous in reading venues to choose the right story to send them., a great tool for writers to keep track of where you've sent your work, says I have a 38% success rate, which is very good. But a big part of that is reading stories the editors have accepted.

Though I'd only read one or two from BEAT to a PULP before sending "A Glutton for Punishment." It was a fighter story and you have that great boxer art on your splash page. So I took a chance.

Lets jump back. What was it like growing up T. Pluck?

I had a wild imagination and was a daydreamer, still am. It's where my stories come from. We had HBO, so I watched dozens of inappropriate movies for my age, from Conan the Barbarian to Alien, Patton and The Stunt Man, The remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Night of the Juggler, Vice Squad and Magnum Force... it wasn't quite like growing up in a grindhouse theater but at times it was close. Back in the day HBO played movies, and most of them were cheap exploiters. They fueled my imagination, and I'd daydream about fighting laser tanks with crystal swords and my James Bond career, flying a supercar, wearing a tuxedo, and pursuing beautiful women. This doesn't play well on the schoolgrounds, so I got pushed around a lot as a kid. My parents split- my father was a hell of a character, and he influences a lot of my writing- and life was a bit chaotic. We moved into my grandparents place and I spent a lot more time with that side of the family. Storytellers, jokesters, mechanics, horse bettors, sailors, bar owners who ran bars for the mob, veterans, bikers... and a few hard working stiffs thrown in. They told enough stories to last a lifetime, and I still spend Sunday mornings having coffee with my mother and my uncles, average age 80-something. They come from a time when we'd tell stories around the table, and it rubbed off. Getting knocked around a bit made me a weightlifter, and years later, I train in mixed martial arts. The fear's still there, sometimes. I'm built like a gorilla but I couldn't walk into a room without sizing people up in case they turn on me. And that fuels great fight scenes, in your head. I've calmed down a bit. But the sizing up is a habit. Be prepared, the scouts say.

How do you feel about social media and promoting books? Do you feel comfortable using Twitter, Facebook, etc to sell your work?

I joined Twitter as a jokester, and broke 1000 followers before I wrote a single story. It's where I learned about #flashfriday and #fridayreads, and I think it's an excellent tool for reaching readers. Facebook could be, but it lags behind. Facebook started as a stalking tool, Twitter began as a broadcast tool. They're both aimed at data mining now. Google+ began as a data miner, so it's the least useful, in my opinion. Books live and die on word of mouth. Promotion, ads, they help of course, but readers spread the word. Like the fabled "silent majority," I think most promotion blasts into the ether like radio waves into space, but the few people you do hook, you should ask to spread the word. Their friends will buy the book on their recommendation, not because a stranger tweets it regularly. I only have one book for sale, LOST CHILDREN: A CHARITY ANTHOLOGY. It benefits two children's causes, PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children, which lobbies for stronger children protection laws, and Children 1st, a Scottish family support charity. I've tweeted long and loud about it, and so have many of the 30 contributors. We've sold 175 copies in about 75 days. I'm told that's pretty good, but I don't rest on my laurels. I want to sell a hundred times that, then maybe I'll think it's a success.

I think writers are still figuring out how to properly use social media, really. I like to connect with readers, not shout at them. I still think of stories as if I'm telling them after dinner, the tablecloth stained with spilled wine, children hiding underneath to eavesdrop, like I used to. Feedback is not essential to a writer, but it sure helps when you're tearing your hair out in the middle of a tough scene. I'd rather have five thousand twitter followers who spam the hell out of me with comments (that I try in earnest to respond to in my spare time) than 15,000 who just saw my name, read a book, and like hearing the occasional poop joke.

What is Christa Faust like in person?

Christa Faust is as vibrant in person as her writing is on the page. I met her at Bouchercon last year. I hadn't read her work yet, I just knew that CHOKE HOLD was about an MMA fighter and she told the truth, that it's a tough game not unlike being a porn star. Great book, by the way. We met in the bar, I didn't know anybody and she grabbed my arm and introduced me to a dozen people I was too shy to approach. I lightened up and had a great time, met a lot of great people. And I'm thankful, she didn't know me from Adam. Friendliness is common in the crime fiction community, but that kind of generosity is unique, and she's one of a kind.

Mitt Romney or President Obama? And Why?

Politicians give whoring a bad name. I like what Bernie Sanders and Al Franken are doing. Everyone is big government or a crank like Ron Paul, but those two guys aren't feeding us bullshit quite yet. Give them time, and money. Democrat, Republican, once they get a taste of the big money- Congress is legally allowed to insider trade, remember- they're one party, the Wolf party, and we're the sheep. I voted for Jesse Ventura, when I lived in Minnesota. He did some good and some bad, but at least he wasn't a stooge.

Tell us a little more about LOST CHILDREN. How did you become involved with this project and will there be more books in the series?

LOST CHILDREN began as a flash fiction writing prompt I asked Fiona Johnson to write for Friday Flash Fiction. She chose neglected children as the inspiration, and would donate 5 pounds her story to Children 1st, a Scottish charity who help families in need; I matched her donations to PROTECT, who lobby for stronger laws and enforcement against child abuse, and Living Water for Girls, who rescue women forced into prostitution. 44 writers responded, and we paid out over $600 in donations. We decided we could get more if we collected the best stories, so I formatted them into an e-book, and then again into a paperback. My wife Sarah designed the cover with the arresting photo by artist Danielle Tunstall, donated for the project.

The stories range from bittersweet to joyful to downright brutal revenge tales. Paul D. Brazill, J.F. Juzwik, Chad Rohrbacher, Ron Earl Phillips, David Barber of The Flash Fiction Offensive, Gutter's flash fiction arm, all contributed great tales. We have a story of a Lost Boy from Sudan, as told to his teacher J.P. Reese; a story from Vietnam from veteran James Lloyd Davis. Hardboiled legend Wayne Dundee gave us a rave review. A very generous and talented guy, that Wayne.

But I don't like to rest on my broad laurels. I have a second volume in the works, with a lot of heavy hitters interested in joining us this time around. We made a bit of a splash, and I won't name names until contracts are signed, but you will recognize them on the book's jacket.

Andrew Vachss- who's more than an influence, he's a personal hero- calls his fiction Trojan horses. Hardboiled gut punches that leave you thinking, but aren't "message stories." Oh, there's a strong message in his work, but he manages to share it without being preachy, you know?

I hope to do the same. I like that the cover has made people jump, and a local bookstore I've dealt with for 20 years, refuse to carry it. And that's just a child's eyes. But the stories within, and my own, are not salacious. No more than Weegee's photos of poverty, or bodies at a crime scene were. They're a wake-up call. A call to anger.

What's the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you?

You want me to pick just one? I had a kidney stone a few years back. Second one, but it was a lot worse. I haven't written a story about a man pissing blood yet, but I can accurately describe it. Thanks to an idiot nurse telling me not to drink water before my MRI, I was in the most pain I've ever experienced. The knife in the back shooting down to the testicles kind of pain. And mind you, I've broken bones, crushed my fingers, been stabbed in the thigh, kicked in the liver, sparred with 6'4" heavyweights, and had my heart broken by beautiful women, so you have something to judge this pain against.

By the time I crawled into a hospital bed, pain pills wouldn't touch it. Across the room, an old man lay in bed with his foot bandaged up. I paid him little mind. Women who've had kidney stones will compare it to childbirth. It's that bad, and this was an infection with a 104 degree fever. I felt like a child, delirious with the flu. I couldn't sleep, or move much without pain shooting from neck to nuts. So I press the buzzer and ask for painkillers.

It was not easy. I had my wisdom teeth pulled, and I flushed the Percocets down the toilet. I don't like admitting pain. So this tawny angel, a Latina nurse who don't take shit, comes in, rolls me over and sticks a needle in my butt cheek. And that sends me over the edge. I sob like a little bitch, for a brief moment. It felt like ages. Moments later I'm drooling into my pillow, and wake with the sun in my eyes.

The old man has the TV on, staring at the vast moronic wasteland of morning talk shows and infomercials. I say good morning, ask what he's in for. He has an infection in his foot, aggravated from a war wound he received on Omaha Beach. So I cried like a little bitch over a needle, in front of a veteran of Normandy. Now, I have no proof. Lots of guys say they were there, just like no one served in the rear ranks in Vietnam, when guys talk at the bar. Everyone was in the shit. But he didn't brag any, and reminded me of my great-uncles, who were loathe to talk about their service. It was a humbling experience, and no matter how much my kidney throbbed, as trickles of relief dribbled into my bed pan, I kept my mouth shut.

Then there was the time when I tried to prank call a bowling alley with the old, "Hey, do you have ten pound balls?" gag, and the lady said "Yes, would you like to lick them?" but that doesn't touch crying in front of a war hero, if you ask me.


Sabrina E. Ogden said...

Excellent interview, Pluckster! And that balls joke made me snort... Love ya!

Thomas Pluck said...

for the record, the correct response to that bowling alley prank call is "then how the hell do you walk?"

Maggie said...

Nice interview, sonny boy...

Ron Scheer said...

Totally enjoyed and totally unsurprised. Pluck's fiction is brilliant and says everything there is to know about him and more.

Matthew McBride said...

I cannot believe you threw away good Percocets.

McDroll said...

Great interview my friend! You're a winner and a keeper!

Anonymous said...

+1 laugh at the bowling alley. Keep up the good work and I'll keep reading it.

Charles Gramlich said...

enjoyed that. I find that most people who write well started at least fiddling with stories when they were pretty small.

wayne d. dundee said...

Great interview, guys. Insightful, inspiring, at times hilarious. I love your short stories, Thomas, but for Chrissakes get that novel done! I'm too old to be patient. As far as kidney stones, I have had several bouts with them (at one point, in pre-lithotiyspy days, getting sawed damn near in half to have one removed --- during the recovery period was when I wrote what would become my first published Joe Hannibal story). I get you about the pain, brother. And pissing out post-surgery blood clots the size of baseballs is a whole 'nother trip.
But, like always, what you gotta do is ... Persevere.

Katherine Tomlinson said...

i'm waiting for the novel too. Your short stories are very tasty appetizers but I'm ready for the main course.

Rick said...

You do seriously good interviews. Seriously.

David Cranmer said...

Thanks, Rick. I appreciate that but it really comes down to the answers.

NEN said...

This is one hell of an interview. You are more impressive every single day Mr Pluck