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INTERVIEW: Tommy Wallach, musician and author of We All Looked Up & Thanks for the Trouble

| 29 May 2016 | Reply

INTERVIEW: Tommy Wallach, musician and author of We All Looked Up & Thanks for the Trouble
By Steph O’Connell

Tommy Wallach is a Brooklyn-based musician and author of NYT bestseller We All Looked Up which made waves in Australia last year and has been optioned for film rights by Paramount Insurge. His second novel, Thanks for the Trouble, is out now!


we-all-looked-up    thanks-for-the-trouble-9781471146121_hr

WALU cover

BOOK REVIEW: We All Looked Up
BOOK REVIEW: Thanks for the Trouble

We All Looked Up – The Album


Steph: Thanks for taking time out for a chat, Tommy. How are you finding Australia?

Tommy: Having a great time. Been here for a couple weeks and, you know, just having a lot of fun.

Steph: Good to hear! What’s your favourite part been so far?

Tommy: Favourite part so far? Probably the cafés, the cafés are pretty great. Having really good coffee and breakfasts.

Steph: So I was going to ask you later on, tea or coffee. Is that a vote for coffee?

Tommy: Oh yeah, definitely!

Steph: So, where do you find a lot of your inspiration comes from?

Tommy: Well, on the general level there’s no real answer to that, it sort of comes from everything. I mean in terms of my specific books I can point to things. We All Looked Up, a big part of it was the movie Melancholia by Lars von Trier. My second book, Thanks for the Trouble, came again from movies, from two movies. Let the Right One In, which is sort of a vampire thing. My book doesn’t have any vampires in it, but it’s about the idea of immortality and how that would feel. And then a movie called Before Sunrise with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy was really important for Thanks for the Trouble as well.

Steph: Are you a planner or a pantser when it comes to writing?

Tommy: Mostly a pantser. Yeah, I’ve learned those terms. They’re less well known over here, at least with young people maybe they just don’t know about it, but I’m mostly a pantser I’m embarrassed to say, which I get punished on very badly. I end up having to do a tonne of editing because of that, but it’s just the way I do it I guess, I don’t really have a choice.

Steph: I guess you get to learn more about the world rather than consciously creating, you get to discover as you’re writing when you pants.

Tommy: Yeah, I mean, I think that is true. I would say for me the biggest advantage has always been when I’m excited about a project, I just want to start writing it, because you inevitably lose your excitement. The excitement doesn’t last very long. It lasts a month, maybe six weeks, but a project can take a year or more. So you don’t get that long with the excitement, and I find that if you do a lot of planning, you use up most of your excitement by the time you’re done planning, and so you then basically have no momentum going into it. I like to have that momentum going into it of just “I am working,” and just starting to work.

Steph: I’m completely the same. Do you ever suffer from writer’s block, either in music or fiction, and how do you deal with it?

Tommy: I’m gonna be that guy and say I really, really don’t believe in writer’s block. I don’t think it’s a real thing. The joke that I always make is it would be like if you called a plumber, and the plumber was like “Oh, man, I’ve got plumber’s block today. I can’t plumb. I can’t do any plumbing today.” It makes writing into this magical mystical thing, which it isn’t; it’s a job. It’s a job and you just do it. You can always write. You might write really, really poorly, and I do that, you know, ninety percent of the time. But the idea that you can’t write is just not real. It’s not a real thing. I believe that.

Steph: Well, you know, from “writing poorly ninety percent of the time” it doesn’t come across in the final product, I can definitely say that.

Tommy: Oh, that is nice of you to say.

Steph: It’s been really easy to sink into both of the novels and to see the characters as real people. What methods do you use to create their stories, well, the stories and the people who populate them?

Tommy: Another place where I end up, I’m not trying to make it sound like I’m some amazing original or anything, but I do find that I break from the party line here pretty strongly, because something that I always heard in writing classes and writing books is that “character determines plot.” I’ve heard that so much, and yet I have always found the exact one-hundred-percent opposite is true. I have a story I want to tell, it’s the story that intrigues me, and to some extent, I build characters who can serve that story. I’m not taken by surprise – of course my characters sometimes say something or occasionally do something, where I’m like “Oh, of course, that’s what my character would do here,” and it changes what I had planned, but when push comes to shove, if I’m gonna choose between the story working or the character working, I’m gonna pick the story every time, and that character is going to change from my conception of it. So yeah, I really do start with the plot and then see what characters I would want to put in there that would serve it best.

Steph: Along those lines, have you ever had a character that didn’t fit with that story and you discovered that they actually belonged somewhere else?

Tommy: The short answer is still kinda no, because like I said, the character is only there to serve the plot, so what has happened though is I’ve discovered that the plot isn’t working. And it’s not the character’s fault, it’s that the plot’s terrible, so yes, then a character ends up getting cut. But you know what I mean, it’s not that the character didn’t fit, it’s that I was telling the wrong story to begin with.

Steph: Did you know right from the start that Thanks for the Trouble was going to be a little bit meta, and an almost epistolary style story? Or is that something that was discovered in the telling?

Tommy: You know, I don’t even totally remember, which is so embarrassing, but I’m ninety-five percent sure that it was not done this way in the original. Oh, no, now I remember, I just figured it out! My original thought for Thanks for the Trouble was that it was going to be like a weird collage structure, like pictures and… I don’t know, it doesn’t even make sense now, but that was my original thought for it. And that very quickly didn’t work. If for no other reason than because I am horrifically terrible at anything visual. So the idea that I, of all people, would figure out a way to do that, T.S. Spivet style, or like other books that have done that, it was ludicrous. It was ludicrous because I have no talent in that regard.

And I think it was after that, where I was trying to think to myself “Okay, what is my way into this, then?” because I had planned for it to be non-standard. I wrote a book many many years ago, one of my many unpublished novels, that was written in the form of an application to graduate school, with each chapter being an answer to an individual essay question, and then some of the chapters were actually recommendations written by other characters in the story. It didn’t work, but when I was on the hunt I was like “Oh, that was a cool idea, I wonder if that could be made to work.”

I discovered later that unfortunately I’m not particularly original in that regard. I think The Spectacular Now does the same thing, even Me, Earl and the Dying Girl I think has something similar. I don’t know, I only saw the movie, I didn’t read the book, but the movie certainly has an element of that. So it turns out it’s something that’s been used before a little bit, but I don’t think as directly as I did it.

Steph: I think the actual character’s voice was a large part of what made Thanks for the Trouble, because it was humourus and a little self-deprecating. That was what made him so relatable.

Tommy: Sure, that was definitely the goal. That’s good to hear!

Steph: So what was the hardest part about writing Thanks for the Trouble?

Tommy: You know, oh man, the real truth of it is the whole stupid thing. Because Thanks for the Trouble was actually written from scratch, three separate times. Again, this is the price I pay for pantsing. I wrote the whole book, I sent it to my agent, my agent said “this doesn’t work” he gave me some advice, I rewrote the whole book from scratch, I sent it to my editor, and my editor hated it. And again I started over from scratch. I mean, I was able to use some of the stuff I had written previously, but I really did start from a blank document. It was enough of an edit that it was like “I can’t edit off of this document, because I’m changing it so much.” So figuring out what the story wanted to be, which is so big, that really was the hardest part.

I really think it was Before Sunrise that finally broke it for me, because I had the two characters and I had this immortality thing, but the earlier drafts were this embarrassing action adventure thing. The book was 50% as long over again, even longer than that, actually. It took place over months and months and, I’m not even joking about this, it involved the main characters travelling all over the world and running from like an immortal cabal, it was ridiculous. I knew it didn’t work, and when I saw Before Sunrise for the first time, which takes place over a single day, I realised “Oh, okay, the thing about this that I actually like is just these two characters and their relationship. Why am I wasting my time with this big, plotty mess?” And that was when I was able to cut everything away and the book became much, much shorter, but it was written again from scratch.

Steph: Okay, so besides the whole thing being the hardest part, did you have a favourite part?

Tommy: A favourite part? Oh yeah, I have to give two answers which is super lame and prideful, but I have two answers. There’s a section called “An Evening in Eight Drinks” which is a night, a party, and I think it has a really nice coherence to it, I love the movement of it. I’ve adapted it as a screen play and I’m working with a pretty cool production company on it, and it’s off looking for directors now, but I loved adapting that scene in particular.

The other thing I’m proud of, which could not make it into the script unfortunately is, you know the book has these three sort of fairytale stories that have nothing to do with the main plot aside from thematically, and I’m really proud of those. I think, in a weird way, they’re the best part of the book, though there needs to be more of a book than that because it wouldn’t be a book, but I love those stories.

Steph: Well, my next question was actually “Is there any chance you’ll be writing a book of fairytales in the style of those presented in Thanks for the Trouble?”

Tommy: Oh man, I wish. You know I had a fantasy once upon a time of maybe trying to do like an illustrated version of those stories in a separate book, but I think that’s probably unlikely. Maybe if a movie happens, some things would get okayed.

Steph: Well, I’m not the only reviewer who wants that to happen, just so you know.

Tommy: Oh, that is good to know! Alright, let it be known, say it widely.

Steph: What came first with We All Looked Up, the music or the book?

Tommy: Oh, very much the book. In my life I’ve been playing music for a lot longer than I’ve been writing, and I always wanted to do a book/CD kind of combo, because I’m interested in writing musical theatre, and I’ve written some musicals, so bringing together a sort of traditional narrative and music has always been a big deal for me. So when I was writing it I did realise this would be a good opportunity to do that, but I really didn’t start doing any work on it until the book sold and I knew it was going to be published. Because then it was like “Okay, this is worth doing.” Because music, you know, it’s almost impossible to make a career anymore in music, so I kind of sidelined that a little bit in my life because I wanted to find a way to make a career in the arts, and music is not a great way to do it, so once I realised the book was happening, it meant that doing an album functioned as marketing for the book. So I didn’t need to worry any more “Does the album sell well? Am I going to recoup costs?” I haven’t remotely recouped what it cost to record that album, but it doesn’t matter, because it was there to make the sort of package with the book, and I’m really proud of the music.

Steph: Of the songs on the We All Looked Up album, what was your favourite, or what are you most proud of, or enjoy performing the most?

Tommy: There’s 10 songs, and some of them were written for the book, some of them were written previously and I put them in the book just as part of the plot, and some of them basically have nothing to do with the book and I just wanted them on the album, is the truth. The one that I like playing the most, again I’m going to give two answers.

I love Madeline, which is a song that I had written a very long time ago and I just put on the album effectively for no reason. And then I really love a song called No Stars, which was written for the album, and I love playing it and it really captures how I feel about love. I have a really complicated, non-traditional view on love, and writing a love song that represents that for me was really powerful personally. So I love those two songs.

My producer would point to other songs. There are a couple of songs on there that just have real deep kind of grooves going on, and a real feel. And I love those songs too, but as a singer/songwriter at heart, the ones where I just get to emote and pour my heart out are closest to my soul. I’m not sure those two songs I picked out are necessarily the most interesting songs, but they’re personally important.

Steph: So which are the two that your producer would pick?

Tommy: He would probably like, again a song I wrote for the book called Photographer, I Love the Painter. I think he would dig that one the most, and the song called I Will Watch. Those songs are both kind of much more loopy and droney and to be totally honest, they’re “cooler” songs. They’re more in keeping with what is happening in rock music right now; they feel a little bit more produced, and digital, and groovy, Radio Heady kind of stuff. And I love them, don’t get me wrong, but they require being played with a band, and when I tour around, like I am now, I basically can never play those songs, because they don’t really work as solo songs.

Steph: Yeah, I really like Photographer, I Love the Painter and Bad Bad People.

Tommy: Oh, yeah, Bad Bad People! Oh man, I had so much fun with that record!

Steph: Which musicians have influenced you the most?

Tommy: The honest answer, even though I’m not an enourmous fan of anything he’s done recently, sadly… Ben Folds is the reason I do what I do at all in music. Because I played classical music for many many years, and I was a musical theatre actor, a professional musical theatre actor in Seattle as a kid. And I had really decent chops on the piano, but I didn’t know you could do anything with it, you know what I mean? You could play classical or you could play jazz, that was kind of what I knew, and when I heard Ben Folds Five, those early records, Whatever and Ever Amen, the self-titled, it blew my mind, because here was somebody playing piano and really doing their damnedest to make it a rock band. They called it “punk rock for sissies”, and I think that’s a really good name for what it is. It’s almost punk rock, if he were playing a guitar instead of a piano it would’ve been. And that was huge for me to notice that. And then I think a little bit later on it became Rufus Wainwright as playing loud and fast quite so much became less interesting to me, and nowadays I’m obsessed with Joanna Newsom, though I don’t have any of her talents, but I’m obsessed with her. She and Andrew Bird are probably the two that I listen to the most.

Steph: So are there any independent Brooklyn musicians, other than yourself of course, that we should keep an eye out for?

Tommy: My producer’s band is pretty amazing, I think. I don’t know if they’ll ever make it, because they’re so interesting, but it’s a band called Cuddle Magic, they’ve done some sort of tours and things. He’s also in a band with, do you know who Joan As Police Woman is? She’s been around for quite a long time, and has a pretty big following in Europe. And my producer friend, his name is Ben Davis, he has a band now with her, a duo band called 2001, and I think they’re pretty great. Then finally a band called Lake Street Dive, is also part of my community out there, and they’re starting to get big, and I think they’re pretty great.

Steph: So what are the biggest difference between writing music and writing books, in your opinion?

Writing music for me, I can’t speak for the Leonard Cohens of the world who spend, you know, four years polishing lyrics or something, but I find writing music overall really… Easy. I should mention I basically haven’t done it in a year, I’ve been in super book mode, and kind of took a really long break from writing music, which I’m hoping will turn around here soon, but I had to focus on the part of my artistic career that was paying the bills, that’s just the reality, but I’m sure I will find my way back to it.

But that being said, I find writing music relatively easy because, you know how I was mentioning earlier about being able to work when you’re inspired, and how with a book you have to do so much work when you’re no longer excited. With writing a song, you can write a song where the whole time you’re writing it you’re excited by it. Like you are still excited by it by the time it’s done, and that’s an amazing feeling, and then you just get to play it and refine it and you’re still enjoying it. It isn’t until you’ve played it maybe a hundred times live that it starts to really lose its shine. And that can take a long time if you’re not a big touring musician, which I’m not. So you get to be excited about it for a long time. It’s also directly cathartic.

I think people who write not professionally can find writing cathartic as well. You know, getting out your emotions by writing in a diary or something. But when you do it for a living and you have to do it for hours a day, it’s not cathartic at all. It is a purely intellectual exercise and it’s exhausting. Whereas music for me is pretty much always enjoyable, and I’m always happy to be doing it, whereas writing I’m almost never happy to be doing writing, I’m just glad to be done for the day.

Steph: Does your music tend to start out with the tune or with words?

Tommy: I would say the most standard thing is I’ll dick around on the piano and I’ll happen across a progression or a riff that is intriguing to me, and then I will start writing lyrics. At that point it becomes a back and forth of modifying the melody and modifying the lyrics, modifying the chords and everything, but usually it starts with a little bit of music and switches over.

Steph: Did you always want to be a musician growing up, or did you want to be an astronaut or something?

Tommy: Probably actor came first in terms of what I seriously thought about, because I did used to do professional, insofar as it’s professional in Seattle, but I did paid work where I was the only kid in the cast and everyone else in the cast was a professional actor, so that was probably the first thing. Then I went to undergrad originally, I bounced around a lot, but I started undergrad in studying playwriting/screenwriting/musical writing, so that, I think, became the next thing, and writing fiction was in there too. Even from a young age, I was never totally sold on “I’m going to be a full-time musician.” It was something I did, and I did it seriously, I had some luck, I did a lot of stuff with YouTube, they used to feature me, and they invited me to play that show with OK Go at the time, and I was signed to Decca records for a hot minute. So I had some successes, but they always fell apart pretty quickly and I was back where I started. So I’m not sure if I ever really saw that as “this is going to be my thing” but writing, yeah, from a pretty early age. I figured that some type of writing, I hoped at least, would be where I would kind of find my home.

Steph: What are some of your favourite books and authors?

Tommy: I get asked a lot about young people’s fiction. I don’t read a tonne of it, my favourite is definitely Philip Pullman. The Philip Pullman trilogy, His Dark Materials, is still super inspiring to me. Also, Ursual K. Le Guin, her novels for young people, and also for adults, are amazing. Philip K. Dick, was a huge part of like two years of my life, just reading everything he ever wrote. I wish that I had ideas as good as his.

In the adult world, I was big on the modernists; I really did my time with Nabokov and Joyce, even though that sounds super pretentious, but you know, what are you gonna do? They were important to me. I really enjoyed spending my time with them.

Middlemarch I think is like the perfect novel. I love Middlemarch and I re-read it pretty often.

Steph: Any books that stick with you from your childhood?

Tommy: I read such embarrassing things. I remember the Box Car Children, that’s like our well-known kids series that I read a lot. I read a lot of fantasy novels. Piers Anthony writes these sort of funny, weird fantasy novels that are kinda terrible but I ate ‘em up. R.A. Salvatore, another fantasy author who wrote The Forgotten Realms novels, again, I ate ‘em up. That’s what I really started out on was Piers Anthony and R.A. Salvatore.

Steph: Have you read much in the way of Aussie fiction?

Tommy: You know, I haven’t, and I’ve talked about this a lot since I’ve been over here, because it’s pretty amazing to me that I’ve read so much British fiction, but the Aussie fiction just doesn’t come up as often, and I’ve been embarrassed about it.

I’ve read Richard Flanagan, Gould’s Book of Fish is something I remember really fondly. I’ve read a little bit of Peter Carey, but that’s about it. So I’ve gotta work on it, clearly.

Steph: Do you have any favourite words?

Tommy: Favourite what? Birds?

Steph: Favourite words, w-o-r-d-s.

Tommy: Oh, favourite words! I thought “favourite birds, wow, that’s so specific.”

Steph: Well, do you have a favourite bird?

Tommy: Obviously the puffin!
Favourite words. Yeah, you know, I was just thinking I’ve always liked Scintillant, which is like a variation of scintillating, but I think it’s prettier. I like Palimpsest, because it’s a lovely image, even though I’m just realising it almost has the word incest in it, now that I’ve said it out loud, but still a pretty word. There was something else… Lissome I really like. I don’t know, those are just three I picked at random, but I do like them all.

Steph: Any least favourite words, like words that make you feel… violent when you hear them?

Tommy: You know, I’m going to be honest, I’ve never had word aversion. There are no words that bother me. I know that’s a real thing where people hate like moist and crevice and niche, I like all those words. I think moist is a pretty word! You know, I think it’s a bit of synsesthesia for people that when they hear the word moist or something they’re thinking about moistness, but moistness isn’t bad! Moistness is good. You know, we take showers and go swimming, and do sexy times… I don’t know what people’s problem with moist is. So yeah, I like all words.

Steph: What is your favourite type of monster, and why?

Tommy: You know, I don’t love monsters… Here’s one thing I definitely can say… I hate zombies. Zombies are so boring. They’re so boring, and I can’t believe they grab the imagination of so many people because they’re so boring. They’re ugly, and they’re stupid, and they don’t want anything interesting. If you compare them to vampires, and I don’t want to go on the record as say I like vampires, because I don’t really, but if you compare them to vampires… Vampires; they’re people still, they’re really smart, they live forever so they know all kinds of stuff, they stay beautiful forever, they’re sexy, they dress well, they suck blood, which is so specific and weird. You know, they’re at least interesting. Zombies are the worst. All this Walking Dead stuff, it’s so unbelievably boring.
I can’t believe people are so into it. It kills me.

Steph: In defence of zombies, I feel like there’s more below the surface of them. Like, with a zombie, when you get bitten, there’s no cure, you lose who you are, and you actually turn around and take that out on the people that you loved and knew, so I think they’re actually more terrifying in that there’s no way to stop it.

Tommy: Okay, first of all, vampires do that too. And again, there being no cure… This is an interesting conversation, I’m totally with you, but like for me, there being no cure just compounds how uninteresting it is, its ineradicable, and you don’t become something interesting, you just become another zombie.

Like, if you got turned into something interesting, like werewolves, you know, they have this complex life. They have a dual life where they’re two things at once. They’re normal, and then they’re beasts, and that’s really interesting.
A zombie is just a moron.

You’re just like a fish, except you eat people. You’re like a big fish.

Steph: The zombie narratives do tend to be more about the people who are left behind, I feel. It’s about human survival, as opposed to being about the monsters themselves.

Tommy: Right, and that’s always the pitch I’ve heard for The Walking Dead. I tried to watch it and I couldn’t stand it, but the pitch I’ve always heard for that is that it’s about the survivors. And listen, I’m down with that, I’m just sayin’ why do we have these big stupid fish running around then? Like if you want to tell a story about the breakdown of society in the face of an apocalypse, tell that story. That’s like a good, interesting story. And we don’t have a good TV show by the way that’s done it, unless you want to look at The Last Man on Earth, but that’s kind’ve a comedy. But when I watch The Walking Dead, yeah I’m with you, every time it becomes about “what do we do?” and survival, and I’m into it, but there’s like fifteen zombies in every episode, so it’s not as if you get away from these big dumb fish trying to eat people’s brains.

Steph: Fair enough!

Tommy: Thanks for bearing with my rant. I’m the worst.

Steph: Not at all! It’s always good to debate zombies. So I guess you answer is definitely not zombies, but not vampires or werewolves either, necessarily?

Tommy: Okay, if I needed to pick an actual, interesting… Here’s what it is, the word monster is… One of my pet peeves about a lot of fiction is that good versus evil is incredibly boring. Good versus evil does not make a very good story. And there are exceptions to that rule, but I think there are actually fewer exceptions than we want there to be.

One of the things that I think is a bummer about our modern culture is we no longer criticise anything. So if something is good it’s good, and if it’s bad, it’s like fun. So there’s no such thing as something that just sucks, because that’s uninteresting and vapid, and I think that’s a shame, because people do make things that are uninteresting and vapid, and when we’re unable to talk about them being uninteresting, we lose our ability to discern.

I think good versus evil and no ambiguity is inherently uninteresting.

Again, why I don’t like zombies is that they’re just inherently evil, and so they’re not very interesting. So what I’m interested in in a monster is ambiguity, and to some extent, by definition, a monster is inherently evil, you know what I mean? I’m interested in any monster that isn’t inherently evil, so what I’ll say is Let The Right One In… I’ll point to a vampire, I’m pointing to something, but Let The Right One In is about this sort of friendship between a young vampire girl and a boy, and there’s a lot of moral ambiguity there, and that to me is interesting, so any monster that has actual, moral ambiguity is interesting to me.

Steph: Have you read The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey?

Tommy: I haven’t, no.

Steph: It’s a good one, though you might not like it because of what’s in it, but it’s definitely a good story and it does go with the sort of moral ambiguity. Really good story, really well written. 

Tommy: Uhuh, and you’re saying it’s about zombies?

Steph: It… might have some zombies in it, yes.

Tommy: Do any of the zombies, uhm, not like being zombies?

Steph: Yes.

Tommy: Okay, well then yeah, that’s fine. Are they even called zombies?

Steph: No, they’re called Hungries.

Tommy: Oh, cool, ok that’s a little better, right? Lots of things about that I’m feeling.

Steph: Definitely give it a read, and then come back to me and talk about zombies.

Tommy: It’s a deal!

Steph: Are there any TV shows that you can’t do without? Obviously not The Walking Dead.

Tommy: I was watching Game of Thrones when you called. Again, Game of Thrones has a lot of problems, but I enjoy it. And I think it’s doing a thing in TV that hadn’t been done before, so that’s fun to see. It’s also bringing a lot of people to books which is cool.

In terms of shows that I really think are good, I really loved the first season of Mr. Robot, I thought it was pretty cool and different. Christian Slater is terrible, but everything else is pretty good. I like John Oliver, but that’s not a narrative show. I think Silicon Valley is pretty funny, and has been getting better and better the longer on it goes.

Obviously Breaking Bad was fantastic, and I still reference how fantastic it was. That’s a pretty good starting list. I watch a fair amount of TV but now it’s all escaping me, so maybe it’s not that good!

Steph: What animal could they never tear you away from at the zoo or what’s your favourite animal?

Tommy: You know, puppies are the real answer, but if we’re talking about zoo animals… I’m gonna go with pengins. I love pengins. I call them pengins instead of penguins because I think it’s cuter. I love a good pengin, man. They’re so cute.

Steph: The question that you always wish you would be asked in interviews but never are?

Tommy: I have so many answers to that, but I’m not going to say, it’s not worth it.
What do I wish I was asked, but I don’t get asked… “Why are you so awesome?” I guess, maybe? I never get asked that, and I’m like “come on.”

Steph: I think we’re all just trying to play it cool.

Tommy: I gotta wait for it, it’s coming, it’s coming.

Steph: No I mean, we’re trying not to seem like total fan girls and boys. We’re trying to be calm and collected and not let you see that we’re crazy.

Tommy: Oh, that’s a very optimistic read, I love it! Yes, that is definitely what’s happening!

Steph: The question you wish people would stop asking?

Tommy: You know, I’m lucky. I was hanging out with a friend of mine who’s an author yesterday, and she’s a female author, and I think women get asked just really inane, horrible questions all the time that are really gendered and weird, so I think I’m lucky to not get too many things that are offensive. I get bored answering the same questions over and over again, but I’m not even going to say what they are because I get why people, particularly the kids, ask them every time. It’s just that I do get asked the same stuff over and over and over and over and over again, and I get a little tired of it, so I love original questions like “what’s your favourite animal?” I enjoy being able to be a little bit creative. And by the way, most interviews I’ve had here have been great. It’s mostly actually just kids, who always have the same questions, which I totally understand.

Steph: So would one of those questions that you wish people would stop asking be the ending of We All Looked Up?

Tommy: Oh my god, yes! You know, you’re right. You clearly were waiting for me to say that, and I wish I had now, because that is something… You know, what’s funny about it is, and I hate to sound rude, but given that I’ve answered the question so many times, a lot of people ask me the question and I have to avoid saying that asking the question means you didn’t get the book.

When kids do it, it’s fine, because they’re young, and I’m trying to do something, and it’s obnoxious what I’m trying to do and I get why they’re angry. Sometimes with older folks , when I get asked a part of me is like “Really? Really you’re asking me this? You couldn’t know what it is I’m trying to do there?” Because it’s not that complicated, you know? I’m not some super genius. With We All Looked Up, it has an ambiguous ending because I had two other choices; I kill everybody or I save everybody. One of them’s super depressing, one of them’s super cheesy. Obviously the best of my three options is to keep it ambiguous. And I think that, you know, for most people, that should be pretty obvious, that those are the choices I had and the book is about dealing with uncertainty and difficulty.

So all that being said, I don’t want to sound too obnoxious here. I understand why people ask about the ending, and I really don’t mind being asked “why did you do that?” that’s fine. What I don’t like being asked is “So what happened?” That’s the one where it’s like “I don’t know, it’s over!” It’d be like asking, I mean maybe I’m wrong, but it would be like asking Jane Austen, what was Elizabeth Bennett’s second child like? I don’t know, I don’t care, the book’s over! And I kind of feel that way, too. People often say “What happened at the end?” and I’m like “I really don’t know,” it’s not like I’m a jerk and I knew what happened and I just hid it from everybody. I don’t know, the book ended. I have no idea what happened. I’d love to know.

Steph: For the record, after I finished it, I actually spent a good few weeks yo-yoing back and forth between what I thought had happened.

Tommy: That’s great! Absolutely, because, I did try to play with it a little, like with that big zero at the end which kinda makes it feel like it happened, but it would be such a bummer and everything.

Steph: Are you working on a next book? Any teasers as to what we can look forward to?

Tommy: Yeah, I’m terrified about it. I’m writing a trilogy, so I’ve written the first book in the trilogy and I’m in the process of editing it, and it is a mountainous difficulty. I’m not surprised, but I am appalled. Even the first book is really long. It’s almost twice as long as Thanks for the Trouble, and it’s just big and it has to set up so much stuff, and the basic plot is sort of an in joke with myself; it actually takes place after an asteroid has landed, but many thousands of years after an asteroid has landed. It takes place in America, and it’s basically like the 1850’s again. It feels like the 1850s, so civilisation has recovered to that level again, and there’s this city that pracitices a kind of modified form of Christianity, and they’re very anti-technology. Their religion is anti-technology, and they discover that there’s a city many hundreds of miles to the east that has begun researching electricity and airplanes and cars and things, and it’s about the conflict between these two cities.

Steph: Sounds really good. I can’t wait to read it!

Tommy: I hope so, man I hope so. Man, it’s rough right now, I tell ya.

Steph: Thanks for taking time out of your really busy schedule and Game of Thrones to have a chat. And, one last thing… Why are you so awesome?

Tommy: Aww, you’re too sweet. Yes, it happened!

Category: Book Reviews, Interviews, News

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