Thursday, June 8, 2017

10 QUESTIONS with Author, TOM HOWARD

I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Howard at the Arkansas Writer's Conference. He writes science fiction and fantasy. Tom has published over seventy short stories. 


1. What inspires you to write?
I can't not write. Even if I didn't sell a thing or no one ever saw what I wrote, I'd still have to write. I feel the need to put words to paper and become uncomfortable if I don't write for a day or two.

What inspired Sara’s Station?
I was signed up for my fifth NANO where I had to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. I always succeed, but I have a bad habit of spending the month before outlining the entire thing down to the paragraph level. When it comes to the actual writing, it’s pretty lackluster, in my opinion, because I can’t escape the outline.  For this particular NANO, I decided to become a pantser and not use an outline at all. Knowing I’d have trouble, I chose to emulate Andre Norton and use her YA novels as a model. Sara and her companions, Tig and Banglebus, pounded on the inside of my skull to get them out of one frying pan and into another.

2. How much time do you spend writing weekly?
I spend a couple hours a day. My schedule is fairly loose as a banking software consultant so whenever I finish my writing related emails in the morning and send out the
short stories that have been rejected the day before (I usually have twenty-five short
stories making the rounds of various anthologies and SF magazines) in the afternoon, I finish or polish whatever short story I have in the works.

How much time did you spend on Sara’s Station?
As I said, it was a NANO product; and I finished the 50,000 words in 30 days. However, before the publisher would accept it, I had to add an additional 10,000 words. A friend suggested I add another character to add that many pages, and the evil planetary administrator was born.

3. What projects are you working on right now?
For a workshop I’m attending in Oklahoma City the end of June, I had to write a 5,000 word story for them to critique. Having watched the entire season of Closer recently (and being heavily influenced by what I read and write), I decided to write a SF procedural.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to 5,000 words, they’d just discovered the body. So this one will be considerably longer. I submitted an old short story to the workshop and intend to complete the murder mystery. I am also putting together an anthology of my own SF work for a local publisher. It contains all the SF stories I’ve written in the last couple years that have been bought and published. I’m calling it Volume 1.

4.  What are you currently reading?
I am currently reading a really stereotypical sixties SF book called Mission to Universe by Gordon R. Dickson. I am reviewing it for a book blog called Cannonball Read. I review a book a week for them. I’ve just finished beta reading Crimson Son 2 for my friend, Russ Linton.

5. What is your writing process?
I have an office but I rarely write there, finding it easier to compartmentalize my life and keep business and pleasure separate. Instead, I have a 14-foot table in my living room where I tend to do all my projects, including writing. The table is a result of me hosting the Central Arkansas Speculative Writing Group, a critiquing group of local writers, for the last seven years. I tend to fabricate the stories in my head before I put them to paper, and as a SF and fantasy short story writer, that seems to work. I only write on my Macbook, but I had to install MacWord. I write until I reach a good stopping place, usually an hour or two. I’ve also got several stories in the rewriting process at any time. Rarely, a story will sweep me up and keep me at the keyboard until it’s finished. I don’t write flash. My stories tend to average 5,000 words, and those seem to sell best. I don’t know how we survived before Duotrope started matching up anthologies with writers.

6. What do you do when you are stuck or blocked?
I’ve heard about this strange thing called writers block but haven’t experienced it yet.

(I think you just confirmed that you are an alien.)

I have writers flood. Usually I have more ideas than I have time for. I think it’s because I write what I read or see. If I’ve just finished reading a short story collection about animals in space, I usually write my own story on the same theme.  If I have trouble within a story, my crit group is happy to tell me where I’ve gone off the tracks. One of my most popular stories was nicely vivisected by a beta reader who said “you have a really good story until this point when it turns to crap.” They were exactly right and when I removed the crap, it was a great story and sold immediately.

7. What were your influences growing up?
Wow, I had so many. I remember reading all fourteen Oz books when I was ten. We had a great Carnegie library in my little hometown of South Bend, Washington, and I spent most summers locked away in the juvenile section. My “gateway” book into fantasy and science fiction was Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. In school, we had a great SF selection, and I read Asimov, Heinlein, Norton, and anyone else I could get my hands on.

8. When did you know you were a writer?
Probably the fifth grade. I had talked a few friends into collaborating on a serialized story of movie monsters as super-heroes. I did a lot of writing for my bachelors and masters degrees after joining the military, but I did some fun writing as a Star Trek fanzine writer. I specialized in Lieutenant Uhura stories. Looking back on the bad grammar, foggy POV, and unoriginal stores, I cringe. When I helped form a writers’ group and sold my first story in 2010, I knew I was a writer. Funny how having a paycheck makes it all legitimate.

9. What advice would you give other writers?
Persevere, persevere, persevere. Write something and have others read it. Go to every workshop you possibly can and learn everything. I recently attended an online seminar by a life coach sponsored by an online crit group I’m a member of (plug for Inked Voices). Study other writers and what they have to say. Learn to take criticism but don’t believe everything you hear (especially from writers who are also beginning). Use the constructive criticism you receive and make your story better and better. Hang onto your individual style. Avoid offers too easily obtained (SFWA, Science Fiction Writers of America, posts a Beware of Publisher page that you don’t have to be a member to access). Use Duotrope if you’ve got some funds available, Submission Grinder if you don’t. Learn grammar rules and use them. I heard an interview with a professional violinist recently who said he gets all the technical parts of a piece down before adding the personality and passion. I think all artists should do the same, including writers.

10. What should readers know about you? 
I’m an average guy with an average background. If I can write and sell stories, anyone can. I’ve sold almost seventy-five stories in the last seven years (sold, not merely published). I find short stories much easier to write and sell than novels, but I have tried my hand at a couple (I wrote a 100,000 word novel for last NANO). I think I’ve written three or four novels, and I have nothing but respect and admiration for people who can keep all those subplots and characters juggled satisfactorily.  I use a great deal of my own life in my stories. Write about what you know, right?  Several people have commented on how my characters seem to come to life in a very short span of pages. Mostly it’s because I use real people so it’s easy to give them a full-blown personality. I’ve written several stories about my rustic upbringing in the Pacific Northwest.

Check out Tom's other work available on Amazon with this link. 
Tom Howard

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