This week’s interview is one we’ve been looking forward to since last year, when MBR No. 300 reviewed American Static, calling it “One of the finest noir yarns we’ve read in years.” Now, author Tom Pitts is back, with a new piece of hard-boiled fiction, and we can’t wait to hear what this rising star in the noir world has to share with us today. He’s a master of bad-assery with a PhD from the school of hard knocks and the mean streets of San Francisco who knows just how to bring the bad. Welcome Tom . . . here’s our first question for you:
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
Funny you should ask, my answer to this question used to be so quick and definite. Wing it! I’ve never known what was going to happen next in my books and that was part of the magic of writing them. BUT, my work in progress takes place over three decades. It’s my hope to dive in and out of these time periods without the use of flashbacks. So plotting is becoming necessary. I’m trying to leave it as loose as I can, but I have to have a grip on what happens in one era so I don’t show spoilers in another. It’s tricky.
And, in other words, it depends on the situation.
Do you read your reviews?
I do. I know I shouldn’t but I do. They’re pretty positive for the most part, but sometimes there’s a stinger in there. Sometimes there’s constructive criticism, something you can learn from, but the ones that bitch about foul language or violence are frustrating. I mean, did they read the description? Or worse, someone who’s upset because their book came damaged, the postman left it in the rain. Frustrating, yes, but it’s a bit like leaving a bad review for a hotel because the weather sucked.
How do you deal with a negative review?
I let ‘em eat at me, like a road rage incident you’re still going over in your head miles after the fact. Fact is, they bug you for a minute, then you let it go. There’s always something complimentary about them. My first rejection for my novel, Hustle, said the characters were “too unsavory.” Awesome. I should have used it as a blurb.
Personally, I don’t think a noir character could ever be too unsavory—it’s the essence of the genre. Whoever said that is an idiot. And it’s a helluva good blurb in my opinion…
Does luck play into success?
Everything factors into success. Luck, timing, talent, pedigree. The trick is, you have to use the hand you’re dealt. I don’t have any formal education, no MFAs, no degrees. I have to use what tools are available to me to create what I can. I think the real question is, how do you measure success? Is it finishing the damn thing, selling the damn thing, or having it plucked off the shelves. You have to take the victories along the way too.
What makes a character compelling?
A character needs to have plausible reasoning. It must make sense that they do what they do, otherwise, you can’t take the ride with them. They don’t have to react the way the reader wants, but it has to make sense for that character. If a reader can see their reasoning, no matter how diabolical, then they’ll want to continue on the journey.
Do you use humor in your work?
I hope so. Some things I find funny, other people don’t. And people find humor in spots I didn’t see either. Either way, humor is part of the human condition. Whether the characters are trying to be funny or the situation is absurd, I think humor gives balance to the story. It’s natural to whistle by the graveyard, so to speak.
What method do you use to keep track of plot details?
I email myself, I scramble and make cryptic notes, often terrible voice command texts I have to decipher later. I have to work whatever note into the piece pretty quick before it gets buried. Once it’s in there, it stays. I’ll work around it. I also keep kind of a chapter diary too, sort of a recap of each chapter. Comes in handy when I’m juggling plot threads.
How can we, as writers, promote and encourage more people to read?
When it comes to people who don’t read much, I think it’s about providing more accessible, digestible, entertaining stories, so when they do pick up that novel you’ve been trying to get ‘em to read, it keeps them awake for the whole flight, or eases their commute, or wherever they give in and let themselves get lost in fiction.
Do you have any other comments, suggestions, tips, anecdotes, quotes or inspirational material you’d like to share?
I often get asked for writing tips, and I have only one really: One scene at a time. Try to complete the scene, digest it, then start thinking about what’s going to happen next. Just like a movie, one scene at a time. It’s better than a daily word-count quota.
Where could you be reached on the World Wide Web?
BIO: Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. He is the author of AMERICAN STATIC, HUSTLE, and the novellas PIGGYBACK and KNUCKLEBALL.
His new novel, 101, is out now on Down & Out Books.
Thx again for your insights and expertise, and for taking time out to speak with our audience today. Please keep us in your contacts list and let the MBR know about your next literary project—we can’t wait to read it!