Interview With Writer Thomas Webb
CJ: Thanks for doing this interview with us Thomas. How are you doing today? Tell the readers a little about yourself.
TW: Hey Caleb. I’m doing good, man. Hope the same for you. I’d be happy to tell a little about myself. My name is Thomas Webb. I live in Richmond, VA, with my wife and our kids (my 15-year-old stepson and our 12 year-old daughter). For my day job, I’m a financial analyst for a mid-sized regional bank. But in my heart, my real job title is ‘professional teller of tales.’
CJ: Teller of tales definitely sounds like the more entertaining career. When did you first start writing? Is it something you’ve always been passionate about?
TW: Wow. Yeah. That’s a good question. So I began writing when I was about 7 years old. My first work was what I’ll graciously refer to as a ‘graphic novel.’ It was done in crayon, and was cleverly entitled Indiana Jones and the Temple of School. I know. . .totally original, right? As you might well imagine that work went unpublished. But I’ve been writing ever since. And yes-I’ve always been quite passionate about it, although it’s just been within these past four years that I’ve seriously considered it as a potential career.
CJ: You certainly have a talent for writing. I say give the writing game a shot. Just avoid Indiana Jones and the Temple of anything. I don’t think Spielberg or Lucas like sharing their characters haha.
You seem to have a pretty unique style when it comes to humor and how you tell a story. What is your writing process? Are you a coffee shop writer or do you need to be distraction free to write?
TW: My process is pretty straightforward, at least to my way of thinking. It all begins, of course, with an idea. An idea might come from anywhere—a dream, something I saw on the street, an intriguing turn of phrase that sounds like it’d make a great title, a news headline or a snippet of story I heard on NPR, or even an experience from my own life. After I get that first ‘spark ‘of an idea, then it’s simply a matter of sitting down somewhere and letting the story unfold in my mind-of letting that initial thought grow from ‘spark,’ to flame, to raging inferno. In answer to the second part of your question, if I’m at a coffee shop I’m probably having some awesome green tea (I’m not a coffee drinker) while watching and interacting with people. I’m a pretty social animal, so the thought of being in a public place and cloistering myself off from everything through writing isn’t my first instinct. When I write I prefer to be alone, in a room, with a decent chair and some excellent natural light. And a distraction-free environment is pretty crucial for me.
CJ: I second that notion. Concentration is key when it comes to good writing. Speaking of concentration, what is your stance on listening to music while writing? Do you think it adds to the experience or does it pull you out of your work and ruin the natural flow of things?
TW: I think the concept of a book, short story, or some other body of work having a ‘soundtrack’ is very cool. There have been certain scenes I’ve written that seemed, due to the action, situation, setting , or some combination of those things, to naturally develop their own soundtrack. As I was writing them a song came to mind, and I felt compelled to play whatever that song was as I wrote. (Bad Company by the band Bad Company from the LP Bad Company comes to mind as one I’ve written to recently; if you ever want to feel like a complete gunslinging badass, just listen to that song. But I digress).
So no, it doesn’t completely ruin my flow to play music while I write. But with that being said, a book is not a movie. The reader doesn’t need music to cue his or her emotions. It is your job as the writer to use your linguistic tools and your tradecraft to invoke those emotions within the reader. To further validate that point, sometimes there isn’t any music at all in my head when I write a scene. There’s just silence. That’s great, though, because sometimes you need that silence so you can truly “hear” the characters speaking to you.
CJ: You make a good point about not treating writing like a movie. It’s crucial to learn how to pull feelings from the readers without the use of outside stimuli. You do a good job of that with this story. Well, at least when it comes to making people laugh. This piece is pretty humorous, but there is an underlining insidiousness to it. How did you come to write about a witch cat? What gave you the idea?
TW: Yeah. This one was a blast to write. I, like most people I think, enjoy a little humor in a piece of writing. You mention there is some underlying darkness to this story, and that’s true, too. I feel as though the humor serves to balance the darkness out a little bit. I learned in the Marine Corps that even in the worst times, a little humor can break the tension. Even (and sometimes especially) if that humor is dark. It’s that same morbid sense of humor that most of us who’ve served seem to share.
The original idea for this piece came from a pretty banal place, I’m afraid. I was driving in to the office one morning and a black cat sashayed (yes-sashayed) across the road leading out of my neighborhood. I’ve personally always thought cats were very cool, what with their ninja-like assassin’s skills and there I-don’t-give-a-damn-about-you attitude. And I always thought black cats in particular got a bad rap. That morning as the cat crossed my path I thought to myself, “What if black cats aren’t really bad luck? What if they’re actually helpful to those they care about?” At the time of the idea Halloween was just around the corner. So what goes with Halloween and back cats? Well witches, naturally! That’s a no-brainer right?
CJ: Those damn sneaky cats and their sashaying abilities. How can anyone hate them? Of course, you did a good job making the cat in your story likable. Even if it was possibly murderous. I do think the humor added to the character in a positive way. Without the humor elements this would’ve just been a straight, albeit bizarre, horror story. Do you enjoy writing in the horror genre normally? Or do you prefer to write in other genres?
TW: I do enjoy writing horror. Although I normally stick to the sci-fi and fantasy genres (and heavy on the action, if you please), I’ve personally felt like there’s room nowadays for a great deal of overlap between genres. We’ve seen this in lots of cases. There’s sci-fi mixed with horror (the movie Aliens), comic heroes mixed with the political thriller (the Captain America films), thriller mixed with horror (the outstanding Seal Team 666 series by Weston Ochse), and western mixed with horror mixed with sci-fi (Stephen King’s breathtaking magnum opus, The Dark Tower series).
Interestingly enough, this story was a bit of a departure from what I usually write, which is sort of thrillers with a strong sci-fi, fantasy, or paranormal slant. I do generally prefer writing along those lines, but I’m not afraid to follow an idea as far down the rabbit hole as it goes. Even if it means violating a few ‘genre’ rules.
CJ: That’s the way to do it. Really take things to their limits and see where you end up. Even if that means creating a funny witch cat. But I must ask, did you plan on this story having such comical elements to it? Did you do an outline beforehand to set it up this way?
TW: No. I didn’t plan for that, per se. But as I wrote, Alistair’s (the main character) personality became much more pronounced, and as I got to know him I found out he was a pretty funny guy (or cat, as the case may be). The further I got into the writing, the more the humor evolved. I found it fit well with the flow, theme, and tone of the story, so I just went with it. I did do a rough outline before I wrote the story, using only the bits and pieces of it that had already convalesced in my mind.
CJ: Well, you did a good job developing Alistair. Since you did a rough outline for such a short story, would you say you prefer to outline most work? Or are you a fly by the seat of your pants type of guy?
TW: I am a prodigious outliner, bro! I think it comes from being such a meticulous planner in my everyday life. And I guess having worked in finance for these past years hasn’t exactly impeded that need to outline (confession time: I do all my outlining in Excel. Don’t judge me.). I’ve always admired authors who could sit down and write by the seat of their pants, keep it all straight in their brain housing group, then have everything turn out beautifully over the course of 300+ written pages. I am definitely not that person. But sometimes as you’re writing, something magical happens. In the midst of you getting the story down on paper, the character will tell you (if you listen) that ‘something’ needs to happen.
“I would never do that,” the character might whisper to you.
Or they may lay a hand on your shoulder as they lean over you at your desk, then mention with casual ease, “You know, Thomas- I don’t think I’ll actually do what you’ve written here. I think I’ll do . . . something else. Here-let me show you…”
And then they’ll take over.
Those times when the characters talk to me are one of the things I most love about writing. And sometimes not only will they talk to me, they’ll surprise the living hell out of me. At those times that sensation of Damn! I had no idea she was going to do that! is one I can actually share with the reader. I read quite a lot of books on the craft of writing, and I specifically remember one that said something about surprising the reader on every page. And if a plot twist surprises me as the author, then I know I’m surprising the reader. I mean, having your own creations surprise you sometimes in such wonderful ways? It doesn’t get much more fun than that.
CJ: You got that right. It’s an awesome feeling to have your characters come to life and guide your hand through the story. It’s like getting in the zone and everything just starts falling into place. Very few things as a writer are as satisfying. But let’s get back on topic here. You sound like a pretty busy guy. Do you have any other projects in the works right now?
TW: I sure do. I’ve always got something cooking up in the lab, and right now is no exception. Biggest thing is that my first novel will be coming out before the end of the year. It’s currently in the layout stages, and the cover art is being finalized. It’s called Stalemate: A Clockwerk Thriller. As the subtitle alludes to, I consider it to be primarily a thriller. But it has strong elements of steampunk, alternative history, and science fiction as well. I like to describe it as “Vince Flynn meets Jules Verne, with a dash of Assassin’s Creed thrown in for good measure (because people love those types of commercial comparisons, don’t they?).
I’m pretty psyched about this project, and I’m hoping it will be a successful venture. It’s the first in a planned trilogy, of which the second draft of the second part is already done (just waiting the six weeks for it to marinate before I print it out and run through it with my trusty red pen). I’ve also got a completed first draft for another sci-fi novel, as well as several fully-fleshed outlines. Not to mention a slew of short stories, which I’m hoping to compile and release sometime as a collection early next year. So yeah-you could say I’ve got a few irons in the fire.
CJ: That sounds fun as hell. And trilogies are the way to go when it comes to building a following. Also, publishers love authors who bring them a series. It just sells better. So, I think you’re on the right track to blazing a bright future for yourself as a writer. What are some of your ultimate writing goals, though? Besides what you have in the works right now?
TW: Oh man. (exhales). Ultimate writing goals. . . .Well ultimately I’d like to be able to write full-time. Probably like lots of my fellow writers, as of now I craft fiction strictly as a side gig. I’ve got a day job, but I’d love to make a living writing and peddling my stories. That would be ideal. In the shorter term, I’d just like to get more of my work out there and keep improving upon my craft as I do it.
CJ: It seems you’re doing a good job of that at the moment. And since you’re making such decent strides with your writing, what advice would you give to aspiring writers who haven’t found their voice or style yet? Who aren’t sure where they would like to end up in this game?
TW: I’ll start out by saying I’m no master. But I am far enough along that I can offer a little sage advice, which is this: write your own truth, whatever that may be. Write it in its entirety. Then, after you’ve written your truth, put it in a drawer for no less than six weeks. Now take it out and read that horrid drivel you’ve smeared across the pages. Then view your truth with the clarity of your fresh eyes. (I’ll add here that if this is your very first novel, you should repeat that first step, along with adding in copious amounts of studying the craft of writing).
Now you’re ready to print that draft out, take your red pen to it and make it bleed. Then, after you’ve incorporated your additions and changes, send it to a really good editor. As far as voice and style, discovering them can only come with dedicated practice, a.k.a. those 10,000 hours Malcom Gladwell writes about in Outliers.
In other words, you have to write. No matter what, grind out those words. Writing almost every day is good. Writing every day is better. Writing more often than that would be best. To paraphrase David Eddings, everything before a million words is just practice.
CJ: That’s sage advice indeed. We always tell aspiring writers to do exactly what you just said. Rather than get discouraged when things aren’t working, learn from them and come back stronger. Everything takes time and patience. Nobody masters the craft of writing; they just reach their personal best. And honestly, that’s all we can ever really ask for.
Thank you so much for speaking with us. It was a real pleasure reading your work and talking with you. We can’t wait to see what you have coming out in the future. Keep up the great work!
TW: Thank you Caleb. The pleasure was all mine. I’m glad you enjoyed it. And thank you for giving us, as authors, a space in which we can speak. It is very much appreciated.
Thomas Webb is a short story author, essayist, and novelist. He’s a prior service Marine who resides in Richmond, VA, with his wife and two children. When he’s not spending time with his family or writing, Thomas enjoys lifting weights, running, and choking his friends using the fine art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
“You can reach me on my website www.thomaswebbbooks.com. Anyone can email me there or follow along with my writing blog. I love talking with and interacting with readers, so y’all are all welcome at any time. My upcoming interviews, speaking engagements, convention appearances, etc. can be found at the website too, as well links to all my social media.”