Interview with Author Thomas White

Mr. White says about using this submitted graphic instead of an author’s photo: “I have attached a kind of avatar, which I fancy as a visual rendering of my writings as a tour of the underworld and its denizens.”

Approximately a 100-word (more or less) summary of your life.

My early reading included Ray Bradbury and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well as A Canticle for Leibowitz and the Classics Book Club. In general, I have lived a literary life, devouring works such as The Inferno, Dune, Something Wicked This Way Comes, 1984, The October Country, The Road, The Shining, Frankenstein or, The Modern Prometheus, Dracula, The Castle of Otranto, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Other companions along the way: Homer, Franz Kafka, Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Ralph Ellison, Albert Camus, Edith Warton, Emily Dickinson, Margaret Atwood, A.S. Byatt, Raymond Chandler, James Baldwin, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Stephen King, George Orwell, John Updike, and many others.

What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer so far?

Firstly, it is writing and publishing not for a narrow group of specialists but for a varied readership interested in my nonfiction—focused on historical and moral concerns—as well as just looking for creepy diversions and adventures in the weird. My writing is democratic in that it caters to a broad spectrum of tastes and interests.

Secondly, I would say writing and publishing in different genres—poetry, fiction, and essays.

I consider these my two greatest accomplishments.

Why do you write?

Firstly, I enjoy the challenge and diversion of creating new worlds, or at least modified realities, that act as vehicles of satire as well as are merely fun to construct for their own sake without any underlying justification. I write in the spirit of Gulliver’s Travels and 1984, among other works, which offer alternate, dystopian realities that deliver a critical, satirical punch.

Secondly, writing is a kind of mind-meld, but without the verbiage of Star Trek lore. When reading, we are consuming the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of another writer, while when writing, we are producing for other readers our thoughts, feelings, and experiences for their consumption.

Reading and writing are thus two sides of the same coin for me. I enjoy this cooperative mind-meld, a group-think with plenty of individual voices.

What is your writing process? (Any favorite places to write?)

My writing process and favorite place? I’m sitting in front of the laptop and typing on Word while listening to quiet music on the internet radio. I break this up with bouts of reading. Nothing quirky or eccentric.

“Clowns at the End of the World” is a fascinating, surreal, apocalyptic tale. How did you get the idea for that? What prompted you to write it?

This story was prompted by thoughts about the end of the world, in which all of the guardrails of civilization, namely predictability and sanity, collapse. The Apocalypse is not linked to some supernatural event but to irrational powers within unpredictable, surreal human nature. My idea for creating the story was linked to these observations.

On another level, I use the surreal and weird in this story to satirize the media, “mall life,” and consumer culture. Consumerism defines the world more and more, so the end of the world means the disintegration of that world. The weirdness of the clowns as messengers of that collapse is part of the loss of predictability; people’s expectations of clowns as being funny are shattered; they now terrorize instead of amuse. Meanwhile, humans become numb and indifferent to this New (Insane) Normal—or seek to greedily exploit it.

What do you think of bad reviews? Are they helpful or harmful to you?

All reviews should be read with a sense of humor and as a source of insight. But, if you write for the sheer pleasure of it, then reviews, bad or good, are beside the point. Think of someone who just dances for the joy of dancing. The critics’ reviews of the style and technique of that dancer are irrelevant. Ditto for the art of writing. Dance as if no judge was watching you, write as if no critic was reading you, is not a bad credo for a writer. As to negative reviews and rejections, remember that numerous critically acclaimed writers were originally rejected by publishers—not once but many times. 

What advice do you have for novice writers?

Writing should become part of you, not just be an occasional pastime or a functional task to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Ray Bradbury said that, for him, writing was akin to “breathing.” It was not something he scheduled but something he just did.

The novice writer needs to ask: is writing an activity that I will enjoy doing even if I never win literary prizes or produce bestsellers? A child plays with a toy for happiness, not for financial gain. A good model for a writer would be to enjoy playing with words as toys to create new worlds rather than be constantly distressed by the pressures of the marketplace. Rainer Maria Rilke advised an aspiring poet to avoid being “disturbed when certain publishers reject your efforts” and instead focus on “turning inward… into your own world.” William Faulkner observed that when he “shut the door on publishers’ addresses,” he concluded, “Now I can write.” But J.D. Salinger said it best of all: “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing… I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure. “

My writer-hero in this vein is Emily Dickinson, who was a creative spirit outside the demands and pressures of the marketplace. Her audience found her (not the opposite), but only after her death. A spoiler alert for all writers, whether experienced or novice.

What do you feel are the most important resources a writer can use?

Good writers are good readers. Books by other writers (whatever the genre) are some of the most important resources a novice writer can have: watching experienced writers at work.  While Ernest Hemingway drew on his extensive nonliterary experience in war and sports, he urged an aspiring writer to read writers ranging from Tolstoy to Gustave Flaubert and Thomas Mann. James Baldwin celebrated voracious reading as a way to learn about writing. Baldwin rejected any specific method: “I don’t know what technique is. All I know is that you have to make the reader see it. This I learned from Dostoevsky, from Balzac. “

I certainly would urge a novice writer to study the advice of experienced writers on how to write. But to also remember that there is no dogmatic “how-to-do-it” resource on writing that can give you a set-in-stone, one-size-fits-all method. Reading other writers is key, however, as long as aspiring writers understand that they will find no magic technique there.

William Faulkner said it perfectly: “Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. “

Where can people find out more about your writing? (websites, social media, etc.).

My poetry collection, Ghostly Pornographers, published by an indie publisher, Weasel Press, is available on in both Kindle and paperback, as well as on other websites. Additional writing can be found on The Chamber Magazine website and elsewhere. Go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here for samples of my work.

Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know?

All writers are unique. No one can imitate another creative voice. There can only be one Margaret Atwood at a time.

There is no fixed educational path for writers. Good writers and good writing existed long before creative writing degrees or formal workshops. Joyce Carol Oates had an outstanding academic career, but F. Scott Fitzgerald famously dropped out of Princeton after being put on academic probation.

While there is no chance you will see Stephen King serving up lattes at Starbucks, there is no shame in being both a writer and having conventional employment. I highly recommend this essay on famous writers who held day jobs.

And finally, don’t believe the famous saying, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” One should enjoy writing for pleasure, as J.D. Salinger said. Wise advice because, just as there are no guarantees in life, there are no guarantees in publishing.

Go to The Chamber’s search bar and search for “Thomas White” to read Mr. White’s stories published in The Chamber.

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