A Conversation with Tom Pitts

When I got an opportunity to ask Tom Pitts, a noir author of Piggyback – a novella, and many short stories published online and in anthologies, a couple of questions, I jumped at it. He’s also editor at Out Of The Gutter, an online magazine, featuring classy fiction. He has a nice place on the web, where you can find links to his work, but visit Amazon for his work, as well.

Tom Pitts

Tom Pitts

Hi, Tom, can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Sure. I’m a Canadian-born writer who transplanted myself to San Francisco, California way back in 1984. After rocking and rolling, making some records, and touring around the USA in the ‘80s, I found myself strung out on junk and on the streets in the ‘90s. I try to use some of these experiences to ground my crime fiction and keep it gritty. I’ve got two books out with Snubnose Press, Piggyback (a novella) and the new one, HUSTLE.

Writing is something you can do very well, you also edit other writers’ work, plus you have a day job (or should I say, a night job) – how do you squeeze all of it into one day?
Thanks for noticing. Fuck yeah, it’s hard. I go to work at midnight, (I’ll try to slip in a bit of the Flash Fiction Offensive work—reading submissions, formatting stories—while I dispatch taxis,) go home at eight in the morning, sleep for five hours, wake up, drink coffee, and write for three or four hours. Then, after a quick nap, I do the whole thing again. And again. And again.
Life is easier on my days off when all I have to do is get the business of writing done while my daughter is in school. When she gets home, forget about it, the writing stops because I’m dragged into the depths of her bizarre imagination. You can’t write much when you’re a sword-wielding hobbit fighting off vampires in the backyard.

What is writing to you? A need to entertain and tell stories, or a mission to educate and change the world for the better?
I start with some lofty ideas about how I want to change the world, but by the time my fingers hit the keys, I’m only trying to get the story down. At that point I’m trying to communicate what’s going on in my head. It’s a scene by scene exercise of showing the reader the twisted film unraveling in my mind. I’ll have to leave changing the world to those with greater foresight than mine.

Have you written – or thought about writing – for TV, theater or film?
There was some Hollywood interest in my first novella, Piggyback, and the option was on the table for me to adapt the script. I was excited about the process, but was told to wait for the financing to come together before starting, and—in true Hollywood fashion—the financing never came together. The idea of movie adaptation comes up a lot with my stuff. The word cinematic if often bandied about in reviews. A few of the shorts have been optioned for short films. We’ll see if HUSTLE baits any serious offers. I mean, that’s how you make the jump to the big time, right? The American public generally has no idea who a writer is until a film version gets made of their stuff. Sad but true.

Where do you get inspiration for your writing? Listening to music, watching films, reading books, living life …?
I tend to draw on my own experience as a criminal and a street person. Out there I learned what most criminals are really like: Assholes. There’s not a lot of nobility out on the street. No honor among thieves, that’s for sure. When I read implausible plot-lines and character reactions, I often say, “That would never happen.” Then I set out to make my characters’ reactions true to life. This is what I try to do anyway. That’s my goal.

Do you have a special method of working, any routines or rituals …?
It’s so hard for me to carve out the time to get the real work of writing done, I feel like I can’t afford the luxury of rituals. I do a lot of my writing in my daughter’s room on a TV table, not the best setting for violent crime fiction, but I make do. Silence is the only ritual, really. I often read about people’s favorite music they listen to while writing and I’m not sure how they pull it off. Perhaps my younger self could have, but I wasn’t writing back then, I was doing drugs and fucking off. My forty-seven year-old brain can’t multi-task very well, I admit it.

Hustle, your novel, is out now and in print – how much can you tell us about it?
HUSTLE is a story told at street level. It’s about two young hustlers who try to extort a client that’s already being blackmailed by a vicious psychopath. The hero in the story isn’t a cop, it’s an old biker who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. That’s as “white hat” as the characters get in this book. They’re bad people caught up in the rough underbelly of life.



You’ve written short stories, a novella, and now a novel – which form gives you the most pleasure to write?

The novel. Without question. Yeah, there’s a quick gratification when you can get a story down, send it out, and see it out there in a few weeks’ time, but it’s short-lived.
There’s something more meaty about writing a novel that’s exciting to me. I only plan as far ahead as the next scene, then write it out. So each day I get to ask myself where the book is going to take me. Watching the story unfold, making those decisions that connect the plotlines, that’s what I find pleasurable.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve recently completed a novel called California Libertine that my agent is presently shopping. It’s more of a thriller than HUSTLE and I have great hopes for it. I work hard to keep improving and I hope that progression shows in the work.
I’m also on the precipice of another new novel. Don’t know how long it’ll be and I’ve only a vague idea of what it’s about, but I’m kicking it off anyway. I’ve found if I start something, it has to gestate for a bit—maybe a month or two—then I can go back in and start kicking out the pages day after day.

Is Social Media very important to you, regarding your literary work, connecting to other writers and readers? Which platforms do you mainly use?
Yeah, no doubt. It’s been instrumental in connecting with what’s going on in crime fiction. Having an exchange with other authors has allowed me to cover so much ground over the past few years. Whether it’s their work, the work they’re reading, or general information about the publishing game, the news ticker of social media is there guide me along as I plod through the modern literary world.
I use Facebook mostly, I find it’s the most interactive. I’m on twitter, of course, but I find it’s tougher to connect with people there. It’s just too damn crowded for the type of interface they have. Google+ is a bit of a wasteland, but I’m on there too.

Who are your literary heroes?
When I was a young man many of my literary heroes were the wild ones, drunks and junkies who led lives on the edge: the Bukowskis, the Burroughs, the Hunter S. Thompsons, and the Hemingways. Now, as an older man who actually writes, my heroes are the work horses. Guys like Elmore Leonard who stuck to a work ethic about writing till the day he passed, guys like Cormac McCarthy who take the time to perfect their vision, writers like George Pelecanos whose patience and consistency paid off after years of slow and steady ascent. I think as a younger man I was enamored with the idea of being a writer without ever being a writer. Now that I actually write, I find I don’t have the time or the patience for the one-book-wonders that literary history is full of. I admire the guys who keep plugging away.

You see a lot of writing – what do you say to a young writer, who’s just starting out and dreaming of becoming a great author?
For me, it’s all about clarity. You have to communicate what’s going on in your head. You have to take the reader there with you. Visualize, then get it down on paper. You can’t just have a guy jump out of the car, he needs to open the door first, then climb out. Sounds simple, but you need those details to help your reader visualize everything that’s happening. That doesn’t mean describing their wardrobe, but it does mean giving enough information so your reader can be there with you. They can connect the dots with character descriptions and lighting, but you need to guide them through the action.

Thank you, Tom!
You’re very welcome. I’m happy to connect with you, Renato. Good luck with Kravata too.

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