Tom Joyce is a kook. I don’t mean a tin-foil hat, the government is intercepting thoughts via my fillings kind of kook, but one of those exceedingly charming, quirky, almost could be a character in his own books kind. He’s a trim man, always in motion, who carries a deck of cards everywhere he goes, either as a way to scam money off unsuspecting gamblers, or as a means to occupy himself for those times he is required to sit still.
I’ve had the pleasure to read alot of his work as part of Jonathan Maberry’s NovelInNine class and have found he’s also immensely talented, with a unique and funny voice that I think readers of the late, great Elmore Leonard would love. And now readers everwhere can get a look at that voice with the release of his first novel, The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report.
Tom was kind enough to answer a few questions.
The thinly veiled pen name (Tom Jerkface – pronounced jerk-FAH-chay) aside, it’s, obvious your first `novel’- The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report – is based on some of your adventures as a reporter in the wilds of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. What can you tell us about the story?
When I was writing the novel, I was still working as a newspaper reporter in Central Pennsylvania. I expected to get some flak about the book from my bosses, so I initially intended to use “Tom Jerkface” as a pseudonym. I figured they’d know it was me, but I could maintain (barely) plausible deniability. A running self-referential joke in the book is that the publisher chose the pseudonym “Tom Jerkface” because he justifiably hates the author. When I left the newspaper before the book’s publication, I wanted to simply use “Tom Joyce” as the name for the author surrogate. But my real-life publisher — who’s actually a very good friend of mine and one of the coolest human beings on the planet — liked “Tom Jerkface,” so it stayed.The book itself is about a group that’s kind of hybrid between street gang and pagan religious cult, called “The Slain,” which is staging a series of terroristic attacks on the Central Pennsylvania city of Batley. The unnamed Operative, a hard-boiled detective type, has to figure out who they are and what exactly they’re up to. The story takes a lot of twists and turns. I describe it as John Constantine by way of The Simpsons.And yeah, a lot of my experiences as a reporter figured into it. I saw the whole thing as kind of an extended allegory for a labor dispute I was involved in at the newspaper where I worked. And while I didn’t overtly base any characters on real-life people (with the exception of Tom Jerkface, who’s a dead-ringer for me), I did work in a lot of types you meet around small towns in general and Central Pennsylvania in particular. The local gun nut, the hippie business owner, etc.
That’s a long title….do you have a minimum word count when you title your books?
I’m not sure why that title occurred to me. In my early 20s, I first attempted writing fiction. I tried the kind of literary, serious fiction that I considered appropriate for an important writer such as myself. I have since destroyed all copies of those early writing attempts, and the world is a vastly better place for it. At the time, one of my affectations was giving every single piece of writing a single-word title. I guess I thought it was minimalist or existential or neo-postmodern or some such thing. Maybe my use of a long, rambling title is a subconscious way of telling any remnant of that “important” young writer still lurking in my psyche to shut the f**k up.
This is your first published novel after working for two decades as a journalist, how do the two compare?
Can we be expecting more reports from Mr. Jerkface any time soon?