KnippKnopp Interviews….Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce visits his favorite brick wall

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?

My first impulse was to say that writing a news story and writing a novel were two completely different experiences. But the more I think about it, the more similarities I see – for me, anyway. I’ve spoken to a lot of authors who say they sit down at a keyboard with no idea what they’re going to write and just let their muse sing, so to speak. For me, it wasn’t that way at all. It was work. Before I typed a word of the novel, I spent the better part of a year researching various topics. Everything from guerilla warfare tactics to 1960s CIA mind control experiments to the life of Aleister Crowley. I drafted pages and pages of notes and outlines, charting the intersecting storylines and making sure they were consistent with each other. It was like a major newspaper project in the respect that I did most of the work before I even started writing.
You have a great, compelling voice.  If Elmore Leonard had a bastard love-child with Christopher Moore (A Dirty Job, Fluke, Lamb), I think he’d come out writing in a similar style.  Can you comment on whether either of those two had anything to do with your parentage?
Thanks! That’s a great compliment indeed, because those are two of my favorite writers. And let’s observe a moment of silence for the great, lamented Elmore. Done? OK. I’ve been a fan of Elmore Leonard for decades. I consciously tried to emulate his writing style. In particular, I’m always impressed with the way he handles dialogue. He really captures the cadences of actual conversation, without resorting to intrusive tricks such as trying to spell out regional dialects phonetically.
I only recently discovered Christopher Moore, and I think he’s great. I saw him speak on a promotional tour for “Sacre Bleu,” and he said something I could really relate to. He didn’t start out trying to write comedy. He started out trying to write straight horror. It’s just that he couldn’t NOT be a smartass.
 Let’s say, hypothetically, you had a special, secure writer’s room down in your basement.  Who would you lock in there to keep close to you forever and ever?
What? How did you find out about … Oops! I mean … Ha ha! What a fun, whimsical question! If it was a matter of actually keeping someone imprisoned in my basement, it would probably be Fred Phelps. Just as a favor to the rest of the world. But I assume you mean it as kind of a personal writing room/basement bar Valhalla, where I could hit these people up for writing advice. Then I could knock off for the day and we could shoot the shit over beers and game of bumper pool. And this would include anybody living or dead, right? Alright, we’ll put Elmore Leonard down there. And Kurt Vonnegut. Dashiell Hammett, because that guy knows how to make a mean cocktail. And J.K. Rowling too, because … hey, why not?

Can we be expecting more reports from Mr. Jerkface any time soon?
I’m working on a new novel, tentatively titled “A Bunch of Freakin Wackjobs With Swords.” I’m not planning to use Tom Jerkface as a character. But I do plan to throw in an author surrogate to make a cameo appearance. I’m like Alfred Hitchcock. Except without the whole “genius” thing.
What advice (ritualistic or otherwise) can you offer new writers?
Read outside your comfort level. If you really enjoy mysteries, or science fiction, or even literary fiction, your natural impulse is to read those types of books exclusively. But if you do that as a writer, you run the risk of making your work too derivative. Every once in a while, go to the bookstore or library and pick up a book specifically because it’s NOT the type of thing you ordinarily read. I think it’s especially important that fiction writers regularly read nonfiction books. Just as a reminder that there’s a real world out there that doesn’t always conform to the conventions of storytelling.
You can find more of Tom’s unique view of the world here at Chamber of the Bizarre, follow him on twitter or befriend him on facebook
besides, that's not being kookie, that's being well informed
Hey, this is NOT being a kook, it’s being well prepared!

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