Surrounded by glowing green aliens, strings of eerie, phosphorescent green Xmas lights, platters of snackables, and a unique beverage that could probably peel the paint off ’65 Buick without anyone noticing, including the Buick, I happened to meet a fellow in a cowboy hat named Tom Trumpinski. It was one of the numerous room parties at World Con, and this room looked like a landing site for the UFO faithful. Turned out it was a party hosted by a group lobbying for a future World Con to be held off-planet. As so often happens at such parties, we struck up a conversation, traded writing stories–as you may have surmised from previous interviews in these parts, writers of all levels are thick on the ground at World Con–and eventually arrived at this interview. Not many people know who he is yet outside of the hard-core fan community and readers of the Urbanagora blog, but with as much personality as he has, that will soon change.
TH: Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
TT: I started as a commenter on a political blog in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, called Urbanagora while I was recovering from a heart attack during the summer of 2006. By November of that year, I had garnered a following among its readers and when two of the regular columnists were too busy to work that month, I was invited to become a guest contributor. After two months doing that, I was given a regular gig and spent the next ten months writing essays, commentary, memoirist pieces, and SF and fantasy short stories. By the beginning of 2008, it was obvious that I had 60,000 words worth offering in a collection of short, bite-sized pieces. Peregrination Press, run by John Barnstead, offered to publish the book and we decided to add 35,000 words of new material to give those who had read all of the original articles a reason to buy the book. It was released as Riding the Hell-bound Train on July 24th of this year. I am continuing to offer new short-stories for download on my website, www.TomTrumpinski.com, writing an occasional Urbanagora column and submitting stories to ‘Net SF and fantasy magazines.
TH: What is The Story of Tom? Is it a novel? A short story? A poem? A limerick?
TT: Considering that the memoirist pieces I’ve already written cover only brief moments in my life, I’d have to say that it’s a 50-volume Virginia Edition set. Writing is my fourth career–I’ve worked in a factory, built particle detectors for Fermilab, and taught chemistry on the university level for day jobs. I could talk all day about my life–I started writing late, so there’s 50 years there to discuss. I just figure that unless it’s something really interesting, folks would rather read my fiction.
TH: What are some ways your life experience showed up by surprise in your fiction and you recognized it later?
TT: When I was in the middle of editing Hell-Bound Train, I was so insufferable that my wife, Marcey, ordered me to stop rewriting for a week and write something new. I had a story in the back of my head about a man in love with a motorcycle-riding chick who turns out to be a pooka. After the first two thousand words, I was stuck, so I put the two main characters on their bikes and sent them off on the road, where they took a complete 90-degree turn from what I had envisioned. By the time I finished, I realized that “Ed Morgan’s Ride” had become a story about being in love with a co-worker and never being able to do anything about it.
TH: What are some ways you’ve consciously worked your life experience into your fiction?
TT: I write a lot about people who are flawed, yet overcome obstacles. I’ve spent a good part of my life wrestling with one demon or another, so it’s only fair that those demons have at least a walk-on role in my stories. The Iona stories are, in many ways, connected with the town that I live in, the people I’ve known, and the places I’ve worked–all seen through a glass darkly.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
TT: I never figured I could write. I was an oral storyteller for years–the life of the party, the guy at the bar that has everyone at the table watching him as he described exciting events that, if they didn’t actually happen, should have. I could never put the stories down on paper in any kind of interesting manner, though. When my heart attack occurred, my brain was oxygen-deprived for three months, causing brain damage to a section that was used by ultra-short-term memory. The doctors re-established the blood flow that I needed and when I came out of the funk, I found that I could now put words on paper that not only made sense, but effectively communicated images, emotions, and plots. You could have knocked me over with a feather, truthfully. I consider it a wonderful gift.
TH: A lot of established writers seem to have a stack of writing somewhere that will never a see the light of day. I’m talking about stuff that perhaps helped you learn and develop your craft, like the five novels the author had to write before he could get to the good one. Do you have anything like this?
TT: Of course I do. I do erotica under a pen name as favors for friends and have written flash fiction for demos and short fairy-tales for my grandchildren. None of these will be published, but each piece has taught me about the mechanics of my craft. I was amazed by how much editing the earliest pieces needed in order to be good enough for the book and how much better I was a year and a half later. I’ve also put aside two long stories that I expect won’t be told until I’m a better writer than I am at the present time.
TH: How do you predict that your skill with writing will improve? Are there areas where you will choose to challenge yourself?
TT: I’ve been trying out different genres. I’ve worked on short fairy-tales meant for a 4th Grade reading level, done a long erotic piece for an online website, and am planning on doing a mystery soon. Each of the types of fiction have a different set of rules and by learning how to follow those well, I hone my skills.
TH: Of course, most writers want to have bestsellers or make some sort of artistic or literary impact. Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
TT: Avarice is not really my mortal sin–that’d be more like Lust, Pride, or Sloth. I don’t care if I ever sell 50,000 copies of anything. I write because I enjoy the thrill of creating something unique and new that people might enjoy. I would like as many people as possible to read it, which is why I wanted the purchase price of the book to be below $20. I love doing readings of my work at cons or bookstores and talking to the people who come up afterwards–that’s what makes it all worthwhile.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
TT: Being one step from death really slaps you in the head and makes you go, “What was I thinking?” I love life now and try to experience every day fully. It seems a shame that things have to get that serious before you realize that there are transcendent things that matter–love, happiness, and beauty far outshine material goods. I’d much rather have a blonde who loves me than a convertible that goes 180 mph.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you?
TT: I love the creative process. Once I have a story set in my head or outlined on paper, I write really fast–on the order of 1200 words per hour on the first draft. The electric connection between my brain and the words appearing before me on the computer screen far exceeds the pleasure of the best sex I’ve ever had. I find myself addicted to this creation and think something is really wrong with me if I haven’t written anything decent in the course of a week. When I was editing the book, I was so miserable that my wife, Marcey, finally ordered me to stop what I was doing, take a week off and write something new. That worked, of course, to improve my mood and ended up as “Ed Morgan’s Ride,” the last story that made it in before deadline.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore ?
TT: I’ve got the webpage that keeps people apprised of what I’m doing and where I’ll be. That also provides a vehicle for direct book sales. As I said before, I make a lot of new friends and fans at conventions and public appearances. Peregrination Press is a shoestring operation and doesn’t have a huge advertising budget, so I try to help out as much as possible.
TH: How often do you attend conventions to promote your work, or how often do you plan to?
TT: I’m aiming for about one every six weeks. I have been told that I’m one of the better readers out there and this seems to be reflected by high sales immediately after my readings and panels. My fall schedule now has Archon in Collinsville, IL, Windycon in Lombard, IL, and Chambanacon in Urbana, IL. Next year looks to be full, too, but the only two presently confirmed are CoastCon in Biloxi, MS, in March and LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN, next July. Look for me at one near you–I love getting out of my office chair, even if it’s for just a weekend.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
TT: I’m looking for the day when people will come up to me at conventions and be familiar enough with my works to want to discuss them with me. Hell, I don’t even care if they like everything I write, as long as they read it and it makes them react emotionally. When that happens on a regular basis, I’ll consider that I’ve done my job.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
TT: Well, it’d be stupid to lose money–I don’t have a day job, after all. If you’re going to do this for a living, you have to think of it as a business, as well as a pleasure. Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of help from my family as far as keeping the cash flow under control.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
TT: Well, my next short story’s going to be set in Iona, like the four related urban fantasies in Hell-bound Train and the downloadable story, “Balance,” on my website. It’s called “The Closing-Time Girl” and asks the question, “What if God really did make honky-tonk angels?” I’m also planning an alternate-history mystery set in the 1990s in an America where the AIDS epidemic never took place and a retelling of a Coyote-myth involving Mexican immigrants in the Midwest. I have the initial outline started for my first novel, which is tentatively entitled Changeling.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
TT: It was when the galley proof copy of the book arrived and I opened the package and held it in my hand and went, “Squeeeee!”
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about that I haven’t mentioned?
TT: I want to say that I feel lucky to live in a day and age where it is the easiest in history to get one’s work out before the public. When I was a boy on the farm, I was lucky to be able to find one paperback book a month in the drug store that would hold my interest. Nowadays, there’s a plethora of fiction and essays available at a click of my mouse. Sturgeon’s Law applies, of course, but even so, there’s more good stuff out there than at any time in my life.