Interview with Tom Dunham

What is your reading device of choice, and where do you most enjoy it?
A book, a magazine, a Sunday NYT when I'm in the states, a smart phone when I'm waiting in line, or stuck in traffic, the back of a cereal box, just what IS maltodextrin? -- which sends me to the web, also a favorite device. Where? A hammock, a beach chair under a palapa, a folding chair by a lake, standing in line anywhere, and in bed, but I'll have to read the last couple pages again next day.
Describe your desk
A mess--covered with assorted MS pages; several intriguing rocks, a few beautiful seed pods; a beach photo of my wife (it inspires); many bits of paper, each one holding something urgent, a quote, an idea, a word, to save, or develop, look up; a few old, sepia photos of ancestors, to wonder about, and maybe spark a story; a half dozen sharp #2 Dixons; a laptop with an old-time typewriter click sound; a printer; a glass. A just found hummingbird's nest, a little smaller than a half tennis ball, with some brushed out hair of my cocker spaniel woven among the threads, dried grass, spider silk, feathers, and string. A true thing of beauty.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
If we call "growing up" an ongoing process, I'll say, born in New York (through the 4th grade); Massachusetts; Hawaii (10-15); Mass., again; USMC, 4 years; California, (UCB); New Jersey (NYU), photographer, twenty years; and now, since '92, southern Mexico. In Hawaii, my first two years, I was the only non-Hawaiian in the school. Often the smallest in my class. Years later I realized I must have learned something about being an outsider. Flannery O'Conner was right, I think. You have all you need to be a writer by the age of 12.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Two experiences. The first, during my early years, here in Mexico, teaching middle school English and geography. A two day field trip to a permaculture farm--watching the kids spend the days planting, harvesting, milking, mucking stalls, preparing meals, organizing presentations, having the time of their lives--learning from hands on "doing," learning from each other, and listening to total strangers. All with a minimum of supervision. A note: These were private school kids, in no way familiar with such activities. More used to cell phones than hoes and buckets and compost worms. And the second, a more directly connected experience came my way when I asked my English students to write about someone outside their family, with whom they'd shared an important experience, however long it lasted; five minutes, a day, still ongoing. I told a brief account of such a person in my life, and they went at it. A half dozen kids stayed DURING RECESS to finish. I've never enjoyed an evening of reading so much. At the time, "Tattoos" was a short story. Within year it had grown novel-size.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
A paragraph that sounds right and speaks the truth.
What are you working on next?
A story collection.
Who are your favorite authors?
When I was a boy, Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Steinbeck, Ernest Seton Thompson, Comic books--Combat Kelly, Uncanny Tales. As a teenager, Hemmingway's "Nick Adams Stories," the first person articles in Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, Diaries of Mountain Men. All baseball stories. Now, mostly grown up, there are too many to name, but a few always come to mind first. The stories of Chekhov, Carver, Munro, Salinger, Tobias Wolff, Roddy Doyle, Elmore Leonard, Vonnegut, Stewart O'Nan, Russell Banks, Bobbie Ann Mason, on and on and on. I read Slaughterhouse-Five every couple years. At the moment I'm reading Banks' "Lost Memory of Skin." A bold and beautifully written story.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
The sun coming through the curtains.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
If you mean non-domestic chore time, then it's reading, gardening, walking the forests of Oaxaca's surrounding mountains. Until a few years ago, playing baseball, practicing a couple afternoons a week.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I was about fourteen and somehow got a hold of John Tunis's "The Kid From Tomkinsville." The same night I finished, I began my own story. Me, the rookie, centerfield, Ted Williams, playing to my right. Ted telling me a story about a war wound he hadn't told anyone else. A bit derivative, I know.
What is your writing process?
Generally early morning to mid afternoon, domestic chores permitting. I follow Elmore Leonard's rule. No coffee till something new's been written. Like many writers, I suppose, I always have a small pad in a pocket, where words, thoughts, ideas, get noted down as soon as they come to mind. I write on the computer, edit on paper, reading it all out loud.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I read William Saroyan's The Human Comedy when I was fifteen. Of course, I didn't know about Hemmingway's notion that words can equal experience, nor would I have understood it, had I known. But the sort of detached state that story put me in, for days, that I had lived another life, Homer Macauley's life, must have been the seed that would grow into awareness of what words could do.
The best guide to writing you know?
Easy. But what I've entered here, I've pasted from a quote I often display on my desktop. I read it whenever the spirit lags, and it never fails to get me back on track.
From “Seymour: An Introduction,” by J. D. Salinger.
Buddy Glass, a university lit teacher, is reading a letter his now deceased brother, Seymour, had written to him years earlier. Part of it reads:
“If only you’d remember before you ever sit down to write that you were a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it, Buddy! Trust your heart. You’re a deserving craftsman. It would never betray you. Love, S"
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Complete control over what I said, how I said it, the illustrations I wanted (mine).
Published 2014-09-16.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Tattoos, Barracuda Teeth, & a Lady Who Talked to Worms
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 38,330. Language: American English. Published: November 26, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Boys & Men, Fiction » Literature » Coming of age
If you’re lucky, if you were paying attention, the discoveries of childhood stay with you forever. Especially, when you did it best—watching, listening, taking risks, out on your own, with no one to hold your hand. Ten-year-old Dan spends three days all but alone, a greenhorn from the moment he leaves a dark path for the blinding sunlit waters of a lake. His story is a child’s story for us all.