Interview with Tom Epperson

Would you like to explain the format of this interview to the readers?
Yes, thank you. Smashwords has this great tool where they suggest questions, and an author is supposed to answer the questions and post them as an interview. But I think authors spend way too much time talking to themselves as it is, so I've asked my editor to conduct the interview, and I'm responding verbally.
Describe your desk
A reading lamp emitting a soft glow over fifty self-help books, three hundred oddly-placed coasters, sticky notes, papers and napkins all being used as bookmarks, an uncounted number of legal pads, some annoying loose pens to keep things interesting, and somewhere under all that, a red cherry surface.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up amid the small canyons and corn fields of Nebraska, and later the sage brush flats and mountains of Wyoming. It was a life of extremes, vacillating from sweltering heat to sub-zero temperatures. Wading in small creeks and floating wide rivers taught me to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Leaning into seventy-mile-per-hour winds, which carry either gritty sand or cutting ice crystals, taught me how to clench my teeth and keep moving forward. This backdrop of rich sensory data cannot help but find its way into your storytelling.
When did you first start writing?
I can't remember a time when I didn't like to write. In fifth grade, I wrote a poem about Christmas in Vietnam. This wonderful teacher I had published it in the newspaper and had me read it on the radio. This amazing guy took the time to instill in me a vision of my future self as a professional writer. From that time on, I always knew in my heart that I would be a writer of books. It was one of those moments when a small act of kindness from a caring adult radically changed the trajectory of a young person's life.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
My whole life I've read these stories of great books that were turned down by hundreds of publishers. Today the technology exists that allows an author to place a top-quality book directly into the hands of the reader, and bypass all of that nonsense. I chose to spend my energy producing a top-notch book, including interior artwork, cover design, and meticulous editing, rather than banging on doors with my hat in my hand. I just think the indie route is a better model.
What do your fans mean to you?
I'm not a big fan of the word, 'fan.' I think of my readers as friends, as co-travelers in life's journey. Every testimonial I receive has a profound impact on me. There are times when I find myself a little overwhelmed by the good fortune that has befallen me. When I get to know people at live events, in coaching sessions, or through electronic communication, I am always changed and challenged to become a better version of myself. There are so many good people in the world, and it's been a privilege to have had the opportunity to meet so many of them.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
That's an interesting question, because I can remember very clearly a time when I found it extremely difficult to get out of bed. I hated my job, I felt like all my dreams were broken, I was bored stiff in the present, and when I looked forward to the future, I saw no hope for any significant improvement. Looking back, I think I was suffering from a lack of meaning in my life. Now my life is exactly the polar opposite of that. Everything I do now seems to be imbued with a deep sense of meaning, and the thought of my own happiness almost never crosses my mind. I'm finding so much fulfillment in encouraging and helping other people to live their dreams, that my dreams are sort of coming to pass by accident.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I love to read. I love to listen to music. I love quiet time and meditation. I also enjoy the challenge of intense physical exercise. I've always enjoyed martial arts as a way to stay in shape. I enjoy doing just about anything outdoors, but I've never been a person who ditches the family to go spend time with the guys. My favorite thing in the whole world is to spend time with my wife, with our adult children, or our grandkids. To me, the richness in life lies in relationships.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Wow, yes... unfortunately, I do. Next question.
What is your writing process?
It usually starts with a vague image of an idea that intrigues me. I always jot those down and I usually let them simmer for a while to see which ones float to the top. Once I decide I'm going to write a particular project, I start creating a detailed mind-map of all the different pieces that will go into it. A plot summary, major characters, a timeline, story elements, significant events, and I continue to build deeper and deeper layers into each of those, until one day, I know it's time to just sit down and write it. I write the first draft in one major push. After two and a half years of planning and research, I created the first draft of "Flying in the Face of Gravity" in five days of nonstop writing. I holed up in my studio, and my wife and son brought me food and beverages to keep me alive until I got it finished. After that first draft, I start asking people to read it and give me feedback, and this starts a very long process of revision, refinement, and clarification. With "Flying in the Face of Gravity," that phase took another six months of going without sleep for the whole family. A major project never really feels finished to me; at some point you just have to open the cage and let it go.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy of writing, for me, is that special moment when you step through the looking glass into the story, and become part of it to such a degree that everything else falls away. I can get lost for hours telling and re-telling a story element. I'm always seeking that combination of words that will not just describe an experience to the reader, but actually allow them to feel it, to know it from the inside.
What are you working on next?
Oh, man, I have so many projects in the works! [laughing]
I'm just finishing up a little prequel to "Flying in the Face of Gravity," and we are also working on a children's version of that book, "Flying in the Face of Gravity for Kids." My wife and I have been working for a while on a book on parenting, which we are excited about, but before that, the two of us have a big adventure ahead of us. In June, 2014, we have an amazing opportunity to serve as crew members on the Dave Rides team (daverides.com) as Dave Elsberry makes his third run in the Race Across America (RAAM). This is a 3,000 mile bicycle race, and he has invited us to follow along in the crew van so that we can experience it together, and I can tell the story of this epic event. Coincidentally, at about the 1500 mile mark, Connie and I will be celebrating our 35th anniversary, so it should be a memorable trip. Since my core focus is helping people achieve their highest potential, and especially during their midlife experience, this project is a perfect fit for me. I'm really psyched about it.
Published 2014-05-21.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.