Tom McAllister’s stories, 1991 and 2003, appeared in Issue 16 of Sundog Lit. Tom is the author of the novels How to Be Safe and The Young Widower’s Handbook, as well as the memoir Bury Me in My Jersey. He is the nonfiction editor at Barrelhouse and co-host of the Book Fight! podcast. He lives in New Jersey and teaches at Temple University.
Tell us a little about your writing process (from the first word to the last edit).
I tend to move in fits and starts through first drafts. As I’m figuring out what I even want to write about and (especially) honing the voice I’m looking for, I have days where I churn out a ton of words (3000-5000 on a good day) and then sometimes weeks where I only generate some scraps of notes. The whole goal of the first draft is just to survive till the end. In revision, it’s all more regimented. The first job is to reread and confirm that this thing is worth working on, by which I mean: is there at least one moment where you can feel the energy soaring to a place you didn’t expect to go. How do you get more of that feeling? The next drafts go like this:
draft 2, print and read it on paper, making copious edits (trying not to get too caught up in line edits, since so many chunks will never see the final draft)
draft 3, read on the screen, making edits as necessary
draft 4, read aloud, looking for the sound of the thing, making sure the language works.
Repeat steps 2-4 at least once.
What is something you’re fascinated with at the moment?
I hate it but I’m currently (and have been for a while) fascinated by online conspiracy brain. Not just QAnon types, but definitely those people too, the way seemingly healthy, stable, intelligent people can get ruined so quickly by following the wrong path on Facebook or Youtube. I spend an upsetting amount of time scrolling back through the feeds of some of these people, who pop up in a celebrity’s mentions with some illegible flowchart about how Bill Gates is doing mind control or whatever. I find it fascinating to just scroll back on their feed until you hit the point before they tumbled over the edge, when their tweets were just stuff about the Red Sox or the weather or how they need a coffee to make it through the day. It’s really sad, obviously. But that’s why I’m interested.
Describe the last thing you read in five words.
Super bleak French WWII noir.
Coffee, tea, or neither?
Both, but my daily routine is more coffee-centric. Tea is more of an occasional thing.
Physical books or e-books?
I generally prefer physical books, even more so now that our work and social lives are conducted almost entirely through screens. I read better when I’m in the mindset that I’m just here with a book in my hand vs. reading a story in one of many tabs, or an ebook that is essentially just inches away from Twitter or wherever.
What are you working on now?
I am in the very, very early stages of working on and thinking about writing a noirish crime novel. I’ve always loved reading them (from the really bleak noir stuff to the more brisk Elmore Leonard style) and have wanted to give it a shot. But I have to emphasize the “early” part of this, in that I have written 1500 total words and a couple pages of notes. I’ve been catching up on a lot of reading I’ve missed while doing other projects. I also have a completed novel that is languishing in publishing world purgatory, but the less said about that the better.
Any recommendations for readers, i.e. books, movies, television, art, anything under the sun?
Get Jeff Chon’s book Hashtag Good Guy with a Gun when it comes out later this year from Sagging Meniscus Press. It’s great.
Anything else that you’d like to plug or let our readers know about?
My novel, How to Be Safe is still available, and I think very relevant to the overlapping disasters we’re living through plus the prologue is adapted from a short story I published in THIS VERY JOURNAL. (Issue 6, On the Way to the Killing Spree the Shooter Stops for Pizza). Also, I host a podcast called Book Fight! and people seem to like that.