Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
Tiki Man, fiction, Friday, October 15, 2021, Regal House Publishing
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
Pere and Tammy are an accidental family wandering in the land of temporary tags and disability checks on a grubby crust of Florida, and it takes place over a single day. It’s also about fried baloney, homeopathic mythology, and why we make art.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
Southern Lit, but not southern gothic. How about upmarket Appalachian?
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
The daughter of my professor, mentor, and friend when I was an undergrad read it and wrote, “Without hesitation, I can say Dallas [Wiebe] would be very proud of you.”
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between? [Is your book like Moby Dick or maybe it’s more like Frankenstein meets Peter Pan?]
I am famously terrible at this. Maybe the movie The Florida Project with a shot of Portis’ True Grit? True Grit without the horses and gunplay, but with that sense of mutual surrogacy, that who exactly is taking care of who at any given moment is very fluid.
- Why this book? Why now?
All of my characters are on the edge of things, struggling to get by with the hand they’ve been dealt, and they are folks you might cross the street to avoid and pass easy judgment on. Money buys more tools to solve problems, and my characters are doing the best they can with very limited toolboxes. And I don’t think it’s ever a bad time to be reminded that empathy is what makes us human.
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
I should say, “Raising my two sons, stay-at-home dad, blah, blah, blah.” But if by “best” you mean “fun,” that would be the summer I put together and launched the banners that planes tow around the ballpark (“JACK SAYS IN KY WE DRINK PABST”). Good money, high adrenaline, and as a bulletproof young man, pegging the speedometer of a ragged-out LTD station wagon down an airport runway is about as much fun as you can have with your pants on.
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
Oh, I don’t want to tell anybody what their take away should be. One of my short stories won a contest, and the judge wrote, “Last, and most important, I fell in love with Jeri’s voice. She is tough, wise, and kind, her heartaches and triumphs so honestly rendered that for the length of this piece I believed she was real, out there somewhere, whispering her story to me.” So, yeah, that’s all I want, for Tammy and Pere, Doris and Missy, Clyde and Vera, Barry and Del Ron, Duane and Pearl, Standing Bear and Oxana, and even Officer Orange and Tampon John to be alive out in the world for the reader, that they catch themselves wondering what they are up to now.
- What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
This is a great question! As my long-suffering wife will tell you, I will listen to one song over and over and over again when I’m writing. Sometimes it has to do with what I’m writing and sometimes not (What does Frank Ocean’s “Nikes” have to do with a campground gone-to-seed? Not a damn thing, except that it’s the closest recreation of being high that music can achieve). It’s also a great trick to get you back to the same mental space when you have to take a break from a piece. There were a bunch of different songs for Tiki Man. As a matter of fact, I just took a trip down memory lane – it’s easy to find them because I just scroll through my iTunes and find the songs with 300+ plays. Food? Perfectly toasted marshmallow.
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
Right now I’m revisiting some of Samuel R. Delany’s science fiction. I just finished Nova, am waiting on a used copy of Triton, and Dhalgren (all 900 pages of it) is on deck. I’m just now realizing how much his work influenced everything that came after it, from William Gibson to George Lucas.
Learn more about Thomas on his website.