What inspired you to write your first book?
It started as a joke. I have done community theater for about 45 years and I’ve always been a bit of a cut up. One day, I was joking with a friend and this character came out of me. She was a smoking, aging hippie woman who said, “My daughter would never dress out for gym class. That’s because one nipple pointed up and one nipple pointed down, and all the children called her tiddlywinks. –Of course that golf ball sized hairy mole on her ass never helped matters much either.”
It got a laugh. So, liking a laugh, I decided to sit at the keyboard and see what she would say. The rest was a total shock. Over the next couple of years, she wrote her entire autobiography as my first novel. She had a lot more to say than just a joke, and actually, that joke never came out in the novel. It was a catalyst that started the writing, and apparently that is all it needed to do. It was a spark that lit the flame of my novel writing. From that point on, I simply wrote what she told me to say in her own words.
How did you come up with the title?
The pet name that the protagonist’s father gave her as a child was Pumpkin Patch. So, since she was confessing all kinds of things, the title became “Confessions from the Pumpkin Patch.”
Is this your first book? How many books have you written (published or unpublished)?
This is actually not my first book, but it is my first novel. I had written a self-help adult coloring book back in the mid 1990’s when I lived in Nashville, Tennessee. It appears now, I was ahead of my time since adult coloring books have become so popular. At the time, I had great endorsements, had a literary agent and a film producer who was helping me with a film clip to promote myself for speaking engagements. However, personal tragedy struck, and the result was I ended up moving back to the Ozarks to take care of my Grandmother. So, the book deals kind of fell apart. We had editors of major publishing companies who were interested in the book, but the “bean counters” in the days before publish on demand existed, were hesitant to publish it. In retrospect, it is probably just as well, as I would not have been able to care for my grandmother and have the time to promote the book or do speaking tours anyway.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
This is the first novel in my “Soul Encounters” series. It became a series when one of the cameo characters who interacted with the protagonist of this first novel began nagging me that he wanted to tell his story. As I started his story, I had yet another character who began nagging me to tell his story, and so on. It is called “Soul Encounters” because there is a life changing event that occurs in the interaction between the cameo character and the protagonist, that triggers changes for both of them. These are stories about life’s misfits (in a way). One might not recognize them as misfits because they appear, on the surface perhaps, to be quite together, but they are not. They struggle with inner demons, and struggle to overcome life’s challenges, conflicting beliefs and conflicting relationships. They struggle with dysfunctional family, addictions, mental illness, PTSD, abuse, rejection by society, prejudice etc. Then they realize in the end, that there is another way of looking at life, another way of looking at their conflicts and perhaps another way of looking at themselves. Each one is a story of overcoming in a different form, a story of surviving to be a stronger, to become a more emotionally healthy human being.
How much of the book is realistic?
Well, none of the books are fantasies. There are no fairies, dwarfs or witch queens, no flying unicorns or dragons. Each one is based on a point in history. In the first book, Lovella (Pumpkin Patch) struggles with the issues of the 1960’s, hippies, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, her own racial prejudice (that she never thought she had), and the struggles in her relationship with her mother who she grew to despise from a young age. The second novel in the series, “In My Father’s House” covers the 1940’s through the early 1970’s and has to do with struggles around religion, faith, sexuality, abuse, suicide, addiction and mental illness.
Are your characters based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I have a friend who swears the protagonist of “Confessions from the Pumpkin Patch” is our friend Marcy, who has passed away. She was an older woman of the 1960’s who we met in college, and who took us under her wing. She was a child of the 60’s, though not quite a hippie and she struggled as well in her relationship with her mother. However, it was not my intent to base this character on her, and the character is very different from her in many ways. If I were to say anything about these characters, I would say they are (in a way) all part of me. If I were to have Dissociative Identity Disorder and have multiple personalities, perhaps the protagonists of my novels might be personalities that would have manifested inside of me. It feels as though they are a part of me. They talk to me. They tell me who they are. They tell me their stories, and they tell me how to write their stories.
Of the characters you have created or envisioned, which is your favorite & why?
Oh Wow! Don’t make me choose. That is kind of like asking a father which of his children is his favorite. You love them all for different reasons. I’m so excited about, and for all of them. I love that they have wonderful stories to tell, and that their stories have lessons of spirituality, and mental health contained within them. I love watching the stories unfold in my mind, and I love watching how they get told in the written word. It is almost as though I am not writing the story, but I am listening to them tell it.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No, I don’t think so. My latest book is actually only one or two chapters from being finished. It is the second book in the Soul Encounters series. When I get those chapters finished, then my editor and I get to work pouring over and over the manuscript to make sure the grammar, spelling and punctuation are correct, the time lines are correct, that I got the history around the story correct, and that it flows well from beginning to end. At this point, there are tweaks that can still be made, but probably very few. If the first novel is any indication, it will all fall in place right where and how it is supposed to.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I am so grateful for all the folks who have taken the time to buy and read this first book. I hope you will enjoy all the books in the series just as much. I am grateful that so many people have liked the first book, and I’m thankful for all the positive feedback I’ve gotten about it both from readers and professional reviewers.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
It is just as entertaining for me to write the stories as it is for the readers to read them. I love to write! I never thought I would ever be able to write a novel until Pumpkin Patch showed me how. Before this, I realize I had been over thinking it, trying too hard, getting so focused on the planning that I failed to see the process. Now, I look forward to writing. I look forward to telling the stories just as I look forward to watching a good movie or having dinner with friends. Writing is entertainment to me. Creativity is a joy.
What age did you start writing stories/poems?
I wrote my first play when I was in the 8th grade. It was called, “Who Ate the Tree?” I have no idea what happened to it, and recall little about it except it was a story about being environmentally responsible. That would have been about 1965 or 1966 (Don’t make me do the math!). I wrote poetry all through high school and when I was in college, I was the editor for the campus literary magazine showcasing student writing talent.
What is your favorite part/chapter of your book/project?
My favorite part of the first novel is the last few pages and the last line of the book. It made me cry when I wrote it, and I’ve cried practically every time I’ve read it since then. This is a mother/daughter story, but it is also a story about coming to recognize love behind the veil of conflict.
What is your favorite theme/genre to write?
I guess general and historical fiction which is the genre of the Soul Encounters series. I love science fiction, and I actually have several ideas for science fiction novels, but those have not decided to come to fruition. I have an idea for a murder mystery novel that I have carried around in my head since the 1990’s, but that has also not come to fruition. My first book, Confessions from the Pumpkin Patch won the 2016 New Apple Awards Medal for general fiction as a coming of age story. They are all coming of age stories, in a way, but absolutely not for young adults. These are very adult books, and there are segments that are quite graphic, both sexually, and by the third novel, violently. One might consider these novels historical fiction. However, I have had a hard time labeling a genre for them.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
Actually, I don’t think there is a subject I would never write about except that I will never write about a nihilistic or hopeless view of life. I will not write a story in which the premise is – why bother, it’s all worthless bull anyway. I don’t believe that about life. I went through hell in my own life. [Read “Hate (My Story)” on my blog page karlyletomms.com.] I have overcome the concept of a doomed world with doomed relationships. I think if I can overcome it, others can too. In fact, that is exactly the point of my writing. When you have been through trauma and oppression, you have basically two options. You can succumb to it or you can overcome it. I chose to overcome it.
What book are you reading now?
I’m not reading now. Since I had my first novel published, I have had my nose so much to the grindstone that I have not really had time to read. I will watch movies because I can sit down for about 2 hours and get the story, but a book takes more time and effort. There are things I enjoy about both, and maybe if I can get a vacation soon, I can do one of my favorite things to do on vacation, relax with a good book. I did recently order Hold Back the Sun by Warren Bell, and I’m looking forward to an opportunity to read it. I am interested in reading it because it is a novel about the Pacific War of World War II. Since my father was a Japanese prisoner of war in World War II, I have an interest in Japan and that whole era.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
As mentioned above, I have interest in books by Warren Bell. I have also marked a few “want to read” on my Goodreads page that look interesting to me.
Do you see writing as a career?
Oh Yes! Please Lord! Yes! Yes! – This is how I want to spend my retirement. I am sixty-one years old, and over the next few years will be retiring from my day job (unless my writing sells enough to get me out sooner), and I want to spend the rest of my life writing, writing and writing.
Do you nibble as you write? If so what’s your favorite snack food?
I do not nibble as I write. In fact, I find that food gets in the way of typing fingers. It also can make the keys sticky—yuck! I hate when my keyboard doesn’t’ feel right. However, my favorite snack food is popcorn, and if you ever find me passed out, administer dark chocolate liberally.
Do you have any odd habits or childhood stories?
I have multiple childhood stories and many of these can be found on the blog page of my website (karlyletomms.com). In the early 1990’s I wrote for a regional magazine called “Recovery Times” and was published with a monthly feature article alongside people like Rokelle Lerner, Father Leo Booth, Alan Cohen and Thom Rutledge. I would tell a childhood story in my articles and then wrap it around a metaphor or moral for addictions recovery at the end. I still have about twelve of those articles and I’ve considered publishing them as a compilation. Odd habits? I don’t know. Your definition of odd and mine could be entirely different. However, I prefer to be barefoot and will go barefoot any time the room or the weather is warm enough to allow it. In fact, I moved south so I could go barefoot more often. If I can move near the equator one day, I may never wear shoes again. When I was a child, I went barefoot all over the farm, and have scars on my feet to prove it. No jokes about Arkansas stereotypes please.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I would love to be a well-established writer, and have multiple works in publication. I would love to try my hand collaborating on screenplays, and I would love to have my stories turned into well-funded and well produced movies.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Finding the time for it! I will have a lot more time for it when I retire, and maybe when I can sell enough books to hire someone to do the promotion and a lot of other things I am doing on my own now. I seem to be at that squeeze point of success where you are selling so much you can’t keep up with it, but you are not selling enough to hire the help you need.
What reward do you give yourself for making a deadline?
Deadline? What deadline? There are deadlines? Nobody told me about this! I have moved back my own deadline for finishing my current novel twice. However, this one is getting written in about three years when it took six years to write the first one. I think my reward will be getting it finished and seeing it in publication.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
Well, of course. I don’t think you are a normal writer if you like everything you write. There are several things in the hard drive that I’ve never finished for multiple reasons. There are poems I have simply ripped up after handwriting them. I may re-visit some of those things some day and try again, and maybe I won’t.
What book do you wish you had written?
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley – brilliant book! It is the only book I have ever read that I couldn’t wait to get back to as soon as possible. I read every evening after work until I finished it, and couldn’t wait to get back to it the next evening.
What is your best marketing tip?
I haven’t figured that out yet. I am just running around trying everything that happens to pop into my head (if I can achieve it) and praying it works. What I have done most is Twitter. I post my own quotes and sayings on photos (most that I take myself) and I have a service that repeatedly re-tweets them on a schedule. It seems to be gradually picking up speed. I also post to Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn and others. I have a daily mini blog on Instagram with a commentary about one of my photo quotes.
What genre is your next project? What is it about?
For now, I am staying with my current genre of general and recent historical fiction. The novel I am about to finish is about a man with a fetish, and a sexual addiction who hates himself for it because it conflicts with his fundamentalist religious beliefs.
Can you tell us about your upcoming book?
Well, I had the idea to have people read the current novel and try to guess which cameo character would be the protagonist of the next novel. However, I can tell you it is about a man who is struggling with conflicts between his sexual addiction and his religious upbringing.
How do we find your books, blog and bio?
There are links through my website karlyletomms.com and my work can be purchased on Amazon. Also if you Google my name, Karlyle Tomms, there are multiple links available to a variety of things including the books.