With about sixty novels and a lifetime of writing under his belt, independent author Tom Lichtenberg still offers his stories free to anyone who wants to read them.
Though he has a full family life, works in computer engineering and has several hobbies that require time, he manages to put forth quite a volume of work.
I have read several of Tom’s books, but recently downloaded Entropic Quest: An Epic Fantasy from Smashwords and was pretty impressed. The story is funny, adventurous and progressive, reminding me of some of the crazy scenes from Rudy Rucker’s Ware Tetrology.
CH: What should your readers know about you?
Tom: First off, I write for fun. It’s not my job and I never want it to be. I give away my stories for free mainly because the stories themselves want to be read. For years they were whispering into the back of my mind, ‘hey, you wrote us, now what?’ I put up with that for a long time, and then suddenly technology made it possible to just put them out there like I always wanted to do. I think of my stories as my children, not as my employees. I created them and want to do right by them, but I don’t expect them to go out there and bring in any bacon. Besides, I can’t eat bacon anymore. It doesn’t agree with me.
CH: How old are you?
Tom: I became 55 years old somehow.
CH: Where did you grow up?
Tom: I was raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, but hated it there and got the heck out at the age of sixteen and took myself to South America, where I went to college for a while and discovered the kind of literature that set my brain on fire.
CH: Many of us know from reading your work that you spent many years in customer service, as a cashier and working in a bookstore; are you still doing that kind of work, are you writing full time?
Tom: After my first bout with college, I went back to working in bookstores (which I had done throughout high school) because at that time bookstores were the only place for an obsessive self-teacher like me to get their hands on every kind of new and different information – since then, the internet has come into being. My mother was a librarian, and her father was a New York publisher, so the world of books ran strong in my family. I worked in bookstores in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco for nearly twenty years altogether, doing every sort of thing from shipping and receiving to stocking and cashiering to buying and store-managing. Eventually, that career ran its course and I went back to college in my mid-thirties to earn an engineering degree. I had been teaching myself computer programming, and since then that is what I do for a living. I’m fortunate to be living in the Silicon Valley area during this period of techno-booms and have worked for big tech companies like Apple and Sun Microsystems as well as smaller ones like Danger and Roku. I miss working out in the open with the public, but I do enjoy the challenges my work presents.
CH: I read through Entropic Quest quickly. It’s funny, lively, adventurous, but it feels at the end as if you left it hanging. Is that true? I mean, did you deliberately leave it in such a way as to prepare the way for a sequel?
Tom: Short answer: yes
Longer answer: My then nine-year old son and I came up with the idea for a series that would be anti-fantasy stories. Typically, every fantasy story you read ends up with the hero saving the day, good triumphing over evil and so on, and there’s often a "team" that works together to get the job done. It’s just so predictable! We thought, what if we tried to do the opposite? We’d have a team. but they would NOT work well together, and their quest, instead of being a task certain, would be something vague and even unknown. Then, instead of things coming together and working out, it would all fall apart – hence the ‘Entropic’ part of the title, for ‘entropy’. It would be a series of "Epic Failures" – "epic fail" being a term that kids use nowadays for when stuff gets messed up. It would be hard to judge ‘good’ and ‘bad’, because in our case the ‘good’ thing is someone dying, someone who wanted to die and was previously unable to. Is that ‘good’?
CH: When is the sequel coming out?
Tom: That’s still up in the air. We have a working title – ‘Prisoners of Perfection’ – and even a pretty nice cover we designed in GIMP. The problem is the plot. My son wants it to be where the prisoners get out of their prison somehow and take revenge on the people who locked them up. I’m not up for a bloodbath. I’d like to take a completely different angle on the thing and we haven’t come to an agreement yet. When I write a sequel, I want a new vision – like I did with Freak City following on to Snapdragon Alley, or Missy Tonight following on to Orange Car with Stripes. I don’t like to rehash the same information or even revisit the same characters as the same people. I like them to have grown and changed, or vice versa, visit their younger selves (as I did with Marcus and Ben in Secret Sidewalk after first writing them as adults in Squatter with a Lexus, and also with Dennis Hobbs in Raisinheart after Zombie Nights). I’m currently thinking of using Soma and Squee as the protagonists in Prisoners of Perfection – the eight-year old Watchers who might accidentally ‘tumble out’ of the forest, but what kind of world they find on the outside is yet to be determined. It may take place a century or more later on than Entropic Quest. We still don’t know for sure. My son and I will have to do it together, or it won’t get done. Half the ideas in ‘Entropic Quest’ are his, as are half of the characters. He likes Bumbarta the best. I kind of like Ember.
CH: What is your favorite genre to write in?
Tom: I tend to mix genres in my writing. I stray, never a purist. You won’t find me writing romance novels or thrillers, though, or "erotica". I’m just too squeamish. I think there’s only one sex scene in all of my books, and it’s not very interesting.
CH: to read?
Tom: I love mainly Latin American literature and certain "classic" writers such as Guy de Maupassant and Joseph Conrad. These days I’m also reading a lot of self-published writers from sites such as Smashwords.
CH: What influenced you to write?
Tom: I was always a daydreamer and I think that my stories are an extension of that. They allow me to daydream for days and weeks on end. When I’m in the midst of a story, all my free time is spent imagining it. Not that I have a lot of free time! I have a demanding job and a full family life and other hobbies that all require time.
CH: Who influenced you the most?
Tom: I’ve received several literary jolts in my life. Books that woke me up and really moved me. Probably the single biggest influence on me was a literature teacher I had in college in Colombia. She had such a passion for writing and infected me with some of it.
CH: Who is your favorite writer? Favorite book?
Tom: My favorite book is Mad Toy by Roberto Arlt. It consists of four stories in the life of a young Argentinian in 1920’s Buenos Aires, and is, to my mind, absolutely perfect. It’s the only book I’ve ever read where as soon as I finished it, I read it again. As for my favorite writer, well, there are so many!
CH: How many books have you written?
Tom: I’ve probably written around sixty novels and short-novels (or long-stories, whatever they are) and self-published about half of them.
CH: Have you written non-fiction?
Tom: Not much.
CH: What advice would you give to beginning writers?
Tom: I always liked what Henry Miller is alleged to have said – just write two millions words and throw them away. Then you’ll be ready to start.
I felt that was true in my case, because writing, like anything else, requires practice. You don’t just sit down and play the piano well. You have to practice for a long time, a certain number of hours when you’re really concentrating. Writing, drawing, painting, and any kind of work, really, is no different. With writing, you have to learn the sound of the voice in your head, accept it, get comfortable with it and become confident in it.
CH: Advice about writing craft? and about the life?
Tom: Don’t know much about it. Stories are like brainstorms that occur in my mind from time to time, seemingly of their own accord. I don’t follow any discipline and I’m happier when I’m not writing. When a story-storm arises, I try and catch it like a surfer tries to catch a wave. If I do get a hold of it, I ride the thing in as best I can. Sometimes I lose interest. Sometimes it just gets away from me. I don’t take any of it very seriously. I’m happy that the stories get written and then if they get read, and sometimes people take the time to write a review or post a rating online somewhere. I’m equally grateful if they give it one star or two or three or four or five. My books may be free in terms of money, but there is still a time-price that people pay when they read them, and I appreciate it.