Meet the fabulous Thomm Quackenbush


Hi Thomm! Can you tell us a little about your latest book?
My last published book was Artificial Gods, the third (or 1.5th) book in the Night's Dream series, taking place between the events of We Shadows and Danse Macabre, though to largely unrelated characters. The first night Jasmine is home for summer break, she sees a UFO. Though she is perfectly willing to forget it happened, she soon finds herself pulled between the presumptive occupants of the ships, those who believe in them almost to the point of religion, and her own faltering doubts. It plays heavily on UFO mythology and the historical connections between a man who called himself the Great Beast, the inventor of rocket fuel, and the appearance of modern UFOs.

What inspired you to write it?
When I was six or seven, I saw one of the appearances of the Great Hudson Valley UFO, a massive triangle that plagued upstate New York in the 1980s. From the moment I could read, I devoured that section of my elementary school library, so this sighting came as a sort of vindication. Now things would have to happen.
Of course they didn't. When I asked my parents about the sighting while writing Artificial Gods, they made clear to me that they had no memory of this sighting. I recall sufficient details (they told me to roll up my window, which I assumed was because they were scared of the ship but it might have actually been that it was too cold to allow a child to stick his head out of the window), but it is entirely possible I was the only member of my family to observe this. I know I would be skeptical about a grade schooler saying he had seen an inexplicable ship in the sky, no matter how frequently local papers reported it.
When I was in my early twenties, my friends discovered that we lived within an hour's drive of Pine Bush, NY, the "Roswell of the Northeast." Guided by Dr. Ellen Crystall's book Silent Invasion, we made a couple of passes through this town supposedly beset by UFOs and alien beings. We saw nothing of note, but we weren't really expecting to.
When I started writing this book in earnest, I knew that I had to do more in depth research. I went to several meetings of the United Friends Observer Society, an abductee and experiencer support group that meets monthly just outside of Pine Bush. I also attended sky watches, where several people claimed to have seen ships in the distance. I saw airplanes, but they assured me that the UFOs now cloak themselves as planes.

How did you come up with the idea for the cover?
I actually didn't at all. With my last two books, Double Dragon Publishing had asked for suggestions. With Danse Macabre, I went so far as to photograph my now wife posed like the main character. With Artificial Gods, I simply came home from yoga one night and had an email saying the book had been released.

What is it about this genre that appeals to you so much?

I like the chance to make my metaphors literal. In We Shadows, a woman who wants to disappear from the world actually does. In Danse Macabre, I portray an emotionally abusive relationship as involving vampirism hollowing out a flawed man. In Artificial Gods, two sisters have to combat alienation involving actual aliens. My next book, Flies to Wanton Boys, involves a plague threatening to obliterate the supernatural aspect of the world as a way to demonstrate the power of skepticism.

What made you want to become an author?

I think I was born an author. After that, it was a matter of becoming skilled enough to convince other people. Reality was never enough for me, so I would tell strangers that I was half-alien on my father’s side or that my stuffed animals would occasionally speak. My parents and teachers encouraged my writing, often at the expense of other subjects – I still furrow my brow when faced with math more daunting than algebra, despite having tutored it. When I was far too young, my mother enrolled me in a poetry group for adults that met in the local library, though I was never much of a poet. A lot of my identity as a writer likely came from adults insisting I was one already and my finding this easier than being anything else (I was a mediocre artist and a competent at best actor).
I began my Night’s Dream series while still an undergrad. I knew roughly the world I wanted to create – belief shapes everything, but most every human has unconsciously agreed to disbelieve and ignore; the gods of antiquity have fled for reasons of self-preservation; all the strange things you think might be under your bed as a child actually work as school bus drivers and baristas, you just don’t notice – but I did not have the skill to write it. I tried no matter – I was never one to give up when it came to a story.

Name one of your all-time favourite books?
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I love his dry humor, primarily, but I think this book gave me more curiosity about the natural sciences than the whole of my schooling could ever manage. It has influenced my books as much as anything else has.
Good Omens is a collaboration between two of my favorite authors, the like of which we will not see again. It is the book I most wish I had written, one that represented to a younger version of me how I wanted to shape my fictional world.

Where is your favourite place to write?
At the moment, I am writing this on a chair just outside of my apartment because the mornings have been cool and calm. When the weather is less convivial, I write in a corner of my bedroom on a rickety, fold-up desk. I used to write in a closet, so this is progress.

What is your favourite movie that was based on a book?
I feel that the David Fincher Fight Club movie is genuinely better than Chuck Palahniuk book. The ending, certainly, works more for me. I would almost consider admitting this a sort of blasphemy, but I have been told Palahniuk thinks the same.

Name two of your favourite authors.
Neil Gaiman is an absolutely inspiration. He recently took a teaching position in my town. We've dined in the same restaurant, but we've yet to talk more than a few lines on Tumblr.
I find myself returning time and again to Vladimir Nabokov. Lolita was the first book I read where I had to do mental gymnastics to reconcile almost liking a character who was doing awful things. I read it about once a year and always get a little more from it. Lolita helped show me how to create a sympathetic “villain” and underscored to me that they really are the heroes of their own stories. I am more than aware that the book, written from almost anyone else’s perspective, would make Humbert into a conscienceless ghoul, yet the reader can easily be seduced by his charm.

If you could have a dinner party with any authors from any time in history, who would you choose and why?
Any historical dinner party would be lacking if Oscar Wilde were not around to sprinkle bon mots and insult the guests in the most charming fashion possible. I would love to dine with Terry Pratchett before the darkness of Alzheimer’s takes him further, but I doubt I will get the chance.

Tell us a random fact about yourself.
I once accidentally groped a ghost.
I was sixteen and volunteering at Kevin McCurdy's Haunted Mansion. My job that night was backstage, moving sets around so it would seem like the elevator we put guests in did something other than shake. I waited outside the first room—one with a prerecorded speech and timed effects—to finish so I could prepare my scene. A small girl stood in a dim corner. This in itself was not strange. The Mansion had a constantly shifting cast based on who volunteered that night, though the management tried to funnel the better and more reliable actors to steadier parts (which might be why my role that night was unseen set mover). What confused me was that she wore a knee-length white dress, almost luminescent, completely forbidden outside a part owing to its visibility. I told her to go hide somewhere, that the first room was nearly finished with their automated skit. She cocked her head as though she misunderstood me over the constant spooky music or, perhaps, as if I were stupid. We had seconds before the guests would intrude upon us, so I did the only thing that made sense. I tried to grab her shoulder to pull her with me to a crack or crevice that would conceal us.
My hand went through her. She straightened up and faded into the dark. By this point, the customers were about to see me, so I ran back to my scene. I had no time to be frightened, though I felt nothing but calm and a bit perplexed. I ran into some friends working the room after mine and told them that I had seen “the ghost.”
I worked there for several Octobers after, but I never again saw a specter not made by the in-house special effects team and none of those came close to the girl in the dress who I groped. There were myths and rumors about actual ghosts, as that would be unavoidable in that setting, and one did match up to my permeable girl, but I don’t think that’s evidence enough. I’ve mostly convinced myself that it was an optical illusion brought on by the environment and darkness, but it makes for too good an anecdote to abandon wholly.

Who would play you in the movie about your life?
Image courtesy of Eva Rinaldi
I would love some underappreciated character actor who puts in an Oscar-worthy performance—ideally some niche heartthrob to stroke my ego—but I suspect they would just pick Michael Cera and call it a day.

Tell us an interesting fact about where you live.

It is the setting for three of my books (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Flies to Wanton Boys). This was purely coincidental. When I wrote the former two books, I lived on the other side of the county, about an hour away from Red Hook, New York.
Living in the setting of one’s fantasy novels does present a new perspective, as I often discover very strange corners of the town that I know I have to work into my novels, I simply haven’t found when. The two most startling have been an aerodrome that serves as the launching point for antique airshows and a cadre of researchers who believe Red Hook is home to a family of sasquatches. I have spent a bit of time with the Bigfoot researchers and spoke at a filmed panel with them. They are genuinely kind and caring people. If there were a sasquatch out there, I would hope it would talk to them instead of one of the many hunters angling for deer.

What are your (writing) plans for the future?
Write and promote myself relentlessly. I feel as though I am just getting to the point where my reputation alone earns me invitations to events and signings. In the next month, I am scheduled to speak to students at my old high school and I will be doing two writing classes at a local library to inspire teenagers for National Novel Writing Month.

Tell us one thing that's on your bucket list.
I would like to see one of my stories or books turned into a movie. It doesn’t have to be of Spielberg proportions. I would be perfectly content with a well-done Youtube video. I’ve been told that my work tends to be fairly cinematic (I may go a bit heavy on showing rather than telling and I was raised dissecting Buffy the Vampire Slayer), so it is just a matter of someone with the right talent taking notice. SyFy Channel contracted the rights to We Shadows years ago, but they never did anything with them. I think they simple wanted to have those rights in their stable. Fortunately, I get those rights back next year.

Favourite myth / fairytale?

There is a Taoist story about a philosopher who is mucking about in a stream when palace guards confront him, offering him a job in the palace. The philosopher asks, “Is it true that the king has a turtle shell, covered in jewels and kept in a silk-lined box?” The guards confirm this is true. “Do you think the turtle would rather be dead in the palace or alive in the mud?” They concede that the turtle would rather be in the mud. “Then so too would I,” said the philosopher and then returned to his muck.

Who did you want to be when you were a kid?
I tended to be content with who I was, though I assumed for a while that I would end up an actor. After a few turns directing plays, it turned out that I was too megalomaniacal to simple shove people around in someone else’s world. I needed to create and control my own universe to be sated.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes three novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods). His fourth book in the Night's Dream series, Flies to Wanton Boys, is due shortly. He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. He finds that friends do not enjoy the extremes he goes to in order to research books, as these involve mortuaries and UFO support groups. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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