Thursday, July 10, 2014

Interview with Thomas Sweterlitsch, author of Tomorrow and Tomorrow - July 10, 2014

Please welcome Thomas Sweterlitsch to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Tomorrow and Tomorrow is published today by Putnam Adult. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Thomas a Happy Publication Day!

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Thomas:  Thanks for having me! I started writing when I was seven—scrawling out Red Dawn-inspired stories about G.I. Joe (I have a clear memory of trying to figure out how to spell the sound of a rocket propelled grenade…). I also have a notebook from when I was nine filled with a story called “The Red Ribbons of Death, part 6”—so, I assume I wrote parts 1 through 5 at a fairly young age, too. As for why I write? I don’t have a good answer for that—it’s just something I’d do, whether publishing or not. I like language—the sounds of words and all the slippery meanings.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Thomas:  A little of both—though mostly a “plotter.” I tend to think of plot as a house: I want to know the architecture before moving in, but I want to decorate as I move from room to room.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Thomas:  Luckily, with writing, some of the most challenging parts are also the most fun. I dread those early phases of starting a new book, as you write and rewrite and rewrite the beginning pages, infuriatingly stuck before you find your way inside the story—but that’s also the part where you’re meeting the characters that you’ll live with for the rest of your life. Similarly, I love the late revision stages, when the plot is set and I’m just working in the sandbox of language—but at the same time, that phase can go on forever if you let it, and you can’t let it. You have to stop sometime.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Thomas:  I love reading, and I love being influenced by literature. So, to name just a few:

Classic: Dickinson, Dante, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Poe.
SF/F: Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, J.G. Ballard. I’m heavily influenced by New Wave SF. Joanna Russ, John Brunner. Theodore Sturgeon.
Other: Robbe-Grillet, Stewart O’Nan, Houellebecq, Murakami, Flannery O’Connor.

TQ:  Describe Tomorrow and Tomorrow in 140 characters or less.

Thomas:  A bleak, near-future noir in which a grieving man tracks a woman who’s disappearing from a digital Archive.

TQ:  Tell us something about Tomorrow and Tomorrow that is not in the book description.

The book has been described as Cyberpunk, as tech-noir, as a thriller—but when I think of the book, I think of it as the story of each character’s search for personal grace, whether through a kind of Christian salvation, through forgiveness of their past, or healing from grief.

TQTomorrow and Tomorrow is described by the publisher as "Leading the next wave of cyberpunk..." What is "cyberpunk?"

Thomas:  “Cyberpunk,” emblemized by the movie Blade Runner and William Gibson’s Neuromancer (first published July, 1984—30 years ago this month), is not only a certain kind of science fiction writing, but a widely significant cultural movement that influenced everything from fashion to philosophy. Generally inspired by punk aesthetics, a hacker ethos and film noir, Cyberpunk typically focuses on marginalized characters and outlaws in a high tech, often grim, future.

I once saw an interview with Alfonso Cuarón who said his movie Children of Men was meant to be the “anti-Blade Runner,” in terms of the film’s visual language, that he didn’t want “inventiveness” but rather “references.” Children of Men is a major touchstone for me—the only movie that I saw and loved so much I immediately bought a ticket to see the very next showing—and in my book I wanted to write about the near-future as if I was writing about our everyday lives right now. In the sense that Children of Men is the “anti-Blade Runner,” my book might be “anti-Cyberpunk.”

TQ:  The novel is set in Pittsburgh or rather its remains. Why Pittsburgh?

Thomas:  I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for sixteen years, so it’s a natural setting for my work—most of my stories are either set in Pittsburgh or the surrounding area, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia.

Pittsburgh, though, is also a city with a layered history—the once mighty furnaces are either rusted out wastelands or they’ve been repurposed into upscale shopping plazas; near abandoned mill towns have been inhabited by artists; brand new robotics facilities now occupy derelict industrial sites. I find the mash up of histories and identities inspiring.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Tomorrow and Tomorrow?

Thomas:  Most of the novel takes place in an immersive, digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh called the Archive—a city that no longer exists. All of those Pittsburgh scenes were drawn from locations I know very well. The first part of the novel is set in Washington DC—another city I know well because my wife is from Silver Spring, so we’ve visited DC many, many times. About halfway through the book, though, I decided to set the action in a city I’ve never been to—I wanted to describe a city that I’ve only interacted with on a digital level, to mimic the way characters in the book interact with the Archive. I chose San Francisco, because that’s the setting of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, another influence on my novel, and used Google Street View to find my way around the city. I’ve had people from San Francisco assume I was familiar with the city—so, I think it’s accurate, although I took some liberties in imagining certain neighborhoods and locations as if they were pushed a few decades into the future.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Thomas:  For both questions, the answer is the main character, Dominic. The book’s in first person, so we live with him—and he’s not always the easiest to live with. He’s addicted to grieving, he’s addicted to drugs, he’s addicted to junk food—but at his core he is a man motivated by the most profound and pure love. I think his arc isn’t always the easiest to watch, but I hope his acceptance of grace is rewarding.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite lines from Tomorrow and Tomorrow.

Thomas:  Here is an early description of the attack that destroyed an entire city:

“The end occurred quickly, that much is verifiable—no one suffered except the ones who lived. Five hundred thousand lives ended in the blinding white flash. Shadows elongated and became like charcoal smudges, the city became like snowy ash and in a breath of wind vanished.”

TQ:  What's next?

Thomas:  I’m writing a new novel, this one a time-travel thriller; it’s also my take on a “space opera.”

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Thomas:  Thank you!

Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Putnam Adult, July 10, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

"Simultaneously trippy and hardboiled, Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a rich, absorbing, relentlessly inventive mindfuck, a smart, dark noir… Sweterlisch's debut is a wild mashup of Raymond Chandler, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs, and, like their work, utterly visionary."—Stewart O’Nan author of The Odds

Leading the next wave of cyberpunk in the tradition of William Gibson and Jonathan Lethem, Thomas Sweterlitsch is a bold new voice in literary science fiction.

A decade has passed since the city of Pittsburgh was reduced to ash.

While the rest of the world has moved on, losing itself in the noise of a media-glutted future, survivor John Dominic Blaxton remains obsessed with the past. Grieving for his wife and unborn child who perished in the blast, Dominic relives his lost life by immersing in the Archive—a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh, accessible to anyone who wants to visit the places they remember and the people they loved.

Dominic investigates deaths recorded in the Archive to help close cases long since grown cold, but when he discovers glitches in the code surrounding a crime scene—the body of a beautiful woman abandoned in a muddy park that he’s convinced someone tried to delete from the Archive—his cycle of grief is shattered.

With nothing left to lose, Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the ruins of the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.

About Thomas

Thomas Sweterlitsch lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and daughter. He worked for twelve years at the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Tomorrow and Tomorrow is his first novel

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