By Thomm Quackenbush
Crystal: Today I am happy to have Thomm Quackenbush stop by for a short interview. Would you share a little bit about yourself with us today?
Thomm: I’m an author and teacher living in Upstate, New York. I’ve written three books in the Night’s Dream series – We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods – all of which largely take place within of few hours of where I currently live. I try to keep my fantasy as close to reality as I can manage, though my concept of reality may not necessarily match that of my readers. I delve into the strange aspects of history and make every attempt to have any spells or conspiracy theories resemble those of actual people.
Crystal: Where did you come up with the idea for latest release?
Crystal: Where did you come up with the idea for latest release?
Crystal: What are you currently working on?
Thomm: I am putting the finishing touches on my fourth book in the Night’s Dream series, Flies to Wanton Boys. It fleshes out the back story of my antagonist/anti-hero, Gideon, and details why so few mythical creatures have survived to modernity.
Crystal: Do you have any special routine that you follow when you are writing?
Thomm: The first draft of my scenes is done in a spiral notebook with a pen. It is decidedly low tech (though the pen itself, a gift from my girlfriend, looks like something elegant aliens would have left behind), but it tends to remove enough distractions that I can write freely. Next, I transcribe my notes into a mini-notebook computer using WriteMonkey on a tiny, plastic desk in my basement. Only once I have done all this do the additions end up on my main laptop (bless Dropbox for synchronizing). I find that I need to be a bit inconvenienced or uncomfortable to work at peak efficiency. I used to write in a very cramped closet in my last apartment, if just because it deprived me of much else to do. I think I would write much less and of a lower quality if I started on my top of the line laptop because it would be too easy.
Crystal: Did you have to do a lot of research for this book or any other? If so do you have a fascinating fact that you have learned you would like to share with us?
Thomm: For Artificial Gods, I attended several meetings of the Pine Bush, New York, UFO and abduction support group the United Friends Observer Society, as well as going on a few sky watches with members of the group. I did not bother telling them I was a published novelist, as I was certain that would have resulted in their clamming up and refusing to idly chat with me about the strangeness of the town, much of which ended up in my book.
For years, I had heard rumblings about Pine Bush being downright infested with celestial interlopers. In our early twenties, my friends and I drove around the town a few times, but saw nothing that could not be explained away by the town’s proximity to Stewart Air Force Base.
The most fascinating fact of all might not be from the members of the United Friends Observer Society, but rather from my background reading. Jack Whiteside Parsons, a literal rocket scientist who undoubtedly is owed some credit for the United States “winning” the space race, was a fervent occultist. He was an acolyte of Aleister Crowley, who referred to himself as the Great Beast and the Anti-Christ, though even Crowley thought Parsons went a little too far with some of his ritual work. Before each rocket launch, Parsons would recite the Hymn to Pan. Parson and L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, lived and did spells together for years. All of this is mentioned in Artificial Gods, because how could I possibly leave it out?
Crystal: Who are some of your favorite authors that you like to read?
Thomm: I have a constant appreciation for Neil Gaiman, who has occasionally deigned to answer my panicked authorial questions and thus endeared himself to me forever. He writes fantasy in such a measured yet passionate way where I find most people spurt their fantasy elements wildly over the page.
My comfort reading is often Bill Bryson, who has a way of couching facts in such a way that I end up endlessly fascinated without realizing how much he has tricked me into learning. For years, the audiobook version of A Short History of Nearly Everything was in near constant rotation in my car’s CD player. It, along with that car, were totaled in a car accident in 2008 and I’ve yet to replace it, though I have consoled myself with the illustrated edition.
Crystal: Is there a genre you haven't written that you would like to try?
Thomm: I would love to write a comedic memoir in the vein of David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs. I certainly have the family for it, but I wince away from the idea of exploiting them. When I suggested this plan to my mother years ago, she essentially told me that I ought to write it because someone should benefit from them.
Crystal: Do you have a favorite scene you would like to share with us?
Thomm: Sure. This is from the second chapter of Artificial Gods and is titled “Men in Black”:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Author's Favorite Scene Excerpt:
Around two in the afternoon, someone knocked on the door, three perfect sets of raps like a clockwork woodpecker soliciting entrance. Jasmine glanced through the peephole and saw two men in stiff black suits. Behind them, distorted by the fisheye lens, she saw a black Cadillac. The Jehovah's Witnesses certainly upped the ante.
She opened the door a crack, leaving the security chain in place. "Sorry, we already have a savior and we aren't accepting solicitations, but thanks for coming by."
Jasmine slammed the door, but it didn’t close. She looked for what was blocking it and saw four pallid fingers like maggot sausagessqueezed between the door and the frame. Immediately, she slid the chain free and opened the door so the fingers could be liberated. The front-most man slowly retracted his hand and put it at his side. "You are going to let us in."
"What? Yes, yes, of course! I'm sorry about your hand. I didn't see it there."
Both men nodded in unison and walked into her house. There was something about the way each moved that reminded Jasmine of a cheap wind-up soldier she had been given as a little girl, its parts never quite moving in a sensible way. It was as though these men had not grown up with joints and were uneasy about using them now.
The men sat on the couch. The short one fumbled with a curling wire projecting from behind his ear. Jasmine wondered why a Jehovah's Witness would need that, but then decided it must be for an old hearing aid, though the man was too young to need one. Or was he? It was difficult to settle on an age for either man. Certainly older than her, but in no specific way.
"Let me get you some ice," Jasmine offered.
"Ice?" asked the taller man. "Yes. Ice. You will get us ice now."
Jasmine dashed into the kitchen and placed some ice cubes in a Ziploc bag, covering this in a paper towel. How much more than this would be required for mashing some religionista's hand in her door? It was mostly his fault for putting it there. She would accept a copy of The Watchtower and pretend to care for a few minutes, but then they were out of there.
She returned and asked to see the injured man's hand.
"Yes. Let us show our hands," the man said. Both men stuck their arms out, palms up. Jasmine pursed her lips at this strangeness and reached out for the injured man's left hand. His fingers were long and pale, cool to the touch. The skin around the knuckles was torn but bloodless, and for a moment, Jasmine thought she saw something more beneath the torn skin, something silver or gray. The man retracted his hand to his side.
"What is this?" the other man demanded, looking up at her with his mouth half opened. His eyes were dark and unblinking, the irises almost black.
"It's ice. For your friend's hand."
"Yes," said the first man, matching Jasmine's cadence. "It's ice. For your friend's hand."
The two men took the bagful of ice and after a cursory examination, disassembled it on the coffee table into its components: ice, plastic bag, and paper towel. Then they began to put each, in turn, into their mouths. Jasmine backed away from them. Their attention returned to her. Both of their mouths were opened now, a sliver of paper towel sticking to the bottom lip of the smaller man.
"I think you two should leave now. My parents will be back any minute, and my father might shoot you."
"The only functional firearm in this house is locked in a case five meters from you," the first one said as though he were trying to mimic the robot from a fifties sci-fi movie. He flashed a badge, but all she could recall once he had put it away was that it was an inverted seven-pointed star with letters between each prong, but no notion remained of which. "We are from your government. We have questions."
"Then you should talk to my parents."
"If you want to see your parents alive, you will answer our questions," the smaller one said. "I am Ensign Donald and this is Vice Admiral Erikson. You will answer our questions."
Jasmine sat, though her instinct was to run. Donald removed a device from his jacket pocket, a small gray box with lights, and put it on the table between them. "What do you know about UFOs?"
Jasmine wanted to leave the room, to lock herself somewhere until they left, but found herself answering, "I don't know anything. People see them. I've never been interested."
Erikson jumped to his feet, shifting his weight from one foot to the other and back as though about to topple. "The most important subject in the universe and you are not interested?"
She shook her head. "They were always beneath my radar."
Donald leaned forward at the waist, his gaze transferred from Jasmine to a blank spot on the table. "You will give us all of your radar readings and your machinery now."
"I don't have… It's a figure of speech."
Donald unbent himself and looked at her. He tore a piece of plastic bag free and began chewing it, his mouth remaining opened and only his bottom jaw moving.
"You did not see anything last night," Erikson insisted.
"I didn't," Jasmine said.
"You took a photogram of what you did not see last night. You will give this to me now," Donald said, the plastic bag gone from his mouth and the ice melted to a puddle. He turned his head sharply, up, down, side to side, and then back to her. "Jasmine Woods, you cannot hide your thoughts from us. We are from the center of your planet. You did not see anything last night. You will come with us in our transport vehicle, and you will show us where it was."
Erikson reached for her. Jasmine pulled away and Erikson moved back into position. He picked a coin up from the table and held it to her. Then he closed his hand around it and opened it a moment later, empty. "Just as this coin is no longer in this dimension, your heart...will not...be if...you...tell...an...y...one ab...out this. Discharging! Discharging! We need to speak to your sister! Bornless, she has no head! Perform the Star Sapphire. Bring the moon! Ka ka ka ka ka," he said like a cheap electronic toy frying its circuit board.
Donald then sang "Mary Had a Little Lamb" in a falsetto, but skipped back to the beginning after one and a half verses with the hiccup of a broken record. Both men rose and with their awkward gait, hobbled out of the house again without another word. Jasmine looked out the window and saw another man in a black suit standing at the far door of the car, staring back at her. He was about seven feet tall, but the suit seemed tailored for someone a foot shorter. They all entered the car—none in the driver's seat—and it sped off.
Thomm Quackenbush is a novelist, essayist, and teacher in the Hudson Valley. He has been previously published by Cave Drawing Ink, The Journal of Cartoon Over-Analysis, Broken City, and Paragon Press. He is the webmaster of http://xenex.org, where is posts his writing. He hardly ever touches ghosts anymore, despite what his books may insist.