Today, I am excited to welcome Tom Llewellyn to Curling Up By The Fire, celebrating the release of his debut novel, The Tilting House, on June 8, 2010.
'Whaddya say you boys and me take five and poke around a bit?'
'Poke around where?' I asked.
'Around our new house. I'll bet if we look in every nook and cranny, we'll uncover a secret or two.'
'A secret?' asked Aaron. 'What kind of secret?'
'I don't know.' Dad grinned as he struggled to get up from the tilting couch. 'A house built with tilting floors has got to have secrets.'
Brothers Josh and Aaron Peshik are about to discover that their new home with the tilting floors hides many mysteries. When the boys and their neighbor Lola discover the hidden diary of F.T. Tilton, the brilliant but deranged inventor who built the house, they learn a dark secret that may mean disaster for the Peshik family. Can the kids
solve the riddles of the tilting house before time runs out?
Mad science, mischief, and mishaps combine in the suspenseful and imaginative tale of The Tilting House.
1. Please tell us a little about your new novel, The Tilting House.
The story begins when a family finally escapes a string of bad apartments and buys an old house—Tilton House—at a bargain price. It’s cheap because no one else wants it. The floors all tilt three degrees toward the center and all the walls are covered in bizarre scientific scribbles.
Once they move in, the two brothers, Josh and Aaron, quickly learn just how strange their new home is. It’s inhabited by talking rats. Walls disappear. Pocketknives and neighborhood dogs grow to incredible sizes. And a body may be buried in the crawlspace.
All the while, the mysteries of the home’s origins remain. Who was Tilton? Why was the house built with tilting floors? What might all the scientific formulas unleash? When one discovery puts the family’s future in jeopardy, the boys must solve the mysteries before it’s too late.
If I did it right, The Tilting House will appeal to readers who like a little mad science, a lot of mystery and adventure, and some dark humor along the way.
2. The idea of a house with so many secrets (old house, mysterious rooms, old journal, arcane writing, talking animals) is very intriguing. How much fun was it coming up with the ideas for such a house? What was your inspiration?
It was a lovely project. I miss writing about the characters and the neighborhood. The inspiration for the setting was my own Tacoma, Washington home, which was built in 1898. The floors in our house have settled. Marbles and pencils collect in a few downhill corners. So a few years before I started this novel, we actually began calling it Tilton House, after the fictional original owner, F.T. Tilton. We even have a plaque on the floor and a sign by the front door that label the house thusly.
A number of the features in the book, including the laundry chute and the All The Way Up Room, actually exist in my house. Living in the setting of the book was a bit weird—even a little creepy sometimes—but it helped make the book feel more real—more touchable.
3. Who is your favourite character in The Tilting House? Which character was the most difficult to write? Are any of your characters based on people you know or have known?
My favorite character is Grandpa, based after my own late Uncle Buck. Uncle Buck grew up in the mining town of Butte, Montana during its Wild West years. He’d tell us stories about fishing with dynamite and getting in fights. My brothers and sister and I craved those stories, because he always left in the gruesome parts. That’s what made them so good. Read the chapter about Grandpa losing his leg and you’ll see that I tried to do the same thing here.
Every single character in the book is based on someone I know personally. I don’t know how else to write—and don’t want to know. For example, in the book, the next-door neighbor is called The Purple Door Man. We had a man right next door to us—who lived in a ramshackle house with a purple door— that we all called by the same name. He’s moved since then and took literally tons of weird old junk with him. In the book, the junk is all still there.
4. Who or what do you look to for inspiration in your writing? Your life?
I think the best stories are the ones that come right out of your own experience, so I always start there. But then I tend to let my imagination run a bit wild. My next book, which is also under contract with Tricycle Press, a children and young-adult imprint of Random House, is called Letter Off Dead. It’s about a boy named Trevor, whose Dad died when he was five. Now Trevor is starting junior high school and having the worst year of his life. He starts writing letters to his dead dad. Then his dead father starts writing back.
On the real life side of things, my dad also died when I was five. The worst year of my life was also my seventh-grade year. So, I imagined, what would it have been like if I could have exchanged letters with my late father?
5. Can you tell a bit more about yourself? If you had a choice, would you change anything about who you are or what you are doing?
I wouldn’t change anything about who I am. I have a pretty wonderful life, with or without the books. Would I change anything about what I’m doing? Sure. I’d love to be writing books fulltime. But that’s a long-term goal. For the foreseeable future, I have a day job I love.
I’ve always made my living as a writer, either journalist or advertising copywriter. Right now I work as creative director at a very respectable investment company. That means I manage a group of really talented creative folks—designers, writers and such. It’s pretty lovely.
I’m also a husband to my wonderful wife, Deb and dad to four kids: Ben, Abel, Bizayehu and Genet. I spend a lot of time with these brilliant folks, coaching and skiing and camping and just hanging out in Tacoma.
6. You have made your living as a journalist and advertising copywriter. Why did you decide to write a children's novel?
I’ve wanted to write books my whole life. I submitted my first manuscript right out of college. Got some good feedback, but no offers. I shifted to a number of other creative endeavors, including poetry and music. But writing books always remained a goal. Whenever I think of writing, I always think in terms of children’s or young adult novel. That probably says something about my maturity level.
7. I'm interested in learning more about your possible explorations about writing a book by blog. Can you share that idea a little more with your readers as it sounds really interesting?
Sure. Even after The Tilting House was picked up by a “real” publisher, I still found the publishing process glacially slow and frustrating. I figured there must be a faster way to connect to an audience. So I decided to try an experiment that solved that problem and write a complete novel serialized in daily chunks. I came up with a concept of a correspondence between two main characters, as that would lend itself well to the blog format. Then I publicly committed, both online and off, to as many people as I could think of, so that I would not give up along the way.
It was a really satisfying and pretty successful experiment. I loved the pressure of having to come up with a new post every day. I enjoyed learning how to promote the blog online. I developed an audience surprisingly fast—within six months, I was registering 10,000 unique visitors a month. And at the end, my publisher, Tricycle Press, agreed to publish the blog as a traditional book.
The blog is still up. You can check it out at http://www.letteroffdead.com/.
8. You've mentioned you find the publishing industry somewhat frustrating. Can you elaborate for us what you mean?
I mean it’s slow. I suppose it has to be, as producing a book is an expensive, risky endeavor. But as any aspiring writer has experienced, the publishing industry works at a different pace than the rest of the world. An unpublished author submits a manuscript and may not hear back for six months. Six months! Where else in this world of emails and texts does it take that long to hear back from someone? And if an author is lucky enough to get a contract, the process of rough draft to book-on-shelf can still take years. The Tilting House, for example, was a four-year process. I almost went insane.
The good news? I’m just now in the contract-signing phase for Letter Off Dead, and it’s scheduled to come out in September 2011, so I’ve moved from four years to one. That feels incredibly fast to me. I guess it gets better as it goes along.
9. What are your thoughts on the explosion of ebooks today? Do you own an e-reader?
I don’t own an e-reader. I do occasionally read e-books on my laptop or handheld, but I’m a bit of a paper book fetishist. My house is overflowing with books. My wife, Deb, has even more books than me.
That said, I also love technology and recognize that you can’t fight progress. E-books are here to stay. Jeff Bezos of Amazon claims they sell more e-books than traditional books now. And if they get more people reading, I’m all for it. But I’m sure it will change the publishing industry in ways we can’t even imagine and I worry about what that means for authors and publishers. I’d guess that within five years, e-readers will be the primary way people experience books. But paper books will always have a place as well.
10. Congratulations on your contract with Random House. How much input do you have in the publication of your book? For example, do you get to choose the covers of your books?
I had a little say on the cover, but not all that much. In my day job, I work with designers and illustrators all day long. And I’m pretty opinionated. So I probably drove my editor at Tricycle Press, the esteemed Abigail Samoun, a bit crazy. We exchanged plenty of emails about the cover and I did veto a few internal illustrations. But in the end, the publisher knows better than me how to build and sell books. Oh, and I love the final cover. It was done by Sarah Watts, an illustrator who is also a poster artist—something I know a bit about. I actually bought a poster she did for Neko Case. It’s quite lovely.
11. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer such as myself?
It’s all about persistence and quality. So keep reading good books, keep writing as much as you can stand, and keep submitting to publishers, going to writer conferences, meeting agents, building community.
I’m a big believer in the 10,000-hours approach to mastery—that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to really master any craft. That means that aspiring writers need to write. You get a little better with every sentence.
12. Can you share with your readers any other projects you are working on or any plans for the future?
Right now I’m up to my nose—no, my eyeballs—in edits for Letter Off Dead. That will likely take me through the end of the year. As soon as that’s done, I plan to dive into my next book, which is about a boy, a mysterious street woman, and an otherworldly battle over a park bench. Really. That’s all I can say right now for fear of baking the clay before it’s formed.
My other ongoing project is called Beautiful Angle. It’s a street art project I cofounded with my dear friend Lance Kagey. Once a month we create an art poster on a sixty-year-old, hand-crank printing press. We print about 100 posters and then hang them around the streets of Tacoma with paste and staples. We’ve been doing this every month for eight years. Check it out at http://www.beautifulangle.com/
13. What do you enjoy doing when you are not writing?
I do better when I’m slightly busier than most people can handle. I read a lot. I coach both soccer and lacrosse. I print these crazy posters. I help raise four kids. I garden. I ski. I cook. I play bass. I’m active in our church. I hold down a really demanding day job. Oh, and I write books here and there.
Now that you mention it, maybe I should find a hobby.
14. Is there anything else you would like to share with your readers?
How about a quote. This is from C.S. Lewis: “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
Oh, and if you want to learn more about The Tilting House, check out my cool website at http://www.thetiltinghouse.com/.
Thank you Tom for visiting Curling Up By The Fire.