Interview with Tom WintonYou wrote Beyond Nostalgia with a pen dipped in your soul, Tom. How much of you and who you are is invested in the book?
Although Beyond Nostalgia is a work of fiction, many of Dean’s experiences and beliefs are my own. Some of the scenes are embellished; some are exactly as they happened; a few I plucked from the rampant thoughts and ideas that sometimes whiz in and out of my mind.
How long ago did you write it?
I finished it almost twelve years ago. It took two-and-a-half years to write, and I did nine edits—that’s right—nine edits. But those days are over. Beyond Nostalgia was my debut novel, and being a new writer at the time, I was very uncertain about my work. When I reworked my next two manuscripts, I only did two or three drafts for each one.
Why did you give up on it initially?
I didn’t have a MFA or any literary training. I didn’t even know what a past participle was, but in my gut, I really thought I had something very special. The only other person who read it was my wife, Blanche, and she loved it. But we all know how overly generous our loved ones can be when it comes to critiquing our work. Nevertheless, Beyond Nostalgia did garner the interest of a few agents. Each requested a few chapters, said nice things about them, but ultimately told me to hit the bricks. At that point I figured I was wrong—BN wasn’t as good as I’d thought it was.
What made you haul it back out of the closet?
For the benefit of anybody who hasn’t read about it—when I gave up on BN, I disgustedly threw the manuscript into a closet, and there it stayed for eleven years. Alongside it, on that closet floor, I also left a piece of my soul. I wrote virtually nothing from then on. And I wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around. I sorely missed the elation one feels after a productive writing session—what I call “a writer’s high.”
Anyway, one morning in December of 2009 I was at my local library. I had already chosen the books I wanted to check out but still had some time to kill. I sat down and looked through a copy of Writer’s Digest. As I leafed through the pages of the magazine, I stumbled across an interesting article about online sites for aspiring writers. Two days later I uploaded my old manuscript onto one of them.
I am also a child of the 60s. The Vietnam conflict . . . the music, the angst and the awakening revolution . . . this is a powerful combination, did you choose the time frame because it fitted your personal comfort/discomfort zone?
The beginning of Beyond Nostalgia takes place in the late 60’s because many of the story’s “unimagined events” took place back then. It was a natural starting point— done deal from the outset. Plus, a certain richness has been added to the story (I hope) by its many references to the styles, mindsets, music, and world-events of those wondrous years.
How much of you is written into Dean?
Quite a bit. After all, most fiction writers ladle their stories from an entire stew of events—happenings they lived, heard about, or conjured up in their minds. What other ingredients do we have to work with? Granted, if one chooses to write sci-fi, they will obviously go heavier on the conjuring ingredient, but they’ll still add dashes of their experiences, thoughts, and stories they’ve heard.
The descriptions of life are so painfully accurate, did you shed tears over this book?
Yes, while writing each draft there were times when a real tear or two splashed on my keyboard. There were also times when I laughed, put on a nostalgic smile, even got turned on a little. One time I actually had a panic attack and had to dash out the front door—I’m still trying to figure out what brought that on.
Theresa is so very real, is she based on an actual person?
Yes and no. Theresa is based on a few young ladies I knew back in the day. A couple of them show up in her character far more often than others.
What happened when you first posted Beyond Nostalgia on Authonomy?
That was when all my dusty hopes came back to life . . . excuse me . . . a surge of emotion just shot through my body like an adrenaline rush as I typed the beginning of this sentence. My eyes watered a little and a rash of goose bumps rose on my arms. Some people look at me and think I can be imposing, but deep inside I’m highly emotional. Maybe that’s why I write.
Anyway, back to your question. I posted Beyond Nostalgia on Authonomy on December 8th of 2009. Actually, my wife did it for me. I was very close to computer illiterate at the time but have gotten considerably better with this contraption.
A day or two after we posted it, I received my first review. I distinctly remember the man saying, ‘This is far better than most of what I’ve read on this site . . . .” Immediately, I checked out his bio-page and found out he’d been active on the site for several years. I couldn’t believe it. The manuscript had lain in that closet for eleven years, and here was a complete stranger reaffirming my lost beliefs. I was euphoric.
In its first full month on Authonomy, BN was rated (in the monthly rankings) third in Romance, 4th in Literary Fiction, and I think 9th overall—out of 6,000 books. You can just imagine how I felt. A short time later I uploaded the opening chapters onto Random House’s YouWriteOn website for writers. Six weeks after that it finished in the top five and was in contention for the site’s “2011 Book of the Year.”
Were you surprised by the reaction?
I had thought that the book was good, despite its grammatical and punctuation errors. But, once again, nobody but my wife had really read it. Yes, I was surprised that it was so well received. The book was reviewed on Authonomy more than four-hundred times, and most of them were very, very encouraging. More than a few reviewers compared my book to those of some very famous authors (living and dead), but I wouldn’t name them here for fear of embarrassing myself.
I’ve read the book. It hits at gut-level . . . no punches pulled in the pain stakes, yet it is tender and at times almost unbearably moving, how did you feel as you wrote it?
Once again, I went through the whole gamut of emotions I mentioned earlier. I hoped the writing would have the same impact on readers as it did on me. I didn’t know if that was possible until some of the ladies told me that I’d made their mascara run, and a few men admitted they had tears in their eyes. What finer compliment could any writer (published or unpublished) ask for?
Did shelving the book all that time affect you and the way you felt about writing?
Definitely—in a very negative way. Like I said, I wasn’t fun to be around. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a total Frankenstein. My biggest issue was living with myself. I’ve always been an extremely merciless self-critic. Around people I was still OK. It was my own mind that suffered the brunt of the unhappiness; my mind and my wife, Blanche. She lived with me day after day—she put up with all my persistent depressed behavior. She and she alone, is who I modeled Dean’s wife, Maddy Frances after in Beyond Nostalgia. She, like Maddy Frances, deserves to be canonized a living saint.
As far as the writing went during those years, it was all but nonexistent. I think I managed three or four short stories. That was it. During all that unproductive time, I deeply missed that wonderful high you get after a good, thousand-word morning.
What now . . . where do you intend taking “Beyond Nostalgia”?
You know, sometimes I think my skin isn’t thick enough for this writing racket. Talk about emotional peaks and valleys, I’ve had them. A few months back, when I was winding down on Authonomy, I fired out a ton of queries. In one month I had ten agents ask to see all or part of BN—FOUR IN ONE DAY! Can you imagine that? My God, I was riding high. That afternoon while sitting out on the porch with Blanche, I picked out an age-enhanced Matt Damon to play the part of Dean in my sure-to-come blockbuster movie. I wanted Scorcese or Stone to be my director and had half the soundtrack figured out. But an hour after dinner the same old doubts started circulating my gray matter, again. Deep inside there, seven agents or no seven agents, I still saw the same half-empty glass. As it turned out, I was correct. None of them took BN. Two did say they were sure I’d find the right agent—“soon,” but that wasn’t good enough. Though I still felt that with just a bit of good editing by an agent or publisher the book could fly, I’d pretty much given up.
Did the positive feedback you received for “Beyond Nostalgia” encourage you to pick up your writers pen and start something new?
Yes, without a doubt. I’ve since written two more novels. Entitled, The Last American Martyr and Four Days with Hemingway’s Ghost, they, too, have been multi-category, Amazon Bestsellers—several times each.
What next for Tom Winton?
I’m now finished with the final draft of a new romance novella. The title is Within a Man’s Heart, and I hope to have it “out there” by the time you post this interview. After that, the plan is to go to work on a family memoir. I’ve got some stories that folks will not believe. All I’ll have to do is get them down just right; then tie them all together.
Thank you very much, Anthony, for interviewing me here on Digital Book Today. I truly appreciate the opportunity to connect with you and your readers.
Social media and buy links:
Connect with Tom Winton: Tom’s Website / Facebook / Twitter
Beyond Nostalgia: Amazon / Amazon UK
The Last American Martyr: Amazon / Amazon UK
Four Days with Hemingway’s Ghost: Amazon / Amazon UK