Five Questions with Tom Allbaugh
In addition to sharing my own thoughts on the writing process, I want to, from time to time, give readers a chance to meet other creatives and see what they have to say about the highs and lows of sharing their art with others. Today, I bring you Tom Allbaugh. By day, he’s an English professor at Azusa Pacific University, but in his free time he is delving into the world of fiction. A humble and introspective soul, Tom is not new to practicing what he preaches. His essays, poems and stories have appeared in a number of magazines and journals over the years. His first novel, Apocalype TV, was recently released by eLectio Publishing and is available on Amazon in print and on Kindle.
When did you first realize you were a storyteller?
I think this occurred in the fourth grade, near Christmas season in 1965, when we came in from morning recess and our teacher, Mrs. Level, gave us half an hour to write a Christmas essay. Maybe she had to fulfill some outcome or other, but it wasn't process-based writing pedagogy. Most of my classmates choked on it. Listening to their groans and gasps, I decided to write satire. When I snickered at something I'd just written, Mrs. Level yelled at me and made me stand up and read it to the class. My essay, however, was well received. Even Mrs. Level was laughing. I learned then that humor was a way to cut tension. Mrs. Level encouraged me after that. When I entered the 8th grade, she was still asking if I was writing.
What do you love about the writing process?
I love that it is possible to revise. I love to start over. I've often said the wrong thing in a talk, as a teacher, for example. And there it is, my un-revised statement hanging out there, ruining my reputation, standing in for what I really meant to say, for the next hour, if not longer. But with writing, I can revise—everything and anything. My wife has accused me of over-revising. She compares it to washing the same shirt five times in a row. The shirt just gets limp, pale, and washed out. She used to say my writing was like that, but I don't know. When I get to sit down to rough drafts, or third drafts, I love going over it and making new discoveries. Over the last few days, I have been looking at my published book and wishing I could change a few things.
What is the hardest part of being a writer?
The hardest part of being a writer are the times when I have to not be a writer and instead have to be someone else—for example, when I have to attend meetings or participate in job searches. The hard part seems to be when I have to step away from writing for weeks at a time. I don't like doing this. I think it makes me grumpy and mean-spirited.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I often get inspired from reading. I often jot ideas down then. My ideas often turn out to be quite tangential and even different from what I'm reading. The idea for what might possibly be my next novel came from reading a wonderful poem by Rilke, I think. I also don't rely too much on inspiration. More often, I just "put the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair," as Flannery O'Connor would unsentimentally say, and get to work. Revising is often when I often come up with—if not moments of inspiration—then at least a-ha! moments.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I am immersed in trying to market and publicize Apocalypse TV. This is not something I wanted to do, but it is something I have to do. My wife has stepped forward and is showing real gifts with this, by the way. The other night she put our daughter's cake on her Facebook page and got over a hundred responses. Two or three even said they were going to buy the book. All because of the cake.
I am also planning a new novel. I have the initial idea and it is being added to in a folder I've set aside for it. I am getting excited about it.
For more information about Tom and what he’s working on next, check him out at www.thomasallbaugh.com.
What's in a Name?
Some people may wonder where writers come up with the names of their characters. I’m not nearly clever enough to have allegorical names like in Pilgrim’s Progress, and names don’t just pop into my head (this guy’s a jerk, his name will be Milhous MacGillycuddy III, or she’s an sweet ingenue named Katrina).
Back in the olden days when a phone book was delivered to your house every year, I would use this ultra-scientific method of picking a first name and last name from different sections and then making sure the names mostly went together (Katrina MacGillycuddy, the Russo-Irish assassin with a heart of gold? Probably not.).
Nowadays, this method has entered the internet age. If you’re my friend on social media, you can pretty much guarantee I’ve at least considered your name for a character, particularly when I decide the one I had picked just isn't working or the character’s best friend doesn’t have a name but really should.
The fun part is when I intentionally pick a name to honor someone special in my life. Whether it was one of my outstanding students, or a friend or relative, your can rest assured the guy behind the counter at the burger place or the woman who’s taking pictures for the paper probably didn’t get his or her name at random. Will the person ever read the book and discover the literary “Easter egg”? Maybe, or maybe not.
Not knowing is part of what makes the creative process so fun.
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.