10 Questions With 'Blade of Dishonor' Author Thomas Pluck
Thomas Pluck is the kind of guy you think maybe you should cross the street to avoid. He looks like he could pick a person up with one hand and snap them in half. Then you meet him, and find that he's warm and soft-spoken and funny. He's also a hell of writer.
His debut novel, Blade of Dishonor, features MMA fighter 'Rage Cage' Reeves rescuing his WWII vet grandpa from a battle between ninjas and samurai over a stolen sword. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Burnt Bridge, [PANK] Magazine, McSweeney's, The Morning News, Beat to a Pulp, and numerous anthologies.
He was also the guiding force behind Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT, an anthology that raised money for a national organization that works to protect children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
What was the first story you ever wrote, and what happened to it?
My very first story was a revenge thriller about two Komodo Dragons killing a poacher with a booby trap. He goes headfirst into quicksand, so I'm pretty sure that was premeditated murder by an endangered species. I wrote that in the second grade for a project. My mother illustrated it, and Ms. Loeffler sewed the pages together into books. Ma has it in a trunk somewhere. The next thing I wrote was a James Bond-like stage play called "In Search of the Black Diamond", which was inspired by the Leonard Nimoy program about lost cities, and the KISS song "Black Diamond." I was eight. I had friends performing in it, but Susan backed out of the kissing scene at the last minute with stage fright.
When you sold your first piece of writing, how did you celebrate?
With a steak and a glass of gin. It was called "We're All Guys Here," and it was published in Blue Murder, a now-defunct literary and hardboiled magazine, back in 1999. I rewrote the story a few years ago when I began writing again, and [PANK] Magazine accepted it. My voice hadn't changed much, but I've figured how to say more with less.
Tell us about your process: Pen, paper, word processor, human blood when the moon is full... how do you write?
My ideas come in daydreams, on walks, drives, or when I phase out at social events. I save them to my phone with Evernote, then piece them together later. Scrivener for longer work, or Google Docs for short stories. If I don't have access to a phone I have a little flip pad I scrawl on, a spiralbound for when I don't want electronics, but I've always been a computer nerd, so typing is more natural to me. I'm not a "muse" guy. You write when you say you're gonna write. If you avoid it, you're either shirking, or the story is still cooking in your head, and you should work on something else.
What's the biggest mistake you've made as a writer?
Quitting. That first story was first sold to Pulphouse in '98 or so, then they folded. I had a few other stories sent to lit journals, but they never responded. I was trying to be Hubert Selby, then. I sold the "Guys" to Blue Murder, got a few rejections from Hardboiled, and a lot of echoes from the literary journals, and I dropped my idea for a recovering heroin addict tasked with finding his boss's missing daughter, never wrote more than a few pages. I regret it now because even if the book turned out to be crap, it would have been great practice. I didn't learn to persevere until much later.
What kind of catharsis did you achieve from your latest work?
Blade of Dishonor began as pure mindless fun. But the story had no drive for me. Once the background of the stolen sword emerged, and its theft during World War II, I became much more involved in it, because my great-uncles all served, and I had a lot to say about the war and how it's become America's new cowboy myth, as if we charged Omaha beach alone and Captain America punched out Hitler, and the "greatest generation" stuff. They were just people. People who'd endured the Great Depression. That was the forge that purified the ore of their character. So, the catharsis for me was telling an exciting war story that doesn't gloss over the truth of the pant-shitting fear and humanity of the soldiers, that they were fighting to protect the person beside them and to get home to their families, not for "what was right." There were deserters, dodgers, thieves, rapists and pillagers then, too.
Which fictional character would you most like to have a drink with, and why?
Most of the characters I like wouldn't be good company, and the ones that would be don't drink. Maybe that's why they're in books. If they were real, someone would put them out of our misery. I like principled loners and outrageous smart-asses. Eva Wylie, the enormous wrestler from Liza Cody's novels, would break my spine and sic her dogs on me. Parker would chop me in the throat. Chabon's Grady Tripp would throw a fun party, but I'd probably punch him in the mouth before the night was over. I feel compelled to answer, so I'll say Colonel Sands from Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke. He knew how to have a good time.
Where do you buy your books?
My local bookstore is Watchung Booksellers. They curate a great collection of new fiction of all genres, including a fine crime section. And they are very friendly to local authors. They've had everyone from Julie Andrews to Lawrence Block, Dennis Tafoya, and Jenny Milchman. On occasion I wait until a writer's book event and buy the book at that store that hosts it, but I also have a ton on my Kindle. eBooks are great for newer writers, because we can try them inexpensively. I love a well-designed book as a physical object, but I don't fetishize it.
How do you handle a bad review of your work?
It comes with the territory. You're not going to please everybody, and you shouldn't try. I usually go to the gym and distract myself with a good lift or by getting my ass kicked grappling one of the better fighters. That helps put things in perspective.
What's the worst advice you hear authors give writers?
That you're either a pantser or a plotter, and never the twain shall meet. I've read some great novels that weren't plotted ahead of time, yet read like they must have been. I don't think the author is lying, either. But most of the great pantsers I've read are very experienced writers, on their fifth published novel or more. I think many new writers want to say they're a pantser so they don't have to do the work of plotting, and can just jump right into the fun part where the muse liplocks your brain and you're simply typing away in ecstasy. Writing is work. It is also quite enjoyable, and it should be, but it's also a craft, and you don't build a house without some idea of what you're doing.
I also think writers have been misconstruing "write what you know" for a long time. Instead, know what you write. Study it, read stories about it, do it, visit where it happens. Experience it. Know it. You don't have to climb a mountain to write about it, but you should inform yourself if the heart of your story involves scaling an alp.
WILDCARD: Looking back on the process of putting out Blade of Dishonor, what did you wish you had known, or what skill do you wish you had, that would have made things easier?
Outlining. I did that about halfway in, once I realized how big the book was going to be, but it's not my forte. The original plan was a series of linked novellas, for David Cranmer at Beat to a Pulp press. When it became an epic adventure novel, I had to go back and fix what I'd already done. I still don't like outlining in too much detail. It's like a road trip vacation. Set a few milestones, aim for a destination, and have fun getting there. That's what works best for me.
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