Saturday, May 10, 2014

Interview with Tom Doyle, author of American Craftsmen - May 10, 2014

Please welcome Tom Doyle to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. American Craftsmen was published on May 6, 2014 by Tor Books.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Tom:  When I quit the law, I went on a personal pilgrimage to clear out my old self and start forming a new one. Among other things, I stayed in a Zen monastery, traveled to Rio for Carnival and Jerusalem for New Year’s Eve, interned at Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies, and formed a rock band that played Guided by Voices covers. After this pilgrimage period, I thought about a new career. It had to be intellectually stimulating yet not involve others telling me what to do, so I decided on writing science fiction and fantasy. I first attended a Strange Horizons workshop, and then I went to Clarion. I started selling stories soon after that.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Tom:  I’d call myself a pantser with a strong sense of trajectory. I usually know where I want to start and roughly where I want to finish, but having these end points still allows for plenty of serendipitous surprises and course changes along the way.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Where do you write?

Tom:  My biggest challenge is avoiding distractions. I’m not a fast writer, so I need to impose a lot of structure on my day. I mostly write at a big wooden desk on the third floor of my nineteenth-century brownstone home. I have a turret, which helps keep me in a fantasy mindset.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Tom:  Off the top of my head, China Mieville, Jacqueline Carey, my Clarion instructors, Dickens, Hemingway, and Roddy Doyle. The transparent styles of the last two are good antidotes to infectious bad prose. But I also really enjoy the vatic voice that I pick up from some poetry and song lyrics.

TQ:  Describe American Craftsmen in 140 characters or less.

Tom:  Two soldiers will fight through the magical legacies of Poe and Hawthorne to destroy an undying evil, if they don't kill each other first.

TQ:  Tell us something about American Craftsmen that is not in the book description.

Tom:  The craftsmen of the title are magician soldiers, but “American craftsmen” is also a nod to the early American authors of the fantastic such as Poe and Hawthorne. For my book, I’ve assumed all these authors were writing thinly veiled nonfiction.

TQ:  What inspired you to write American Craftsmen? What appealed to about writing a genre blending Contemporary Military Fantasy novel? Do you want to write in any other genres or sub-genres?

Tom:  Oddly enough, one of my initial inspirations was L. Frank Baum. When he began telling children’s stories, he had the idea of discarding the existing European folk tales and building a fantasy that was modern and distinctly American. That’s how we got The Wizard of Oz.

     I wasn’t going to write a children’s story, but the idea of confining myself to a U.S. mythos for an adult fantasy was very appealing. At first, my book was going to cover a whole secret world of American magic. But the reader of my earliest draft section, author Stephanie Dray, saw the military intrigue element and said, “This is great. Do this.” I really owe her a lot for getting me to focus on that plotline.

     I’ve written stories across the speculative spectrum (though no high fantasy epics yet), and I have a couple of novel manuscripts in different SF/F sub-genres that I’d like to see published. I don’t see myself doing non-speculative fiction anytime soon. For now, it’s the otherworldly stuff in odd combinations that keeps me intrigued.

TQ:  Please tell us about the magic system in American Craftsmen.

Tom:  Rather than use a traditional magic system, I drew up my list of supernatural powers from three main founts. First, any occult event in American literature was fair game. In The Scarlet Letter, for example, the hidden sin of the minister is visible as a red letter “A” in the flesh of his chest, which matches the red fabric letter worn by Hester Prynne. So my protagonist, Dale Morton, has the ability to see sins as glowing letters radiating from other people’s bodies.

     Second, American history is full of the uncanny, for example, instances where an abrupt change of weather saved an army, and the dreams that Lincoln had before significant events, including his own assassination. I imagine this uncanniness as being the result of magical powers still being exercised today.

     Finally, to be elite operatives, soldier and spy mages would need powers that enhance their combat skill and strength. They aren’t superheroes, but they can endure a bit more, heal a bit quicker, and shoot a bit better than normal soldiers.

     In my story, different practitioners see these powers in different terms. The atheistic Dale Morton sees magic as a sharp skewing of probabilities inherent in nature, and he wields his power with a meditative concentration. The religious Michael Endicott believes all such power comes ultimately from God and frames his spells as prayers. Both get the same results.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for American Craftsmen?

Tom:  I read or reread the works of Poe and Hawthorne and other nineteenth-century authors of the American canon. As an example of how I used some of that reading, the parlor of the House of Morton has sickly yellow wallpaper in a nod to the early feminist story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

     I had already read a lot of military history, so I read more about modern elite military units and special operations. I toured the Pentagon. I continued to tour Civil War battle sites, which came in handy for one section of the book.

     A crucial part of my research was discussing special operations with a friend who had fought in the first Gulf War.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite character in American Craftsmen?

Tom:  Dale, my main protagonist, was relatively easy; his personality and his outlook on life are familiar. Endicott was harder. In my earliest draft, he started out as an almost totally unsympathetic character, which didn’t work. He’s evolved into something quite different.

     Two of my favorite characters are Sphinx and the Appalachian. They’re both older women who’ve paid for their wisdom with some portion of their sanity, and that makes them interesting.

TQ:  Give us one or two of your favorite lines from American Craftsmen.

Tom:  “Prague’s old world occult irritated him. Every assignment turned noir here. Like foreign movies, Prague missions tended to end badly and absurdly.”

TQ:  What's next?

TomAmerican Craftsmen is the first book in a three-book series. I’ve recently turned in book two, The Left-Hand Way, and I’m hard at work on book three, The Master Craftsmen. But I also have two other novels that I think would be great as stand-alones or first books in different series. One is the continuation of my award winning story, “The Wizard of Macatawa,” a fantasy about L. Frank Baum in 1899 and a kid growing up on Lake Michigan in the late ‘70s. The other is the continuation of my twisted space opera, “Crossing Borders.” I hope they’ll see the light of day at some point. If you’re interested in a preview of what those novels would be like, the short story precursors are available in my collection, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, or you could listen to the audio versions at

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

American Craftsmen
Tor Books, May 6, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 320 pages

In modern America, two soldiers will fight their way through the magical legacies of Poe and Hawthorne to destroy an undying evil—if they don’t kill each other first.

US Army Captain Dale Morton is a magician soldier—a “craftsman.” After a black-ops mission gone wrong, Dale is cursed by a Persian sorcerer and haunted by his good and evil ancestors. Major Michael Endicott, a Puritan craftsman, finds gruesome evidence that the evil Mortons, formerly led by the twins Roderick and Madeline, have returned, and that Dale might be one of them.

Dale uncovers treason in the Pentagon’s highest covert ranks. He hunts for his enemies before they can murder him and Scherie, a new friend who knows nothing of his magic.

Endicott pursues Dale, divided between his duty to capture a rogue soldier and his desire to protect Dale from his would-be assassins. They will discover that the demonic horrors that have corrupted American magic are not bound by family or even death itself.

In Tom Doyle's thrilling debut, American Craftsmen, Seal Team Six meets ancient magic--with the fate of the United States hanging in the balance . . .

About Tom

The Internet Review of Science Fiction has hailed TOM DOYLE's writing as “beautiful & brilliant.” Locus Magazine has called his stories “fascinating,” “transgressive,” “witty,” “moving,” and “intelligent and creepy.” A graduate of the Clarion Writing Workshop, Doyle has won the WSFA Small Press Award and third prize in the Writers of the Future contest. He is the author of American Craftsmen.

Website  ~  Facebook  ~  Twitter @tmdoyle2


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