Author of the Week: T. Fox Dunham
T. Fox Dunham and I have a few things in common, like a publisher (Gutter Books) and geographical origin (he’s from Philadelphia and I grew up across the Delaware in South Jersey).
Beyond that, I wouldn’t even try to compare myself to him. Not only do I consider him a literary genius, but he is one of the bravest people I’ve ever known, even though I only know him via Facebook, and the one time I saw him read before a live audience, in San Francisco, 2013, when we shared a Gutter book launch party. Even as a performer of his own work, he is uniquely talented.
His first novel published by Gutter, The Street Martyr, has been optioned for a film. Ironically, Gutter also reissued my novel Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me at the same time because it was in the process of being made into a film by Christian Slater, though that process is now on “indefinite hiatus.”
Meantime, Fox has beaten a seemingly terminal illness, and married the love of his life. These are good times for him.
I can’t think of another human being that deserves it more.
How do you account for your astoundingly prolific and consistently high quality output in a wide variety of genres and formats?
Death is a strong motivator. There’s a clock ticking under my and its hands are hidden from me. The motivation for any author seeking success must come from within, and I say seeking success because there are many authors who love the dream more than the actual act and don’t want real success. You have to be strong, and you must be able to endure. You have to be able to take a punch, get back up, get hit by a train then get back up and try again. You only really fail when you’ve accepted failure. It is a struggle, yes, but with each new story, there is no hope. And you only get better through trial.
Also, knowing the craft is quite important. I’ve studied all my life to understand and master the mechanics of writing, and there’s still so much more to learn. Then once I’ve learned it, I need to make it second nature. Writing tools such as twists, pacing, micro tension will solve problems and help you get through walls. A good plan is vital for a good story, and you will be able to write more. Now, over the last two years, my attention has changed to creating a family and helping my wife. My writing has slowed. It has also slowed down because I lost faith in the path of my career. Indie writing has suffered a lot of carnage in the last few years and many publishers have died. I need to take my work to the next level, and it took a lot of soul searching to figure out how. I have a plan now, and I’m focusing more on long fiction. I feel like I’ve had my learning period, experimented with several genres, and it’s time to write smarter, to target places, to put more time into long fiction and not be so concerned with mass production. And writing in horror, crime, sci-fi is pretty easy if you know the unique concepts to each genre. It’s a lot of window dressing, but the story mechanics are the same. You just have to know what a reader expects out of a sci-fi or horror story or any other genre. Once you do, writing across dimensions can be done.
How broadly or specifically do your personal health challenges inform and influence your creative work?
Well, when I believed my clock was going to run out, I had this almost messianic mission to communicate what I’d seen and experienced to the outside world. I have always tried to justify my stay of execution, and I came to believe that I was here to tell my story then my time would end. So, I focused on writing stories about cancer or at least dying. Cancer became my theme, and I wrote of its horror in metaphor in Mercy or the mind of the dying in Destroying the Tangible Illusion of Reality or Searching for Andy Kaufman. Then you know, Will, I reached my stopping my point. I’ve come to a place in my life when I feel like I’ve said everything that can be said about my experience. I was done. It had all been written. So I could either wait to die or decide on a new mission. So, I married the woman of my dreams and committed to building a life with her. Of course, the cancer came back right after we got married, but we beat it back. And we’ll see about the next time. So again, it’s been about taking time for self-evaluation, for figuring out what my own voice is and to define new professional goals. Before, I didn’t worry about promoting my books. I figured, what was the point? It’s all on record. I won’t be here for the aftermath. But now, I take promotion seriously, ergo my show What Are You Afraid Of? Horror & Paranormal Show. It’s all about promotion, keeping my face out there. I’m planning for a future and a big part of that is my writing. Thus, I don’t’ want to write about cancer anymore, and I doubt anyone will ever see it as a major component of any of my fiction. It’s time to step out of that shadow.
Briefly, what’s the back story and current status of the film adaption of your novel, The Street Martyr?
The script is done and has been revised several times. Of course, when you hire a director or any new high level staff, they always want to make changes. I have to be vague here as much of this has to be kept secret while negotiations continue. I can say that the project is going to be a lot larger than I had originally conceived. At this point, I would say they’re assembling the project, contacting some major agencies to hook some top level actors (that list blows me away) and seeking a deal with a backer. That’s all I can really say now. I have been a part of the creative process, but I have not wished to involve myself too much. I have great faith in Throughline Films. I started this journey, and they’re going to finish it and finish it well.
What are your influences, literary or otherwise?
It might surprise you that my great loves are literary. Of course, when I was younger, I loved Bradbury and Stephen King. Then as I got older, I found myself pouring through Fitzgerald, Salinger, Hemingway, Heller plus many of the great authors of the last two centuries. If I could pick any genre to really base myself in, it would be literary. The Street Martyr was a fusion of those styles with a horror atmosphere that created something original and different in the crime genre. I’d only really read true crime books at that point, it might surprise to you learn. I’d never really read the pulp books that many crime authors base their work on.
What’s next for you?
Well, like I’ve mentioned, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. For a time, I was so frustrated by the industry, I nearly stopped. That happens often. I focused my energy on other things like building a marriage, cooking, baking, and just surviving my disability. When my first three books came out, I learned a terrible lesson. Every beginning author needs a promotional mechanism, and there aren’t a lot of good options. I needed to create a platform to attract new readers and keep my face in the field, a place where I could be seen. Just being published isn’t enough even if it is 1,000 times. And authors often make the mistake of the celebrity cult: knowing famous and successful authors does not validate you. It doesn’t mean you’re in their class, and many ‘celebrity’ authors get off on having their asses kissed by acolytes. All authors nurture a deep insecurity and this can lead to fooling ourselves with spurious success. But really, it’s all about the sales, the numbers, the book reviews. I had to do something. I am too ill and don’t have the resources to travel to conventions, and even if I did, it’s mostly just authors congratulating or condescending other authors. You can also go to readings, which is another great expense of energy and money, and you join a group of 5-10 other authors reading to a group of maybe 20 people. You can’t just post your book in author’s groups on Facebook and say, buy this now! So, I created the show as an audio podcast, and we’ve grown it, attracting new talent, some major figures and some great content. It’s free. We do it to promote our work, and we can do it from our living room at little expense. And it’s working. As the show numbers grow, hits on my author pages and book sales climb. It’s opening doors for me, and we just had a major Halloween event. It’s a lot of work, but I’m seeing the results. So I’ve spent a lot of energy building this system to support future work.
I’m a writing a commercial science fiction novel that has a different voice from Indie. After all my soul searching, I realized this was the best course of action. I’m going to be selective in my agent and publisher, not rush to publish it and to not let my insecurity dictate my professional terms. As I’m writing the book, I’m also doing short stories in all genres to make some money and keep my face out there, keep me in the field. More solicitations will pop up each season if I’m being seen.
So it’s been a long and painful journey, but I’ve matured. I’ve learned the difference between Indie and commercial, and I’ve discovered the mistakes that most authors make that take them down a blind alley. Don’t ever let yourself want it so badly that you deceive yourself. Live with the disappointment, use it. What is commercial success? It’s all about the numbers.
I thank you for taking the time to interview me and I thank your readers for their time.
Thank YOU, Fox, for the inspiration. Rock on, brother.
T. Fox Dunham lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Allison. He’s a lymphoma survivor, cancer patient, modern bard and historian. His first book, The Street Martyr, was published by Gutter Books. A major motion picture based on the book is being produced by Throughline Films. Destroying the Tangible Illusion of Reality or Searching for Andy Kaufman, a book about what it’s like to be dying of cancer, was recently released from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing and Fox has a story in the Stargate Anthology Points of Origin from MGM and Fandemonium Books. Fox is an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and he’s had published hundreds of short stories and articles. He’s host and creator of What Are You Afraid Of? Horror & Paranormal Show, a popular horror program on PARA-X RADIO. His motto is wrecking civilization one story at a time. Blog: http://tfoxdunham.blogspot.com/. http://www.facebook.com/tfoxdunham & Twitter: @TFoxDunham
What Are You Afraid Of? Horror and Paranormal ShowA show that explores horror & paranormal topics, interviewing indie authors, artists, musicians & ghost hunters. We provide new music, ghost stories, new fiction, music, poetry and comedy.
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