Thom Dunn is a Boston-based writer, musician, homebrewer, and new media artist. He enjoys Oxford commas, metaphysics, and romantic clichés (especially when they involve whiskey), and he firmly believes that Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" is the single greatest atrocity committed against mankind. He is a graduate of Clarion Writer's Workshop at UCSD ('13) & Emerson College ('08).
I'm on vacation this week, but my Clarion comrade / favorite robosexual Patrick Ropp tapped me for this Writing Process Blog Tour, so as long as my fiancé is still napping, of course I must oblige.
1. What am I working on?
Too many projects, all the time. I'm working on a novel, tentatively titled either The Good People or Dirty Old Town, which I usually describe "Magical Realist Irish Folklore Punk Rock Noir Set in Modern-Day Boston." Yes, I know, it sounds like pretty much the most stereotypical Thom Dunn project imaginable — but hey, write what you know, right? This story started as a short story at Clarion, though the idea had been bouncing around in my head for a while.
I'm also working on a play based on a short story I wrote (which I'm also editing to send out) called Autojektor, or Experiments In the Revival of Organisms, which I similarly describe as "Gay Russian Zombie Jew Ballet," and thus requires no further explanation. Then there's Evil Academy, a young adult graphic novel series I've been working on with my friend Dave about a private high school for aspiring supervillains. It's a black comedy, with each storyline basically taking the shape of a "Very Special Episode" of a high school sitcom, but it goes to some pretty dark places, and at the center of it explores what it's like to fight against the system when the system that you're inside of already claims to be fighting a system, but is still a system in and of itself (I don't know, I have authority issues).
2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
That's a great question that I'm not sure how to answer without coming off as pretentious about my own work, but sure, I'll try. Because of the nature of my hypomanic brain, my stuff tends to be, well, pretty ADHD, and/or very high concept. I draw as much from (post-)postmodernism as I do from magical realism and speculative fiction. Coming from a background in theatre, I tend to use a lot of snappy dialogue as well, regardless of the medium I'm working in. I like to think I'm pretty witty, too, even when I'm going to dark places. On the more thematic side of things, I've always leaned towards stories about outsiders and people or cultures who don't quite fit in, even amongst their own subversive subcultures. The outsiders amongst outsiders, I guess. I've also had that inclination, but as I've gotten older, it's made me more attuned to diversity and inclusion in my work. I pull a lot from my own subcultures of indie / punk rock and comics / nerdy pop culture. Of course, I've never felt completely comfortable in those worlds either, which probably explains my I gravitate towards characters that don't fit in to a world that already doesn't fit in with the rest of the world. I also draw a lot from my Irish-Catholic upbringing — I'm agnostic, but I have an intimate understanding of Biblical symbology (I'm less interested in blatant religious metaphors than I am in the archetypal symbols that have permeated all religions and cultures), and I draw a lot from Irish literature as well, whether it's folklore, oral traditions, or the black humor of writers like Martin McDonagh.
3. Why do I write what I do?
I think I kind of covered this above. But I write because I have to, because no one is telling the stories that I want to experience. That's kind of a cliched answer, but there is a lot of truth to it. I'm a very curious and also very empathic person, so a lot of times, I'll happen upon a situation — something I read in the news, or a story told to me by a friend — and I start to wonder how it got to that point, or why a person might have made those decisions (or, sometimes, how the opposite situation could have worked out). And I want to know the answers, and I want to understand them, even if I don't like them. So I write to make that happen.
4. How does your writing process work?
As far as "where ideas come from," a lot of mine spring up when I'm reading things in the news or hearing about my friends' lives. I read or hear or see a story, and (as I said above), I wonder how it got to that point, and then I start to wonder, "Well, what if...?" Sometimes it's "What if this horrible person was actually the good guy?" or "What if this technology had gone this way instead?" or "What if she had left for the party on time?" and then I extrapolate. I hook into a person caught in a situation, and then I go from there. How did they get there? Why? Where do they go from here?
As far as the actual act of writing is concerned, I do most of my first drafts by hand in a composition notebook. This prevents from self-editing too much; I get into a flow, and then I just keep pouring stuff out. Sure, there's a lot of crap that comes out that way, and only so many times you can scribble out a page, but I write a lot of notes to myself in the margins, that are often as simple and straight-forward as "Make this better" or "Less shitty next time" or "No, you idiot, of course she's going to lie about that." Then I start to type it into my computer using Scrivener (which has made my life / writing so much better and I could not recommend more highly) or a simple .txt file in PlainText on my iPad, taking my margin-notes into consideration as I go. A lot of these early by-hand drafts read like plays, even when I'm not writing a play — there's a lot of dialogue, with a mention of some action whenever it happens, which I then flesh out when I'm actually typing it into the computer.
I think I was supposed to plan ahead and tape some other people to write this for next Tuesday but uhhhhh I forgot to do that. So if anyone wants on, let me know!