Working among Pacific Island communities might be many people’s dream job but D. Thomas Minton recently traded a tropical Pacific Island for the cold, rainy Pacific Northwest of the continental United States, and while others may disagree, he thinks he got the better end of the deal. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, InterGalactic Medicine Show, among many other publications. Today he talks to Schlock about his journey as a writer and how to use your life experience to enrich your writing.
You have published a good number of short stories, but word has it that you are now working on a novel. What are the different challenges involved in the two forms?
I am working a novel, and while it has put a crimp in my short story writing, I plan to write more stories as soon as I finish the novel and get it out the door. I’ve found novels and short stories to have many similarities, but also to be entirely different beasts. They share the concept of characters, conflict, setting and tension, but at different levels of scale and complexity. Even though I consider my novel a small and personal story, I’ve found the scope of it is actually much larger than short stories I’ve written before. Keeping all of the moving parts in my head has been a bigger challenge than I anticipated; it hasn’t left much room for other stories.
As a marine tropical biologist you travel to many exotic locations. Has that informed your writing and perhaps aided you in your world building?
Even though I consider myself an introvert, I love to travel and experience other cultures. I like to delve into a place’s history, visit its back streets, and experience its out-of-the-way gems because I want to understand why things are the way they are. Many of my experiences work their way into my writing. Often these experiences are lifted, changed, and reinserted into an entirely different milieu, keeping only their essence. For example, my experiences in Indonesia and Singapore were inspirations for future Kuala Lumpur in my story “The Thief of Futures.”
Guilt and a sense of loss are driving emotions for a number of your protagonists within your stories. Is this a conscious decision on your part?
I had not noticed that until you pointed it out, but that does seem to be the case. I guess that would answer your question. I find guilt and loss are two powerful human emotions, and can make people do things they ordinarily wouldn’t do (fear and love would also fit that description). Many of my protagonists struggle with lost loves, and I think that is a subconscious fear that I have. Having a family, I cannot imagine anything more emotionally painful than losing them. Even thinking about it is painful for me. Powerful emotions help make good stories strong stories because everyone can relate to them.
A common writer’s adage was that until you make it in the world of print magazine publishing, you haven’t earned your chops. With the advent of so many online magazines, small publishers, and self-publishing, do you think this still holds true? How have you seen the publishing world change in the last five to ten years?
I haven’t been publishing that long, but even in the short time I’ve been writing for publication, I’ve seen the landscape change. While I think print, especially through traditional publishing houses (or magazines) is still the gold standard, it’s changing. Awards are not generally the best indicator, but stories published online are winning Nebula and Hugo Awards, which would have been unheard of ten years ago. Self-publishing has also lost much of its stigma, and some authors, such as Hugh Howley, are making a good living publishing and marketing their own work. This is an interesting time to be in the writing business, because multiple roads to success exist, and I think writers would be foolish to ignore the changes.
Who is your favorite character that you’ve written so far? Why?
This is a tough question. With few exceptions, I like all of my characters because they all contain at least some piece of me, and many contain pieces of loved ones, friends and people I admire. I even have a soft spot for my scoundrels. If backed into a corner and forced to choose, however, I say my favorite character is Eshram Kingston from “Thief of Futures.” He’s a man who has done terrible things, but eventually his heart is where it needs to be as he struggles to find a new life for him and his little girl. He is the father I hope I can and will always be to my daughter.
Has anything you’ve written ever taken you by surprise, after it was finished (a surprise of delight, or a disturbing surprise)?
I wrote a story that disturbed me so much I couldn’t finish it. It bothered me that I could even imagine the terrible things that happened to the people in that story. It gave disturbing dreams, but even setting it aside and working on other stories didn’t help. I only managed to escape the story when I finished it, and that took over a year to do. Since I finished, I seldom think about it anymore, except when it comes back to me from a market—it hasn’t sold anywhere yet, likely because of the content, but I know it will find a home eventually. It’s a good story, just oppressively dark, in my opinion, and not the type of stuff I usually write.
And finally, what’s your proudest moment as a writer?
I’ve been fortunate to have many proud moments in my relatively short career. It’s hard to pick just one. My first sale (to a now defunct online publication) was important to me because it told me I could do this when I really needed the encouragement, but I would have to say my proudest moment was my sale to one of the big three magazines. I nearly jumped through the roof when Sheila Williams at Asimov’s sent an acceptance email for my story “Observations on a Clock.” It was in response to my query and basically one sentence that I had to read several times to make sure it said what I thought it said. I was floating around in a daze for two or three days afterwards. I still get excited about every sale, but that one was something on another level.
Learn more about D. Thomas Minton and his stories on his site.