Before The Story is a blog series about artist interviews and personal stories about becoming an artist.
Before The Story: Adam Mcomber
A good friend of mine happens to be an amazing writer. This week is pretty big for Adam Mcomber, not only does he have the book release for his first novel The White Forest but also, Saturday, we’re supposed to watch the third episode of the new season of Dr. Who. When I think about Before The Story and what I want to write about, I think about success and process. It’s interesting to me to think that to most of the world, he’s being introduced yet I’ve always known him to be a rigorous writer for years. His critical acclaim and distribution has been more than impressive for the much anticipated novel. Daniel Wallace, the author of Big Fish has compared him to H.P Lovecraft and The Booklist has described the book as “Commandingly erudite and imaginative.” I asked him to talk to me about his the book and the process leading up to it from the perspective of the craft.
How would you describe The White Forest?
-The book is set in the 19th century and it’s the story of a young woman who is basically a Victorian super hero. She has the power to percieve the souls of man-made objects. She was in love with her friends, one was a man and one was a woman. The man goes missing and the two woman have to search for him and infiltrate a cult in England.
You mentioned one of our favorite topics with super heroes. Do you think your main character could have her own comic book?
-It’s a dream of mine to write comic books. I don’t know if this one could be one but I want to write one someday.
What kind of comic book would you want to write?
-A pre-existing comic I love is Dr. Strange but I think I’d like to come up with my own idea like Joe Hill or Neil Gaiman.
You’ve been featured on the cover of your current city’s newspaper The Chicago Tribune but also your hometown in Ohio’s local paper. When you decided you wanted to be a writer, was this what you hoped for?
-When I was a kid, I imagined being a novelist. A novelist who sells books and is interesting to a lot of people. So I feel like I’m coming closer and closer to that dream.
Do you have a day job?
-I teach college. I teach creative writing workshops as well as classes like gothic literature and mythology literature.
How long have you taught?
-Including graduate school, 13 years.
Did you grow up wanting to be a writer or teacher first?
What’s your writing routine usually like?
-My preference is to write right away in the morning after my run so my mind is fresh before the day gets in the way. If I have to teach in the morning though, I write anytime I can. I try to write something every day.
How often do you write?
-It depends on if I’m writing a book. On the book I’m working on now, I tried to write five pages a day which is arduous.
How long have you had this routine?
-Since graduate school. My book of short stories came out a year ago. Even before that, I was writing every day. So, about 10 years.
When did you start considering yourself a novelist?
-In graduate school, you’re taught to write the short story. A novel seemed like a dream to me. It’s very difficult to write a novel. I had a couple practice novels before getting to The White Forest. For a long time, when someone asked me what I do, I’d say I’m a teacher. But now that I sold a novel, I say I’m a writer.
You’ve been published before with short stories and a book of short stories, what is the difference between those experiences and a novel?
-So there’s three levels, first there are literary journals and getting published in those was exciting in of itself. Then I put together a book of short stories called This New and Poisonous Air and sent it to small, reputable presses. So getting that book of short stories with BOA editions was extremely exciting, it was like the door was opening. From there, I got an agent and finished my novel. And selling my novel to Simon and Schuster, one of the top publishers in the world, at auction was like a dream come true. The most exciting day of my life.
What does The White Forest change with your ability to publish future projects?
-My work still has to be strong to publish future works. I really have to focus on the quality of the writing still, it doesn’t give me carte blanche to publish whatever I want. I have a connection to a really great editor but I still have to write quality work. But I feel more confident now because I have had this experience. I feel like I can be more imaginative with my new novel.
So is there, in a way, more pressure now that you’ve had one published?
-Yes I feel a great deal of pressure now.
Now that you’re an established novelist, why not leave your day job?
-I enjoy the stability of a day job. A writer has to produce the art and it’s precarious and to rely on that for your total income is frightening. But teaching is a great day job because it gives me time to write.
So you’ll always teach and write?
-”Always” is a strong word. I mean, I do like teaching but I love writing.
OK, so there’s a kid that dreams of being a novelist. What advice do you have for them to seek your current publication status?
-Well, I was that kid. And now I’m 36. So I would tell them to keep that in mind and say that it is a marathon and not a sprint. So you have to perservere and start by trying to publish your work in literary journals and then you know you’re connecting with the reader. I think it’s futile to create long works, not knowing if you’re connecting yet. I worked on a novel for 7 years. 7 years! And I dropped it eventually because it wasn’t working and then I worked on short stories which The White Forest kind of grew out of.
Well, thanks for talking with me. Did I do OK as an interviewer?
-Snoozefest! No, I’m joking, you did fine, it was fun.
Pretty sage advice from a writer turned teacher turned writer. You can find out more about Adam at http://adammcomber.com/. More about The White Forest, including a series of links for purchase at http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13095857-the-white-forest. And if you’re in Chicago come to the release party Thursday September 13th, 7pm at Unabridged Books 3251 N Broadway.