Welcome! My guest today is Michael J. Tobias author of From There to Here.
Michael J. Tobias was born and raised in South Carolina. After receiving degrees from Furman University and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he served several Baptist and Methodist churches in various positions, including Youth Minister, Education Minister, Associate Pastor, and Pastor. He has also worked at schools, in retail, at a funeral home and at a public library. He has traveled to Europe and the Middle East and wants very much to visit China. If you could send him a plane ticket, he’d appreciate it. His interests include spirituality, world religions, philosophy, quantum mechanics, psychology, biology, and ecology. He plays guitar, uses Xubuntu Linux, is a vegetarian, practices Tai Chi, takes care of a cat named Buddha, and faithfully mows his mother’s lawn. He also reads a good deal and writes on occasion.
Now for some questions and answers!
How did you get into writing? I’ve been writing a while, but honestly, reading led me into writing. I was so entranced with the worlds and characters in books that I began to imagine my own. Once that started, there’s not a huge leap to writing it all down.
What genre do you write? I don’t focus so much on genre as story. I have stories to tell and then I imagine settings for them. Some settings lend themselves better to some aspects of stories than others do. So…I suppose the answer is, whatever genre fits the story best in my view. I will say this, there are some stories in which I have zero interest, so there are some genres in which I can’t imagine writing. I won’t say “never,” but I honestly can’t imagine it now.
What is your target audience? Everyone who wonders. I just published a pretty deep book about a man on a spiritual quest. I don’t suppose many teenagers would enjoy it, though some might. I’m currently working on a young adult fantasy with a 15-year-old girl as the protagonist and her 6 friends as the primary character group. They range in age from 9 to 16. They will deal with typical teenage issues though they will do it in a fantasy world.
What have you published to date? Do you write under a pseudonym? I publish only under my real name. Thus far I’ve published a book of short stories called “Fundamental Problems” and a novel called “From There To Here.” They are both available via Amazon and the short story collection is free.
If you are self-published, what led to this choice? Freedom. As I mentioned, my short story collection is free because that’s how I wanted it. Whether a publishing company would allow this or not is difficult to say, but I knew I could do it if I published it myself. I also didn’t want anyone telling me what to cut out of my novel and what to put on the cover. My novel has some controversial material that I would never leave out.
How would you review your book for readers who might be considering it? It’s a very deep book about a very deep subject and it contains a lot of deep philosophical ideas. That said, I tried to use the setting so that any complicated philosophical or theological ideas are explained. I don’t assume my readers are stupid, but I also don’t assume they’ve studied Kant or read Frithjof Schuon.
Are your books available as e-books? Any other formats? Both are available as e-books while only the novel is available in paperback.
Do you have a favorite book or character (that you’ve written)? I don’t have a favorite. I have favorite scenes and lines and passages, but there are many of those.
If any of your books were to be made into films, who would you have as the lead actor(s)? I’d love to have Tom Hanks play Jeremy Sparks, but he’s probably aged out of that role now.
Which author(s) would you say influence your writing? John Irving, Margaret Atwood, John Updike, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Iris Murdoch, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Stephen R. Donaldson.
How did you choose the title / cover of your books? How important do you think title/cover is to the book? For the longest time, I had a working title for the novel just to identify what it was on my hard drive. About 2/3 of the way through the writing of it, it just hit me that it was a book about perspective more than anything else. So the title was born…a twist on an old saying, so to speak. As for the cover, I had an image in mind…a man on a road, so when I saw this picture online, I thought it was perfect and contacted the artist and bought it.
What are you working on at the moment? Are you planning on another book? Shadewalker, a young adult fantasy that may or may not be a trilogy. That’s how I envision it at the moment. These things have a way of evolving.
Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? I write every day but not always on the current work-in-progress. Sometimes it’s world-building, sometimes dialogue snippets, sometimes scenes or descriptions, and sometimes just posts for my blog. I have never had writer’s block. I know people talk about it, but I have no idea what it’s like.
Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it? There is a basic plot outline, but the stories take on a life of their own once the journey begins…much like life.
Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names, and what do you think makes them believable? All my characters are based on people I know or combinations of characteristics of people I know or certain characteristics in myself. That, I think, makes them believable…they they are anchored in what I’ve experienced and probably many others have experienced. Some of their names are based on real people, but for the fantasy novel, they are mostly just names I’ve written down in moments of inspiration. I have a list of names, and sometimes they change once I start writing the characters. The characters tell me what they want to be called and how they want to be portrayed once I start living their tales in my head.
Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed? I have an editing routine where I will go back and re-read what I’ve previously written and edit as needed, then I edit once the entire story is done. Then I send it to beta readers and incorporate their notes/suggestions as I find them appropriate, then edit again.
How much research do you do? Tons. I spend most of my time researching, and about 10% of it actually shows up in the book, but there is an underlying knowledge that sits in the background and can be brought out if needed.
What point of view do you usually write in: first person or third person? So far, almost exclusively third because of how the stories have come to me. I don’t think about what is best or not, I just write ’em as I get ’em.
Do you write any poetry, non-fiction, or short stories? Short stories, yes. I’ve tried to write poetry and music lyrics, but I confess this is not an area of strength for me. I appreciate well-written poetry very much and I wish I had that gift, but alas, I am somewhat mediocre in this regard. I write non-fiction weekly on my blog.
Do you have pieces you’ve written that you think should never see the light of day? Sure. I have several blog drafts that I’ve written that haven’t been published and may or may never be. I also have some fiction and non-fiction that I’ve written about theology and spiritual themes that will probably not be published, though again, I’m loathe to say never.
Have you had any rejections from publishing houses? If so, how do you deal with them? Years ago I sent a few shorts to a few magazines and got rejected. Perhaps that forms the basis for my decision to self-publish now, I don’t know. At the time, most of them gave me positive feedback. Of course I was disappointed, but I don’t think I was devastated.
Do you have an agent? Do you believe they are vital to an author’s success? I don’t have an agent and honestly haven’t thought of hiring one. Whether they are vital to an author’s success depends greatly on how one defines “success.” If you mean financially, I cannot give an opinion. If you mean success as in “fulfilled and happy,” then no, they are not vital.
How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or for yourself as a ‘brand’? What types of marketing have you found to be the most successful? I hate marketing, I really do. I know most authors probably say that and it’s bordering on cliché, but it is what it is. I do all my own marketing, such as it is, and so far the most successful is word of mouth, honestly. People who read my book and suggest it to others. Nothing beats that.
What your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything about your writing surprised you? Marketing. I honestly can’t stand it. I know it’s necessary, but I truly despise it. Perhaps that says something about my psyche, I don’t know, but I know I would never market if I didn’t think it was necessary.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Read a lot. Find prose that sings to you and emulate the author. Don’t copy the author’s work, emulate them if you can.
If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and why? What would you serve your guests or where would you dine?
Jesus – something Mediterranean – a secluded place where it’s just him and me; Adolf Hitler – something Austrian – a secluded place where it’s just him and me; Malcom X – something vegetarian – a secluded place where it’s just him and me. Here’s why: Jesus is pretty obvious…so many questions; Hitler, also many questions, but I want to know why he believed what he believed…not because I admire it or him, but because I think we need to understand what would lead a human being to do such horrible things to other human beings; Malcom X because I’m fascinated with how he used a religion for political purposes and then apparently had a genuine spiritual experience and was murdered for embracing unity and peace…allegedly, I suppose I should add.
If you had to choose a single day from your past to re-live over and over, what day would it be and why? I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do such a thing. Honestly, even if it’s the greatest day of your life, wouldn’t you be absolutely sick of it after just a few days? One caveat, however, is if you could use the day like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day to actually do things you never did that you wanted to…like learn to speak fluent French and play the piano…that would be awesome. But in that case, any day would do.
Do you have a favorite phrase or quote? Yes. My favorite phrase is, “I don’t know, I could be wrong.” I think that’s the best English phrase ever created.
Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing? Nope. I have friends and colleagues who keep saying I need to join a local writer’s group and I’ve looked into it, but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t appeal to me. I do occasionally participate in a couple of Facebook-based writer’s groups.
Do you have any hobbies? How do you think they enhance your creativity? I play guitar, which obviously enhances creativity. I also practice Tai Chi and meditation, which I like to think of more as lifestyle choices than hobbies. I also enjoy tinkering with computers.
Are there any writing-related websites and/or books that you find useful? Elements of Style by Strunk and White, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, and It Was The Best of Sentences, It Was The Worst of Sentences by June Casagrande have all been helpful to me. There are tons of helpful sites and blogs for writers…honestly too many to mention.
Are you on any forums or networking sites? Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Shelfari, Author’s Den…probably a few more, though I don’t keep up with all of them that well.
What do you think the future holds for writers? It’s a rapidly changing world, that’s for sure. Ten years ago I would never have imagined what an Independent author could accomplish today. I don’t know what’s coming, but I look forward to meeting the challenges it brings.
Where can readers find out more about you and your writing?
Is there anything else you’d like to mention? I like cake.
From There To Here is the story of Jeremy Sparks, a man who has searched his whole life for the answers to two questions: Does God exist? And if so, does God communicate with us? After an early career spent in church ministry, he settles into a job as a small town newspaper columnist, thanks to a childhood friend. He uses his column and blog to attack the local churches for what he sees as selfish indulgence and ignoring the plight of the local poor. Then strange things begin happening to him and he wants to know why.
Seeking out trusted friends, he confesses to them his bitterness and admits that he no longer believes in God. Through their advice, along with the advice of a new friend and more strange events, he is eventually set upon a path that promises answers to his deepest questions….