Happy ever afters, Brooklyn coffee shops and love without language: A Q&A with Tommy Wallach

With the release of Tommy Wallach’s fantastic second novel, ‘Thanks for the Trouble’, coming up this week, we thought we’d grill him about writing, authors he admires and happily ever afters. 

Tommy Wallach

In the length of a tweet, tell us what ‘Thanks For The Trouble’ is about. Parker Santé, who hasn’t spoken a word since his father’s death five years earlier, meets a silver-haired girl named Zelda, who claims to be over two hundred years old. [Shit. I’m 30 characters over. Sorry.]

What’s your favourite part of this book? Oh that’s not fair! It would be like asking a mother to describe her child’s most attractive facial feature. But, since you’re insisting, I’ll give you two favorites. There’s a section called “An Evening in Eight Drinks” that tracks a party Parker and Zelda go to together. I’m proud of the way the chapters flow, and how different drinks logically move the reader through the evening (from cheap beer to $1,000 scotch to a mouthful of seawater). My other favorite part(s) of ‘Thanks for the Trouble’ are the three fairy tales that Parker writes over the course of the book (one per day). I read over them recently and wondered if I might find someone to illustrate them and publish the result separately. I think they’re really good fairy tales!

let the right one inDo you remember the moment you got the idea for the story? You know, I really don’t! I was under contract to write a second book (after ‘We All Looked Up’), and I wrote about 20,000 words of something else. I thought it was pretty great, but my editor (rightly) informed me that it wasn’t YA! So I had to go back to the drawing board, and a couple weeks later, I’d started the book that would become ‘Thanks for the Trouble’. That said, I can say that re-watching ‘Let the Right One In’ had a huge effect on the development of this project—though I want to be very clear to your readers that my book has ZERO vampires in it. ZERO. I don’t do vampires. Ever. No thank you. Also helpful was seeing ‘Before Sunrise’ for the first time.

Parker hasn’t spoken for five years – was it difficult to write a character with such limited dialogue? Can you explain to our MPers how you got around this? As may have been mentioned in the synopsis, Parker has a psychomatic disorder that keeps him from speaking. I was so excited to include this in the book, because I knew it would provide a really interesting challenge for me as a writer. YA is famously dialogue-heavy, and I loved the idea of not being able to use dialogue in the traditional way. Of course, Parker still has to communicate, and he does this in a number of ways: writing in a journal, signing, even carving words into wet sand! I was surprised at how easy it turned out to be to create a relationship between Parker and Zelda without a lot of dialogue; maybe we all overestimate how important language is in terms of chemistry. (For another great example of this, I highly recommend watching the first half hour of the film ‘Beginners’. It also features a couple falling in love without language. I only saw it after I’d finished ‘Thanks for the Trouble’, which was probably for the best.)

Some readers may not realise you’re a musician as well. Could you name one or maybe a couple of songs you think are perfect for ‘Thanks For The Trouble’? I can’t help but think of the terribly-written but beautifully-sung Queen ballad ‘Who Wants To Live Forever.’ (Side Note: I’d always assumed Freddie Mercury wrote it after learning he was dying of AIDS, but recently I learned Brian May wrote it for the soundtrack of the movie ‘The Highlander’, about an immortal Scottish swordsman! There is, however, a Queen ballad about Mercury’s illness, called ‘The Show Must Go On,’ but I don’t like it as much.) But in terms of songs I actually like that were bouncing around my head during the writing, I’d go with Andrew Bird’s ‘Armchairs’ and Joanna Newsom’s ‘Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie’ (the latter of which I covered on YouTube, long ago).

More than anything, what would you like people to take away from this book? As anyone who read ‘We All Looked Up’ knows, I’m not a big fan of books that reinforce the narrative of one dreamy person for each of us, who will fix our lives and make us complete and stick around forever (I’m looking at you, the ending of ‘Harry Potter’ and the ending of ‘The Hunger Games’). I’m just not a fan of certainties of any sort, really. So…that’s my answer.

Which writers do you admire most? Oh my. Lots of answers again. I admire George Eliot for taking the social novel and making it political. I admire Philip K. Dick for the neverending font of ideas he seemed to have inside him. I admire George Saunders for his deep humanity. I admire Marilynne Robinson for almost making me like religion with her fiction, then reminding me why I don’t like religion with her non-fiction. I admire Stephen King for the fact that he’s never apologized for what he writes, and has watched the literary world come around to his work over the course of his career. I admire Ursula K. Leguin for having been one of the most forward thinking writers on gender and race for the past five decades. I admire Jon Ronson for his cleverness, Christopher Hitchens for his fearlessness, John Jeremiah Sullivan for the poetry he brings to journalism, Helen MacDonald for the gorgeous memoir she gave us last year. The list goes on and on…

Because we all want to know where the magic happens, send us a picture of where you write. I write in various coffee shops around Brooklyn. Here’s the one I currently go to most often. It’s called ‘City of Saints’, and is located in Bushwick.

City of Saints 1

Get your copy of ‘Thanks for the Trouble’ now!

Have you read ‘Thanks for the Trouble’ yet? Tell us your thoughts at @maximumpopbooks!

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Written by Sophie Waters

Sophie is the Head of Commercial at Maximum Pop! Having studied English Lit and Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, she came to MP! to satisfy her passion for books. Sophie is a diehard Hufflepuff and feminist. She's also a huge cat lover, and can often be found rocking her socks off at a gig.

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