Tom Doyle In Conversation With Leslie Bumstead, Alyse Knorr, and Aaron Winslow

Tom Doyle will read from his latest book, War and Craft, on 1-26-18 at The Black Squirrel in Washington, DC 8:00PM. Join the event on Facebook.
Tom Doyle, Author of War and Craft
American Craftsmen Author Tom Doyle in Guided by Voices Coverband
From left to right: Tom Zanol (bass), Jay Austin (guitar), Tom Doyle (vocals),  Jeff Roberts (drums), Chris Cook (lead guitar).
Photo Credit: Carl Bruch


CL: Where was this photo taken? How does it represent your creative life?

Tom: In 1999, I quit my law firm and embarked on the multinational millennial pilgrimage that led me to becoming a writer. The climax of that pilgrimage is the moment captured in this photo on Leap Day 2000 at the Velvet Lounge in Washington, DC. With my friends, I'd formed a Guided by Voices cover band, Voided by Guises, and this is my theatrical version of the GbV song "Hot Freaks."

CL: Respond to the following popular quote about creativity?

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while."   
          —Steve Jobs

Tom: I'm not an Apple user, but as someone who creates secret histories, this quote speaks to me. For my trilogy about magician soldiers and psychic spies, I've been a magpie, gathering whatever shiny baubles I can find from real world history and literature, then weaving them together into a coherent whole. In connection mode, my mindset resembles that of a paranoid schizophrenic: "It all fits together, man, it all fits!" But I understand what Jobs means about the little tug of guilt—I don't feel I'm inventing something from scratch so much as mining the world and my own experience and connecting the best bits. 

Leslie: I love the idea of “connection mode” —for me this is how I revise my work, and it can be arduous and frustrating but when I finally find the connections and the puzzle fits together, it’s the greatest. Your comments actually got me thinking about my current project (from which I’ll be reading) which is still in process—I think it could benefit from some more mining in the history of the cyborg in the world and in literature. As of right now I’m still in “how does all this shit fit together!?” mode. 

Tom: Cyborgs are great fun. Here's a nugget for you (though I don't know if it fits): some speculate that Baum was inspired by all the Civil War amputees that he saw as a child to create the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. Also fun—just toured the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, where they've developed the mentally controlled prosthetic arms that can also sense things. 

Leslie: Love this! Thank you! 

Alyse: Sometimes making connections means first ensuring there are enough “variables,” or, as Benjamin Percy puts it, “flaming chainsaws” in the piece so that they can connect and collide with each other. Every time one of my own pieces feels boring, it’s because there aren’t enough variables. For instance, in the first draft of my book Copper Mother, which is about an intelligent extraterrestrial species visiting Earth after hearing the Voyager Golden Record, I focused only on the visitors themselves. But when I added in more of a focus on their ambassador, “Jane,” and a plot line involving Jane’s grief for a deceased beloved and a little bit of time-traveling, everything felt richer. I even find that once I add the variables in, they find ways to “connect” themselves! 

CL: The ancient Greek terms zoe and bios both mean life, but they are not interchangeable—scholar Carl Kerenyi wrote in Dionysos that “Zoe is like seeing Earth from space... Bios involves swooping down from space, closing in on the scene, seeing the details...” How would you apply zoe and bios to the creative life? 

Tom: Despite the golden age's notoriously underwritten characters, etc., I think only a few well-known science fiction writers have attempted a pure zoe novel—Olaf Stapledon comes immediately to mind. Virginia Woolf was a fan of his sweeping zoe style, perhaps because it was almost the exact opposite of what was then her approach to time and life. I expect Stapledon felt similarly about her work, and I think that's all very cool.

In science fiction and fantasy, the best work is usually a dynamic between zoe and bios. Zoe, because unlike much of literary fiction there often has to be an element of explicit worldbuilding in speculative fiction, and that endeavor is zoe. Bios because if you want readers to engage with the big ideas of your worlds, they'll usually need specific and compelling narrative action with interesting fleshed-out characters.

In my own trilogy, zoe is the panoramic secret history, surveying many generations and their ghosts. But the conclusion of the trilogy indicates that the work is indeed biosthe characters are more legendary than mythic, and their lives (like a legendary cycle) have beginnings, middles, and ends.
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Tom Doyle Author of American Craftsmen trilogy (Tor Books)
Photo Credit: Beth Delaney
In Tom Doyle’s American Craftsmen trilogy (Tor Books), magician soldiers fight their way through the legacies of Poe and Hawthorne as they attempt to destroy undying evils—and not kill each other first. Tom writes in a spooky DC turret. You can find free text and audio of his award-winning short fiction at

Books by Tom Doyle can be found at Bridge Street Books, in Georgetown
2814 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC
Phone: (202) 965-5200
image of storefront of Bridge Street Books, address 2814 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC, best literary bookstore in Washington, DC

If you enjoyed this conversation, please share this post, share your story in the comments below, ask a question.
Thank you—

The Creative Life


If you enjoyed this conversation, please share this post, share your story in the comments below, ask a question.
Thank you—

The Creative Life



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