Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Author Insides: Thomas Lopinski, author of THE ART OF RAISING HELL

Interview with Thomas Lopinski

Thomas Lopinski grew up in a quaint small town in Illinois called Georgetown with one stoplight, one high school, one square, one lake, one police car, and one hundred ways to get into trouble. It was a wonderful place to be a child. He studied at the University of Illinois and later moved to Southern California with his wife and children to work in the music business. He is also a member of the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC). His first novel, Document 512, won several awards and recognition in 2012-2013 from Readers View Reviewers Choice Awards, Best Indie Book Awards, IndieFab Awards and the National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

His edgy young adult novel, The Art of Raising Hell, was released on April 28, 2015, by Dark Alley Press, an imprint of Vagabondage Press.

Thomas, what was your inspiration for The Art of Raising Hell?

I’ve always wanted to write a book about some of my best friends growing up but wasn’t quite sure how to approach it. I couldn’t write the truth because that would get everybody into trouble so I just put the idea to the side and forgot about it for several years. I also wanted to write about a few guys in my hometown who were real hell raisers that showed no fear and were feared by many. Then in the middle of the night last summer, I woke up with the opening line rolling off my tongue. I picked up the laptop and didn’t stop writing for about six weeks. That became the basis for the novel. As I was writing, other subjects like bullying, the environment, racism, and the absurd conditions we find ourselves in started creeping into the pages inspiring me to take the book to a whole other level.

What is the “art” of raising hell?

It’s more a frame of mind than anything. Anyone can howl at the moon, knock over a few trashcans and get into trouble. It takes skill to learn how to raise hell at just the right time, with just the right amount of moxie, and get away with it.

Is there any of yourself or your childhood friends in your characters? If so, how?

There were four of us in a backroom growing up. I remember sitting in the back of an old MG drinking beer at 4:00 in the morning saying, “We should write a book about all this.” Of course, when I finally got around to it, I couldn’t remember half the stories and the ones I did remember weren’t that fantastic. So, I took pieces of this story, traits of that person, made up the rest and molded it all into Bunsen Creek.

I also pulled inspiration from several residents in town that I didn’t know very well but knew about their reputations. You’d think growing up in a small town that there wouldn’t be a lot to draw from but that wasn’t the case. There were so many eccentric personalities running around my hometown that we’d classify as abnormal or psychotic today. When we were kids though, we just thought people were supposed to act like that. In the bigger cities, they’re the folks you see living on the streets or hiding behind a fenced in yard. In a small town, they’re somebody’s crazy uncle.

Did you raise hell as a teenager? If so, give us a good story of one instance.

I think the statutes of limitations haven’t run out yet comment. All I will say is that many of the stories in the book are based on personal experiences.

Running on all four is a theme throughout your book. How does that theme play into your everyday life?

To me, the metaphor reminds me to take chances. We all walk around on two feet and lead fairly normal lives. When you’re running on all four, you’re taking a golden opportunity and acting upon it before it’s too late. Moving to California was a big one for me. It was scary and I still miss the family and friends I left behind. But in the end, it was the right move.

Your characters go through a lot of loss. Is that something you experienced at a young age? Why was it important to your characters to experience these losses?

I didn’t really lose anyone close growing up. That’s always one of the dangers of writing in first person. I’m sure readers will want to know what it was like growing up without a mother, but in reality, my parents both lived long fruitful lives. In college, there was a guy who always used to say “To your mother” before drinking a shot. I took that memory and built it into the storyline. People just started dying after that.

Later on in life, I did lose two of my closest friends though. They both died sudden deaths within a few years of each other. One had a brain aneurism and the other died in a freak scuba accident. Those experiences taught me that I should never take anything or anyone for granted. I think writing about loss in the book did help me heal those wounds.

What was the most challenging part of writing The Art of Raising Hell?

Keeping it short. I could have written twice as many pages easily but didn’t think it was warranted. I want people to read my book and walk away with a smile, not fall asleep.

What scene did you enjoy writing the most?

That would have to be the streaking incident. I can still remember the night it happened and how festive the whole town was throughout the evening. Of course, it didn’t quite happen the way I described it in the book but, just like any good story over time, it took on a life of its own.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I used to play in rock bands and write very silly songs when I was younger. I was never that good at it, but boy, did I have fun. Then a group of my friends asked me to join their writers group. While most of them were struggling to finish their books and losing interest, I was already working on a second novel. That’s when I realized my calling.

Why do you write? 

That’s such a hard question to answer. Why do people sing or wear tattoos? It’s just who I am, I guess. Let me see if I can explain this a little better. If I didn’t write, my head would explode. How’s that?

Is being an author anything like you imagined it would be? 

…and then some. I’ve spent my whole life around musicians, singers, writers and artists. I’ve seen the good that comes from people getting together and spontaneously creating a wonderful song out of thin air. I’ve also seen the pitfalls too where the most talented person you’ve ever met ends up in the gutter and dies of alcohol poisoning. Writers have to be thick skinned in order to survive. That’s hard to do when you’re sharing something you’ve created from your heart and soul with the rest of the world. I knew all of that going in, so there were no visions of grandeur in my mind. That allowed me to just enjoy writing, which has made this experience so much more satisfying than I ever imagined.

What do you think makes a good story? 

Any plot that takes people to places they’ve never been and makes them feel sensations they didn’t know they had is a good story. But, if you can wrap it all up nicely in the end and leave them still thinking about it days later, you’ve written a great story.

What's your favorite genre to read? 

Like most things in life, I’m all over the place. I’ll read anything if it’s entertaining and interesting.

Who is your favorite author or poet? 

When I was young, it was Kurt Vonnegut Jr., then it was Stephen King, then J.K. Rowling and John Grisham…then Stephen King again.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer? 

I loved Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series. “Slaughterhouse Five”, “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest” and “The Great Gatsby” have always been favorites too.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person? 

There are too many to list. I think the first one was “Siddhartha”. I remember walking around in school starving myself and giving away my baseball cards to people while reading it. It was the first book that I’d read where I actually became so engulfed into the main character that I physically started acting like him.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration? 

In the most unlikely place: my hot tub. I know it sounds so “L.A.” but I’ve solved the world’s problems many times over and all of my storyline problems by just sitting in hot water and looking at the stars.

What does your family think of your writing? 

Everybody’s been supportive. Most of my girls read my books and add constructive criticism. When I first started writing, my wife was a bit worried when she found out how much it would cost to self-publish a book the ‘right way’. She cautiously reminded me that we had three girls going to college soon and would need every dollar. Then after she read my first novel, she looked at me and said, “Keep writing.” Of course, maybe she just said that so I’d stay busy and not bother her as much too, who knows.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing? 

There isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not writing or at least thinking about what I’ve written. I don’t sit down with a timer or a schedule in mind. With a family, that’s nearly impossible to do. I write whenever I can find the time. If my wife sets a bag of trash down next to me, then I know it’s time to stop writing.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals? 

I like to write outdoors in my back yard. There’s something about the trees, birds, water, wind, spider webs, the warmth of the sunshine, the neighbor’s chainsaw noises, motorcycles racing down the block that gives me inspiration. That is the great thing about living in California. I also don’t read other books while writing because I’m afraid they might influence me is some way.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing? 

Trying to find a niche or genre to stay in. I like writing different styles about different subjects. From what other writers tell me, that’s not the formula you need to be successful but, hey, it keeps me running on all four.

What are your current projects? 

I’m working on the follow up book to my first published novel, “Document 512”. My mind is back in the Amazon jungle racing through the ancient ruins of Peru.

What are you planning for future projects? 

I envisioned three books in the “Document 512” series so I need to finish that. There could even be a follow up to “The Art of Raising Hell”, maybe the college years. I have some other ideas about alternate universes, soul searchers, raising triplets, and adult diapers that could wind up becoming storylines too.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

The best thing I’ve ever done was finding a person who reads everything I’ve written and doesn’t hesitate to tell me how good or bad it is. Without him, I’d never finish anything. Also, make sure the person you find is smarter than you are because you’ll want to bounce your crazy ideas off them with the hope that they’ll come back with something even wackier. Every bit of input or feedback makes you a better writer.

Where else can we find your work? 

I’ve never had the desire to become a journalist or work in the industry. Again, probably not the best career move, but I don’t know if I could write novels if I spent my whole day writing for someone else. You can find little stories and tidbits on my blog and website You also might be able to catch a nasty letter to the editor in the local newspaper every once in a while.

In The Art of Raising Hell, Thomas Lopinski takes the readers along on a journey as four boys grow into young adults and all the trials and tribulations that entails when living in a small town, where minor disruptions linger on the rumor mill for years. Friendships, adolescent love, and loyalties are put to the test as these teenagers face challenges that force them to decide what will define them and what will break them. 

Both entertaining and at times heartbreaking, Raising Hell reminds us all how our teenage years can shape us and how important it is to have true friends to see you through it. 

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