Hello. As a two-times SPFBO entrant, I’m inviting fellow entrants in SPFBO 8 for a spotlight on the blog. You can find more details about the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off here, and today’s feature is Tom Mock, with his SPFBO 8 entree, his awarding winning novel, The Long Nights.
Firstly, let’s introduce you to the aforementioned novel.
A cry of pain, hard and desperate, tore through Carthage City one night …
The Nightwalker Killings: bodies drained and tucked away in the abandoned corners of Carthage City Oldtown. The oddity of their stalled decay was a mystery … until the latest victim woke in a fury of teeth and claws.
Joe Kellerman, a young telepath working with a group of occult “Specialists,” finds himself face to face with the vampire known as the Nightwalker—at least, what’s left of him. To stop the vampire’s contagion of death from spreading, Joe searches the killer’s memories to find his missing victims before any more wake to feed.
But as an alluring photojournalist with a history of blackmail starts to suspect his involvement in the Nightwalker case, Joe is stretched thin between past mistakes and his search for the missing, where every face he sees is a life seemingly doomed to a bad end. Maybe that’s why he keeps having visions of a girl in yellow sneakers from the killer’s past—the fleeting hope that someone made it out alive.
Is there anyone left to save, or has Joe finally gone too far into the dark to find his way out again?
The Long Nights is available from Amazon.
Now onto the questions!
As a Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) Entrant, you’re not just independently as opposed to traditionally published, but self-published. Can you start by explaining a bit about why you chose that route and how it’s been for you?
I revised and queried my debut The Long Nights for two years with increasing interest from agents, but in the end, although I received some thoughtful, personal encouragement and invitations to query again with future projects, I was candidly told by more than one agent that a debut urban fantasy with a detective-type plot was too hard a sell – saturated market, bubble of the 90s-00s burst and all that. So, rather than keep banging my head against the walls of the golden city of traditional publishing in the hopes of waiting 2-3 more years before readers would ever see my work, I decided to self-publish.
There’s been a lot to learn about promoting my work, and I haven’t been quick to learn it. I think to date I’ve had just around 100 total sales of my debut, but most of those have come in the last seven months as I’ve finally started participating in the indie community on Twitter and making friendships with my peers. I’m not happy with my lack of success, but everything in publishing takes time. I’m slowly getting my book in front of people, though, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
It’s a slow game for a lot of self-published authors, so definitely hang in there (which it sounds like you’re doing). If the response has been overwhelmingly positive, that sounds like the most encouragement you can get and, hopefully, however far you get in the competition, SPFBO gets you some more visibility.
Speaking of which, why did you enter the SPFBO contest? A number of people have related that they find it pretty stressful. How do you feel about it so far? Or has it not affected you much?
This was the first year I’d heard about the contest, and I was thrilled when I learned about it. The Long Nights won the Indies Today Awards: 2021 Runner-up in Horror (it’s a cross-genre book), and while every accolade is its own reward, the experience of sending off a book and then waiting for the winners to be announced is ultimately anti-climactic. One day I got an email that said my book had been selected. SPFBO has been a completely different experience. I’ve been loving it so far. It’s more than just a contest, it feels like a community event. Every title entered and every review posted is an opportunity for me to be introduced to another fantasy author and their work. That part of the experience has already been better than I imagined.
Maybe that’s part of why I haven’t been stressed at all by the contest. I’ve failed a lot as an author at this point, but being a finalist doesn’t seem like the only marker of success. I entered to meet other writers and readers, and that’s already happening. I’m confident in the novel I wrote, and the contest, however it shakes out, won’t invalidate that. I have been really encouraged by the thoughtful criticism I’ve read from the Before We Go Blog, though, and I’m excited to hear what they thought of The Long Nights. I’m still learning as a writer, and pointed criticism can be hard to come by. If I were to write The Long Nights over again now, I’m sure I would do some things differently, but I can’t say whether that would improve the novel or just make it different. In any case, the people who have read it have liked it, and I’m as interested in hearing from more of them as the readers judging the contest.
This sounds like a very healthy response! We the SPFBO authors are a part of creating that community, and I love it! We’d like to make it a win for everyone – and I’m really glad you’ve a settled confidence that you aren’t afraid will get shaken out.
Book titles. Why did you choose the title you did for your book? Take this wherever you want; an analysis of how it fits your book (if that’s not a spoiler you’d rather not share); the inspiration for your title; how the title makes you feel. As short or as in-depth as you like.
Titles are hard, aren’t they? They either crash down on you in a moment of inspiration, or you shop around a lot of painstakingly weedled out ideas until you’re left with the last thing you thought of – call it anything, I just don’t want to think about it anymore. Because of The Long Nights noir influences, I wanted to title it after the fashion of one of Raymond Chandler’s novels (The Big Sleep, The High Window, The Long Goodbye). Ideally, a title should hint at the tone of the piece, while also being descriptive. Much of the narrative taking place at night as the telepathic Joe Kellerman searches a killer vampire’s memories, as well as the dark places of Carthage city, to find his missing victims, it didn’t take long for me to start calling the novel The Long Nights. I think it does a good job as a metaphor of suggesting a prolonged struggle or sadness – the long nights of the soul, if you will.
‘Ideally, a title should hint at the tone of the piece, while also being descriptive.’ I like that, but it also speaks to my continued experience that something that has one tone to me often has such a different tone to others! It was a pleasure getting a glimpse into your titling process for The Long Nights. It sounds like a very matching title.
I won’t ask for your favourite scene since I know some people don’t have those (wink wink), but can you share a scene you really like and you just can’t believe how awesome it is every time you go back to re-read it, that you don’t consider to be a spoiler? Alternately, you can share something about a character you really like. Or both, if you want.
I’ve rewritten The Long Nights many times over 13 years (I had to learn how to write a novel, okay?) so it can be difficult to separate the last, final version of the text from its past lives, but I think I am most proud of the split narrative scenes where we get memories from the killer vampire, Adrian Lange. These were added very late in the process, and I didn’t know if they would work, but I became so frustrated with feeling creatively stuck that I finally threw caution to the wind and just dove in. That was the draft when the novel finally took shape, and Adrian’s narrative is one that surprised me. I still don’t know whether I am sympathetic towards him. I don’t know how to feel because I don’t altogether know what his narrative means, or what it means to the protagonist Joe, but I’m damn proud of it because I took a creative risk I was afraid I wasn’t talented enough to make work. I had an idea that I was excited about and even though that industrious, word-counting part of me that wanted to do as little work as possible so my novel would be done told me not to do it, the dreamer in me said no, no lets see what happens, and I was rewarded for it with a story. I think, working out that draft than at any other time.
And then, of course, there’s the novel’s ending. You’ve got to read it to believe it. (Here, look, I am textually winking at you.)
LOL. Sounds like a very neat leap. I’m not really familiar with your subgenre, but it certainly sounds like a unique way to tell a story with a lot of potential. Listen to the dreamer!
Same sort of thing as with the last question, except this time what about a quote? One to five lines or so, but this isn’t math. You don’t need to count the periods (or question marks, exclamation points, or other sentence-enders).
This is always the most difficult thing for me. Out of the context of the story, I can’t say what will stand out, but here’s an except where Joe meets with the roommate of a missing person he has seen in the vampire’s memories but not yet been able to find. I feel I did a good job writing a true moment between these characters while resisting the urge to have them explain themselves to the reader.
“I’ve been praying and praying for this,” she said, “for you to show up. Somebody like you. But now that you’re here …. Look, you ain’t got to tell me because I don’t think I could hear it right now, one way or the other. I just need to know when. If I knew when, maybe I could be ready.”
She had her hands clasped together.
“Soon,” I said. “I don’t know for sure.”
“Can you—okay,” she covered her mouth. “Do you think—”
A knot fastened in my stomach.
“If there was any chance, you would tell me, right?”
I put my arm around her, and she leaned into my shoulder, covering her face. I don’t think there was anything else I could have done. When she had steadied herself, I said quietly, “Soon. Later is better. But probably soon.”
I offered her a few other private words. Little words of little consolation, but I said them anyway. She nodded into my shoulder.
With a light squeeze, I left her on the balcony.
That is definitely something it can be so interesting to do – and, I think, not having the characters explain themselves to the readers is sometimes how you get that vibe, that truth, you’re looking for. And oh, skies, I know about wondering what will stand outside of the context of the story. Ultimately, it’s only a glimpse!
What would you like to share? Take this in any direction you consider to be related to your book and your writing. It can be as short as a paragraph or as long as a guest post.
I’d like to recommend any writers of fantasy watch the Return of the Shadow podcast from Signum University with Corey Olsen (aka The Tolkien Professor). The podcast explores the early drafts of The Lord of the Rings, as published in The Return of the Shadow, which is the first volume of Christopher Tolkien’s project to compile, in its entirety, the process by which his father J.R.R. Tolkien conceived of and slowly developed The Lord of the Rings! Even if you’ve only seen the films and only watch (or listen to) the first episode of the podcast, it’s fascinating and informative to see the process by which Tolkien struggled to find what would become one of the seminal works of fantasy literature.
When he began, it’s clear that he knew little more about what he would write except that it must be a sequel to The Hobbit (as requested by his publishers), and that he had a notion that it should start with a long expected party – a fun twist on the Unexpected Party that begins Bilbo Baggins’ adventure. Follow along as Tolkien writes, and re-writes, and skips forward and back, rethinking and sketching out notes about his story as he’s telling it. A great deal changes, but slowly, very slowly, the foundations of the quest of the one ring begin to form.
Frodo’s name is Bingo, he’s leaving home because he’s broke—or because he wants to find Bilbo, or maybe follow in his footsteps—and what about this odd figure in a black cloak that shows up on the road sniffing? Tolkien doesn’t know, but he’s finding his way through the story, just like all of us writers have to. Seeing where he began and how he managed it is an inspiration.
I encourage any authors who watch the podcast (or pick up Christopher Tolkien’s book themselves) to see if you can identify the parts of Tolkien’s story that he was struggling with and the questions that he was trying to answer in his drafts and notes, such as character motivation, story urgency, tone, worldbuilding, etc. Watch how he skips ahead and back in his early drafts, and how he summarizes and scribbles notes when he isn’t sure what should happen. You may find it instructive for your own writing process. I know I have!
Thanks for sharing that with us! It was a pleasure to have you on the blog!
Tom Mock is a horror and fantasy author from North Carolina. He writes about outsiders and ghosts and magic.
Tom’s debut urban fantasy novel The Long Nights won the 2021 Indies Today Awards: Runner-up in Horror. His short fiction has been nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize and he has an MA in English from North Carolina State University.
He loves dogs, and is forever helping his parents with their small horse farm.
You can find his novel, The Long Nights, on Amazon and Goodreads. And you can connect to Tom Mock on his Twitter.