Joshua Swainston has worked as a mechanic, merchant sailor, courier, loan shark, club promoter, Ryder truck rental agent, McDonald’s grill cook, taxi driver, valet, coffee roaster, wine distributor, psychologist assistant, UPS man, Disney Store stock boy, and played Santa Claus. His short stories and flash fiction have appeared in A Twist of Noir, The Frist Line, Revolt Daily as well as other worthy web sites. You can keep up with him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheTacomaPillJunkies. His self-published novel, The Tacoma Pill Junkies, was released in February of 2013 and can be found at tacomapilljunkies.com.
OBAAT: Where did you get this idea, and what made it worth developing for you? (Notice I didn’t ask “Where do you get your ideas?” I was careful to ask where you got this idea.)
JS: The Tacoma Pill Junkies started as a short story about getting high. It was a way to reflect on those years when I was using. I had written a scene with just the main protagonist and his buddies smoking OxyCotin and bullshitting because that is what I had done for a time in my less responsible life. The characters developed past the confines of the scene and soon after I wrote in the love interest (Courtney Taylor) and the Tacoma Mall workers’ rights stuff.
OBAAT: How long did it take to write The Tacoma Pill Junkies, start to finish?
JS: Three years. But I didn’t set out to write a book originally, especially one that anyone else might read. It was mostly to humor myself. There was no urgency in getting it done.
OBAAT: What’s the back story on the main character or characters?
JS: Reno Walch is struggling working class. He’s a night janitor at the Tacoma mall, lives in a small apartment, and has very little in his refrigerator. What money he does make goes to getting high. Throughout the story Reno listens to NPR radio and does crossword puzzles, he does this in part because it is cheap entertainment.
OBAAT: In what time and place is The Tacoma Pill Junkies set? How important is the setting to the book as a whole?
JS: Tacoma is very important to me. It’s my home and I love it. It’s a real person’s existence in the middle of the lofty west coast. Years ago when Tacoma was ravaged by gang activity and unemployment it used to resemble parts of what Detroit looks like now. In fact Harold Moss, a former Mayor of Tacoma, used to show pictures of Downtown Tacoma and pictures of bombed out Beirut, you couldn’t tell the difference. Since then it’s gotten better, T-town is pretty awesome with a growing arts community. Some locals try to forget the grittiness of the past. Others try to embrace.
The time period is roughly 2002. Oxys were still heavily prescribed without much regulation and the pharmaceutical companies hadn’t changed the formula to make them hard to smoke.
OBAAT: How did The Tacoma Pill Junkies come to be published?
JS: The Tacoma Pill Junkies is self-published because I didn’t know what else to do with it. I had written the book, then nothing. I felt like it needed a life. So I looked into self-publishing. I didn’t know what I was doing really, just leaped into it. The Christmas of 2012, I asked my entire family for money instead of gifts to help support my publishing efforts.
OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
JS: It seems like the stories I read the most are autobiographical fiction (fictional memoirs). I get this term from my wife who has her MLIS degree. The main writers I see on the bookshelf are Charles Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, Spaulding Gray, Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, William Burroughs, and David Sedaris.
But my all-time favorite books are, in order: 1)Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut 2)World War Z – Max Brooks 3) Geek Love – Katherine Dunn 4) Lost City of Z – David Grann 5) Lullaby – Chuck Palahniuk. Notice how none of them fall into the autobiographical fiction category.
OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences?
JS: Spaulding Gray, Steve Martin, Mark Z Danielewski and Charles Bukowski. I also get moving after watching Wes Anderson or Spike Jones movies.
OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants? Do you even wear pants when you write?
JS: I do wear pants when I write. Normally loose fitting jeans.
I tend to only outline for the next few scenes, but little beyond that. I like to work my stories through my characters. They will write the stories themselves if I let them.
OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
JS: I go in cycles. I’ll write a bunch then get distracted. When I get back to writing, I’ll edit what I had done prior then pick up writing again. At the end I’ll edit and have other edit. Sometime after, I’ll edit again.
OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
JS: Learn to love rejection letters, you will get many. I keep all of mine in a folder.
OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
JS: Recently most of my free time I’ve been working on Creative Colloquy. It’s an online literary magazine for the Tacoma/South Sound Washington area. Www.creativecolloquy.com. I’m the current Editor-at-Large. The main function of the site is to fortify the writing community in the area.
OBAAT: Which do you take to bed at night, the money earned or the good review?
JS: The reviews from people who aren’t reviewers. Like when a friend’s wife or co-worker says they like a part in my book. It means I’m getting to real people. Recently I found that my book was listed on someone’s OK Cupid profile under Interests. That makes me happy.
OBAAT: Would you stop writing if someone paid you enough money so you’d never have to work again, on the condition you could also never write again?
JS: Maybe. I’m sure I can find a loophole. Like dictation, or build a hidden bunker somewhere where I could write in private. I’ve never been good a following rules.
OBAAT: If you were just starting out, which would you prefer: 1. Form your own indie publishing house and put your work out in paper and e-book yourself? 2. Go with a small or medium traditional house that offers very little or no advance, a royalty that is only a fraction of what you'd get on your own, and also makes no promise of any type of publicity push, keeping in mind that you also will lose the publishing rights for a period, sometimes indefinitely? 3. Go with a Big Six or legacy publisher that offers a larger advance, legitimate review possibilities, entrance to industry literary awards, and exposure on the shelves of brick and mortar stores. Pick one and say why.
JS: I think the majority of writers would love to go with the Big 6 so that we could be financially stable enough to write all the time without distraction. That being said, I like the niche I’ve found with indie self-publishing. It isn’t always ideal, there is still a stigma over self-publishing, and there is no money in it. But the people are genuine, you can get a real connection to the small audience you build by yourself. You can talk to the reader and find out about them, why they would ever pick up a story about working class pharmaceutical addicts. You meet other writers self-publishing and you make friends, build connections. I’m not looking to get rich from writing. Of course the Big 6 would provide a broader audience, but I’d be less accessible to them.
OBAAT: Beer, mixed drinks, or hard liquor?
JS: Newcastle Brown Ale
OBAAT: Baseball or football?
JS: Baseball – See Gorge Carlin or the opening monologue in Bull Durham by Susan Sarandon.
OBAAT: What question have you always wanted an interviewer to ask, but they never do?
JS: No one ever asks, “Have you stopped taking drugs? And why?” I think there is a social hold over from the Nancy Regan era where we don’t talk about the social issues surrounding drug use on a personal level. Either the reader assumes I’m still out there smoking pills or they think I’m like Tom Wolfe, where I write about it as an observer, but is really just a pussy.
OBAAT: What’s the answer?
JS: Yes I’ve stopped. 50% due to work urinary analysis. 25% due to my family. 25% because all the guys I used to run with are in jail or totally nuts.
OBAAT: What are you working on now?
JS: I’m the Editor-at-Large for Creative Colloquy (www.creativecolloquy.com). I’ve been writing a bunch of crime genre shorts, I plan on continuing this. The next book is going to be about my first deep sea sailing experience, I was a merchant mariner (sailor) for 10 years. I’m also considering putting together a collection of short stories. So lots of things up in the air right now, lots of projects. It’s an exciting time.
The Tacoma Pill Junkies is available through Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.