The Write Stuff: Tom Pitts on Trajectory and Saying What You Have to Say

The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.

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Cheryl Fagalnifin
Tom Pitts grew up in Canada before relocating to San Francisco in 1984. After the disintegration of his band, Short Dogs Grow, Tom got his education in street life first-hand while enduring a long and near-fatal bout with heroin. He and his wife now split their time between San Francisco and Sacramento; working, writing, and raising three children. Tom is the author of Piggyback (Snubnose Press) and co-editor of The Flash Fiction Offensive at Out of the Gutter Magazine.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them... ?

The truth. I'm a taxi dispatcher. I could get lofty and tell them I'm a hardworking father, but the struggles of being a father are nothing new. There are many who've had it tougher than me and there'll be many after. Oh, you mean being a writer? There's something about my Canadian self-depreciation that keeps me from putting that on the table right away. But, if pressed, I'll cop to it.

What's your biggest struggle -- work or otherwise?

Time. Without a doubt. Work is a struggle. Carving out part of my day for writing. Balancing family life with the literary game. All these things are subject to the cruel unrelenting press of time. More hours in the day would solve the whole lot of these struggles.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

Go for it. There's nothing stopping you. It takes some discipline, some determination, and some thick skin. I don't possess ample amounts of any of these things, but I still managed to get my foot in the door. Contrary to popular opinion, it's a great time to be a writer or a reader. You don't have to concern yourself with what everyone else is doing, the trends, the future of the novel in American culture. You just have to get in there and say what you have to say.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

Tricky question. It's the nature of the game to always want more. That's what keeps you moving ahead. I've been at it for a relatively brief period of time, so, yeah, I've had some success -- in that I've succeeded in what I originally set out to do. I consider it a success to be moving forward. Trajectory is my thing. I only feel unsuccessful when I stagnate. But real success -- giving up the day job success -- that's still way ahead of me.

When you're sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

I rarely go to YouTube for mood-altering experiences. Occasionally for nostalgia though. Here's a Short Dogs Grow song that reminds me of being drunk and lost in Juarez.



Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

Adam. He bit the apple, spat out the worm.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

I was all over the place at 10. I wanted to be a gangster, a cowboy, a rock star, President of the United States. Anything but a 10-year-old kid crawling the walls in rural Canada.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn't have to be ideal.

My week in the wilderness would consist of me begging my wife to get me back to civilization. I'm not the wilderness type. I grew up in the country and I've seen enough trees to last me a lifetime.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

Sounds a bit like a proposition. I'm not sure I should answer this one. Suffice to say that before I get into the shower, I twirl my garments over my head while whistling shampoo jingles.

What's wrong with society today?

Teenagers, damn it! Isn't that what a guy in his mid-forties is supposed to say? Or is that too J. Jonah Jameson? Really, I try to keep the glass is half-full attitude and focus on what's right with society today. The greatness of the digital age never seems to get much positive attention.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

No. Why? Does it seem like I need to be on medications? Is it because of my answer to the last question?

How many times do you fall in love each day?

Once, with my wife the moment I wake up. Sounds corny, but it's true.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

Jet packs, replicators, talking dogs, the deficit paid off. You know, the usual.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art is giving form to thought. I don't know if it's necessary. When you consider the basic things you need to live (water, food, etc.), no, it's not, but ... cavemen still felt the need to paint on the walls of their caves. There must be some innate drive to tell our story, share our experience, with others. I can't explain it, nor do I think it needs explaining.

What are you working on right now?

I'm working on my second novel while my agent is pitching my first, Hustle. The book I have out now, Piggyback, is really only a novella, so I consider Hustle my first full-length novel. The new one will be longer than the last. That seems to happen with each outing as my stamina grows. When I'm not writing, I'm doing my co-editor job with Joe Clifford over at Out of the Gutter Magazine.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

One in the same. I'd like to write a great novel. Great in the true sense of the word. One that stands the test of time. The stuff I admire is the best of the best. The Cormac McCarthys, the Don DeLillos. One hears the phrase "The Great American Novel" all the time in regards to books like The Great Gatsby, East of Eden. I'd like to have written something, someday, on a scale like that. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

The goddamn rents. I moved here in '84 and it was an expensive town then. It's gotten out of hand nowadays, though. A friend likes to remind me that San Francisco has always been a town for millionaires. He cites the Gold Rush and the Roaring Twenties. It was pricey even in those eras. He may be right, but these days I'm starting to think a nice-sized quake may be the only thing to level the playing field.

A night on the town: What does that mean to you?

Crowded bars, overpriced drinks, deafening music, expensive cab rides, and a wish that I'd stayed at home.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

I live in San Francisco, so I can probably do more with 50 words than 50 dollars.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Bacon! Didn't I mention I'm Canadian?

If you got an all-expenses-paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

I'm sure the answer to this question will always be in flux, but right now I'd like the experience of quitting my day job while still managing to keep my expenses paid. That sounds like a nice pragmatic choice. You think the genie can handle that?

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. This interview conducted by Evan Karp. Follow Litseen at @Litseen.

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