Steve Thomas: Author Interview Series

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As everyone knows, I’m a huge fan of comic fantasy and comedy in general. I love a light hearted story. I love to laugh. Anything that puts me in a good mood will rocket to the top of my favorites list. Steve is a comedy author and wrote Mid-Lich Crisis which went over pretty well on one of r/fantasy’s book clubs. Highly positive review written by u/dianthaa here: Reddit Review  
I also reviewed it here: Esme’s Review
Let’s start!

Mid-Lich Crisis is doing pretty well. Personally, it’s my favorite book of yours. Are there any thoughts on an audiobook coming out anytime soon? 

Thank you! That means a lot. I’ve occasionally flirted with audio, but I have no immediate plans. The idea of picking a narrator gives me heartburn. I cringe whenever I hear my own writing read out loud, and on top of that, I’d have to worry about finding a narrator who can nail the comic timing and delivery, plus the stress of managing that kind of product. Oh yeah, and fund the project. Every time I get close, I quickly run in the other direction.
Would you consider entering a contest again? 
I’ve already set my alarm clock for the next SPFBO submissions.
What made you want to write from a villain’s perspective in Mid Lich Crisis? 
There’s a bit of writing advice that says a good way to build a story is to take a character, establish what they’re good at, and then make them do something else. Simultaneously, I wanted to write a story about perception, how the person you see in the mirror isn’t always who other people see when you walk in the room. Those two ideas combined into the concept of a villain who with a painful lack of self-awareness trying to prove that he’s a good person–and failing miserably. That grew into the idea of an evil wizard having a midlife crisis, and the concept amused me enough that I ran with it.
Describe your MC in seven words 
Vain. Insecure. Shouty. Impulsive. Undead. Wizard. Drifting
Who is your favorite villain? 
I spent some time thinking about this one and tried to avoid comic book villains, but I kept coming back to The Mad Hatter, a lonely wretch named Jervis Tetch. His episodes in the animated series one me over, and he’s had some great moments in the comics (albeit fewer than he deserves). I really like how he has this erudite and and charming persona–but it’s all a cover for a mind that’s profoundly broken, violent, and detached from reality. His ability to flip from harmless to horrifying is impressive. When he’s done well, he’s utterly fascinating.
What is your favorite word?
Favorites are such transient things, wouldn’t you agree? I suppose the best way to identify my current favorite is to close my eyes, clear my mind, and type the first word that comes to mind. Here goes.
What is your least favorite word? 
Describe your life in seven words 
I speak for us all: 2020. Despair.
Do you feel like quarantine has helped or hindered your writing process? 
It has been a bane for sure. Among the issues is that I’m working at home, which makes my home PC my work PC. Trying to write feels like going back to work, and that’s just demotivating. Plus the other sorts of self-care are a bit more enticing right about now. I’m hoping to pick up the pace.
You are a dad. You are a comedy author. Hit me with your favorite dad jokes

Here’s a terrible one I wrote a while back when someone complained about the pronunciation of “Kvothe.”

Patrick Rothfuss and Brandon Sanderson walked into a bar.

Sanderson asked, “How’s your first novel coming along?”

Rothfuss answered, “Well, it was coming along pretty well, but then I decided I had to change all my characters from birds to humans. It just wasn’t working out with birds.”

Sanderson said, “That’s too bad. I thought having a fantasy novel in a world full of ravens was a really interesting idea.”

Rothfuss said, “It turns out it didn’t really change anything. They were just birds acting like humans, so I figured why bother? I mean, it’s still going to be about a tormented musical genius who is amazing at everything except interpersonal relationships and following the rules, and it’s still The Kingkiller Chronicles. But Kvothe the Raven? Nevermore.”

Speaking of comedy, which Discworld book is your favorite? What’s your favorite quote? If you had to be quarantined with a Discworld character, which would it be?
Book: Just one? Cruel. The Watch subseries is my favorite, so that narrows it down to…eight books. I think I have to give it to “Men At Arms.” That book really had a feeling of growth, as both the cast grew in size and the characters were in the rising action of their personal arcs. The humor is on point, it’s a true ensemble comedy, and it’s exciting to think about where the characters will go. It’s just very well done all around.
Quote: “If you were going to have crime, it at least should be organized crime”
Quarantine Partner: A good quarantine partner is someone who is quiet, low maintenance, and content with chilling around the house. Good hygiene is a plus. With those criteria in mind, there’s really only one choice: Constable Downspout.
Do you have a set number of words or set number of hours you try and write per week or is it more of a sprint and lull pattern? 
I’m really sporadic. The main constraint is very limited free time. Really, the only rule I follow is that if I open the document, I add to it. There will be nights were pages just flow out, and weeks spent trying to finish the same sentence. Completely unpredictable.
What fantasy job would you want? 
Treacherous advisor. You have as much power as you want, but with near zero responsibility and accountability. You just wear fancy clothes and hang around a castle sneering and plotting, but rarely actually doing anything. As long as you act competently enough to stay in the king’s good graces and don’t overplay your hand, you have great job security. Maybe you start a mutiny. Maybe you play the long game and trick someone else into doing all your dirty work. Ruling from the shadows, that’s the life for me.
What SFF world would you do well in? Which one would kill you almost immediately? 
Honestly, I think I’d be screwed in just about any fantasy world. My skillset does not lend itself to any setting without computers.
Comic fantasy, and comedy in general, is extremely difficult to write. It’s one of the most subjective things out there. Do you try and have broad appeal? Do you go for more niche audiences? Do you just write what makes you chuckle? 
Let me answer that with a seemingly unrelated story. There’s a local comedy club that I try to go to a few times a year. They tend to feature a B-tier comedian as a headliner and there is always an opening act. Sometimes they bring in more well-known comics, too. The openers are typically hopeful comedians who are on the rise. They’ve escaped the open mic night circuit and are traveling to shows around the country. Personally, I’ve found that the opening acts were funnier than the headliner around 50% of the time. It seems like these comedians are thirstier, so they’ll tell jokes that maybe wouldn’t fly in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of people. Meanwhile, some nationally known comedians have gotten stale and complacent, repeating old material or telling the obvious jokes. I’m certainly not saying that the emerging comedians are universally better than seasoned professionals; that’s of course ridiculous. But sometimes, the price of aiming for mass market, broad appeal is that you have to water down the comedy.
So ultimately, I try not to worry about that. Sometimes my funniest bits aren’t even things I intentionally wrote as jokes. The characters just get going and it works out to be amusing. I just hope that I find readers who feel the same way.
Comic fantasy is also in short supply compared to other subgenres. Why do you think that is? You run a series on r/fantasy where you review other comic fantasy books. Could you recommend some of your favorites? 
This is something I’ve put a lot of thought to. From posting reviews on reddit and reading reviews of my own books, I think the fundamental problem is that readers are wary of comic fantasy. There’s this fear that the author’s sense of humor won’t click or, worse, that authors aren’t capable of telling a story while being funny, that the jokes will get in the way of the plot, or the character development, or the world-building. So there’s this simultaneous worry that the book will either be not funny enough or too wacky to satisfy readers.  Since readers are suspicious of comic fantasy, so are publishers, and therefore some of the best work is being done in the self-published sphere. Outside the obvious, two of my favorites are Trench by Ethan Childress and A Song of Three Spirits by J. Zachary Pike. The former is a series of vignettes that tells a war story from the point of view of a hapless band of soldiers just trying to survive the day. The latter is a novella set in the world of Orconomics that adapts A Christmas Carol into a scathing, yet hilarious, indictment of late stage capitalism.
If it was popular to remake movies in a way that retold the story from a very different character perspective, what movie would you like to see redone and focused on what POV? 
Maybe this is too soon, but could we try again with the Star Wars sequels and make Kylo Ren the central character? Something I find interesting about him is that he didn’t turn to the dark side because of unbridled ambition like Palpatine, nor did he turn because he thought it was necessary like Vader. He felt rejected by the Light Side and wanted revenge. Or something. Let’s flesh that story out.
You majored in physics, a field of study not typically known for its humor. What brought you from A to B? 
Really, they were parallel efforts. I’ve always had a broad set of interests and never really felt the drive to specialize in just one thing. When choosing what to study in college, I made took some very pragmatic advice to qualify myself for a STEM day job and pursue writing more at the hobby level. I’m a ways away from achieving Renaissance Man status, but that’s the dream.
Also, since you claimed that physics isn’t funny, I’d be remiss not to mention the spherical chicken in a vacuum.
If you were to recommend some physics books for people who are looking to get into the subject, what would you recommend? 
Probably the most accessible primers are the “Science for Babies” books by Chris Ferrie. Wait, are those too basic? Let me start over. A good pop science book if you’re interested in Quantum Mechanics is “Alice in Quantumland” by Robert Gilmore. It’s a parody of “Alice in Wonderland” where she’s exploring the quantum realm. She meets characters based on particle physics who demonstrate various physical concepts. It was pretty well done.
You’ve got a cat. Name and pictures, please. Also, I request a short story about something ridiculous that the cat has done, because it’s a cat, and of course it has. 
This is Loki. He’s not a smart cat. This picture is from when he was around 6 months old. I was waking through the kitchen when I heard distressed meowing from upstairs. When I walked upstairs to find the source, I heard distressed meowing from downstairs. It took me a few minutes to realize that the cat was stuck between the two floors. He’d managed to pull the panel out of the closet wall that connects to the bathroom and dove underneath the tub. Because of the way the pipes and a sheet of plywood were laid out, it was easier to get down than up, and the little dumbass couldn’t escape. I had to cut a corner off the plywood off before anyone was able to pull him out. The other option was to put a hole in my ceiling below.
This is Loki attempting to look innocent, but we both know he’s biding his time until he thinks of something stupid to do. He and I have a lot in common.
This is Loki picking a fight with his brother even though Rusty has the high ground.
Is there a topic where you could talk for an hour or so off the cuff and unprepared?  
I’m a huge video game nerd and that’s probably the easiest topic to get me going on. Do you want a comparative analysis of Mega Man games? A treatise on Dark Souls and its brilliance? A convoluted and ultimately fruitless analysis of The Legend of Zelda series timeline? An hour might not be enough time.
If your life had a theme song, what would it be? 
It’s tempting to say something badass like “The Oath” by Manowar. An answer that actually fits the tone and content of my life would be, “Trapped in the Drivethru” by Weird Al.
But, if we take the traditional episode of a theme song, which is the song that plays at the start of every episode, then there’s only one honest answer. “Homecoming,” the song built into my phone that plays as my morning alarm. Then there’s a brief commercial break and the song plays again before the episode starts for real.
If you were given Amortentia, what would it smell like? 
Here’s a fun fact about me. Due to a badly deviated septum and a lifetime of chronic sinus issues, my sense of smell is pretty muted. During my consultation before having the septum fixed, the ENT sprayed something up my nose that was the olfactory equivalent of dilating my pupils. It was the first and last time I really remember smelling the world, albeit with an undercurrent of weird medical chemicals. So that. It was nice.
Teleportation is a thing, would you use it and get yourself to a new planet and back again if the death rate was 1/100, 1/1000, 1/10000, 1/100000 ? Or, are you more like McCoy? (Trek) 
Whatever they tell you about the death rate, they’re lying. Does the transporter violently rip your body apart and reassemble it on site, or does it kill you and replicate a clone on the other side of the galaxy? Either way, the mortality rate is 100% and you’re either getting resurrected or cloned. And that’s not even taking account the various transporter accidents, such as mash-ups of multiple people or leaving a copy alive. It’s not worth the risk. I’ll take the shuttle, thank you.
Pineapple on pizza, acceptable or abomination?
I’m sorry, I keep reading this question over and over again and for some reason I keep blacking out. You must have asked about something deeply disturbing that my brain refuses to acknowledge.