BWW Exclusive Interview: Tom LaMarr author of ZERO GRAVITY
BWW: In your new book, gravity is...disappearing? What's the story?
LaMarr: I'm never very good at summing up my plots, so let me read from the book's back jacket:
"In a world where gravity is losing strength and 'lightweights' suddenly vanish into the sky, it's survival of the fattest for bulky Adam Weaver and his family.
With Zero G seemingly imminent, the Weavers embark on a dangerous journey to reach and board NASA's Ark, a massive space craft that represents the last hope for Earth's survivors."
BWW: So, they're looking for an ark?
LaMarr: Yes, according to the chatter on Adam's father's ham radio, NASA's Ark is a building fitted to lift off when Zero G hits. No one knows where the craft is located, or if it exists at all.
The Weavers are eating non-stop in an attempt to fend off each new drop in gravity. The President calls this "maintaining" and spins it as a uniquely American solution.
BWW: Before fast food and snack companies threaten to boycott your book, I'd like to point out that Zero Gravity has a lot of humor in it.
LaMarr: Yes, thanks. "Binging" probably isn't as good a marketing word as "funny".
BWW: You have an endorsement from award-winning author Rodman Philbrick...
LaMarr: Needless to say, I'm quite pleased to have his kind words on the cover. This will certainly help Zero Gravity get noticed, but it means more to me than just that. Back when I was toying with the idea of writing a Young Adult novel while reading with my daughter, a friend loaned me a number of YA classics.
The two that fired my imagination most were Philbrick's Freak the Mighty and Holes by Louis Sachar. I wondered if I could create something that quirky and imaginative. These books were my master class in writing a great YA novel that might transcend the genre.
Much later, I shared sample chapters with Philbrick. I promptly heard back from him, and it wasn't too long before I had his endorsement! By the way, Mr. Sachar, if you happen to be reading this, my publisher would be happy to find a place on the cover for your endorsement, too.
BWW: It looks like you've had luck with previous book endorsements too.
LaMarr: That's true. While finishing my first novel, October Revolution, I received encouragement from John Irving...who unfortunately had taken a vow to never blurb again...and T. Coraghessan Boyle; both heroes of mine. This inspired me to aim high when the galleys were available.
I sent the first few chapters to Joseph Heller, legendary author of Catch-22, using a home address I had uncovered at the public library. My envelope soon reappeared in the mail marked undeliverable, which is postal jargon for "Nice try." I thought I might as well waste more postage and sent the chapters to his agent. I got lucky.
Heller's first handwritten letter began, "To my surprise, I found myself reading the chapters you sent. (I hardly ever do that, but had traveled to the city for eye surgery and had nothing to read.) To my greater surprise, I found myself enjoying them."
A month later, I had Heller's endorsement.
BWW: What inspired you to become a writer in the first place?
LaMarr: In high school, I was "that kid" who was asked to share his stories with the rest of the class. Near the end of my senior year, my favorite teacher encouraged me to send some very bad poetry to Allen Ginsberg. A few weeks later, the poems came back in the return envelope.
I presumed he hadn't read them and tossed it out. The next morning, my mother handed the envelope back to me and asked, "Why did you throw away a letter from Allen Ginsberg?"
In his note, Ginsberg said I wrote better poetry than he did when he was 17, which I'm sure couldn't have been further from the truth. He said that his verse was "unripe" at that age "...and so's yours." His response made me feel like a real writer.
BWW: It sounds like you mastered writing famous authors.
LaMarr: Perhaps I should have chosen "cover letters" as my genre.
BWW: What happened next?
LaMarr: I attended the Iowa Fiction Writers' Workshop, but left without learning about motivation and discipline. I wrote a funny first draft for a novel in my twenties, but nearly a decade passed before I started October Revolution. I've been writing non-stop ever since.
BWW: Where do you get your inspiration?
LaMarr: October Revolution began by being bored in an airport and imagining scenarios for the people passing by; two of them turned into main characters.
Hallelujah City, explored a story that had stuck with me from a college history class. It was about the Millerites, 19th century religious cult members who went up a hill to await Armageddon as prophesied by their leader. I always wondered what it must have been like to come back down that hill the following day.
As for Zero Gravity, I had the basic idea filed in the back of my head for some time. One night while reading with my daughter, it hit me that Zero Gravity might actually work in the hands of a young narrator.
LaMarr: (laughs) Not sure how "down-to-earth" it would be, but having watched my first book almost become a movie, I could see Zero Gravity on the big screen, TV, handheld devices...
BWW: What's your next book about?
LaMarr: Zero Gravity lends itself to one, maybe two sequels. I have a beginning for the second book and many pages of notes. Much will depend on the initial reception, but you could say...it has nowhere to go but up!
(Zero Gravity is published by Marcinson Press and goes on sale November 18.)