Teeth placed before the tongue give good advice. Italian Proverb

Tom Hoffman Interview Published on: 05, Oct 2017

What were some memorable experiences during your childhood and how do you think they have coloured your writing?

My grandfather was an American Impressionist painter for over 60 years in Old Lyme, Connecticut. He went on a number of expeditions with the naturalist William Beebe as ship’s artist. His studio was filled with curiosities he had collected on those trips, plus a wide variety of musical instruments he played and hundreds of paintings. He had tall chests of drawers filled with wondrous objects. To this day I can close my eyes and walk around that studio. That’s where I got my love of adventure, music, and art. I was a graphic designer and illustrator for over 35 years. My dad used to catch animals like snakes, turtles, skunks, and birds, keep them for a week or two, then release them. It was fascinating to see them up close. He always said animals were little souls in fur suits, little windows on the universe. That’s where I got my love of animals. The story of how I got my love of metaphysics comes from a much darker place. The fires of life, as Orville Mouse would call it. When I was seven, within six week’s time both my younger brother and my grandmother died. My grandson is seven years old now. I look at him and see how young I was when it happened. I had nightmares for many years. But, it is these painful fires of life that shape us, make us what we are. We can choose to learn from them or, we can become old and bitter, angry at life. I have spent most of my life trying to understand the nature of this world. What is life? What is death? What is time? Why are we here? Where is here? I have also experienced many and varied paranormal events. I go into detail on my blog, but the short story is this: The events themselves don’t matter much, they are fleeting. What is not fleeting is the underlying system which allows these events to occur. How can I see an event before it happens? How can I see an event from someone else’s childhood? What are ghosts? At 66 years old I have what I think is some slight understanding of the nature of this world. That’s what all my books have in common. As a very perceptive reviewer said about them, “This aspect may be misunderstood by some readers as a fantasy element, which won't detract from the experience in any way.” Orville and Bartholomew’s adventures are based in known metaphysical and psychological concepts. I call it “metaphysics in a crunchy candy shell.” A different perspective of the world we live in.

Did you ever try writing as a child?

The first story I wrote was in fourth grade. I still have it. It was called, “Kidnapped by Space Beings”. I even illustrated it. A boy is taken aboard a flying saucer and the aliens shrink him, keeping him in a bird cage. Of course he escapes and wins the day, a happy ending. Even back then I was intrigued by all things mysterious. And it was probably an unconscious metaphor for the powerless feeling of being a child.

What made you pursue both a B.S. in Psychology and a B.A?

I was a freshman at Georgetown University in 1968. I started out in pre-med – my parents choice, not mine. I would have liked to go to art school. I was either blessed or cursed with a dreadful memory. I always say I have a big CPU and no hard drive. I did not do well memorizing the 732 parts of a frog’s foot. Slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. So I changed my major to psychology. Probably to resolve my own personal issues. When I graduated I realized a 22 year old kid does not have the life experience to be a therapist. I decided not to go to grad school, instead getting married and moving to Alaska, where my wife was born and raised. A grand adventure. I love Alaska. I worked various jobs, including three years building the TransAlaska Pipeline. That was a truly unforgettable experience. By this time we had two kids and the pipeline was winding down. We packed our bags and headed down to Oregon where I went to art school for two years. Finally I was doing what I loved. Art was my career for 35 years.

Why did you decide to switch from graphic designing over to writing?

When I was in my thirties I wrote and illustrated (b/w line art) a picture book called “The Magnificent Quest of Bernard the Hare”. Twenty years later I did a full color version of it under the name “The Secret Voice of Bartholomew Rabbit”. I was planning a second one, but realized I was having a lot more fun writing the story than I would have illustrating it. I am blessed (or cursed) with an extremely vivid imagination. After 35 years of art and meditation I can close my eyes and watch the story almost like a movie. Stories come easily to me, writing does not. I’ve had to work at it. Just like every other writer in the world.

How long did it take you to write the first Orville Mouse book? Why did you choose a mouse and not some other animal?

The first book I wrote, The Eleventh Ring, took about a year to write. It was brutal, but I persevered because it was also incredibly fun. I can’t not create. Whether it’s books or art or inventing a device that can shoot a playing card 200 feet, I’m always creating. Can’t stop or I’ll explode. The Orville books take me about 6 month to write, but I write 7 days a week. Why did I choose a mouse? The short answer is because a little mouse bravely facing the fires of life even though he is often terrified is pretty much what life is. People like to think they are strong, in control. They’re not. Bodies are fragile, sense of self, sense of self worth, all fragile. Life is a lot more fun when you give up trying to control it. We are not shaping the world, we are being shaped by the world. We are here to learn, not to change the world. As the Thirteenth Monk says, “The flowers come and go but the garden is eternal.” Or, the students come and go, but the school is eternal. From an Orville book: “In our attempt to change the world we are changing ourselves.”

Name a few of you favourite authors that have influenced your thinking and your writing.

H. Rider Haggard, Jules Verne, H.G Wells, E.R. Burroughs, Tom Swift Sr., Richard Bach, Hermann Hesse, Heinlein, Asimov, Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung

What gave you the idea to write science fiction, but using animal characters?

I like using animals because I can discuss a lot of social and metaphysical issues without people taking it personally, without thinking I’m demeaning their belief system or cultural mores.

Who was your inspiration for the character Bartholomew the Adventurer? How do you choose the names for the different characters and places of this series?

Bartholomew’s adventures were based on my own psychological and spiritual evolution. The psychological process of individuation (Jung’s term for awakening, enlightenment) is thoroughly known. Part One of the Eleventh Ring is based on that. Bartholomew connects to his inner voice, his unconscious, his inner self. Names for characters come from many sources, including my grandkids, Oliver and Sophia. Bartholomew’s traveling companion is Oliver T. Rabbit, Orville’s best friend is Sophia Mouse. Many of the names are from latin words which describe the character’s personality. Mendacium the Dark Wizard, the planet Thaumatar. The world of Periciulum. City of Bellumia. Some are words spelled backwards. Master Scientist Tarami — ‘I’m a rat’ spelled backwards. Which he was, in more ways that one. Neilana — ‘an alien’ spelled backwards. Coming up with the names is enormous fun. There is meaning behind almost every one. Except for the ones that are just fun to say.

What is the harshest criticism you've ever received and how did you take and let it mold you into becoming a better writer?

I accept criticism well because I’m good at determining whether it’s valid or not. If it’s valid I learn from it. The worst I got was “clunky dialogue” in the first Orville book. They were right, it was clunky. Embarrassingly so. I rewrote it all and the book won a gold medal for best young adult adventure book in 2016. After 35 years in graphic design, dealing with all manner of clients, I’ve learned not to take criticism personally. Look at it, decide if it’s valid, then move on. And remember that what someone says about you has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. Two people looking at a painting. One hates it, the other loves it. They are projecting their own life experience onto the painting. The painting is just a painting, not good or bad.

In "Orville Mouse and the Puzzle of the Shattered Abacus", Orville Mouse and his best friend Sophia Mouse set out to discover the incredible truth behind the mysterious blue marble. What brought about the idea for this book? Is the marble an analogy or a metaphor for anything else or is it just that- a mysterious marble?

The short answer is, it’s a metaphor, but I won’t say for what — that would be a spoiler. I’ll add that every event in life can be seen as a metaphor for something. Picking a flower, drinking water, climbing a tree. We project meaning onto events, connecting them to other events.

Which of your characters do you relate more to- Bartholomew or Orville? Orville Mouse is me in a furry suit. My wife is Sophia, likewise in a furry suit. Intuitive thought vs. logical linear thought. Artist vs. CPA.

What is the best part about writing metaphysical novels? What kind of research is involved when writing books in this genre?

The quote below is taken from my bio on Amazon. It’s why I write metaphysical novels. “The books were written to provide an alternate way to view the world we live in. To see all life as a single force, all life equally precious, no matter the form. A world where violence is not necessary, a world where the protagonists are changed forever by their difficult choices, by their own sacrifices. A world of empathy, kindness, and love. And of course, ten foot tall ancient robotic rabbits and gigantic carnivorous centipedes living on post apocalyptic planets!” I have spent most of my life studying metaphysics, quantum physics, world religions, meditation, dreams, paranormal events, psychology, and on and on. I guess that would count as research.

How many days in a week do you write? How do you spend your days off?

When I’m writing a book I write at least 4-5 hours a day, seven days a week.

What is your favourite board game to play?

I play the Simpsons version of Clue with my grandkids. All’s fair when we play, it’s okay to trick the other person into giving away information, to sneak around behind them and look at their cards. It’s a free for all and is hilarious, memorable fun.

If you could go back in time, would you have started writing earlier? What sort of advice would you give to your past self?

I would not have started earlier. This is from The Thirteenth Monk: “There was once a bunny who lived by the ocean. Every day he would stroll along the sandy beach and pick up thoughts which had washed ashore. He would find them in shells, under rocks, and sometimes even tangled in seaweed. "Oh, this is a good one,” he would say, “we see chaos, but if we look carefully, if we look beneath the chaos, we find order and perfection." And into his bucket the thought would go. When the bunny had reached a ripe old age he gathered all the thoughts together and placed them carefully into a large silver cauldron heated by the fires of life. Using a straw broom, he stirred them thoroughly, and as he was stirring he listened carefully. Much to his surprise he heard the ocean singing a wordless song of incomparable beauty. The bunny closed his eyes and said, “Ah, it was all worth it.”

How well do promotions and marketing on social media work for you? Has AllAuthor been helpful to you and is this a platform that you would encourage other authors to use?

AllAuthor has definitely helped get eyes on my books. Word of mouth sells books, and social media enables that process.

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