SIX MINUTES WITH BILL SOMMER:
Today, LitPick introduces you to Bill Sommer, co-author of A 52-Hertz Whale with Natalie Tilghman. Bill has also been involved in screenwriting (Tony Tango) and has written scripts for FWthinking.com, a Discovery Channel website that explores technologies of the future and how they will affect humanity.
How did you get started writing?
In fourth grade or so, I wrote a single edition of a small newspaper about the happenings of my friends at St. Justin the Martyr in St. Louis called Boys' News. It took up the front and back of one piece of loose-leaf paper and was divided into columns. I even gave myself bylines! The only article I can remember was a recap of the previous day's soccer game at recess, in which I couldn't help but mention how well I'd played.
Who influenced you?
Ooh, the dreaded question. Top honors goes to Dave Eggers, Tom Robbins, Tony Earley, Zadie Smith, and the writers of Jupiter Jones and the Three Detectives.
Do you have a favorite book/subject/character/setting?
The subject I keep returning to is people's success or failure to be kind to one another.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an author?
The most obvious advice is to read. But beyond that, one thing I think is helpful is to act like a writer. I'm not talking about faking it here, but rather allowing yourself to do the quirky things that "real" writers do. You don't need to be any good or to already have written a novel to answer the question of "What are you doing this weekend?" by saying that you've rented a cheap motel outside of town for the weekend so you can hole up and write without distractions. (Note: I've done this. And I did it when I had no idea yet how to write.) You're allowed, starting today, to sit in the break room at work and write in your notebook instead of complaining about your boss with everyone else. "What are you doing?" they'll ask. "Writing," you'll answer. And just this will start to make the writing life feel a little more real.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I don't really have a favorite place to write. I suppose I write better in my room, but I don't have any special affection for writing there. What I do have is a favorite time to write, which is very specific: a weekday where most other people are at work and normally I would be too. If for whatever reason I can write on one of these days, it feels like a bonus, even like a bit of delectable cheating.
What else would you like to tell us?
I can confidently say after the publication of A 52-Hertz Whale that it is an awesome experience to co-write something. Not everyone might want to try to write a whole book this way, but I'd posit that collaborating on an essay or a short story or some random experimental piece is something that almost all writers could benefit from. It helps if you have an awesome writing partner too!
Bill, thank you for spending six minutes with LitPick! We really love your advice to “act” like a writer, and your examples of how to do it.