Proud to be Canadian – Alex Laybourne Interviews Tom Pitts

Today I am joined by a fellow author who, like me works a full-time job and raising a family of his own. Juggling all of these responsibilities is not easy, and it does not leave a lot of time in one’s day for promotions or the other side of writing. So it is my pleasure to be able to have him join me today.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you all to writer, editor, family man and all around good guy… Mr. Tom Pitts.

Tom

However, I do like to start off with the same questions each time, so please, tell us a little about yourself?

What’s to tell? I’m a struggling writer living in San Francisco. Loving wife, three kids, three dogs, two cats, and a tarantula. I have a stressful job dispatching taxis during the graveyard shift leaves me perpetually drained.  My chronic headaches have nothing to do with the aforementioned list.

If I understand correctly you moved from Canada’s east coast to West coast (Toronto – Vancouver Island) correct?

No, I was born in Calgary, Alberta. I lived near there till I was seventeen, then moved to San Francisco.  I went to school on Vancouver Island for a bit, thus some of my formative punk rock time was spent in Vancouver. I’ve been in San Francisco since 1984.

I have been lucky enough to see both coasts, and find the West holds a greater appeal to me. Have you spent any time on in Eastern Canada?

The only time I was in the eastern part of Canada was while I was touring with the band. We only got as far as Toronto before dipping back into the states. I will say that Vancouver is great and one of my favorite cities in the world.

I agree, Vancouver is my favorite city, although it has been about 14 years since I was last there.

 

You then made the move down to San Francisco. What promoted such a big relocation?

In 1984, San Francisco was punk rock Mecca. I move there to pursue the music thing. And I did. Several other Calgarian cohorts were already there working as bike messengers. It seemed like a natural move. Seven Canadian bike messengers living in a one-bedroom apartment in the Castro above a bar called the Moby Dick. Yeah, that’s natural.

Do you ever miss Canada?

It took me a while to appreciate the old country. When I was young I craved the big city and wanted to be in the middle of “the action.” Now I can see the quality of life is better in Canada, I often wonder what it’d be like to move back, though. Would I go mad? I’m not sure.

Coming from Europe it is easy to fall into the belief that Canada and America are essentially one and the same (don’t hate me). Just how different is life in Canada to life in the US?

They probably do seem similar and I’ve heard plenty of Americans refer to Canada as the 51st State, but Canadians put a lot of effort into making sure their culture remains intact. Canadians are proud to be Canadian and are never ashamed to let you know. You can’t say that for Americans.

You started out in the music business, and even released a few songs. Is Music still your first love or has writing taken over that spot?

Actually we put out a few albums, back when they still made those things. It was so long ago. Music is a young man’s game. It takes a special kind of energy and ego to keep a band moving forward. I figure, at forty-six, it’s better at cocktail parties to say you’re an aspiring writer than aspiring rock star.

 I have just interviewed a fellow author and mutual friend Joe Clifford. You two knew each other during your ‘junkie’ days. How did you originally meet?

Incriminating question. I remember exactly when I met Joe. We were both staying at a shit-hole shooting gallery on 23rd Street that was lovingly known as Hepatitis Heights.  I remember coming in mid-day and I had a full gram of heroin and a quarter gram of coke. I needed a place to fix, so there I was, mixing it up in an old bottle cap. Joe was there. For some reason I said, “You want half?”

Trust me when you’re strung out and broke and somebody shares a shot that big with you, it’s a bonding experience. Were both at the end of the addiction road and we spent the next year together, scamming, stealing, and searching for that elusive vein. It was one of the worse times of my life, but remains one of the most vivid.

 How many years have you been clean?

Off the junk? Over twelve years. Although we were far apart by then, Joe Clifford and I cleaned up at the same time. My conclusion on getting off heavy drugs is: Eventually you grow out of it; the trick is living long enough to do so.

Congratulations by the way

I asked him this same question. What made you stop… can you recall the moment where you thought, enough is enough… I’m done?

I remember my epiphany. I was living in a squat on Mission Street, a hollowed-out, abandoned jewelry store that was so dark inside you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. I was sitting by candlelight looking at a book I’d found in the street. It was the Catholic Catechism. I know, I know, but that’s what it was. You don’t get to choose what you read when your library is the gutter. Anyway, I was sitting there in the dark with my candles and my needles on my bloodstained sleeping bag and it occurred to me that I didn’t want to get high anymore. That was it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But it was a deep shift in my psyche. I’d been trying to kick for years: methadone programs, rehab, many, many attempts at cold turkey. But this was different. I just didn’t want to be high anymore. That set me on a path.  It didn’t happen overnight, but within in a few months I was off that shit for good.

If I may ask, what caused you to spiral into that world?

Tough to say. I wasn’t the victim of any childhood trauma. I came from a loving, supportive home. I guess I just liked to get high. I will say there was a nihilistic attitude among my peers then, that whole punk rock junkie thing. Shooting drugs was the ultimate anti-social behavior.

How far into it did you sink? I read on Joe’s blog that you both injected mice feces… I have never heard of that before.

The mouse feces thing was an accident. I’ve documented how such a thing could happen in a story called Peanut Brittle. Here’s a link: http://issuu.com/povmagazine/docs/pov_issue_001/131

I took heroin addiction as far as you can go. I’ve lost many friends to the drug and consider myself lucky to be alive.

Do you regret your choices, or do you prefer to believe that they have made you the man you are today?

Both. I’d be a fool not to admit my regrets. Too many to mention. But no matter what we endure it molds us into the people we are.  I like myself now and am able to look in the mirror without shirking, so I guess I’m doing all right. Did I triumph over adversity? Yes. But so does almost everyone in one facet or another.

You both write gritty, real life tales. By his own admission Joe tends to write from the viewpoint of a man pulled into the world, while your characters are often firmly planted there to begin with. Is this a conscious effort on your part?

No. I sit down at the keyboard with a vague idea and let my fingers do the talking. I just hang on and enjoy the ride.

Would you also agree that writing stories revolving around this period of your life brings with it a certain level of catharsis? Is that what started you writing?

I don’t know. Sometimes, when I’m writing about this particular subject matter, I’m pulled back into that dark place. It’s so vivid and real to me that I can taste it. I’ll shutter. It’s probably more dangerous than cathartic.

You have one book published at the moment Piggyback. Can you tell us a little about the story?

Piggyback is a novella, a quick ride.  It’s about an unlikable loser who loses a trunk load of pot when two girls disappear while delivering it for him. The girls don’t know that there’s five kilos of blow piggybacked onto the load. He brings on board a sociopathic tough guy to help track down the girls and the fun starts there.

Do you have plans to write more novels?

I’ve got a completed novel called Hustle waiting to find a publisher. It’s an unsettling tale of two drug-addicted, gay hustlers trying to blackmail a client. I’m very proud of it. It’s a sleazy tale from the streets. Somebody will have the balls to publish it soon. I’m writing a new one now, it too will be full-length. Pushing forward, what else can I do?

Alongside Joe, you are an editor for The Flash Fiction Offensive, part of the Out of the Gutter Online publication. How did you get involved in that?

Joe snuck me in the back door. He got the gig, then asked me if I wanted to help read submissions and I started there. Now I’m a full-fledged editor with a workload that interferes with my writing. Thanks, Joe.

Can you explain a little to those that do not know it what Out of the Gutter is, and how TFFO operates?

Out of the Gutter is a multifaceted online and print magazine. The online version puts out edgy crime fiction, but it strays from the genre, too. As long as it has a bite. Once a week the Bare Knuckles Pulp department, run by Court Merrigan, posts a full-length short story. Joe and I run the Flash Fiction end, we publish every Monday and every second Thursday. Paul Brazill’s  Brit Grit Alley covers news across the pond. Ryan Sayles has fired up a unique and hilarious bi-weekly interview column called the Noir Affliction. There are reviews of books and movies done by great independent reviewers like Chris Leek. It’s a big operation with a lot of variety and it’s great to be a part of. This year the tireless mastermind who runs the joint, Matt Louis, has decided we’re expanding by publishing novels at Gutter Books, so watch out for those.

Seeing the friendship between you and Joe, I will ask you this same question. If you were going to co-author a novel, who would you want to write it with (Hint: Joe chose you.)?

I don’t know if Joe and I could write a novel together. That might be the end of our friendship. The process is pretty personal I find. Like Stephen King says, “You have to write with the door shut.” I would, however, like to try a screenplay with Joe. It’s something that we’ve discussed and will definitely do when the time is right.

To finish things off, another steadfast question I have is, can you describe your writing to us in just three words?

Buy my book.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I truly appreciate it.

It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

If you are interested in chatting with Tom, or want to hear more about his writing you can find him on Facebook, Twitter or via his Website

If you want to read Tom’s novella ‘Piggyback’ you can grab your copy from Amazon, today.

Piggyback cover

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