Today, Feathered Quill is talking with Thomas Duffy, author of Stockboy Nation.
FQ: Phillip Doherty is a middle-aged man attempting to restart his career, something many similar, real-life people dream of doing every day. What would you advise them NOT to do while working toward this goal?
DUFFY: Don't sell yourself short. Too many people settle for things they don't want in life because it's all that is easily accessible to them. Stop and think and don't take the first thing (job) that comes your way.
FQ: Phillip is a “challenging" character. He lies, refuses to face his problems for much of Stockboy Nation, and spends a lot of his time wallowing in self-pity. He keeps readers at a distance throughout the entire novel. Did you plan for him to be so unlikeable from the beginning, or did he become that way as you wrote his story?
DUFFY: I have heard he is relatable from many people despite his flaws. While I certainly appreciate you thinking he's unlikable, unfortunately, in the real world, many people struggle to make ends meet and have to use an "any means necessary" approach to survive. I don't think every character in literature has to be likable. Did anyone like the narrator in Fight Club? I didn't like him but I loved the book and the film. The character in the Pulitzer-Prize-winning, The Goldfinch was certainly on the borderline of being not totally relatable and the boy in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was a little annoying. I think a reader who depends on their lead character to be likable dooms their self to a closed-minded reading experience. As for Phillip, I hear he's relatable so I'm only first hearing of his being unlikable recently.
FQ: Why did you choose to include the current COVID-19 pandemic in your novel?
DUFFY: Well any other storyline at this juncture would feel a little dated. Don't you think? I couldn't do the original plotline that I intended to because of COVID-19. Fighting for higher wages was the original thread of the book at first but when there's no wages to be fought for because of layoffs, how can one fight for higher wages? I believe in giving my reader an authentic experience. Not a likable one all the time, unfortunately.
FQ: COVID-19 is affecting people around the world in extreme and emotional ways. As a species, humanity is going through something incredibly traumatic right now. Was portraying that trauma challenging in any way?
DUFFY: I wrote about my experiences in seclusion during COVID-19 and mixed them with certain characteristics of Phillip, a character I've worked with for 7 years. Were they challenging to write about? They were real and I put myself out there by sharing feelings either I had or believe Phillip would have had in quarantine. The world is in a difficult place right now. People have lost loved ones or become frightened. But, we must keep on living and trying to push ourselves wearing masks and always washing our hands as we try to return to our jobs and our lives. Keeping safe these days is scary. Speaking the truth, however, is not scary for me.
FQ: Phillip is an author who’s writing career fizzled out after a poorly received second book. Is there anything you want to say to authors in real life who are facing this same problem?
DUFFY: I know authors who moved on and got regular jobs after successful books. It's a hard market in the publishing world and it may be even harder right now. If you put one or two successful books out, then I guess it's safe to say you've done a lot. To think you can keep on writing masterpieces when there's so much competition out there isn't really plausible. Or is it? Stephen King, aside. You know? I would say keep writing and keep trying but be prepared for the worst case scenario.
FQ: Like most of us, Phillip is anxious for the world to go back to normal. What’s the first thing you think he would do once COVID-19 is under control?
DUFFY: Help Melissa fulfill her dream to become an actress and, for himself, he'd go to school to be a teacher.
FQ: During the course of this novel, Phillip spends some time pondering his place in the world. That’s a big question a lot of people have during these times. How do you suggest your audience keep from being overwhelmed by current events, as Phillip was?
DUFFY: That may be impossible. I think I am overwhelmed with current events and can't escape the news and all the scary scenarios that come up on a daily basis. But, reading can help or writing. Maybe even watching movies or television. Also focusing in on human relationships can help. These activities or bonds can at least soothe things over for a little while, you know?
FQ: If you could give Phillip one piece of advice, what would it be?
DUFFY: Stay with Melissa because you love her and don't sell yourself short in your job search.
FQ: What parts of writing are the most difficult for you?
DUFFY: I had people tell me I kept putting tags on my dialogue in The Separation so I took the tags out (he said, she said, etc) for this current book and now a critic is criticizing me for it. I can't put the tag and not put the tags. I personally think you can tell who is speaking in all the dialogue with or without the tags. That is the most challenging thing for me write now. To "tag" or "not to tag." That is the question.
FQ: Has the current pandemic affected you as writer? How?
DUFFY: Yes. It's a very hard journey to normalcy and I don't know if we're going to get to "normal" soon enough. I am certainly optimistic but optimism can only go so far to triumph over reality. I hope reality is kinder to us in the next few months.
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