Alistair Travels All the Way to San Diego to Speak to Up & Coming Author, Thomas Becknell
San Diego native Thomas Becknell’s debut novel, Above the Beanstalk, weaves both classic fairytales and action/adventures into a fun, non-vampire/werewolf package: “Don’t get me started on anything to do with boy vampires with good hair. How do they afford all that gel?” After researching the traditional fairytale in order to keep some elements like the Golden Goose and of course, the Beanstalk, he then avoided any other interpretations of the story to ensure his coming of age tale stayed true to his own vision. I recently sat down with the first-time author to discuss his new book and the self-publishing process, hijinks invariably ensued.
TB: Above the Beanstalk was a story I’ve kicked around for several years. My wife and I were discussing the incredible special effects being used in movies and how [they] could breathe new life into the stories we knew as kids. I brought up the idea of Jack and the Beanstalk and how cool it would be to see the magical world Jack climbs up to on the big screen. I remember right then and there stopping in my tracks thinking it would be cool and why not write it myself? I’ve written a few short stories, dabbled in writing a few comics but never anything as significant as a screenplay.
After about 13 or 14 drafts of the screenplay and four years later, I knew I was in trouble. In writing screenplays, the writer has to keep a tight grip on flowing description and emotional subtext. All that is supposed to be left to the director and actor to work out by means of the dialogue; however, I couldn’t do it. Every time I became engrossed in the story, there came the involved descriptions and flowing dialogue.
After crying myself to sleep on many nights (I jest…sort of), I realized I was actually writing a novel and not a screenplay. Nearly 30 drafts later, Above the Beanstalk is now available in just about any bookstore in hard copy and electronic format.
So this has been a labor of love for you for quite some time, walk me through this – how much time passed between your initial idea for the story and getting it published?
All in all, I would say close to 11 years of love, sweat, and tears. Lots and lots of tears. Close to four years of writing a screenplay and then another seven years on the actual novel. That includes all the professional editing, book cover images, formatting for e-books, etc.
Much like pretty much everybody here at Donnybrook, you balance your “real” job with your actual passion for writing – except unlike us with the grueling task of maintaining a professional house-staff all day, you actually have a real job! How did you balance the work you get paid to do with the work you actually love to do?
That’s a challenge every time and to be honest, I write whenever I can squeeze the time into my daily schedule. Sometimes it’s in the morning, but most of the time my writing is done just after work at a nearby coffee shop (or two, or three). I miss it when I’m not doing it and get this twitch if I’m not working on a story after a couple days away. Almost as if I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing in life. On the other hand, it could be that I’m just missing my caffeine fix.
Is there anywhere special in San Diego that you go for inspiration?
I love the views of La Jolla at Goldfish Point Café, and I love Intermezzo Espresso in Mission Valley – there’s no view to speak of but it has that quaint comfortable coffee shop vibe. It’s so much in direct contrast to a Starbucks’s formulaic design. Plus it’s in direct view of a Barnes and Noble – again, I need that head in the game reminder.
I went into this wanting to make a very real Jack. Sure, I could make him have a super-cool ability, an alien from the future corrupting the children of today by invading our fairytales, give him amazing hair sculpting abilities with abs to match, etc. but that’s not real to me. That’s not grounded for the book I wanted to write. Don’t get me wrong. I love sci-fi and fantasy but I truly wanted a character driven story.
If you read through the book, the setting of the magical world—the fantasy elements itself—is the background. A very cool background, but a background nonetheless. [My version of] Jack’s story—his journey, could have been told in a variety of genres. He is by no means a hero at the start of the journey. He struggles with thoughts of wealth, power, and self-indulgence. He is who we all would be, would have been, if put in the same situation. The poor decisions he makes early on are believable because it’s what the large majority of us would have done, even if we’re not willing to admit it.
Modern audiences, I hope, pick up on the fact that it’s Jack’s smarts, his intellect, that gets him out of some pretty sticky jams. That’s something we all can do and overall, that’s the one central emotion I wanted to be felt when reading my book. That is: there’s always hope if you think things through and aren’t afraid to take a leap of faith every now and then.
What’s next on the horizon for Above the Beanstalk?
Well, of course, getting an agent or publisher to bring my book to a wider audience is a dream of mine. So until then, I’ll keep myself open to feedback on the Beanstalk story in order to make it the best story I know how to write.Above the Beanstalk is available now on iTunes, and in both e-book and hard copy formats at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.