I first met Andrew on Twitter, as is the case with all my torkidlit tweeps. But Andrew is actually the first torkidlit person I met IRL: Andrew came to my book launch! When you’re a noobie author there aren’t too many unfamiliar faces in the crowd at your first book launch, so I spotted Andrew right away.
Andrew’s a very supportive member of our Toronto MG/YA Writer’s Group. He’s full of encouragement and I think he’s probably attended every book event that every one of our authors has held. He’s a brilliant photographer, author, and (as some of us have found out) musician. As you read this interview you’ll get a glimpse of just how genuine Andrew is – a glimpse that will make you think to yourself, “I wish I knew that guy.”
Meet Andrew Tolson.
Please introduce yourself to us.
My name is Andrew Tolson. I have been a boy magician, propmaker, insurance clerk, waiter and musician. Currently I’m a writer and photographer. Sadly, I would say my days as a boy magician are over.
What is your day job?
I’m Director of Photography at Maclean’s Magazine, where I both edit and shoot photos.
Is there any kind of correlation between your work and your fiction?
There’s no concrete tie-in with my job and writing fiction – understandable, since Maclean’s is a newsmagazine and we tend to frown upon made-up stories. Having said that, I do love working both the visual and word sides of my brain. For me it’s all about telling stories, whether through a picture or the written word.
Like any writer with a fulltime demanding job, finding the time to write is a daily quest. Rising early works best for me and I’m usually at my laptop by 5:30 am. I’ll put in a couple of hours on weekends too, but find it easy to blow it off so I can be with my family. I’ve written in cars (no, not while driving) buses, planes and the backs of cabs. If you want to be a writer, it’s the only way to get work done. Finding the time. As Hemingway said, it’s all about keeping your ass in the seat. (Actually, maybe that wasn’t Hemingway, but sounds like something he’d say when he wasn’t bullfighting or punching out F. Scott Fitzgerald.)
What are you writing now?
Here’s the elevator pitch:
Fifteen-year-old Zoe Burns is desperate to break out of her ordinary existence, so she mounts a one-girl show, performing her version of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis at her high school talent contest. Meanwhile, she must come to terms with her crazy mother, a sister obsessed with Martha Stewart and the triumphant return of a high school peer who is now an American Idol star.
Wait a minute…
…isn’t Metamorphosis about a man who wakes up to discover he’s become a giant beetle? Yes, that’s the one. But Kafka’s story is also about change and family and angst, themes I explore too. Though I should say my novel is less existential nightmare and more humorous coming of age tale. Getting the voice right is the biggest hurdle. I’ve never been a teenaged girl so I can only hope Zoe sounds authentic.
Had you written anything previously?
Sorry, what did you say? I couldn’t hear you over the tower of manuscripts crashing to the floor. But yes, I’ve had a number of manuscripts venture forth into the publishing void. There’s been shortlists, a slew of almosts, close calls and ‘we love this but…’ And that’s the business. Being a photo editor I understand how subjective the publishing process can be. Your only choice: keep calm and carry on.
Tell us a bit about your journey toward publication.
Well, I’m still on that journey. I have a terrific agent, Sarah Heller of the Helen Heller Agency, working on the Kafka manuscript with me. She’s honest and sometimes brutal with my work, which is all you can hope for in an ally. Rejection is a part of the game but if you focus on that instead of the page, you’ll go crazy with frustration. I hope to be published one day, and to have a long career as a writer, but if that doesn’t happen I’ll still write. Once you’ve bitten by the bug, it never leaves you.
Is there anything that you have found to be particularly helpful during your quest for publication?
It’s easier now to ask for help. When you start off as a writer, your vision can be clouded by your own perceived genius. But joining a critique group is helpful, as is having a few trusted readers who don’t mind telling you when your book sucks. Praise is easy to come by, but if you want your story to improve, you often need some hard cold truth. And meeting socially with other writers, like the Torkidlit group, has been a huge help. When I first started writing I was the only writer I knew. Now I know plenty.
Do you have any specific writing goals?
To be the best writer I can be. And to enjoy myself. Sounds trite, perhaps, but I’ve put in many years as a writer and the only thing that’s kept me going is my love of putting words on a page. And certainly I hope my books will one day entertain and enlighten readers. If one day I make a living at it, that would be icing on the cake.
What writers have inspired you?
In YA and Middle Grade, Meg Rossof, K.L. Going, Laurie Halse Anderson and David Almond write brilliant, heartfelt and original books that appeal to all ages. The Torkidlit crew are amazingly talented and I’m busy reading everyone’s books. On the adult side, Michael Chabon, Paul Auster, Nicky Hornby, Annie Proulx and Richard Ford are favourites.
Do you have any other interests?
Besides hanging out with my wife and daughter, music and photography are great passions. I began life as a drummer and played in numerous bands in London, England during the 1980s, and still play regularly. And, besides my work at Maclean’s, I do freelance photography on the side.
You can visit my photo website at: http://andrewtolsonphotography.com/
My writing website is: http://www.andrewtolson.com/
Thanks, so much, Andrew! Once again your words and insights are brilliant.
Do check out Andrew’s websites. He does fabulous work.