Today, I’m interviewing author AC Birdsong, who wrote the book “Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales.” This post is part of the Enchanted Book Promotions tour for the book. Read my review of Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales.
About the Author
A.C. Birdsong wrote the first draft of Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales during an unseasonably cold winter in Athens, Greece. “I spent all my time either writing the story or searching for a reasonably warm and cheap place to write it. Often this left me huddled near tepid steam heaters in dingy hotel rooms, and drinking endless cups of weak Nes to fight the cold. Eventually the weather turned, which was not only fortunate for me, but for Jacob and Palmer as well, because they probably would still be fighting it out inside that book otherwise.”
A.C. lives in Seattle, where people voluntarily allow themselves to be trapped in books on a regular basis. Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales is his first novel. Buy Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales here.
My Interview with AC Birdsong
Your story has a unique plot. How did you come up with the idea for Inside The Tall, Thick Book of Tales?
I’d been working as a civilian tech writer in Saudi Arabia for nearly eight months, but it didn’t work out. I had a choice: I could come back to the States and pay $8,000 in taxes, or I could stay out of the country and go in debt for about $4,000. I chose the obvious, and decided to spend my time in Greece. I’d never been in Greece before, and felt transported into a completely different dimension. Everything was different, and I loved it, but my experience in Saudi was still a sour taste in my mouth. I remember early on in my ‘exile’ at the Cafe do Brazil in Athens (which used to be right near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier). I’m not sure what sequence of images, foreign language words, and music was happening at that moment, but I do remember being at the cafe and wondering, what would make someone trap another person in a magic book? What would it be like inside? How would the original story be affected? I’d spent the better part of the previous ten years wishing for a great block of time to write, and I started using it right then. I went right across the street, bought a thick orange notebook, and spent the rest of my expatriation touring Greece, looking for warm places to write, and working on the story. It was a cold year there, and I think all these things combined to shape the story.
Did you have trouble keeping up with the three different plotlines in the story?
I didn’t have so much trouble keeping up with things at first, because I was writing it from start to finish in a notebook. After I typed it up, though, I found it was very tricky getting the timing of events right. I found myself wanting to swap chapters around, add new chapters, take out old. Felt like I was going in circles. Eventually I made a story board of scenes, and lined them up in three levels for each of the plotlines. Covered my walls with paper. That made it easier to decide when to have things happen, and it also let me see where major holes existed that I needed to create scenes to fill.
How did you keep the events in each plotline separate from each other?
The story board helped a lot. I actually needed to have some bleedover between events – Palmer writes in the enchanted book, and things happen to Jacob. Mona gets pulled into the book, and unwittingly provides clues of how to escape. The original story characters try to kill the Worm, which make the sheriff believe Palmer tried to kill him. Keeping key chapters short helped as well.
Did you have a master plan for writing this story, or did it evolve organically?
As I note above, the first draft I wrote germinated from me asking myself how could someone get trapped in a magic book. I wrote the story from there, start to finish, in an orange college ruled notebook. So you can say there was no plan, it pretty much wrote itself. After I got back to the U.S., I typed it into a text file, and it evolved a bit from there, but not all that much.
What are your biggest writing influences?
In 5th grade or so I happened upon an old copy of Conan at the five and dime. As a scrawny kid in a rough blue-collar town, I wan enchanted by the ability to meet every challenge and obstacle head on, bully your way through if you can and thieve or sneak your way out if you must. That winter I sought out and read as many Conan stories as I could get from the library, completely enchanted with the tales of sword and sometimes sorcery. I like heroes, especially ones who break or ignore the rules, who deep down have a set of roughly hewn and inviolable codes of honor. So in my writing I strive to have someone to root for, even if it’s the villain. In all cases the story on balance must be entertaining. Finally, I want my books readable by anyone, even a fifth grader.
Do you have any favorite authors or books?
In the last several years I’ve been switch hitting between fantasy and hard boiled mystery. I love great stories, great writing, and I especially love puzzling plots. There’s so many good writers out there now, it’s impossible to pick any as favorites. But I’m always ready to read Piers Anthony, or Dashiell Hammet.
What tools did you use when creating the universe for Inside The Tall, Thick Book of Tales? Was there any research you did to help the story feel more realistic and alive?
This novel required no research. It was pure imagination, so I didn’t feel the need to have any facts to be checked. Really all I had to do after the book was drafted was type it up and polish it about a hundred times.
Your bio says you wrote the first draft of this story during a cold winter in Greece; do you think the weather influenced your writing at all in the plot events or setting?
It did in two ways. First, it made me think about how situations which are normally easy can be greatly complicated by things you can’t control, like the weather. In my book, the small town is suffering from heavy rains, which make it difficult for people to get around. The rain is also the cause for reduced communications in the town – nobody has cell phone service, so they have to go places to talk with people. Second, I could never find a very good place to write – it was always either too noisy, or too cold, or too interesting to concentrate on the story, and I found myself wishing I could create a perfect study. So I created it inside The Book of Truth, the magical book that Jacob creates to trap Palmer.
Who is your favorite character in the book?
The Worm. The idea of a lowly bookworm, being enchanted by Palmer’s magic torrents into an all-knowing, all-powerful hermit who only wants an occasional visitor for tea, is great fun for me. It was fun writing and always fun reading. Worm is a happy victim of circumstance who was mindlessly munching through the story Arthur’s Watch in the Tall, Thick Book of Tales when Palmer bombards it with magic. Worm becomes sentient, magical, and rather pedantic. It remembers the souls of all the books it ever tasted, for, as it tells Jacob emphatically, books do have souls: “Do you think that without a soul, a book could change a mind, a life, or the course of history? Could a mere collection of letters into words, words into sentences, or sentences into paragraphs, for page after inert page, spawn a single spark of an idea in even the brightest mind? No! Ideas do not form spontaneously from simple wood pulp and ink; life force is required to give them vitality. Oh, yes, all books have a soul; once you taste it, you thereby have the essence of its purpose and meaning as created by its author.” Yeah, Worm was great fun.
What was your favorite scene to write?
In Chapter 58, Mona, the bartender who has gone to Jacob’s to retrieve the Tall, Thick Book of Tales for Palmer, is accidentally drawn into the magic book and plopped into a scene with Jacob an Lucy. Thinking she is having a dream, she fantasizes about Palmer as a romance novel Prince Charming. Because she is in the book, she controls some magic, and when she describes her fantasy, a fictional Palmer appears complete with feathered hat, tights, and sword. Jacob and Lucy are amazed to watch as Mona scorns his love, and, devastated, he stabs her with his blade and then falls on it himself at her feet. Dying by book magic is the way to escape the spell, though neither Jacob nor Lucy catch on to this right then. They assume Mona was one of Palmer’s creations to begin with. I liked this scene quite well because it’s full of whimsy and misunderstanding, and brings so many clues just out of reach of all the characters present.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions!