Interview: The Transgressions of Thommy Waite
When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Or were you—like me and so many others I would imagine—forced to start writing at gunpoint after being kidnapped by an insane-asylum escapee who wouldn’t shut up about how “the enemy is Resistance?”
There were no firearms involved. I heard 'Paperback Writer' when I was a kid and thought it sounded like a pretty cool gig, specifically the 'dirty story of a dirty man...' bit. So the madness was within me from a really young age. Then came fleeting moments of validation – some were real but most were imagined.
My first corporate job was a turning point. It felt like a giant waste of time. Which is ironically what writing feels like most of the time too. But at least it's a more personalized waste of time.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to get some quality writing done?
A German dude, an old friend of mine from my New York days, told me something profound about ten years ago. He said, "Nowadays because of texting and email and social media everyone is a writer."
I tend to agree. Of course, a lot of digital communication is just vapid nonsense. But there's a lot of gold too. You just need to keep your eyes peeled. It could be a bawdy joke in a WhatsApp group text. An acerbic YouTube comment. Or perhaps a harrowing personal reveal on Reddit.
For years, when I sat down 'to write' my language would become verbose and archaic and overly literary. But then I would shoot off an offhanded text to a buddy and it would have some real zing to it. Over time I've got better at not twisting my words.
Here's my advice: stop giving a fuck. Let it all hang out. You can punch it up or down later. But don't constrain yourself simply because you're on your laptop and you think you're writing something serious. You're most likely not. Either way, it's just scribbles. Have some fun. Be free.
Also, kill your darlings and polish your turds. The stuff you think is gold ain't that good, and the stuff you think is shit ain't that bad. As for whether it's 'quality writing', that's for others to decide.
What do you like most about writing? What do you like least? (Feel free to go into great detail about the latter—our readers are used to seeing a lot of bitching on this site.)
I am the annoying twat at the party who has a flash of inspiration and then spends the next five minutes trying to get the bones of the thing down within the 'Notes' section of my iPhone. Most of the time the end product never truly honors the original idea. But very occasionally, I'm able to oversee the birthing process without mutilating the baby. It's very satisfying.
The hardest part is constantly dealing with your own shit work. You can try and be stoic about it, and take solace from marginal improvement over time. But no matter how you spin it, every day you are likely to produce fresh new piles of manure. And that's the best case scenario. Even if you bail on writing for a while the smell lingers (nothing smells worse than a blank page).
I feel like the star of a neverending cringe compilation. But whatever. It's part of the gig.
Describe your early writing habits and how you manage to sustain the motivation to write. Have you noticed any differences/changes over the years?
In my younger years I would get excited about an idea and binge write for a couple of weeks. Even if the idea had legs, I would inevitably burn out. And when I would return to the draft later it wouldn't hold the same magic.
My habits have changed drastically over the years. Nowadays, I'm much more of a 'little bit every day' type of writer. I also spend more time planning stories out in advance. The plan isn't too rigid, it evolves a lot as I go, but having a final destination helps focus my writing.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Nabakov. Irvine Welsh. Bret Easton Ellis. Donna Tartt. Jeffrey Eugenides. Those are the biggies.
The late George Cockcroft aka Luke Rhinehart is also a firm favorite. The Dice Man changed my life.
Finally, I have to give Dick Francis a bit of love. He wrote crime thrillers about the horse racing industry in the UK. My Dad was a huge fan – we had every Dick Francis novel in our house when I was growing up. Every one of his books is identical, yet somehow satisfying, similar to how every AC/DC album is the same. It takes a real maestro to be able to do the same thing again and again and again.
How does location figure into how you developed as a writer?
I moved around a lot in my 20s. I grew up in Perth. I moved to Sydney to finish uni. After I quit my boring corporate job I went to New York for 7 years. And then I lived in Medellín from 2017 to 2020. I scurried back to Perth because of Covid. I'm unsure of how long I'll stay.
If you put yourself in new places you will stumble across new stories. Traveling can be somewhat of a cheat code for creativity. But it's also exhausting.
I also went wandering around the globe with a pretty misanthropic attitude. As a moody teenager I thought to myself, "People are probably exactly the same, no matter where you go." And I was right! It feels good to be right.
I think being a fish out of water is good for creativity. In Colombia, I felt like I was caught between a few different worlds, and this informed the tone of Any Day You Can Die.
Do you think a writer can think too differently and become too removed from the real world?
There's this comedian called Tim Dillon, he's a regular on Joe Rogan's podcast. At first I really liked his stuff. He reminded me a little of Bill Hicks.
But after a while, I cottoned onto Dillon's schtick. He's a contrarian but in the performative sense. Whatever angle is expected, he'll take the opposite viewpoint, often in a slapstick way. His views aren't tied to reality – he'll just say and do whatever he thinks will garner the funniest reaction.
I like it when there's genuine feeling behind pieces of work. It can be distorted and exaggerated, but I want it to come from some type of real place. Otherwise I tend to feel a little ripped off.
To be clear, I think Tim Dillon is still funnier than 99% of comedians in the world. But nothing can fuck with the truth. The truth is the funniest shit in the world.
Switching gears: How do the aesthetics of distance, solitude and communion through sex, figure into your work? And who are some other writers who also touch upon these ideas?
We are all getting pushed away from one another. In the modern economy, 'specialization' is rewarded. This involves spending a lot of time working alone, trying to make yourself different from every other person in the world.
I love characters that are completely ignorant about intimacy. Over time these characters convince themselves that vulnerability is actually the source of all evil. Sex becomes like the gym – you want a good workout partner, but ultimately, it's not a team sport.
Bruce Robertson in Filth and Patrick Bateman in American Psycho are examples of characters who are completely ignorant about intimacy. No one can describe a lewd sex act quite like a character that feels nothing for other members of the human race.
When did you decide you wanted to write Any Day You Can Die?
It was shortly after I moved to Colombia, and I saw this random dude on Facebook Live post a video about his life in Medellín. There was just something so ridiculous about the whole thing. Doing a little press conference to tell the world about how you just bought some groceries from the supermarket. I decided to slam a bunch of similar characters together and the end result was Any Day You Can Die.
Can you tell us a little about what you currently have in the works?
I'm currently working on the sequel to Any Day You Can Die. It'll be out just before Christmas 2021.
I don't wanna reveal which characters re-appear, or any specifics about the plot because I don't wanna spoil the first book. But I can say the sequel takes place in 2020 and so the Covid pandemic and the US election informs a lot of what happens.
End of Interview
Thommy Waite is an Australian writer and host of the podcast Thommy Waite’s Square Record. He was based in Medellín, Colombia. But like many others, he scurried back to his home-town (Perth, Australia) during the COVID-19 pandemic. His future whereabouts remain undetermined.