Meet Thomas Conner, known to some as Tom, others as Tommy, and TC by friends and family. Although born in Florida, two miles from the Alabama state line, he spent most of his early years living on the Alabama side and went to college in Florida.
He graduated from the University of West Florida in Pensacola with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities and since 1980 has resided in Central California’s Big Valley, where he has worked in higher education at a prestigious private university in Student Life.
Tom, welcome to Authos Visits. I am excited to talk to you about this book, Goodby, Saturday Night.
Tell us a little about the book.
Well it’s early May 1956 in the small South Alabama town of Farmington, and eleven year old Bobby Crosby’s life is about to change forever. He’s still anguishing over the death of his father even though it’s been five years, and he’s come to despise the life centered around his mother’s cafe, a place that turns into the revelrous hot spot of the community when the sun goes down. Bobby escapes his real world by sitting every night in the local movie theater, third row left down front. There, alone in the dark, he leaves Farmington far behind and melts into the world of the silver screen. Bobby’s best friend is Hucker Nolan, a twenty-two year old drop-out from the swamps across the tracks who drives a taxicab in the daytime and works concession at the movie theater at night. Now, Bobby’s world seems to be collapsing and there’s nothing he can do to stop it; his mother has a boyfriend Bobby desperately resents and his feelings for Hucker are confusing and ever changing, often filled with anger and jealousy Bobby doesn’t understand. Then, the worst thing possible happens to Bobby— he’s betrayed by the person he trusts the most.
Was your book research intensive? Did you find some fun facts?
Yes, definitely. The book is set in 1956 and required a lot of research because I give lots of details in my writing. My character paid 5 cents for a soda. The Western Flyer Super Deluxe bicycle he dreamed of cost $75 and was unobtainable. I also used movie and music references throughout the book, so I had to research the release dates to make sure I wasn’t using titles that hadn’t been released in May of 1956. A good example of this is Saturday night television line-up in 1956. I really wanted one of my characters to be watching Gunsmoke on T.V. when he was called away for an emergency. Well, the show didn’t air at the time I needed him to be watching it, so I had him watch “The Jackie Gleason Show” instead.
Did you find not so fun facts while researching your book?
Yes, and some very disturbing. This book is based very loosely on my childhood growing up in the Deep South. My main character has a close friend who is “colored” but they cannot sit together in the movies. My character lives in a racial bubble, just as I did at the time. When researching racial tension in Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s, I was made aware of much more racially related violence than I had previously known. I knew of the Selma marches of 1965 but I had no idea of the violence and brutality involved until I began my research. It was played down in my area and among my family and friends.
Does coincidence play a role in your book? If so, what was the strangest coincidence experienced and did you use it in your book?
Yes, most definitely. In the past, we have had two Sunday services at my church, St. Anne’s Episcopal. I always attended the 10:00am service. Early last spring our services were combined into one at 9:00am. That offered an opportunity to meet folks from the other service I didn’t know. One Sunday, I struck up a conversation at coffee hour with a woman who had just published her second novel with a small publishing house. I told her about my book, that I was planning on self-publishing because I didn’t want to go through all those hundreds of rejections until I found a house that would take my book. She suggested I submit my work to her publisher. After mulling it over for a few weeks I did and they immediately offered me a publishing contract. My friend and I had been attending the same church for many years without knowing each other or that we were both writers. Now, we are authors with the same publishing house because our church services were combined
What is the story behind the creation your book?
When I read Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show in the mid 1970s, I realized I had a book in me about small town life in Alabama in the 1950s. I met Larry McMurtry at his rare and collectible bookstore, Booked Up, in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC. When I discussed my idea for a book with him he said write it, it will tell a good story. I went home and wrote the first draft. That was in the late fall of 1979. I moved to California a month later and brought the hand-written manuscript with me with the intensions of polishing and rewriting. However, it got pushed back for 35 years.
What do you like most about writing? What do you like least?
Hanging on and following where the characters take me. Some people might say I’m not telling the truth, but my books seem to write themselves. I have a beginning and an idea of an ending and I just start writing. The characters take over and the book comes to life. Sometimes, I am totally amazed that we took the turn in the road we did. Recently, in my new book, one character asked the other where they are going as they climb into the car. I had no idea as I wrote those words. The main character made a choice and the direction they took opened up the plot with a major new twist. I was amazed.
And the least?
I like promoting the book the very least. I wish I could just write and the book would sell itself. That’s not the case. I spend at least fifty percent of my writing time promoting.
Are you working on the next book?
Yes. My work is always based very loosely on something I’ve done or I’ve lived. I just make characters and a story out of it. The first book was based loosely on my childhood. The new book is based on my first quarter in college in 1965. It’s the story of an 18-year-old freshman who is totally smitten with his single 27-year-old English professor. They become fast friends due to mutual interest and need. Soon, the friendship begins to develop into more. I am obsessed with the story and at the present time have over 52,000 words down.
Tell us how long it took you to write your book.
I wrote the first draft of the first book in three months. I wrote it in longhand because my old typewriter had keys that stuck and I could write faster than type. It was put aside as I said for 35 years. I pulled the old manuscript out and began transcription and rewrite last year. I spent nearly a year on the final book. So, the answer is 37 years in total time and a year and three months of actually writing time.
What’s next for you in writing?
To continue with the new book until it’s ready to send to my publisher. I also plan to pull out some old short stories and see what I can do with them. I spend a tremendous amount of time promoting the book and finding readers.
Thank you for visiting with us today. Can’t wait to hear about your next new book.