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Tom Cardamone’s newest work of fiction, Green Thumb (BrazenHead), is described by Publisher’s Weekly as an “imaginative post-apocalyptic novella with New Weird sensibilities.” It may be slim in size, but this novella is surely a grand, grand tale. I chatted with Mr. Cardamone and he revealed more about Green Thumb. He also discussed his love of music, Mad Max and Coney Island. I found I could ask him just about anything…except for a ride home.
Congratulations on your wonderful new book, Green Thumb. When I describe Green Thumb to friends, I say something along the lines of, “It’s poetry fused with science fiction, mixed with romance…all done so in a brilliant way.” Your descriptions are like post-apocalyptic couture. A literary Alexander McQueen. How would you, in your own words, describe Green Thumb?
Wow…thank you for those very kind words. I would simply say that Green Thumb is about a boy who eats sunshine.
Are you influenced by film? Music? If so, what genres? Do you have any favorites?
Actually, my biggest influence is music, and albums always equal chapters in my books, and sometimes lyrics seep in. I’m listening to The Cure’s Disintegration at this very moment, but insomuch as music informs my writing, film informs my life, and was a very big part of my childhood. Green Thumb being a post-apocalyptic book, I can say there’s very much a cinematic influence there. Growing up in the 80’s, I was obsessed with nuclear war and viewed all of the disaster movies of the day as pretty much templates for what the future would be like, and loved that, shortly after the bombs fall, everyone gets Mohawks. I’d be hard-pressed to list my top ten films, but among the apocalyptic movies, Mad Max was a big deal when I was a kid. And the sequels, especially Beyond the Thunderdome, hold up. Tina Turner is so iconographic, and the theme song resonated so much back in the day. Speaking of which, Romero’s Day of the Dead totally rocked my world. My hometown is mentioned in the first five minutes of the film, and as a kid that gave me a certain thrill. So of course it takes place in Florida, where I grew up and where Green Thumb is set, so there’s that. I read tons of these books back then, starting with Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, though before that one of the first “adult” books I read as a child was Andre Norton’s Daybreak 2250 AD, a post-nuclear tale—but I should stop, I can talk about this stuff all day, though I will say that the Tina Turner song in the opening credits of Thunderdome, “One of the Living,” is an overlooked gem.
Since you’re so inspired by music, is there one track, one song that would be your anthem?
Don’t Leave Me This Way by the Communards. There, you just outed me as severely gay. Happy now?
Sorry about that. My anthem would be something by Stevie Nicks, I’m sure. So, a great deal of Green Thumb takes place by the ocean or, even, on dangerous waters. Any plans to hit the beach in real life this summer?
Oh very much so! I’ve been living in New York City for over ten years now, and about six years ago I moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and that first summer I discovered that I could ride my bike to Coney Island, which was ultimately the impetus for Green Thumb. At the time I had written some rather dark stuff, and wanted to mix things up, so rediscovering summer days on the beach inspired this book. I go back every year, Hello Kitty beach towel in tow, with corndogs and lemonade on my mind.
Don’t forget to lotion up….What was the journey of publishing Green Thumb like?
Green Thumb was one of those books that had a feverish beginning. I just wanted so bad to see where these characters ended up and how they grew. Hitting the beach again encouraged me to imagine the surreal life of a mutant boy in the Florida Keys, but as summer faded I had a hard time tying some of the plot points together and thought that this was one of those books that maybe wouldn’t get finished. Meanwhile I was fortunate enough to publish a short story collection, Pumpkin Teeth, with Lethe Press, and have really enjoyed the queer speculative fiction they produce. I write a regular column, Lost and Found, about forgotten or nearly forgotten gay science fiction and fantasy books in their quarterly magazine, Icarus. That’s where I noticed a call for queer speculative novellas for a new imprint, BrazenHead, curated by Alex Jeffers. I forget how I got to know Alex. We are friends on Facebook and I think we might have been in the same anthology at some point. I was comfortable enough to drop him a line and say I had something to show him, but that it was a piece that needed direction. Long story short, he gave great notes and I was able to finish Green Thumb to our mutual satisfaction. I consider myself very fortunate—no one should ever submit anything short of a polished work, but his willingness opened the story back up for me, and I hope readers enjoy this one.
Who or what are you reading now?
Way too much true crime. I’m a student of murder, though I’m not looking forward to graduation.
You’re an accomplished author, but you’ve also taken on the role of an editor. In 2010, you helmed the anthology The Lost Library, Gay Fiction Rediscovered. Do you have any new collections set to be released? What is the biggest difference between being Author Tom and Editor Tom? Do you have a preference?
I love that you think I’m accomplished…and if I can fool others, too, even better. And I do have a new collection coming out later this year, Lavender Menace: Tales of Queer Villainy! And yes, that exclamation point is purposeful. Think the Batman TV series. I grew up on comics and have enjoyed all of the super hero movies of late, as well as the emergence of gay characters and the exploration of gay issues, I mean, Northstar getting married? I would have never predicted that as a kid reading everything with the X-men I could get my hands on. I’m thrilled that kids today at least have reference points. But I’m also a wee bit contrary, and this anthology came out of my concern that we’re too easily cast as victims or heroes. I had fun challenging writers to come up with gay super villains, to explore queer aspects of evil, and it was valuable for myself, having edited a nonfiction book, to try a new challenge. The difference is how one informs the other: I’m becoming a better story teller because I read nonfiction, and I’m hopefully getting better at nonfiction because I know how to tell a story. And I wouldn’t say I have a preference for anything other than trying something new.
I have always felt as though you are my literary brother. I feel at home around you. We met…forever ago and I’ve had the privilege of reading and commenting on earlier drafts of your work.
We have come up together! And it’s been fun.
Do you think some readers are a bit, well, snotty about genres? Do you dislike this sort of classification as a writer?
Sure, readers can be very snotty about genres, but who needs them? Kidding! I’m having my fun, and I occasionally get nice notes from readers, and that has inspired me in turn to send nice notes to writers I have enjoyed or admire.
Is there a story you long to tell that would surprise readers?
I don’t know if it would surprise or horrify them, but I do have one tale I won’t tell until I’m a very old man, because I know I need a certain strength to write this one: the knowledge you get once you live past your grudges.
I’ve noticed that you talk about yoga sometimes on networking sites. Is it a big part of your life? If I tried it, would I throw my ass out?
I’ve been doing yoga for about a year now and have enjoyed the certain amount of balance it’s injected into my life. Give it a try.
Are you reading from Green Thumb anytime soon?
Actually, I don’t have any plans yet for this one. If something comes up, though, great. Hopefully the space will let me play this particular Tangerine Dream track I have in mind. . . .
I have often fantasized about embarking on a rock-and-roll book tour with you. I envision a camper, truck stop readings, etc. When can you and I make this happen?
Start saving up for an Airstream, buddy, I’m game. Let’s plan something very Hedwig, and with John Waters hitchhiking all over the place these days, let’s try and pick him up. But just so you know, I don’t drive.