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Author Q&A: Thomas R. Manning

Thomas R. Manning is a published author and a credentialed minister. In addition to his passion for geek culture, in which he wrote two science fiction novels, Thomas also co-founded an online ministry platform, Inception Ministries. His lives with his wife and three children in Pittsburgh. Through his writing and his ministry, he hopes to inspire those who are lost or without hope.

TBL Author Q&A Series: Thomas R. Manning

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

What first drew you to writing? What is it that makes you a writer?

My passion for writing began when I became hooked—or passionate, or completely addicted—to Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files. His writing style, sense of humor, and writing blog intrigued me like nothing else before it. I once saw his response to a fan when they claimed they “could write a better story than him,” to which he responded, “go for it!” or something to that effect.

What makes me a writer? Well, I think for anyone, and definitely for me, it’s that you know for a fact you can’t live the rest of your life without writing. Right now, most people probably wouldn’t consider me a writer because I haven’t written any books in the last couple years, but there’s a reason for that. I still have a dozen story ideas in my head, plus some new projects that match where my life is going.

You’ve also become a minister. How do you balance the two natures? Do you think you’ll ever return to writing to make a living?

And speaking of where my life is going, haha! Yes, I’ve become a minister and it’s been the greatest time of my life. For anyone who has ever wondered if there is a God, just come talk to me. In the last three years, He has reshaped and transformed my life. Although I haven’t been writing any books lately, I have been writing articles on a ministry website I co-created with a friend: InceptionMinistries.com.

I have no doubt that writing will make a huge return in my life, but it will be when the time is right. It’s nice to know that there is still a lot of positive feedback on my first two science-fiction novels. And Captain Daniel Quinn hasn’t finished his logs yet! I still have book three in my mind and I have a feeling I’ll begin to write it sooner than later!

Both your books are science-fiction novels. What is your writing style for them? How do you approach genre writing?

When it comes to the genre I’m writing, I like to look at the scope of the plot I’m crafting. For Energize and Antagonize, these were stories that focused on one man and a tragedy he faced and overcame against the odds. To me, this spoke more of someone whose head we could get into. That’s why I wrote it in first person. At the same time, a couple other fantasy and steampunk ideas I have are too grand in scale and history to be tied to just one character, so those will be written in third person.

Writing for me, in general, is never a completely planned situation with bullet points and pages of notes. At the same time, it’s not freewriting. I’ve tried that and failed many times. I like to jot down the basic themes of the book and a couple subplots, and just let the story evolve and grow naturally.

What themes and topics entice and inspire you most?

I think the most inspiring topics are those that are grounded in reality. For me, I enjoy reading and writing about characters who have a personal struggle they overcome. But it’s so much more than just the character’s struggle. I want that theme to be personal and practical for the reader as well; they can simplify the solution and overcome their own personal struggle by relating to the character.

What do you look for in good writing? What qualities or characteristics must it have?

I look for two things when reading a book, whether for pleasure or for research: 1) Engaging and relatable characters and 2) a unique and intelligent plot. These two things are strongest to the overall book and author when he or she utilizes their own life experiences. When you write from experience, you’re using more than just your mind and imagination—you’re using your heart and soul. Books that contain the author’s heart and soul are books that I will keep coming back to again and again.

What is writer’s block to you? What does it seem like or how does it manifest? What do you do to fight it?

I always imagined writer’s block as more of a wall, something that stands in your way and you can’t see around it. Personally, I feel like writer’s block comes when we second guess ourselves as we’re writing. Sometimes we want to stop and think, but then we get stuck in mud and tar and have trouble getting out of it. People will often tell you just to keep writing, even if it doesn’t make sense, even if you don’t like what you’re writing. The point is that you are chiseling away that block or wall piece by piece, and once you break through it, you can look back and see what worked and what didn’t work, and revise and edit from there.

You’ve had two books published along with two companion audiobooks through Audible. Can you walk us through that publication process? How did you react to it all?

Absolutely. For anyone who is reading this, it’s a very simple process! I used Kindle Direct Publishing and Createspace to publish my books on Kindle and paperback formats, respectively. Then, through Audible’s ACX program, I researched different narrators, their fees, and eventually reached an agreement with narrator James Foster. Funny story: I have a degree in acting and theater and ultimately planned to narrate my own books, but I’m thrilled with the work that James did. I hope to hire him again when the third Quinn book, Mechanize, is written and published. The entire experience can only be summed up as surreal.

You were part of a local writing workshop. Ultimately, how did those sessions affect your writing?

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of workshopping with fellow writers. Those meetings propelled my skills to a whole new level, because you’re working with a group of people who all aspire to the same dream as you. There’s a book in the Bible called Proverbs with a verse that says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” I’m not even talking about religion right now, but that verse is the epicenter of why it’s so important to work alongside others. I guess you could say writers sharpen other writers.

Do you have any writing/editing/workshopping horror stories to tell?

Editing horror stories usually make you a better writer, haha! But honestly, writing can be fun. It takes a lot of passion and creativity, but don’t let it take you away from the real world. Sometimes it’s fun to escape into worlds of fantasy and fiction, but you must always keep your eyes fixed on what’s happening around you. Unfortunately for me, I learned this lesson too late and it almost cost me my marriage, but my wife and I gave our lives to God and His forgiveness, and we have built a relationship on a foundation that cannot be shaken.

What advice do you have for people just discovering writing? Trying to get published? Trying to finish their novel/collection?

Don’t give up. You may think a writer’s dream dies when it fails to be recognized or published, but in truth the majority of writers fail because they don’t persevere or follow through on their writing. The best thing about writing is that it can be molded and changed. You can transform a piece of garbage into a literary masterpiece. There are so many options today to get published, but we need to be professional about it, too, which means: don’t write something random, spellcheck it, and then submit it for publishing on Amazon. Write your story, then get it read by peers and edited, then write and fix, write and fix, rinse and repeat.

And the most important advice I can give alongside this is: Why are you writing? Look in the mirror and ask yourself this question. Is it about money and recognition? Or is it for something more? Don’t write just to show people what you are doing. Write to show people why you are doing it.

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