His debut novel of young adult fiction, The Tilting House, just hit bookshelves this last summer, but author Tom Llewelyn is not resting on his laurels. As announced on his blog, Letter Off Dead, the multi-talented artist – who is also one-half of Tacoma guerrilla art outfit Beautiful Angle – has just turned in a finished manuscript for his second novel, Letter Off Dead, which will be published by Tricycle Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, next November. As you might imagine, the book has something to do with the blog. In fact, the book is the blog. Those who followed each of Llewelyn's post were privy to Letter Off Dead's story of young Trevor and his deceased father in rough draft form, as told through daily fictionalized letters written by Llewelyn for the entire 2009-2010 school year (coinciding with the fictional school year being lived by Trevor). City Arts caught up with a very exhausted Llewelyn for a few quick questions.
City Arts: So, this book has been in the works for a while, but you've only had a contract for two months. That was a quick turnaround.
Tom Llewelyn: The first book was so incredibly slow that this one feels like the complete opposite. The first one, the frustration was in how long everything took and in this one I’m stressed on how fast it’s going, which I definitely prefer. I’ve been really cranky lately.
Why did you tell this story as a blog?
The concept of doing the book blog came about because of the publishing process of my first book, because it was so incredibly slow. It was a four year process from the time I submitted the manuscript to the time that it came out. Just imagine anything else you do in life that takes that long. There’s nothing. I didn’t know if I could sustain this if this is really how this industry works. There has got to be a better way. I just decided to try the blog for fun and as a way to see how it works to connect instantly with an audience.
How did the blog influence the shape of the novel?
It was a pretty noncreative process; it was figuring out, if you were writing a book as a blog, what would be a good format? What could fit into that page-a-day, max? I didn’t want to take a novel and cut it up into increments, because that seems kind of phony and a bad reading experience. So, I thought that the letter format, or epistolary, as I believe it is officially called, seemed like just a great way to do it.
Is the story autobiographical?
The story is really close to my story. I didn’t exchange letters with my dead father, but I did have a dad who died when I was a little kid, and junior high school was hell. You put those two together and the kind of skeleton of the story is there.
Do you think the format makes it easier for a younger audience to digest this stuff?
Yeah, I think so. Because if you get into anything heavy, you know that it’s going to end at the end of the page pretty much. So, I think it does allow you to take on heavier subjects because it leans more towards sound bites; that’s probably not the right term, but, yeah, something more digestible.
Were you planning on publishing this all along?
No. Part of the experiment was asking, “Could you actually do this and make money?” Maybe you can, but I sure didn’t figure that out. I did Google AdSense and I never made enough money for them to actually send me a check, which I think you have to make $50. I think I actually made about $8. Part of the irony was that I did this thing wondering if I could hack the publishing process and figure out how to make some money, but the only way I could figure out how to make money at it was to turn it into a traditional, old-fashioned book.
The above image, depicting Trevor's basketball coach as drawn by the seventh grade protagonist of Letter Off Dead, was created by James Stowe for the online version of the book.