Brain Candy Sale

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Visit our stores


Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.


Author Archive: "Tom Spanbauer"

Room to Write

Tell us about the places you have written. The actual place where you set up your writing desk. Were there windows you looked out of? What did you see?

Faraway Places was written at 211 East Fifth Street, Apt. 1A, in Manhattan. My apartment was a studio about nine feet wide and not a lot longer. I got the apartment for free and $400 a month for being the super of three buildings on East Fifth. There were two long, narrow windows facing East Fifth Street, but I always had the rust-colored Levolors closed. My first computer was on a small table that butted up against a larger dinner table. From where I sat, I could reach out and touch the kitchen sink. Behind me was one of the only two places in the studio where two people could stand. Right behind me was the bathroom door. You had to move the chair to get into the bathroom. In the loft bed above the bathroom I had a black and white TV with a coat hanger for an antenna. I could only get PBS and for some ...

Writing about the Dead and Bringing Them Back to Life

In my novel, In the City of Shy Hunters, there were so many dead friends to write about. There's a line in Shy Hunters: "It's the responsibility of the survivor to tell the story." As I was writing the book, I felt the wisdom of that line very keenly. And since I was the one responsible, I had to get the story right. In order to get the story right, I had to go back to the Manhattan of the '80s and tell everything I knew that was true about those days, everything that was true about that place. I really became obsessed by it. For many people, the story of In the City of Shy Hunters is just too harsh and too real. There is so much death and it doesn't let up. But that's the way it was for me. Everyone was dying and I knew I was sick and nowhere could I find redemption. In many of my books, I go to nature to soften the blows of the hard story I'm telling. But in Manhattan, there was no nature. Even Central Park was ...

What’s Allowed and What’s Forbidden

What for you is the relationship between writing and death? Not just literal death but dying emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. Dying to one's own ego, dying to what's allowed and what's forbidden. Writing about the dead and bringing them back to life through writing?

I'll try to answer this part of the question: What is it like for me to die to what's allowed and what's forbidden? Part of the fictive invented I is that you get to be braver, bigger, stronger than you really are. There are risks you can take sitting at home at your computer that out there in the real world are much more difficult to do. But that's what fiction is for. In real life, you may wish you would have done or said something at a certain time. With fiction, you don't have to wish. You can do it. But just because it's fiction doesn't mean it's not a difficult task. To face up to your demons takes a lot of chutzpah wherever you are. Most of what we fear is internal. Most of what we fear is the way we've internalized our parents, ...

Writing Where It Hurts

You write about things that are deep and painful. Do you emotionally relive the painful feelings and experiences? Does the process of writing your novels bring pain or relieve it?

I write about things that make us human. There is a great Zen saying that goes: when you meet someone, look them closely in the eyes, for inside those eyes a great battle is waging. Really all of us human beings are essentially in the same place. We are on a battlefield. Each battlefield may be different, but in the end, we're all facing some very human things: aging, loss, sickness, and death.

Someone asked me once if I have a writing muse. I answered that I go to where it hurts inside me. Or I go to where I feel most afraid. Where we find resistance inside us is where our muse lives.

While I am writing I feel the pain, or I purposely go to where the pain is and conjure it up. The trick for me is that I'm writing in first person. I have invented an "I." And this invented "I" as soon as ...

One Crucial Tip for New Writers

If you could dispense with a single point of advice/wisdom to a new but promising writer, what would it be? And why?

Your best friend is in town and you haven't seen him or her in years. You have something very profound that has happened to you that your friend does not know about yet. You go to a bar and after two margaritas you begin to tell her/him this very important thing that has happened to you. Remember, you are intimate with this person. You don't have to keep up any appearances. Because you trust your friend, you can let it rip. Nothing is taboo. This profound thing is something that you must share. In fact, the actual sharing of it with your friend is a huge part of its importance.

You're going to treat this experience with your friend as if you were talking to your friend but actually you are writing. The trick is to write like you talk. Often the trouble with writing is that it sounds written, not spoken. So many of us have years and years of creative writing jammed into our ...

  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at