by Len Lear
If you’re not John Grisham or Lisa Scottoline or Jennifer Wiener, writing (and promoting) novels can be anything but glamorous. Take Tom Gammarino, for example. Gammarino, 38, is the author of the novels “King of the Worlds” (Chin Music Press, 2016); “Big in Japan: A (Hungry) Ghost Story” (Chin Music Press, 2009) and the novella “Jellyfish Dreams” (Amazon Kindle Single, 2012). In 2013 the resident of Honolulu, where he teaches writing at an independent K-12 school, received Hawaii’s highest literary honor, the Elliot Cades Award for Literature.
(Bizarrely enough, Elliot Cades, 1902-1985, was an English teacher in the 1950s at Central High School in Philadelphia, called “Ming the Merciless” behind his back, who was feared and disliked by many of his students. But that’s another story … In another remarkable coincidence, Tom grew up about a mile from Manoa, PA, and now lives about a mile from Manoa, Hawaii.)
Gammarino, who grew up in Springfield, Delaware County, showed up Saturday night, Oct. 22, at Big Blue Marble Bookstore in West Mt. Airy, where he was scheduled to have a book reading and signing for the recently released “King of the Worlds,” which has received absolutely ethereal reviews from critics.
Tom did not come all the way from Hawaii, where he now lives, for the book reading/signing, which is a good thing. (Tom is on sabbatical for the entire academic year while working on a novel and staying with his family in Springfield, Delco.) That’s because there was more of Tom than was of the public Saturday night. In other words, not one customer (repeat: not one customer) showed up to see and hear Tom.
“I’m embarrassed to say it was the low point of my writing career so far,” he said last week. “Seven o’clock Saturday, Oct. 22, came and went, and nobody showed up, so my wife and I ate Indian food around the corner instead … It’s tough out there.”
When contacted about the no-shows, Elliott batTzedek, Outreach Coordinator for Big Blue Marble Bookstore, said, “Every author has the occasional event where no one comes. It’s part of the experience of giving readings. All authors have to do their own publicity, which is hard work on top of the work of the writing itself. And almost no one, even among avid readers, goes out to hear an author they don’t already know.”
Gammarino called it “The reading-that-never-was. Maybe the Harry Potter thing in Chestnut Hill hurt me a bit? Anyway, I’d managed to dodge the no-show until then, but most novelists have stories like that. And, as they say, better zero than one, and I have had that awkward experience, too, in Bellingham, Washington, in June. The Indian food, alas, was not great, either. The restaurant was Tiffin.”
In Gammarino’s new novel, “King of the Worlds,” Hollywood heartthrob Dylan Greenyears loses the lead in “Titanic” and so exiles himself and his wife to a recently settled exoplanet called New Taiwan, where he encounters a supercomputer with aspirations of godhood; a Mormon fundamentalist superfan and an android Frank Sinatra.
Gammarino graduated from Cardinal O’Hara High School in 1996 and St. Joseph’s University in 2000 with a major in English. While there he also spent time at the University of Strasbourg in France and Sophia University in Tokyo. He earned his MFA in Creative Writing at the New School in New York in 2005 and a PhD in English in 2010 from the University of Hawaii.
What is Tom’s most unforgettable memory of growing up in this area? “I think I was in fifth grade. My sister’s boyfriend had recently bequeathed to me his old goalie pads, so I was real excited to show them off to my friends after school. I rode my bike to J’s house and knocked on the storm door. He and B, another ‘friend,’ opened it, all smiles, and summarily threw me into J’s Golden Retriever’s cage, padlocked it shut and shot me point-blank with their BB guns. It sounds funny maybe, but I can assure you it wasn’t, not for me. I can’t even remember how I got out of there and back home. I guess I blocked it out.”
How difficult is it to make a living as an author these days, even with great reviews? “Would that I could make a living writing fiction, but I’m nowhere close. As far as I can tell, making a living as an author of the sort of fiction I write has become not just hard but essentially impossible.”
If Tom could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? “I don’t have the same wanderlust I used to have. I’d like to spend some time in Italy, Spain and Greece. Maybe a trip to Mars in a few decades … And I share Virginia Woolf’s dream: I’d like to have a room of my own. With a nice espresso machine in it.”
In what little spare time Tom has, he reads and plays guitar. (He used to play with a progressive rock band, Clockwork, in Delco). “And I drink bourbon with friends, surf badly and run marathons.”
For more information, visit mthomasgammarino.com.