Rita Lee Chapman Author Interview 2
|Thomas Scarborough http://www.thomas-scarborough.com/
The original interview appears at Rita Lee Chapman: Previous Guest Authors.
This week it is my pleasure to interview Thomas Scarborough. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers, Thomas, and share something about your life.
I am reminded of the professor who said, “The questions, Dear students, are the same this year, but the answers are different.” I am delighted to appear on your page for a second time—now with different answers!
My life in the last few years has been driven by publishers, who devise all kinds of deadlines for me. I sit at a keyboard in a house which is invaded alternately by the cold and heat of Africa, within a stone's throw of ancient salt marshes, with horse carriages clip-clop-clip-clopping by. My African wife will often pull up a chair next to me, and ask me curious questions that break up my abstruse thoughts.
When did you write your first book and how did it come about?
My first book was a serious metaphysics of nearly 400 pages. When I told people I was writing a metaphysics, they looked at me strange. But "keep on plugging," wrote the Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, "and don't let the crazies grind you down." That was a complex work: about 110,000 words, 800 footnotes, and 500 references, among other things.
It all began when I had a philosophy article published by the Philosophical Society of England. People encouraged me then to expand on that, and a metaphysics was born. A metaphysics is not a publisher's dream. It is the kind of book that must give publishers nightmares. After presenting my work hundreds of times to agents and publishers, Wipf & Stock, a major publisher in the USA, said that they would take it on merit.
Do you always write in the same genre or do you mix it up?
My new book—title: This Town: A Complete Metaphysics—is vastly different to my first. My first, according to computer analysis, is written for readers aged 17 and up—which is not as simple as it may sound. The first systematic philosopher, René Descartes, wrote for readers aged 18 and up.
According to computer analysis, my new book is written for ages 9 and up—although, to be sure that I do not exaggerate, I claim it is for "adults and teens". It is a metaphysics which is disguised as an illustrated story. I say that it concretises abstract thought, while my first work was plain abstract thought.
When you write, do you start with an idea and sit down and let it evolve, or do you make notes and collect ideas on paper beforehand?
In the case of my latest book, I had just completed my first book—and exhausted in body and mind, I set off to visit my African family in the east of South Africa (my wife is of Xhosa descent). I stopped off in a small town to stretch my legs, and thought about my future.
My mind traversed a few possible projects. I paused, and said a prayer. At once, a synopsis of a new metaphysics appeared before me in a picture. It consisted of six pages. Each word on each page was clear, so that I had no fear of forgetting it. I copied it to my computer several days later. Then, a year after that, I began to expand on the synopsis.
Would you like to give us a short excerpt from one of your books?
I here take a brief excerpt from my new book, This Town: A Complete Metaphysics. It is taken from the second chapter, in which I develop a moral philosophy through the story of a boat race:
With a crack of a whip, the race began.I made an amazing start. I was soon out in front. The crowd cheered. But some fifty yards into the race, another rower began to catch up with me. We were not much further into the race when he pulled ahead.A feeling of great unhappiness came over me. I pulled one of my oars from its crutch and threw it at the rower. It hit him between the shoulder blades and bounced back into the water. I laughed. A roar went up from the crowd.“You stupid fool!” shouted a woman on the river bank.Suddenly, I realized that my oar was floating in the middle of the river. “That’s my oar!” shouted the woman. “I want my oar!”
Who is your favourite character and why?
There is a little known musical, in which Nebuchadnezzar is portrayed at one and the same time as a soft-hearted, conflicted, inquisitive, and sometimes maniacal king. He seems to be a jumble of everything at once. Yet when one reads the original biblical story, one sees how this interpretation could be true.
We are surely all conflicted in some way. We are not simple, or consistent, or pure and upright throughout. We are more like that Nebuchadnezzar. At best, we strive for lives where, to borrow words from William Butler Yeats, the centre will hold, and we can be at peace and be of help to others.
Which of your books gave you the most pleasure to write?
Undoubtedly this latest one, the new one, This Town. It is more intuitive and creative than my first philosophical tome. And since it is largely a work of fiction, I could make my characters say things that I, as a philosopher, ordinarily cannot.
The world inside my book feels to me to be secure and peaceful and sure—innocent, in a way—a world which I loved to inhabit as I created it. It has a different atmosphere to the world which surrounds me from day to day.
What is the best marketing tip you have received?
A New York Times bestselling author wrote:
"All nonfiction book promotion comes down to two questions:
• What will I get from reading your book?
• Why should I listen to you, specifically?
If you can’t answer those two questions, no amount of promotion will sell your book."
How would you describe yourself?
My mother said that, as a child, I was “sweet, docile, shy, and hardy”. This, I think, has not changed much. In public, I am often gregarious, outgoing, conversational, quick with repartee. But as for me as me, I am quiet, thoughtful, perhaps sometimes too serious.
I changed, too, just after I turned 50. My wife died—and strangely, there was very little after that that seemed worth saying any more. When people spoke about the news, or sports, or the latest technology—or any of the millions of things that get discussed from day to day—I found myself suddenly quiet. I think, though, that I am coming back to life.
What do you do when you are not writing or reading?
When the spirit takes me, I like to do electronic design. I have sold well over 100 copyrights to designs. It has a lot to do with philosophy, too—especially the way that theory interfaces with reality—or not. That I find fascinating.
Once a week, rather mundanely, I love to shop at a classy food store. Although my wife is an excellent “stockist”, I go and add my own special things to our pantry.
If you could holiday anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?
I would visit the islands where I spent most of my early childhood. There still are islands there today where, as in my childhood, there are no shops or vehicles, no taps or electric cables. And it is a rich and varied culture, full of joy.
Apart from feeling like a fish in water when I go there, in its outer regions, it is essentially a pre-modern culture. To compare this with our (post) modern culture is always interesting and illuminating. I seem to understand where we have come from, and how and why.
If you have owned pets, do you have a funny story you would like to share with us?
We had an energetic, intelligent cat. As is the wont of cats, she loved to hunt. Inside the house, this meant geckos. One day, she chased a gecko, and briefly played with it—but the gecko got away when it darted behind a bottle crate in the passage. The gecko could see the cat. The cat could see the gecko.
All day, the cat stood motionless at the bottle crate. Day turned into night. Night turned into day. Still the cat stood at the bottle crate. We were not sure which animal would predecease the other if we let this carry on. We broke the poor cat's spell by picking her up and putting her out of the house.
What is the biggest factor for you when selecting a book to read?
In the case of fiction, is it (even as fantasy) believeable? Does it ring true? I feel that there are not many stories that really achieve that.
In the case of non-fiction, I like to see books which are rich in ideas. Such books, too, are rare. Writing may be well crafted, or well suited to the times; it may have emotional appeal, or be dense with information; yet in spite of that, it may be short of ideas.
Do you have your own website?
Yes, an author website.
Are you working on a new book at the moment?
On the strength of an article that I wrote about my previous book, Everything, Briefly, a foundation in Europe invited me to deliver their Annual Philosophy Lecture in 2025. This compels me to write a major address. I see this as the basis for another book, which I contemplate alongside the lecture.
I am taking a different approach to my last two books. I am speaking this book, off the cuff, chapter by chapter. Then I copy it to computer, and tighten up the text. I find that this works very well.
Do you have any events or book promotions coming up that you would like to tell us about?
I intend to present my new book at my lecture in Europe. Come to Valletta for a day or two, and meet me at a book signing! Interestingly, one only needs to sell some 50 books to fund a tour of Europe. That is, if one sells author copies, of which the author may receive 60% off the cover price.
I have a long-running promotion of my original magnum opus, Everything, Briefly. The publishers Wipf & Stock permit me to share a coupon for their website, by which one obtains 40% off, with the compliments of the author. Click on Buy and Add coupon: THOMAS40