Two days ago I did a feature interview for the Stratford College Gazette. With my scanner on the fritz the reporter, Dana Bell’Amore graciously sent me a copy and said I could copy/paste to my heart’s content. Thanks Dana, I had a blast. And now here is the interview, edited for length and clarity.
Tom Starita has dreams. Big dreams. Dreams involving late night television and podcasting in virtual reality. He’s done a lot so far in his thirty-eight years, a blog, a cartoon, a podcast, a commercial and some books, the second of which, “Growth and Change Are Highly Overrated” arrived two weeks ago. He took some time out of his busy vacation to chat on the phone and answer some questions.
Dana: First I just want to say thank you for doing this interview.
Tom: It’s not every day you can be guaranteed page 5 in the Stratford College Gazette newspaper.
Dana: So we’ll start with a softball, you grew up in Staten Island, NY, what brings you to Connecticut?
Tom: I was working with the reptiles at the Staten Island Zoo for the last two years and as we all know, Stratford is home to the region’s largest Meerkat exhibit. They were looking for a wrangler and I was looking to be wrangled.
Dana: So writing isn’t your primary source of income?
Tom: No, well not yet anyway. Right now my 9-5 is spent with the Meerkats, training them, socializing them, lots of wrangling. You know, the usual Meerkat stuff. It’s a trip.
Dana: What got you interested in Meerkats? Was it that show?
Tom: I mean yeah. Like everyone else I was a huge fan of the ABC show, “Step by Step” and loved Squiggly, their pet Meerkat.
Dana: Talk about your creative process. Do the Meerkats help?
Tom: Honestly no. All their ideas are hacky like, “you should write a story where a vampire becomes a zombie.” And then I have to explain how a vampire is already dead and you try explaining the mysterious vagaries of life and death to a Meerkat troop and see where that gets you.
Dana: So then where do your ideas come from? Where did Lucas James, the main character in your new book, “Growth and Change Are Highly Overrated” come from?
Tom: A couple of years ago I was in Jamaica on a solo vacation. A way to cleanse the pallet of life if you will. Halfway through my trip I met this group of South Africans who basically adopted me into their tribe. They were great but honestly I had no idea what they were talking about. Like literally, between my mediocre hearing and their accents the entire time we were together I had no clue what they were saying. But what I did get from them was this really cool intense vibe. Not like I don’t care, more like I don’t even care that I don’t care. And the entire group – four girls, two guys were like that. Our last night together we stayed up on the beach to watch the sun rise and one of the guys pulled me aside and started pouring his heart out. Like heart wrenching emotional stuff, the stuff you wouldn’t tell your best friend but again, I had no clue what he was saying. I could only infer this on body language, tears and a little vomit. And when he was done drying his eyes and wiping his mouth I felt two things. The first was emotionally I knew this guy. And second I wanted nothing to do with the conversation.
Dana: So he inspired you?
Tom: He inspired Ralph, the wannabe best friend of Lucas James.
Dana: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Tom: Well I’ll be 43, which is as scary an age there is out there, unless that number happens to be 44, which is at least a double number.
Dana: Double number?
Tom: Yeah, this is going to sound nuts but while writing the book, I devoted a whole chapter to luck and superstition and Lucas James taught me about double numbers and how they’re good.
Dana: I’m not following.
Tom: Well you know when writers talk about going where the characters lead them? I found out in the course of writing the book that Lucas James, while he says he isn’t superstitious has a major thing with numbers, and I learned his view on things.
Dana: Which carries over into the rest of the book.
Tom: Oh yeah, this isn’t some straightforward A-Z story. This book goes all over the place and there are plenty of times where chapters will be devoted to whatever is on the mind of Lucas James. He has ideas on everything and it was stuff that wouldn’t have made sense if I just shoehorned them into the plot. Like if suddenly he’s talking with, “His Apple Jack” and mentioned his thoughts on dieting or your girlfriend’s best guy friend or back in third grade his attempt to honor Rosa Parks or anything else for that matter.
Dana: Sounds like you had a lot of fun writing that. Before I go to the next question I want to follow up on something you just said. You mentioned “My Apple Jack” the nickname Lucas James has for his ex-fiancée. Talk about that.
Tom: That’s one of those things where I knew people were going to notice it, then get annoyed by it, then get tired of it before coming all the way around to accepting it. The one thing you have to be when you’re writing a ridiculous book like this one is you have to be true to the main character, or you’re going to lose the entire story. Lucas James is secretly sentimental, well not so secret if you read the book but he doesn’t like to show he’s sentimental. Except when it comes to Jackie.
Dana: I’m running out of quarters for this pay phone so unfortunately we’re going to have to skip some questions. Tell me about your turn as Monsieur Thenadier in “Les Miserables.”
Tom: Well that was one of those random things I couldn’t pass on. Last summer I was getting coffee at the Grey Pigeon and in walks Guy LaFierre.
Dana: I heard he frequents the café a lot.
Tom: Well me being new to the area I had no idea. All I knew was the famous Director Guy LaFierre was three feet away from me and asked if I could pass him a Splenda.
Dana: So what happened next?
Tom: I did and casually said how much I loved his version of the play he directed in Haiti eight years ago. One thing led to another and I got the part.
Dana: Will there be more collaborating in the future?
Tom: I hope so. I would love to see what Guy could do with Lucas James.
Dana: Is your goal to bring this book to Broadway?
Tom: That would be awesome.
Dana: Who would you cast as Lucas James?
Tom: That’s the easiest question you’ve asked all day – Matthew McConaughey.
Dana: I can see that.
Tom: Yeah I think he would do him justice. So Matthew, if you’re reading this feel free to reach out.
Dana: Well that wraps things up. Anything you want to add?
Tom: I wish I could get laser hair surgery on my neck. I hate shaving my neck. And go buy my book, “Growth and Change Are Highly Overrated.”
It’s only 99 cents so seriously, you’re not risking much with the purchase.
Dana: I see it’s already gotten a couple of five star reviews on Amazon.
Tom: I don’t care about that, I just feel like a proud dad bringing Lucas James into the world. I want everyone to meet him.