Your Ad Spot

Interview with Thomas Kast

He is an award-winning independent photojournalist and illustrator based in Zurich, Switzerland, and has published a number of photography art books. Thomas spent a big part of his life in Israel, where he taught design, photography, and illustration at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design and other Israeli colleges. 

A long time in the making, his debut novel - a philosophical science fiction piece, The Great Convergence - evokes many of the author's real-life experiences fused with his unhinged fantasies.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I’ve been diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder (Asperger’s syndrome as it used to be known). This means that, on the one hand, the intricacies of social interaction remain a total mystery to me. 

On the other hand, thanks to having way-too-many brain connections, I’m uniquely predisposed to quickly examine the world around me in a very pragmatic and unemotional way and see things others can’t. I’ve been an outsider most of my life (which I don’t regret), and so are my characters.

Q.2 What inspired you to write The Great Convergence?
I wanted to create a book that can be enjoyed, read and re-read and could give the reader a memorable experience. I’ve noticed that most contemporary sci-fi often ventures into strictly commercial territory. Not entirely happy with this trend, I wanted to use science fiction as a vehicle to highlight many social and philosophical problems, but with a healthy dose of humor.

There are several recurring themes in my book, which result from observing and analyzing the world around me. One of those inspirations would be stupidity. It’s a subject that has always fascinated me. All of my characters make inexplicably unwise and shortsighted decisions despite being exceptionally smart (some of them). Superheroes are great but, often being no more than mere archetypes, they often lack humanity. It’s the crazy ones who provide all the fun.

Another recurring theme in my book inspired by real-world observation is miscommunication. My characters are all stuck in uncomfortable situations. Constantly missing the point, they don’t understand each other’s motives, and they’re unable put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They oscillate between being inordinately overconfident or hopelessly insecure but can never think on two feet. Above and beyond, they’re blinded by their personal goals they consider of great consequence and which are insignificant and trivial. As irony would have it, they all have a profoundly important part to play on the universe’s stage - something they’re never to discover.

Q.3 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
Currently, I’m working on the humorous and philosophical comic book series Bablah’s Odyssey, which is scheduled for release in August 2022. It features a mad scientist, lord Bablah as he traverses the universe, mansplaining the ‘wonders of progress and civilization’ to his unassertive yet perceptive mutant sidekick, the Pet-Thing. It’s colorful, psychedelic, and contains a lot of ironies and dark humor. I’m both a writer and illustrator. I’m also working on another sci-fi mystery: Apoptosis. But this will take me another year to complete.

Q.4 What kind of research you did do for this book?
The Great Convergence contains alternate realities, time travel, and many scientific paradoxes, so I researched the subject extensively. It isn’t hard sci-fi, so I leave much to the reader’s imagination. Although the world 10.000.000 years from now is as uncanny as you wouldn’t expect, I use the world-building as a backdrop to make my characters’ motives clearer to the reader.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I don’t use any formula, as it would result in creating stereotypes rather than ‘real’ people the reader can identify him - or herself with. I’ve been a university lecturer for many years, so I molded my main character after myself, only I made him older, much grumpier, and rather obnoxious - since bad-tempered characters are much more fun than nice ones.

Seeing the world through his eyes, the reader must discover the truth hidden by this thick veil of partiality. Sometimes he tells the truth, sometimes he lies, and in most cases, he misrepresents his account only to get his point across. Unreliable as the narrator is, his observations are full of dry humor, and the constant feeling of being stuck in a place one doesn’t belong to is probably something many can relate to.

Geoffrey - an unsuccessful and talentless artist, is also a wretchedly pitiful and narrow-minded version of me when I was an art student. The inspiration for creating Timothy, a schizophrenic astrophysicist, came during a photography project I’ve been doing at the institution for the mentally ill. The project took about two years to complete. During this time, I spoke with the patients, the staff, psychologists, and psychiatrists. It was an unforgettable experience, and it taught me a lot.

Q.6 How long does it take you to write a book on average?
That depends on the experience, the book itself, and the level of obsessive perfectionism. The Great Convergence took me about ten years to complete until I was happy enough with it to release it into the wild. It went through several editors and iterations. The comic book script takes me about two to three months to finish, excluding illustrations. But it’s entirely different writing.

Q.7 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing? Tell us about your marketing campaign?
Sadly, the main factor determining a book’s success is its exposure. This isn’t always the case, but it’s especially crucial for debut authors.

Many writers will tell you that writers should constantly market their books. I’m not sure I can agree with it entirely. I think that you should market your novel up to a certain point. If it’s good enough and you get enough readers and exposure, it’ll ‘market itself’, creating a snowball effect. If you need to continuously market your novel and don’t get the expected results, there might be something wrong with your book.

Other than that, marketing is a profession on its own. Sure, the writers should try marketing here and there; it never does harm, but let’s face it - marketers are experienced professionals who do just that. Aware of my shortcomings, I turned to experts, which did a lot of good. I wouldn’t be able to market as effectively for a simple reason - I don’t know how to do it, nor do many writers.

Besides marketing, blog posts and interviews are also great ways of getting exposure. Securing those should be a priority for many first-time authors.

Q.8 The Great Convergence is your first novel, but not your first publication. How did you find the transition from publishing photography art books to a full-blown novel?
I started writing The Great Convergence way before publishing photography art books. Even though my novel was in a constant state of unpublishable chaos by that time, the experience of writing literature helped me express myself clearly, construct a coherent narrative, and use only the necessary words. 

This came in handy when working on my photography projects, the success of which gave me the confidence to keep working on my novel. In a way, it was a transition benefiting both occupations simultaneously.

Q.9 Is classic science fiction literature different from modern science fiction literature? Have the key aims of the genre changed considerably or not?
Save the dime store alien invasion paperbacks produced en masse between the ’50s through ’70s; the ‘classic’ science fiction was oriented toward a more demanding reader. Nowadays, the publishing market has become a business run by agents and large publishing houses, whose primary strategy is to stick your book on a supermarket’s top-shelf. And so contemporary sci-fi became a product written according to a template, like Dan Harmon’s story circle, etc. Many writers dream of a Netflix deal rather than writing a good book, and it shows.

Someone asked me once: ’Is there a market for what you write?’ To which, I replied: ‘I hope there isn’t’. I believe the writer should create demand rather than try to fit into an existing trend. This is what all successful writers do. The unsuccessful ones will advise you to ‘write for the market’. There’s a strong need for original content that breaks the rules instead of following them. Write a good book, get your tea-box out and yell about it.

Q.10 What do you think are the main reasons for the popularity of science fiction? To what extent has the film industry helped in popularising the genre?
To a great extent, of course. The companies behind Marvel, DC, Star Wars franchise, Star Trek, LOTR, and Game of Thrones - to name a few - invest an incredible amount of resources in film production and have elevated the ’50s and ‘60s pulp to globally recognized genre canons. 

The downside of these glamorous productions is often sacrificing a good story for an otherwise dazzling spectacle. There are exceptions, of course, but presently most people associate science fiction with expensive sets and special effects rather than contemplating the state of human nature.

Q.11 Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most effective period in the whole history of the genre?
For literature, the ’50s and ’60s. This was when the best literary works were created: Eden by Stanislaw Lem, The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik by Philip K. Dick, and many more. But this is my highly subjective choice.

Q.12 How do your family/friends feel about your book or writing venture?
Some consider it an incurable form of megalomania, to battle which they advise vitamin C, long walks, and regular sleeping hours. Some love it, some hate it, and some shrug their shoulders.

Q.13 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
Every review tells you something about yourself you couldn’t discover yourself. I’m grateful for the good reviews because making someone happy gives me a sense of accomplishment. I’m also thankful for the bad ones, even if they’re not constructive. 

This way, I know what I need to improve in the future. It’s vox populi, after all. The only reviews I don’t deal too well with are the average ones. As long as my book fires up emotions, either way, I’m fine. Say what you want about me, but please don’t say: ‘Meh’.

Q. 14 Who designed your book cover? How did you select them?
I designed my cover myself. I’m not sure if it’s a hit or miss, but I hope the readers will like it. To defend my decision, I’m a professional illustrator, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Q.15 What is the most difficult thing about writing from the opposite sex?
Not being one. In my experience, women are, on average, much more complex than men. A man would ask for a glass of water. A woman would consider a refreshing liquid poured into a glassware container of pleasing proportions, she would then refuse on unclear grounds, only to change her mind a few moments later.

There are several women in my book, but they all are supporting characters. To be sure, I admire women and greatly enjoy interesting female characters in film and literature; I’m not sure I would be able to create a believable one myself. I’m sure many women would see right through it.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
I keep a list of about a hundred made-up names. I pick the ones that naturally go with the character or add something you wouldn’t know otherwise. For example, one of my main characters - Larry, is a Briton of Indian origin, which you can only tell from his family name - Patel - a name predominantly found in Gujarat. 

Timothy Sanders sounds bland and instantly forgettable, which is what’s happening to Timothy - he’s a constant outsider, and no one ever takes him seriously. The main protagonist and narrator haven’t got a name, and there’s no physical description of him anywhere in the book. I wanted him to become a ‘voiceover’ in the reader’s head.

Q.17 What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Making it flow. The Great Convergence contains many characters and interconnecting timelines, so it took a lot of effort to keep the reader’s interest hooked without getting lost. In my opinion, whether lighthearted or profound, the writing should seem effortless, and the sentences need to connect in a way that seamlessly pushes the narrative forward. The worst thing a writer can do is to make the reader tired.

There were specific challenges, too. For example, I needed to explain the novel’s central concept at one point. Instead of boring the reader with sci-fi lore and endless descriptions, I did this through Timothy - a mentally ill astrophysicist. Timothy explains the principles of the Great Convergence during his presentation to the university panel of professors in 2022. He rambles incoherently and is frequently interrupted. 

Writing this scene was particularly challenging because, on the one hand, you have a mentally-disordered person explaining an important idea - which he does in the most intelligible way possible. On the other hand, regardless of Timothy’s maundering, I wanted the reader to understand what he is talking about quickly and effortlessly.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
Not, sure, really. I’d prefer to meet an interesting person regardless of whether they are famous. Not all famous people are worth meeting. Likewise, many who never grew out of obscurity - are.

Q.19 What is your favorite book and why?
A. Eden
by Stanislaw Lem. A group of astronauts from Earth crash on a distant planet, where they discover a highly-developed yet mysterious civilization. Despite making contact, it turns out that despite their advancement, both civilizations are ultimately too different to offer anything to one another. Eden makes the reader come face to face with extraterrestrial intelligence as something incomprehensibly unlike anything we imagine it would be like. Which probably is close to the truth.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
It began slowly - I’m a debut fiction author, after all. But now I see a strong increase in sales, probably thanks to favorable reviews on several literature-oriented blogs and sites like Reedsy Discovery. I hope that, with increased exposure, more readers can enjoy my musings.

Share your social account links -
Facebook -
Website -

No comments:

Post a Comment