My guest this week is Thomas Lloyd Qualls, whose personal quest for meaning took him from a law career to becoming a self-described vagabond who backpacked throughout the world. Along the way, he gathered material for two books of dreamlike, transcendent fiction that echo his own spiritual search.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A few highlights from our interview:
On the Theme of his Writing
I feel good out in nature. You know, that’s kind of like one of my churches, as the saying goes. What I’m writing right now is a return to that. The underlying theme is how we’re seamlessly connected to the earth, although we’ve largely forgotten that.
On the Impact of his Words
I wanted to open people up and set them on their own journey or the next leg of their own journey and for it to carry them beyond the pages of the book. That to me is the highest aim.
Listen to my Interview with Thomas Lloyd Qualls
Subscribe to our Ask ALLi podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Player.FM, Overcast, Pocket Casts, or Spotify.On the Inspirational Indie Authors #podcast, @howard_lovy talks to @alchemyofwords, whose quest for transcendence took him from the courtroom to world traveling, writing books that chronicles his search. Click To Tweet
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcript
Howard Lovy: Hi, I’m Howard Lovy, and you’re listening to Inspirational Indie Authors. Every week I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are inspiration from other authors. My guest this week is Thomas Lloyd Qualls, whose personal quest for meaning took him from a law career to becoming a self-described vagabond, who backpack throughout the world. Along the way, he gathered materials for two books of dreamlike, transcended fiction, that echo his own spiritual search.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls: Hi, my name is Thomas Lloyd Qualls. I’m a writer. I write mostly fiction. I’ve written two novels and also essays. I write on a number of online forums and wrote for a local magazine for about six years. I live in Reno, Nevada in the foothills just half an hour so from Lake Tahoe. It’s a very beautiful place to be. I decided to go to law school, I was very idealistic. I’ve always been kind of idealistic. So, I studied environmental law and became a little disenchanted with that when I realized that I was probably going to have to go work for an oil company or something like that, because Greenpeace doesn’t have that many lawyers in law school. I was fortunate enough to get a job as a copywriter for an advertising agency. And that kind of set me back on the you know. I was getting paid to write that kind of sets you up nicely for writing because you, you have to develop a little bit of a thicker skin to take criticism and understand that not everything you write is going to be brilliant first time out of the gate.
Howard Lovy: Now a little more about Thomas. He says he’s a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan, which means he’s a supporter of underdogs. And that’s why he’s big on environmental issues even before everybody jumped on the bandwagon. The earth itself has long been neglected. What he writes about is how humans connect to nature.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls: I feel good out in nature. You know, that’s kind of like one of my churches, as the saying goes. What I’m writing right now is a return to that. The underlying theme is how we’re seamlessly connected to the earth, although we’ve largely forgotten that. And, you know, the disconnect between that and the disconnect between people is what’s gotten us into the mess that we’re in, which is, you know, truly too far down that path. But it’s pretty existential.
Howard Lovy: There were times in law school that he really didn’t feel like he connected at all with the subject. He almost dropped out that his until he found something he could believe in criminal defense. And that’s when he decided to take the bar. He ended up defending people accused of crimes. In fact, he helped rescue a couple of clients from the death penalty.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls: Doing criminal defense allowed me to do something again that I could feel good about. feel good about defending the constitution and being a voice for people who had lost their way, and really don’t you know, it’s not about money, criminal defense is much more, just about trying to help people. And then of course, the death penalties. I could go on forever about how ludicrous that is, but it’s also endemic of the path that society has been on for a while. How do we even have the hutzpah to think that it’s okay for us to kill people? That is baffling to me. The bottom line is just, it’s barbaric and inhumane and just increases the violence that’s already existing in a violent society.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls: Part of my spiritual quest I guess, is to both you know, be in the world and do this work that I can feel good about and also not have that drive me crazy because definitely my frustration with the law is that it’s a broken and archaic system, just as global capitalism is, you know, neither one of them are, have much humanity and, and they’re just they’re broken systems. Global Capitalism lives on the idea that there’s such a thing as perpetual growth, which doesn’t exist anywhere in the universe. Everything’s in breath and out breath. Everything ebbs and flows. And this need for constant growth is why, you know, we’re killing the planet at unprecedented speed.
Howard Lovy: So, Thomas has two voices inside him, a logical legal mind and his inner poet, each fighting each other for domination.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls: Both of those are probably part of the same tortuous path. There is there is a side of me that’s peaceful and optimistic and believes in humanity and believes that we will transcend this very real crisis that we’re in, but it’s going to require some sort of global consciousness awakening. I believe that’s possible in my lifetime. You know, we’ve seen Berlin Wall come down, we’ve seen things like gay marriage, you know, that was big, red stop sign turned into, you know, a green light. We’ve seen these things that seemed in penetrable or you know, too entrenched, suddenly turn on a dime. So, I’m hopeful that there, and people are waking up, I think, and it’s just a question of whether we can do that and time you know.
Howard Lovy: Thomas’s books have a dreamlike quality that reflects not only his travels his quest for spiritual truth.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls: I used to backpack a lot I used to just believe kind of shut down and go away for as long as I can, whether that was a month or three or four months and then come back and work again. And so, my first book came out of one of my first trips to Europe, and which I stumbled unwittingly into a, I was led to an underground chapel. Or I was meditating and had a Kundalini awakening, which was, you know, I’d never even heard of those two words, at the time it happened. So, I didn’t even know what it was. But there were a series of synchronicities. I got there that happened. And then the next city I was in, I went into a bookstore and the first book that caught my attention was a book on Kundalini. And so, I decided to kind of wrap a novel around that. That’s the core of it, and then course you know with fiction needed to make a lot of stuff up that goes along with it to make it more interesting. So that was my first book Waking Up at Rembrandt’s and I did that while I was practicing law. And then the second one is that just came out in April Painted Oxen and is based upon four months that I spent on the Indian subcontinent, you know, doing the traditional search for guru tried to find yourself trek. And also, I worked with a Hopi medicine woman for about three and a half years. So, a lot of my studies with her are woven in that. And me, you know, just to underscore the fact that it’s not linear, I’m still licensed, I still actually practice law, not quite as full time as I used to, but that’s where I am.
Howard Lovy: Thomas’s books also stand out due to the different voices and points of view the channel through the author.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls: Ultimately, as a writer, the voice kind of comes out of me that comes out of me. I, my first book, Waking Up at Rembrandt’s, originally had a different sort of third person narrator and was about twice as long as it ended up being and I wrote it and then it kind of set it aside, like I think is wise to do, and I came back to it and I really didn’t like it. So I kind of just one morning early before dawn, I was like sat down to write and this new voice came out of me and ended up changing the whole novel like, I got rid of all the superfluous characters and narrative down to its essence, but the, the narrator ended up being a female, female bartender, and then it ended up coming out mostly in second person present tense, which is something that nobody writes in, but it works because it kind of pulls you into the novel and makes you a character and really, so it’s very immediate. And then for the second book, I had this idea of telling the story from two different parallel points of view. One was the backpacker in India and then the other one was, was a holy man in Tibet, a monk that was searching for these sacred Hidden Valley in in Tibet, it was known to bring enlightenment when you enter it a valley that was kind of hidden by an earlier master. So I wanted to tell the story that was parallel that went back and forth between those characters and then also have those characters connected somehow that the reader would get the idea that they were either one was the dream life or the other or one was a past life at the other or the maybe they were parallel lives. And so, I ended up using a series of dream beignets to tie the two journeys together. And what that resulted in was three different voices.
Howard Lovy: What Thomas is after in these very spiritual books is the feeling that the journey, the search is the point, no matter how individual voices or stories end it’s the act of traveling whether through India or through his books that can change people.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls: My friend and former editor Oliver X, told me when he finished reading it, he said, I’m a different person than I was when I started the book, which is high praise indeed. And another writer doing the review said something along the lines that the journey won’t stop at the end of the novel. So, I liked that I liked the idea that it sets you on your own path, which is what I want. I wanted to open people up and set them on their own journey or the next leg of their own journey and for it to carry them beyond the pages of the book. That to me is the highest aim.
Howard Lovy: Thomas writes a great deal about the search for enlightenment. But as he found it himself. Well, he says, sometimes.
Thomas Lloyd Qualls: I always say it’s that I don’t claim to be enlightened. My journey continues as well. I think in this age, too many people claim to be enlightened or to be a shaman or to be something like that. And, in general, that always tells me that you’re not. If you’re someone that’s going to say something like that, then then it’s likely you’re not those things. But I’m genuine and authentic when I say that I’ve had moments of enlightenment and I have days and weeks that are better than others. But you know, I think it is, as our friend Ram Dass said, you know, we’re all just walking each other home and that’s my, that’s really one of my highest themes if I can continue to do that that’s what I want to do with my art and my work and my life. Really, I think, I think life and how you live it is an art.