Instructor talks about new book, future plans

By The Columbia Chronicle

by Jack Reese, Copy Editor

Adam McOmber, an adjunct faculty member in the English Department, has always had a passion for literature. He published a book of short stories, “This New & Poisonous Air,” in June 2011, and is also the managing editor of Hotel Amerika, the department’s literary magazine. Like most writers, he juggles numerous jobs but retains his expert passion for the strange and morbid.

McOmber’s debut novel, “The White Forest,” was published in September and is about a girl in Victorian London with the ability to perceive the spirits of objects.

The Chronicle sat down with McOmber to discuss his obsessions, his next big project and what it took to write his first novel.

The Chronicle: Your characters use the word “invert” to describe homosexuals. Why is that?

Adam McOmber: I was just looking for words that would feel period-correct. I read a whole book on homosexuality in Victorian-era London [that talked] about Oscar Wilde and how there was, in fact, a gay culture going on that was very much under the radar, which is what [protagonists] Pascal and Alexander are doing.

Many writers prefer writing short stories, while others find something more fulfilling about piecing together an entire novel. Which do you prefer ?

To me, they’re equally fulfilling. I was working on “This New & Poisonous Air,” and “The White Forest” kind of rose up out of one of those stories, which I think is common. But it took about two-and-a-half years to write “The White Forest” and about a month to write each short story. With a short story, you can hold it all in your head, but with “The White Forest,” I was writing all of these things and trying to put it all together, making it come into the shape of a big story that someone could get into, which was a difficult learning process.

What will your next book be about?

It’s set slightly in the future. The future is a bad place, and people want to kind of escape it. They’re very into these escapist games, and one game is a Victorian murder mystery. It’s a way for me to sort of [combine] the future and the past together.

When can we expect this book?

The first draft is already finished, but it needs at least a couple more drafts. I would say at least a couple of years.

Even though “The White Forest” is a fantasy, are there any autobiographical elements in the book that you can share with us?

Jane [the protagonist] has fallen in love with her friends to some extent, and I’ve had that experience as well. I know how dangerous it can be. Friendship is supposed to be this thing where there are clear lines between individuals. Things can quickly darken when those lines are crossed, especially if more than two people are involved.

What role do you think obsessions play in creating works of art, particularly in literature?

I’m definitely an obsessive person, and I think that artists often have something that is a central obsession to them. For me, I have real obsessions with myth, as well as sexuality and repressed sexuality. I’m gay, and I grew up in a small town in Ohio, which felt kind of like the 1950s, so I have a lot of experience with repressed sexuality.

Do your obsessions bleed into your personal life?

There is a danger there, yes. “New & Poisonous Air” is a lot about the dangers of fantasy. If you live in a fantasy it can be [problematic.]

Do you think an artist is defined by productivity or potential?

I think that when you’re a student, it’s sort of different than when you’re an older writer or artist. I think that with students, it’s great to define yourself as an artist because a lot of students have all this potential, but they sometimes don’t quite have the experience behind them to start producing things yet. To me, an artist is someone who just sits in a room and works every day. I try to write every day.

What do you think will carry over from “The White Forest” into your next book?

I think that troubling relationships are one of my themes. Relationships that get under your skin and mess with you. The germ of the next work will always appear in the current work. I think you can’t get away from your obsessions. If you look at any writer, the same sort of themes are coming up again and again.