The Writing Life: Interview with Craig Tomashoff, author of 'The Can't-idates: Running for President When Nobody Knows Your Name'

Craig Tomashoff is a freelance writer/producer based in Los Angeles. His blogs appear regularly at Huffington Most recently, he was a producer for The Queen Latifah Show. Prior to that, he served as Executive Editor of TV Guide, and has also worked as Associate Bureau Chief for People. In addition, he has written for the Hollywood Reporter, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and Emmy Magazine. Prior to The Can’t-idates, he was the author of You Live, You Learn: The Alanis Morissette Story and co-wrote I’m Screaming As Fast As I Can: My Life In B-Movies with Linnea Quigley. He has also worked as a television writer/producer for such series as VH1’s Behind the Music, The Martin Short Show and The Late Show With Craig Kilborn.
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About the Book:

I’m not a political person by nature. Most of the time, it seems the political world plays out more like a lame ‘70s sitcom with all its predictable characters and routine storylines. However, last spring, I
got tired of hearing friends and family complain about the lack of exciting, innovative candidates for president. Everyone seemed ready to vote for "None Of the Above." So, I decided to take a 10,000-mile road trip across America in May 2015 to meet several of the more than 1600 "real people" who are legit candidates for the presidency. Including a couple in New England.

The Can’t-idates is about dreamers -- not all of whom are tin-foil hat crazy -- who just want to fill a hole in their lives by running for president. And as I drove to meet them all, I realized a lot about not just my life but also about the country. If we could all take time to believe in what our parents always told us -- "Someday you can grow up to be president" -- maybe we wouldn't be in the shape we're in.

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  • The Can’t-idates: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

It was a bit of a long and winding road that led me to The Can’t-idates: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name. The idea actually goes back to my childhood, where I was told that anyone could grow up to be president. The older I got, the more I realized this was an epic lie right up there with Santa Claus. Then, five years ago, I was working on an Australian TV show that was filmed in Los Angeles. He wanted to do field pieces that showed the crazy side of America, so I suggested we book one of the 500 wacky people who had filled out their paperwork to run for president. And I ended up using a pro wrestler/vampire/Republican. After that, I became a bit obsessed by this notion that even though most of us know we can’t be president, there are some who still cling to that principle. I wanted to celebrate that, not mock it. I couldn’t figure out how to do that until the spring of 2015, when it became clear that the entire country was unhappy with our mainstream presidential options. Realizing that there were nearly 1700 people who had filed their paperwork to run in 2016, I thought it’d be fun to go meet some of them to see if there was a diamond in the rough out there. Which became a 10,000 mile road trip into the heart of America, which doesn’t look or feel at all like the major parties describe it.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

Well, I’d divide my answer into two parts. The research part of my book – finding presidential candidates, getting to know them, spending hours upon hours interviewing them – required a lot of prep work. I spent a couple of months doing my research, and then three weeks straight on the road to get to these folks. I loved it all….the journalist in me was overjoyed to dig into the topic. To be honest, I was kind of dreading the writing process because a) no agent or publisher would listen to my proposal for the book and b) even my friends told me this was a crazy idea. However, as I began to write, the process became far easier than I’d expected. I think that’s because I loved the topic I was writing about, and had made a personal investment in it. I felt it as much as I wrote it. Which would be my main suggestion for anyone trying to do a book. This is going to soak up every ounce of your being. It will be your life for a very long time. So make sure it’s something you have a connection to. That’s what keeps you going on those days when the words aren’t flowing. Your love of what you’re writing about will eventually help you find the words. One other important thing, at least for me, was teaching myself not to reread and revise as I went along. This was incredibly hard because, like most writers, I instantly hate what I write. I probably did a dozen different versions of my first chapter because I kept going back to look at it. Which, inevitably, led me to want to change everything. However, when I finally learned to just look ahead instead of look back, the writing began to flow. I stopped judging myself so harshly, knowing that once the entire book was done, I could go back through and make it better. Until you finish a book, you really don’t know what you have so it’s crazy to get bogged down in rewriting rather than writing.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

My publisher is a company based in Brooklyn called Bobtimystic Books. The truth is, I couldn’t get anyone to even look at my proposal and was prepared to sink ever more money into self-publishing The Can’t-idates. However, somebody I got to know two decade before when I worked at Time Inc. saw a Facebook post of mine. He told me he had launched his own publishing house and would love to work with me on the book. That partnership flourished and now….we have a book!

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

The very fact that I got a book published is surprising to me. It’s been my dream since I was in the third grade to publish a book. Actually, I did self-publish a couple of books at that time. I used the family typewriter to created adventures of a bunch of superpowered animals who called themselves The Foogaloon Foursome. (Think Banana Splits Meets The Avengers.) My teacher let me use the copy machine to make copies of the book, which I also illustrated myself. (My mom still has copies if any major movie studios are reading this and interested.) After inhaling that intoxicating smell of copier fluid, I’d sell the books for a nickel. To absolutely nobody, except my aforementioned mom. Then I tried writing a weekly sports newspaper. Which also only sold to my mom, who didn’t like sports but thankfully liked her son. Still, this notion that I could take an idea of mine, spread it out over 300 pages and convince other people to read it drove me throughout my entire writing career. It was a shock – a good shock – when it dawned on me that others were looking at my work and enjoying it. I suppose the only surprise was the absolute impossibility of getting one’s book noticed. I have no PR machine to help. It’s just me and the publisher constantly trying to get people to read it. I will say that you do learn a lot about the people in your life when you have a book because you have to rely on them to help get the word out.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

I have an idea for a book, using my chronic depression as a starting point. Depression is such a poorly understood illness that I want to let people who don’t experience it understand what the brain of a clinically depressed person is. I do have an idea for how to frame this, but am still working out the details.

Q: What’s one fact about your book that would surprise people?

That’s easy. It’s that ordinary people who run for president aren’t necessarily nuts. We assume there are because the press only tends to seize on the crazy ones for those quick, end of a news broadcast pieces. As I talked to them, though, it became clear to me that they probably believed in the spirit of America more than most of us. Sure they’ll never win, but at least they were trying something other than complaining. There was some tragedy in most of their lives that caused them to see running for president as the solution. And the more I talked to these people, the more I began to sympathize with them.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

The primary message is, “Do your crazy thing.” We all have something in our lives that we really want to do but seldom try it because everyone will think we’re nuts. I would love us all to get over that fear of judgment and tackle whatever it is that we feel we can’t live without doing. Run for president when nobody knows your name. Write a book about the people who are running. Take up water polo. It doesn’t matter. Whatever you want to try – short of anything illegal, of course – just do it. Even if nobody else supports you, you need to support you.
Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

I have three final words. Actually, four. “Please. Buy. The. Book.”

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