With the release of his first novel, The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton we are delighted to be joined by the multi-talented Dave Thomas. Dave is not only an actor but a comedian, writer, producer and director. We got a chance to sit down and chat with Dave bout his novel.
Some of our readers may not be familiar with your work, could you please tell us a bit about yourself?
You can find out who I am by looking at my website davethomas.com. But here is a short rundown of some of the things I have done, pulled from my biography:
Though new to writing books, I have done every type of television in every capacity, from sketch comedy and sitcoms to reality and game shows, animation and one hour drama. I started his career in comedy, as a writer/performer for the Emmy Award-winning NBC sketch comedy show SCTV. I co-wrote the movie Spies Like Us with Dan Aykroyd and directed and co-wrote the MGM cult classic Strange Brew with Rick Moranis. I wrote and performed on a Grammy Award nominated album for Polygram with Rick. I directed The Experts starring John Travolta for Paramount. I was executive produced and starred in my own comedy series for CBS, the Dave Thomas Show. From 1993 to 1998, i wrote for and co-starred in 115 episodes of the ABC sitcom Grace Under Fire. While working on that show I created a game show called Family Challenge and produced 144 episodes for the Family Channel. My company Maple Palm Productions produced movies for Fox and HBO – most notably Ambushed (Courtney Vance, Virginia Masden, William Forsythe and Robert Patrick). I co-created and executive produced America’s Funniest People (ABC) with Vin DiBona and I was executive producer of the Dennis Miller Show for Tribune. In 2001, I founded an animation company called Animax Entertainment and produced animation series for ABC (Slacker Cats), ESPN (Off Mikes), and MTV (Popzilla and Big Box) and Global television in Canada (Bob and Doug). I won my second Emmy Award for Animax’s ESPN show “Off Mikes” in 2006. Lured into drama writing by his pal, Hart Hanson, Dave wrote a spec script for Bones (Fox) that was produced in 2008 and then Hart asked Dave to join the writing staff of Bones for more than 50 episodes as a Consulting Producer. After three years with Bones, I was asked to join the writing staff of NBC’s the Blacklist also as a consulting producer. This year, along with the cast of SCTV, I produced a reunion show called An Afternoon with SCTV for Netflix directed by Martin Scorcese. Currently, I am writing his second book entitled The Perfect Life.
Did you always want to write a novel?
No, writing a novel is something I didn’t really think about until a couple of years ago.
What are some of the novels that you enjoy?
My two favorite novels are What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson and Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell. I am now and always have been a fan of all of Max Allan Collin’s work – especially his historical fictions The Titanic Murders, Flying Blindand Ask Not. And my pal, Hart Hanson write a book called The Driver which I really enjoyed.
Can you tell us about the origins of The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton?
Jimmy Leighton started out as a pitch for a television series. I became frustrated with the lack of response and started writing it as a novel. After writing three chapters, I put it aside and continued with more TV work. Max Allan Collins read those three chapters and he encouraged me to write more. Max is a very generous person and he offered to help me get a book agent and a publisher. And then he said, “But what I’d rather do is write it with you.” Well, Max is a renowned mystery writer who has written more than 100 novels. I had written none. So I would have to be an idiot not to take him up on an offer like that. The truth is, even though I started the book without him, I probably would never have finished it if Max hadn’t written it with me.
You co-wrote The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton with Max Allan Collins; how did that come about?
A mutual friend, Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants), introduced Max and I at San Diego’s Comicon. Max and I met in person there very briefly but hit it off and continued the friendship by phone even though Max is in Muscatine Iowa, and I am in Los Angeles. Of particular note: this is a COVID collaboration – Max and I were never in the same room for one second of the writing. It was all done on phone and Zoom calls.
Before Max got involved, had you started to write the novel?
Yes, I wrote three chapters on my own, but only the Many Worlds sci-fi part. The mystery thread was not part of my original conception. That’s something Max and I came up with after we started working on the book together.
How would you describe The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton?
This is a very strange little sci fi mystery thriller. It’s a mix of police detective work and the theoretical ideas in quantum physics. The book tells the story of a small-time thief (Jimmy Leighton) who flees South Boston to escape from a Vietnamese gangster. Hiding out in Cambridge, Jimmy needs money and breaks into the house of a M.I.T. Physicist who happens to be running a quantum experiment in his basement based on the work of Princeton Physicist Hugh Everett III. Nosey little Jimmy connects the wrong outlet to the wrong cable from a stack of quantum batteries and finds himself transported to another version of his life 1000 miles away in Chicago. And that is only the beginning of his adventure.
What can you tell about Jimmy Leighton?
Jimmy is not the sharpest tool in the shed when the book starts out but the experience of living several versions of his life is kind of a quantum school. Jimmy finally figures it out and finds a way to get what he needs to be happy. He was an orphan from South Boston who bounced around in foster homes the social service’s system. Abused by at least two foster fathers, Jimmy ran away and hit the streets, becoming a homeless panhandler at the age of 12. But he had incredible street smarts and managed to survive, dodging the law and other homeless folk who preyed upon kids like him. He started robbing houses when he was 14 and became a seriously successful second story man, respected by many in the Boston crime community.
How did NeoText end up publishing the novel?
Max had the connection to NeoText because he had written a book with them before he met me. And Max made the deal for the book. I knew it would be a difficult sell because it’s a cross-genre book. It’s a sci-fi and it’s a detective mystery thriller. A lot of publishers won’t take a chance on cross-genre. They worry that their readers won’t understand it. Or that they may become frightened reading the book because it does not stay within the preconceived expectations they had for it. But John Schoenfelder at Neo Text is a very open-minded man. And he’s very supportive of his artists – that’s what he calls us. No one in my 40 years working for television and film ever called me an artist.
What was it like co-writing with Max Allan Collins?
I was surprised by how much Max and I have in common. I was familiar with some of his work, but the fact is, he has written so many books that, to be aware of them all, would’ve been impossible. For example, I’m a historical student of the Titanic disaster but Max actually wrote a book about a fictitious murder that takes place on that fateful voyage. To write a novel where you play out the action onboard that ship necessitated doing an incredible amount of research. So, Max and I were able to swap stories on that. Same thing with the Kennedy Assassination. And a lot of other things. We became fast friends during our collaboration writing this book. And there’s no better way to get to know someone than working together on a book.
Fay Dalton created a lovely illustration for The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton; was that her composition, or did you suggest ideas for it?
It’s definitely her composition. We gave her some suggestions, but it was Faye who came up with the actual cover for the book.
Any message for the ComicBuzz readers?
I’m hoping ComicBuzz readers like this book. I think it definitely conforms to the comic book style of writing. Both Max and I think very visually, and I believe we painted word pictures for our readers that they will enjoy.
We would like to say a big thank you to Dave for taking the time to chat with us and we wish him and Max the best of luck with their novel.