Monday, August 10, 2020

the ottawa small press book fair : home edition #13 : 40-Watt Spotlight,

Adam Thomlison is a writer in Ottawa whose work has appeared in national newspapers and bus-station bathroom stalls, and has gotten him banned from Parliament Hill. As a fiction writer, he's written one book, We Were Writers for Disastrous Love Affairs Magazine, and edited and contributed to another, These Are Not Movies: Screenplays for Films That Will Never Be Made.

At the same time he's been releasing issues of the ever-more-unfortunately named Last Thumbnail Picture Show zine, now at its tenth issue and thirteenth year because he can't stick to a schedule. His even shorter writing also appears on Twitter, @40wattspotlight. Information about all of it can be found at, or by email at

Q: Tell me about your press. How long have you been publishing, and what got you started?

A: 40-Watt Spotlight got started about 15 years ago. The original idea was to be a loose collective of people pooling talents and publishing each other’s work. But I slowly realized that true collectivity is hard to achieve, and (here’s a bit of uncomfortable honesty for you) the press was only ever just me asking people for favours to work on projects I wanted to do. That’s where it is today -- very much a sole proprietorship, though my very talented friends are also very generous and forgiving, and are still willing to offer help on occasion.

Q: How many times have you exhibited at the ottawa small press fair? How do you find the experience?

A: I think I’ve been exhibiting at the fair pretty regularly since 2004 (before the press even started -- I started by exhibiting a couple of little zines I produced). I think I’ve only missed a few in that time, and I’m sad to be missing it this spring.

Q: Would you have made something specific for this spring’s fair? Are you still doing that? How does the lack of spring fair this year effect how or what you might be producing?

A: Absolutely. I’m not great at initiative -- I need hard deadlines or else I never get anything done -- and pretty much all along I’ve been using the spring edition of the fair as a deadline for producing issues in my ongoing zine series, The Last Thumbnail Picture Show. To the point that my fellow exhibitors, and the early shoppers, usually see me at my table, still folding and stapling because I just finished printing it the night before.

Sure enough, I haven’t produced a new issue yet. Thanks a lot, pandemic.

Q: How are you, as a small publisher, approaching the myriad shut-downs? Is everything on hold, or are you pushing against the silences, whether in similar or alternate ways than you might have prior to the pandemic? How are you getting your publications out into the world?

A:  Everything’s on hold for me. I’m blaming the pandemic for that, but not because of the event cancellations. My day job has been complicated quite a bit by the pandemic, and so it’s become more of a day-and-night job. I’m certainly not complaining, as more people have had the opposite thrust upon them, but nonetheless this has basically put a full stop on my writing output.

I still sneak a piece of flash fiction out on the press’s Twitter account, @40wattspotlight, which thankfully is not disrupted at all.

Q: Have you done anything in terms of online or virtual launches since the pandemic began? Have you attended or participated in others? How are you attempting to connect to the larger literary community?

A: Again, the other part of my career has expanded quite a bit, and left little time for engaging in literary pursuits at all. That said, I have to use Twitter for work, and literary folk have become a lot more active on there in recent months, which means I often get these refreshing little breaths of beauty amidst all the grimness that Twitter otherwise delivers these days. I’m really grateful for those.

The other day a reviewer posted a breathtaking couple of lines that Ottawa’s own Amanda Earl wrote, and reading that quite literally made my day. 

Q: Has the pandemic forced you to rethink anything in terms of production? Are there supplies or printers you haven’t access to during these times that have forced a shift in what and how you produce?

A: The out-and-about aspects of my work have, of course, been interrupted. I do a lot of my writing sitting around in bars and cafes, and that’s been a no-go. My zines also require me to sort of skulk around copy shops a fair bit, and I don’t think skulking is allowed until Phase 4.

Q: What are your most recent publications? How might folk be able to order copies?

A: Sadly (for me, at least), other than on Twitter I haven’t produced anything new since the novel I self-published about a year ago, A Thief, A Spy, and the Corpse Who Rode Shotgun. You can order it in print directly through the press’s website, or you can get the ebook through Amazon.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on the next issue of the zine, but technically I’m always doing that -- the issues are flash-fiction collections, and I’m always writing those. But in terms of larger projects, I’m currently in the outline phase of a sequel to the novel, and I’m messing around with an older manuscript I finished but was never really happy with. I’ve been working on it intermittently for years, going between loving and hating it. I recently forgave it for its past transgressions and have started spending time with it again. When I do allow myself time to write, those are what I spend it on.

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