My Vanishing Twin tells the story of Walter Braum, who is pregnant with his own twin brother. It is an exceedingly freak manifestation of a rare medical condition called Vanishing Twin Syndrome. But it is also a sudden thorn in Walter’s psyche, bringing into question most everything he thought he knew about himself and his life.
We checked in with Stern about his book and his writing process on the eve of its launch:
Campus News: How do you have time to write when you have such a demanding job?
Tom Stern: For me, it’s the inverse. The time I invest in writing affords me the ability to navigate a demanding job and busy life. On my good days, I can even navigate them reasonably well, occasionally getting a thing—or even two—right. On my bad days, well… the time I carved out to write helps me keep some modicum of perspective
CN: The premise of your book, the Vanishing Twin Syndrome, is kind of an obscure medical condition. Is there a reason behind this choice? Was there a lot of research involved?
TS: The medical condition was a piece of information I must have quietly tucked away in the back of my brain. As the initial pages I was writing began to coalesce into what would become My Vanishing Twin, it dawned on me that I was about to write a book about a man who discovers he’s pregnant with his own twin brother who, once born, is obsessed with acquiring his MBA. A classic tale, I know… But as I puzzled over this direction, Vanishing Twin Syndrome surfaced in my thinking. I remembered having read articles about fairly unsettling instances of the phenomenon. So I dug back into these and other articles to sort of flesh out the concept, taking much poetic license with it, of course.
CN: Both of your novels are about regular guys with regular lives whose lives turn when faced with something extraordinary. Do you write yourself into your books? Are you headed for an extraordinary adventure? Or is writing your extraordinary adventure?
TS: I like that assessment a lot. I would tweak it a bit, though. I think that both of my books are about regular guys who discover something extraordinary in what they had considered banal about their own lives. I think my books are about people coming into self-knowledge in the way that most of us do: begrudgingly. They are confronted with realities that they cannot immediately accept, having built their lives on a belief in a contrary truth. In this regard, I think I’m no different than my protagonists. They just get to experience more poetic or metaphorical manifestations of this process than I do. That said, I think our personalities are quite different.
CN: Are you working on the next book? Any hints at the direction?
TS: I am always working on something. Right now I’m working on a few things that I think are shaping up into books. And I’m also writing some articles in support of the release of My Vanishing Twin. One essay that I’m really proud of will be published on The Los Angeles Review of Books Blog in July.
CN: Anything else you would like the community to know about your writing career?
TS: I’ve learned an incredible amount from experiencing the variety of ways that our various departments approach their creative disciplines. It has undoubtedly made me a much better writer.