Jacob Tomsky talks about the secrets of the luxury hotel business as well as his movement in literary. By Danielle Pederson
Could you tell me how Heads in Beds began?
Sure! Well, I had been writing my whole life, mostly novels, and then I was sitting there in the lobby, maybe about two and a half to two years ago, when I realized I understood just about everything about this business. Check in to check out, people complaining in front of me, storing luggage, I just understood it all. I felt that I could write it as eloquently as possible and that there was a market for it. At that point, I started taking notes. I started interviewing the Director of Security and asking anything that would happen that was funny or interesting facts about the hotel and I found out about some of the most disgusting things you’ve ever seen. That’s how it began.
Have you had anyone come up to you with their own hotel stories after the book came out? And do you have one that sticks out specifically?
Oh yeah, nonstop. Everyone has a hotel story and that’s a compelling thing about the subject. A lot of times even in the appearances I’ve had, someone tells me about their stories. I think almost everyone has a hotel story. I had been talking calls on some of this radio stuff I’d been doing and I talked to this one guy whose father had been a bellman for like forty years. We’re were talking about rolling luggage and how it’s the bane of the bellman’s existence. He said that his father, whenever they used to go to the beach, you could tell the bellmen because the sides of their legs are smooth with no hair from the bags swinging back and forth. I thought that was just the coolest story. And then that that’s no longer applicable because luggage now has wheels. So yeah, old school bellmen had no hair on the sides of their legs!
Have you had people come up to you from the industry after you published this book? What have they had to say?
You know, I mention that everyone should get tipped, so that’s something that they like. And I’ve gotten a lot, via twitter and on my facebook page, a lot of bellmen, and front desk agents and managers being like ‘You’ve nailed it.’ So right now, the feedback has been pretty much a hundred percent positive from at least people clocking in and out for a living.
Now, we know you have this other project, Short Story Thursday. What prompted you to create it?
It actually started in the hotel, so it ties in really well. I had been fired and then rehired. So when that kind of happens, you really hate your job. So I was standing in the lobby, bored. I was sitting there, and you can’t get on the internet at work so I was like I’ll read a short story or something. I’ll print it out. It’ll look like paperwork. That way I can just get through my day and maybe read a good short story. So I printed it out and this old school New York bellman comes up and goes ‘What is that?’ And I’m like, ‘It’s a short story.’ And he was like ‘Give it to me when you’re done.’ So I was like ‘Alright, man.’ So I gave it to him and he went over to a corner in the lobby and he read it. He came back and he was like ‘That was great, what’s next?’ So him and I read three short stories that day and the printouts we had, I passed to some of my co-workers. Then all of a sudden it was like 5 or 6 people in the hotel who had read the same short story. I thought this was cool, so I created a club and I called it Short Story Thursdays because we got paid on Thursdays. So I’d hand you your paycheck and hand you a short story. It started from 9 members, bellmen, doormen, room control, some people in sales and accounting. It was this small little club where I would print everything out and hand deliver it. So when I left that job, I took it to email so that I could continue to provide them with these short stories. Then it just grew from there. Eventually, I emailed everyone I know, seeing if they wanted to join. Then I got business cards, and I started leaving them in bath rooms. Then I started the facebook and twitter and just kept getting it out there, consistently putting out a short story every Thursday. And now, as of this morning, we’re about 1,200 deep now.
Did you have a goal in mind when you created Short Story Thursday?
I guess the goal was to help some of these bellmen and doormen read when they don’t normally don’t and to give us all something to talk about. It’s still generally that but it’s now a push towards literacy. I feel like a lot of people today feel like they don’t have time to read and everything’s in thirty second clips and twitter is 140 characters. I felt that now is the time for the short story because people’s days are completely occupied but we also have all these e-readers and devices. I just feel like one short story a week is something anyone can manage. As long as I continue to make the introductions compelling and funny and the quality of the short stories good, I feel like I’m just putting literature back in people’s lives which has always been the goal.
Have you been able to recruit more people from the hotel or is Short Story Thursdays mainly filled with fellow bibliophiles?
Definitely the solid crew from the beginning are still in. There’s the bar where we meet at on Thursdays but it’s independent though, since this is an email based system. So there’s that local community feel. I’ve gleaned a lot of members out of just regulars that come in there and now they just know that if they come in there on Thursdays, they get a short story. PBS was doing a show on book clubs, and we applied and made a 5 minute video about our book club. So they came out and filmed that. That’s going to be out in like 2013. Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Prey, Love is probably the biggest member of SST. She’s a wonderful woman and certainly pro-literacy. We remained in touch via SST for quite a while. So she came to my book release, where she took a business card home and put that on her facebook, which has like sixty five thousand likes. She pitched SST to all of her readers and in about three days and I had over six hundred new members. I run it alone, so I had to process them all myself, and I email everyone individually, so it’s a long process getting everyone into the fold so that they can be ready by next Thursday. You can tell by some of the language I use that I’m very aggressive about it. It’s all tongue-in-cheek, but I wanted to make sure that everyone that is in our club wanted to be in our club. In the last two weeks, it’s really exploded. Now it’s super international as well because obviously Liz Gilbert has an international contingent. So in that first week, I think we’re now represented in over 35 different countries.
How do you feel about the transformation of SST? It started off as something between you and 9 others and now there’s over 1,200 members.
Obviously, I’ve said it’s my baby and I wanted to feature it and talk about it whenever I can because there’s nothing selfish about it. It may be rude and violent sometimes but it’s all for the love of literacy. I’m so proud to see it grow. I want to continue to see it grow. I’ve been numbering every single person who joins besides the first five hundred. Everyone after that has gotten a number. So essentially, I’ve been tiering membership. In the future, I hope there’s going to be a list on the website that has all our members and numbers. So one day you can meet other members and they’ll be like ‘Oh I’m 16,012’ and you can be like ‘Well, I’m 1,200.’ It’s all in the works. It should be bonkers.
Do any of these stories get submitted to literary quarterlies or is for the growth of writing?
No, these are all classic short stories. There’s not local writers. There’s none of that. I will never feature my fiction or anyone else’s. It’s all classic literature.
Do you have any idea of the age of the membership of SST?
It started as a very young club, especially when I spreading the word through the bar. So it’s was between 20s and 30s, hovering more around 30 I would say. So a younger literary crowd really. But with this influx of members from Liz Gilbert, I feel like there’s more age diversity and that’s an incredibly wonderful thing.
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading Gone with the Wind. I’ve never read it before. About a year and half ago, I watched the movie since I’d never seen it and it blew my heart out and I was like ‘what the fuck, this is awesome.’ Then I was in the SST bar, and they have a TV in there and there was that scene with the staircase near the end. So I was like ‘I should read this book. I’ve never read this book. I bet you it’s an incredible book.’ So I was asking around if anyone has read this book and a tier one elite member, who’s a good friend of mine, she said she used to read it every Christmas. Which is absurd, considering how big it is. So now that’s what I’m doing.