[Reading Room] The Radium Room by Tony Conaway

This week I’m bringing you an interview with Tony Conaway whose story The Radium Room is in the anthology Spring Into ScFi.

We talk about his inspiration for the story, how his love of detail (he calls it “trivia”) informs his writing, and yes, we talk about homing rats…

Where did you get the idea to include the story of the Radium girls in this time-travel story?

My head is full of trivia about all sorts of topics, and I’m continually adding to it.

For example, I recently read an interview in the Philadelphia Inquirer with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who ordered the removal of four Confederate monuments in his city. The Mayor wrote a book (In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History) which included some anecdotes about Jim Crow laws in the South. One I hadn’t heard of was that it was against the law for “black drivers (to pass) cars driven by whites.” How absurd! I immediately filed this away for possible use in a later story.

As for the Radium Girls, my late mother had mentioned their story to me decades ago. It always stuck with me. I decided it use it as the setting for a story.

Can you tell me a bit about the background of this story?

I was always intrigued by the workers who dig tunnels underneath cities. They’re nicknamed “Sandhogs.”

I knew that Manhattan has so many tunnels that there is no complete record of where all the tunnels are. I decided to write a story about a troubleshooter in NYC, the one man who does know where all the tunnels are.

Of course, tunnels are a good setting for supernatural or science-fiction adventures. That’s been done many times before — look at Stephen King’s novel It, or the film “Mimic.”

The first story with my troubleshooter, Jake Rosenthal, is hired to solve a series of murders by something unearthly in the tunnels. In the backstory, I mention that Jake has acquired so many enemies in his work that he now lives underground without even a public mailing address.

The story title is where you deliver his payment: “Care of Laborers’ Local Union No. 147.” It was published in the Fall into Fantasy anthology, which came out in 2017.

The idea of a troubleshooter who lives alone underground and solves problems seemed ripe for more stories. This led to the second story, “The Radium Room.”

I also have a draft of a third story, but I don’t have a good title for it yet.

What did you like most about writing it?

Aside from getting the chance to use trivia? (The first story includes trivia about the Brill Building, pneumatic tunnels and subways, cryptids, and the film “Ghostbusters II.” The second story mentions radiation detectors, the Maltese language, celluloid collars, the Spanish flu, how the First World War changed watch design, and, of course, the Radium Girls.)

I also enjoy diversity. Jake Rosenthal is Jewish. The first victim is Armenian-American. That’s what New York City is like: diverse.

One other thing: some readers have said they really like the idea of “homing rats,” which are the underground version of homing pigeons. I enjoy coming up with something new that people like.

Thanks, Tony!

you can find out more about Tony and his writing at Wayneaconaway.blogspot.com

You can find him on Twitter @TonyConaway


16 thoughts on “[Reading Room] The Radium Room by Tony Conaway”

  1. I certainly enjoyed this story! Interesting enough, recently I was listening to a Podcast about the Chernobyl melt down which had a brief history of nuclear energy touching on the Radium Girls (among other things they did with radium that we now now as crazy.) I thought it was pretty cool I was already in the know because of Tony! Looking forward to the Podcast with Tony since his voice was made for radio (Booming)!

  2. Great stuff. But I’ve got to agree with Gary. This interview seemed to be only getting started. I’d’ve like to have read more. And knowing Tony, I’m sure that “more” is what he’d have liked to have given. And most definitely could have.

    Looking forward to Part 2, and Part 3. And more interviews.

    Nicely done.

  3. Homing rats and The Radium Girls. Sounds like the inspiration to purchase a Chuck E. Cheese franchise.

  4. Nice interview. It;s always great to hear how writers approach their craft and Tony IS an encyclopedia of facts. So many of his stories include these great tidbits that really open up larger foundations of information.

    I know you purposefully keep these interviews short but I wouldn’t mind a little more.

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