Meet Tom Grace the wonderful author of the bestselling novel Bird of Prey along with many other novels including his most recent release The Secret Cardinal. I got the chance of interviewing Tom, and during the process I was convinced that he was some type of super-human author, but when he said he liked to write in silence, I realized he was indeed human. Anyways, here are the results -
Heather: To start off, tell us a little bit about your background:
Tom: I was born and raised in Michigan, where I reside with my wife and five children. Professionally, I am an architect in private practice, and the focus of most of my work has been high technology research facilities. I have run in several marathons and enjoy scuba diving and the martial arts. As a child, my primary forms of entertainment were reading and drawings, and to have woven these interests into a profession is something that continues to amaze me.
Heather: How long have you been writing?
Tom: I've been writing for fun since I was a teenager. I wrote for and was an editor on my high school yearbook and newspaper. In college, I focussed on architecture but received a nudge from a professor who was so impressed with a paper I'd written in grad school that he said I could have a career in architectural writing if I wanted it. That planted the seed in my head that I could actually get paid to write.
Heather: What started you writing for publication?
Tom: Its second nature for an architect to think of a project as an activity that lasts months or years, so I'm very long-term goal oriented. When planing out the things I wanted to accomplish in life, I listed "Write a novel" just to see if I could hold a coherent thought in something longer than a term paper. The opportunity to take on this goal arose in the early 1990s when, over a year's worth of lunch hours, I wrote the first draft of debut thriller Spyder Web. In writing that 300,000 word slab of prose, I discovered that writing thrillers is very entertaining. At this point, I was still writing for my own amusement and few people knew about this hobby of mine. After a few major edits, one of which involved a sex change for a major character, I let my father and brothers read that version of the book. The response I received was: "I've paid money for books worse than this," which is high praise in my family. That's what got me thinking that perhaps I could get my book published. I sold Spyder Web in 1997 and have been writing professionally ever since.
Heather: Do you have a set time when you write, or just whenever you get the urge?
Tom: I primarily write at night, and with my children's activities becoming more complicated, that pushes late into the night. I still noodle out ideas at lunch and whenever I can spare a few moments on the computer.
Heather: Who is your favorite author?
Tom: Mark Twain holds a special place in my library, if I have to pick one. There are many authors whose skill with the language I greatly admire.
Heather: Have you ever had writer's block, and if so how do you get rid of it?
Tom: I don't believe in writer's block. I never get it. My problem is turning it off.
Heather: What do you recommend to aspiring authors?
Tom: I have one college level english course in my background. What I know about crafting a story, I learned from the masters. I heartily recommend that any aspiring writer read everything they can get their hands on. Some writers are great with dialog, others with setting or mood. In my own mind, I'd read enough thrillers that my brain reached critical mass and I believed I could actually write a novel. Had I know it would be so much fun, I would have started sooner.
Heather: How do you invent your characters?
Tom: When creating the plot, I begin to see what types of people I need to make the story work. I base my characters on experience--people I know or aspects of characters I've encountered in other books.
Heather: I know a few authors who keep records (almost like police records) of height, weight, background, etc., of their characters, do you keep tabs on your characters, and if so, what do you usually make note of?
Tom: I do keep cheat sheets on my characters, just to keep the details straight in my head. It's embarrassing to have your copy editor remark that so-and-so was a blond in chapter 2 and a red-head in chapter 38.
Heather: Some authors say that they feel as though his or her characters are real, do you feel this way, and what do you think about this?
Tom: The hero and heroine of my novels are based on my wife and me, so there is some level of reality at work here. Thriller writers often project something of themselves onto their protagonists, and I admit to a bit of Walter Mitty syndrome. My characters don't tell me things, but I know them well enough that I can tell when a bit of dialog or an action seems out of character for them.
Heather: Do you have anything in the works?
Tom: I'm working on a few ideas.
Heather: What would you say is the neatest thing you know?
Tom: That when children are born, they look all gray and lifeless, but then they take those first breaths and their skin glows with life. I've seen this happen five times and it just amazes me.
Heather: What was your favorite part about writing your book?
Tom: Seeing how different the finished story is from the original concept. I love the happy accidents, those little nuances you discover along the way that make the story better than you imagined.
Heather: Has music ever inspired your writing?
Tom: I wouldn't say inspired, but I do listed to music when I'm writing. Always instrumental, because I can't have words flying around when I'm writing. The soundtrack to Henry V was very motivating in writing The Secret Cardinal.
Heather: Do you like to write in complete silence or does it have to be noisy?
Tom: I prefer the quiet when I'm writing. I can have noise when I'm plotting or storyboarding, but I need the quiet for prose.
Heather: What made you put your characters in the setting that you did?
Tom: The story determines where my characters end up. My last book, The Secret Cardinal deals with the real conflict between China and the Vatican, so my characters spend a lot of time in China and Rome.
Heather: Keyboard or pen?
Tom: Both. I sketch scenes and write notes longhand (legal pads and sketch books). My manuscripts are all on my computer.
Heather: What do you think is the hardest part about being an author?
Tom: Getting paid. Budgeting is very tricky if you don't know when a paycheck will. Or if a paycheck won't come. I've been fortunate to have sold foreign rights to all of my novels. It's not a lot of money, but neat to see my books in Bulgarian or Spanish. About 16 months after El Cardenal (the Spanish edition of The Secret Cardinal) was published I received an email from a reader looking for a Spanish language version of my book. I did a quick Google search to find a link for the guy and discovered the El Cardenal was on AP's best seller list for Venezuela and Uruguay. I did a little more digging and learned that my novel had been #1 in Venezuela for over 70 weeks and had been in Uruguay's top ten for 16 weeks. A few weeks ago, El Cardenal hit it's 100th week in Venezuela's top ten, and I have not received a dime in royalties. Venezuela is notorious for book piracy and it appears that my novel was bootlegged early on and even exported to other Latin American countries. On the plus side, thanks to AP's reports, I can officially say that I am an international #1 best selling author.
Heather: What do you usually do while writing?
Tom: I write, research, and storyboard. It's an iterative process. My first draft is nothing but keystrokes with no editing or spell check. I try to get this fleshed out quickly to keep the pace of the story moving. It's in the second a third passes that I take the rough diamond and polish it into a gem.
Heather: What were the circumstances surrounding your decisions to become an author?
Tom: Opportunity met desire. I knew that I wanted to write a book someday when I had the time, and the time suddenly appeared.
Heather: Some people say that you need to live life before you write a book, do you think that its experience that writes a book or imagination?
Tom: Experience is nice, and imagination is absolutely critical. I don't write what I know, but what I can research, so I get some of my experience vicariously from people who've actually done what I'm writing about. I do try to see the locale I use in my books, and actually managed to reach the North Pole as part of a science team while doing research for my third novel (Twisted Web). Don't let a lack of experience deter you from a great story idea, just go out and talk to the people who do what you want to write about. Most people are thrilled to talk about what they do. I once communicated with the Russian flight controllers who deorbitted the Mir space station, which was very helpful is writing Bird of Prey. Research is experience.
I like the colors of: dawn.
The sky is most beautiful when it's: summer.
My favorite feature of a computer is: speed.
Thing I love most in the world is: lasagna.
Thing I hate most in the world is: asparagus.
My favorite type of electronic device is: massager
My favorite thing that has been available before the year 1900: telescope.
My favorite thing that has been available since the year 1960: internet.
The oddest thing you have ever written on (hand, wall, etc.) is: eggshell.
If you would like to learn more about Tom Grace you can drop by his website - http://www.tomgrace.net