Welcome to the four hundred and eighty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with historical action adventure novelist and blogger Tom Rizzo. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Tom. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
I started writing when I was a teenager, and cranked out a couple of short stories that, along the way, have disappeared. When I was in high school, I got a job at a local radio station where I served as a disc jockey, and a staff announcer. I wrote news, sports, obituaries, commercials, and anything else that needed writing—even my ad-libs.
From that point on, I spent most of my life writing. I worked in radio and TV broadcasting for a number of years, served as contributing editor of a city magazine, worked as a correspondent for the Associated Press. Later, I opened a public relations firm, and produced an international newspaper for a segment of the financial services market. I’ve also written marketing communications copy for a broad range of companies and organizations. Now, I write fiction fulltime—in addition to my blog.
Morgen: It’s a shame your stories disappeared, I wonder if you can remember them, but great that you knew what you wanted to do so early (it took me nearly 40 years). What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Tom: My debut novel is a historical action adventure, which takes place after the Civil War, and the last half of the 19th century. I’ve toyed with the idea of trying another genre, but have yet to attempt it.
Morgen: Historical is incredibly popular; three UK agents have told me they want more of it. What have you had published to-date?
Tom: My first book is LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK, which was published by Western Trail Blazer in May of this year, in paperback and eBbook form.
Morgen: Did you have any say in the title / cover of your book? How important do you think they are?
Tom: Titles and covers are critically important. Face it, they are the first thing a reader sees. And you stand a better chance of getting someone to open your book if it reflects a strong title, and visually compelling cover. I like titles that communicate some sense of the story’s climax, or final confrontation, or turning point. The publisher liked the title. I had the cover designed myself, before I realized the publisher would have provided a cover. I enjoyed working closely with the individual that produced mine. We’ve never met. All our correspondence was through email. But her design captured the message and visual feel I wanted.
Morgen: Presumably she read the book (I understand some cover designers don’t) which must have helped. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Tom: I’m in the process of researching my second novel. It’s about a man who goes into hiding for several years, trying to escape his past. But, as we all know, the past has a way of catching up. And it does.
Morgen: If it didn’t we would have so many great stories to write about. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Tom: Most of my “plotting” is done by writing brief – one or two line – descriptions of the chapters I want to include. This changes often. The one constant is the main character, and his or her goal and motivation.
Morgen: And boy, can’t they be truly motivated! Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Tom: I do not have an agent. And I don’t believe they’re vital to an author’s success—unless the author seeks a contract with one of the huge publishing companies. Early on, however, I attempted contact with a few agents, but found the process too frustrating. I got a few rejections, and a few letters of encouragement. But the courting process is time-consuming. At the same time, I was surprised that many agents don’t bother to acknowledge or respond to queries. So, I decided that I had enough confidence in the story, and my writing, to contact publishers direct. I discovered there are plenty of legitimate, excellent, and nurturing independent publishers who want to publish saleable fiction. The time it takes to find them is well worth it, however.
Morgen: I was lucky with agents; I emailed 11 and had replies (“no”) from all but one (the other’s guidelines had warned that they don’t always reply) then saw three face-to-face (still “no”s) which is why I went the eBook route. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Tom: Tough question. Marketing is ongoing. It never ceases. And, I’m learning, there are a lot of different moving parts. Maintaining public exposure for your work is a challenge like no other. As far as “branding,” I believe an author needs at least two books published before you begin to consider the concept of “branding.” I’m sure there are counter-arguments, and I respect them. This is strictly my own opinion.
Morgen: I think you’re probably right. A second book is probably as important, if not more so, as the first, and readers love series so agents love them too. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Tom: READ! READ! READ! Reading is the way to learning how to write. At the same time, an aspiring writer – or an established writer, for that matter – should write something every day. But, reading with a purpose opens the mind to techniques, and ideas.
Morgen: I ask every writer if they write every day and I’d say about half do / half don’t but wish they did. I used to be in the latter camp but as this year’s Story a Day May was finishing I didn’t want to stop so started my blog’s 5pm fiction slot (today’s will be the 101st!) and love producing something every day. Even just 300 words a day is 100,000 words a year which is astounding and I think achievable for everyone. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Tom: Yes: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” –Novelist George Eliot (pen name of Mary Anne Evans).
Morgen: I love that. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Tom: I enjoy reading, of course, whether it’s a novel, or magazine article, or something about writing. I enjoy golf because it’s an opportunity to spending time outside embracing nature. Most of all, I enjoy conversation—with friends, family, neighbours, and, especially, with people I don’t know well. It always amazes me how much you can learn from someone by just listening, and nodding your head, or raising an eyebrow. Probably left over habits from days as a reporter.
Morgen: Which can be translated to character traits. Thank you, Tom.
I then invited Tom to include an extract of his writing and this is from a short story he’s writing:
When I arrived home from a long two weeks of traveling, I found Sharon leaning against the kitchen counter in front of the window, bathed in sunlight, her fingers wrapped around a crystal tumbler half full of vodka. And, as always, a single ice cube floated on the surface; this is how she drank her liquor. A bottle of Grey Goose, less than half full, stood against the metal tile backsplash. I sniffed the scent of fresh cut lime, and noticed several wedges arranged side-by-side on a cutting board, like instruments on a surgical tray. There was an identical glass on the table, clean and empty. She was either quite thirsty, or prepared for company. My usual drink is beer—straight from the bottle.
Sharon’s eyelids blinked at an intermittent cadence. Despite what I perceived as a lack of focus, she appeared about to say something but, instead, her shoulders sagged and she took another swallow of vodka. I couldn’t interpret the look in her eyes. At first, I guessed anger, or disappointment. Maybe regret. Hard to tell. Truth is I never had much success reading between the lines when it came to my wife. Not that I—or anyone else—ever had to guess how she felt about something.
But it surprised me to find her drinking alone. She had always believed it was best enjoyed among friends. We hadn’t yet spoken. The room felt hot, and thick with a silence I decided to break.
“A bit thirsty are we?”
“Oh, you’re home already.”
I gestured toward the empty glass.
“Thought you had a late meeting—or presentation—or whatever it is you do.”
“Your interest in my career is underwhelming. Really.”
And then a synopsis of his novel…
In LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK – a historical, action-adventure – burned-out Union Army spy Grant Bonner puts his life on the line in the face of overwhelming odds to clear his name.
Desperate to put his days as a Union spy behind him, Bonner also seeks peace and a new beginning.
But he agrees to one last mission, and gets entangled in a malicious scheme devised by a ruthless enemy, involving . . .
- A cold-blooded massacre
- A two million dollar gold heist
- Theft of a priceless historical document.
Betrayed, and wanted for crimes he didn’t commit, Bonner is forced to flee, and becomes the target of a manhunt across the Midwest to the Great Plains.
After several years on the run, and still a wanted man, Bonner emerges from hiding, and realizes that for some soldiers, the war isn’t over. And won’t end, until . . . LAST STAND AT BITTER CREEK. A tale of redemption and revenge.
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