Welcome to the five hundred and forty-third of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction and historical author Thomas Blubaugh. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. You can also read Tom’s interview with me here.
Morgen: Hello, Thomas. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Thomas: Be glad to, Morgen. I am husband to Barbara, father of 3 boys and 3 girls, and grandfather of 14. I live in southwest Missouri in the USA. I started writing poetry at age 14. I was too shy to tell a girl how I felt about her face to face so I would say it in poetry. Also, I wrote lyrics that I hoped would be recorded by Elvis Presley and other rock and roll singers, but this didn’t work out.
Morgen: That’s really sweet, and then sad. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Thomas: I have written nonfiction most of my adult life, but my last work was a historical fiction. I have looked at several genres, but I like where I am.
Morgen: That’s the important thing. What have you had published to-date?
Thomas: I self-published a book in 1974, which was for seminars in churches that I was doing. I’ve written several articles for magazines. I co wrote a daily devotional journal, The Great Adventure, for Barbour publishing in 2009. My novel Night of the Cossack was published by Bound by Faith Publishers in 2011. Earlier this year I contributed to Unshackled and Free: True Stories of Forgiveness with C. J. and Shelley Hitz. I am currently working on a sequel to my novel.
Morgen: As you just mentioned, you’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way in that instance?
Thomas: The only self-published book was for a specific purpose and would not be marketed other than by me in seminars. I’m not opposed to self-publishing since I do most of the marketing when traditionally published. Today I think it comes down to who pays for the publishing, but the marketing is done by the author.
Morgen: It is, and usually the answer to my question “What’s your least favourite aspect of your writing life?”, mainly because it’s so overwhelming (daunting and time-wise). Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Thomas: Night of the Cossack and Unshackled are ebooks. I do read a lot of ebooks, but I also read paper. I’m not particular.
Morgen: And isn’t it great having the choice. Do you have a favourite of your books or characters? If any of your books were made into films, who would you have as the leading actor/s?
Thomas: I really like Night of the Cossack. I can see it as a film. There is a young man who played in Winters Bone by the name of Cody Brown. He lives in my city.
Morgen: With your traditionally published books, did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Thomas: I named the book. I think it’s very important that the author name his / her own work. My publisher found the artist and graphic artist for the book cover. The artist read the first three chapters before he started painting. He did an excellent job. I have no talent in that area.
Morgen: My mum and aunt are brilliant painters (my aunt’s a professional) yet I draw stick men from imagination. I can cartoon and enjoy that but I agree with your about your artist, it’s a great cover. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Thomas: A sequel to Night of the Cossack.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Thomas: I am a seat of the pants writer. I do write something every day, but not necessarily my novel. Scenes build up in my mind until it begs to be written. At that time I can write for hours. I’m trying something new. I have a program named Snowflake that helps plot stories.
Morgen: Most authors I’ve spoken to are ‘pantsers’ and it’s how I work too. Interviewee Darren Kirby mentioned a Snowflake method in his interview back in July 2011 but I’ve not heard of the programme. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Thomas: I’ve only written one novel and it was about my grandfather who died before I was born. I have pictures of him to go by, but I created all of the other characters. I research for names once I have determined the gender and geography. I’m not sure what makes them believable. I just weave them into the story to move it along and deepen the narrative.
Morgen: 🙂 Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Thomas: I was a rebellious English student and regret this now. My wife is my first editor and she tells me there is less and less to edit so I guess my writing is becoming more fully formed. I also belong to a very good critique group. They have taught me a lot.
Morgen: Everything’s about practice, isn’t it. In theory not only do we get better but we (hopefully) enjoy it more. Do you have to do much research?
Thomas: Yes. Night of the Cossack takes place in Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Italy and France. I had to do a lot of research. It took five years to write it. The sequel is requiring just as much research. I don’t want to give anything away here.
Morgen: No problem. They both sound great books. What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Thomas: Night of the Cossack is third person. I’ve recently read some first person novels and I like them. I think there is much more character insight with this method. I haven’t tried second person—yet.
Morgen: I like that, “yet”. I write a lot of it for my 5pm Fiction slot, but haven’t tried a novel in it yet and am not sure I would, but never say never. Do you write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Thomas: Yes to all three.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Thomas: Only if I don’t live long enough to publish them. I don’t discard anything. If I thought it worthy of writing then I believe there is a place for it—if not now—later.
Morgen: Let’s hope so. I have loads that I keep meaning to go back through, and I will when I have time because I think I’m now experienced enough (I’ve certainly written over 1,000,000 words) to see where they need improving (and they will do I’m sure). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Thomas: At one point I thought my self-published book was worth seeking a publisher. The first one I sent it to, lost it for over a year. This was pre-computer and copy machines so I didn’t have a back up. I was mortified. It finally showed up in the mail with no explanation. Ironically, the publisher of Night of the Cossack read the first chapter I had posted on my website and approached me. I know this isn’t the usual story.
Morgen: People are getting picked up online, which I think is why a lot of authors are going self-published (and like me have tried the agent route to no avail). Do you enter competitions?
Thomas: I have never entered any competitions. Not yet.
Morgen: Again there’s a “yet”. I like your optimism. Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Thomas: I don’t have an agent. I tried to get one for a children’s book I wrote. I selected only those who would accept an inquiry via email. I had forgotten this. There was lots of rejection there so it’s still waiting for another time. I’ve heard it’s as hard to find an agent as it is to find a publisher.
Morgen: It is, harder in many cases. You mentioned marketing earlier, how much do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Thomas: This has been tough. I really didn’t write my novel to be published, at least not in the beginning. I was writing for myself and my heirs. When it was published, I thought I had a good platform since I had been doing business on the Internet for 13 years. When I really thought about it, I realized I had used a fictitious name, Grampa Tom, and no one knew my real name. I’ve been working very hard for over a year to develop a brand.
Morgen: I’ve been doing this blog since late March 2011 and am still working on it. 🙂 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Thomas: Tough question. My favourite part is speaking to groups and encouraging those who have a writing interest to develop their talent. I’m surprised at how difficult it is to establish a brand. I read that there were over a million books published this past year in the USA. That surprised me.
Morgen: It’s staggering. I’ve interviewed / booked in over 700 authors and have another 900 questionnaires still out in the ether and am sure that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. Whilst there are more authors (I think) than ever before, readers have more options on which to read and (I’ve heard) more people are reading. We just have to shout a little louder these days. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Thomas: Start writing now. Don’t think about grammar or mistakes. Get your thoughts down on paper. Don’t wait to start building your platform. Do it as you’re writing. Get your name out there so when your work is published, people will want to purchase your work.
Morgen: Absolutely. If the story is good a publisher will forgive mistakes, readers are forgiving like that too (in most cases). I’ve heard other writers criticise Dan Brown’s and JK Rowling’s writing but look how popular they are, their stories have to be responsible for that. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Thomas: Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. I would cook spaghetti, garlic bread, corn, asparagus and lemon pie.
Morgen: Yum. 🙂 Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Thomas: This may be paraphrased: Some people believe they can, some believe they can’t and they’re both right. Henry Ford
Morgen: <laughs> Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Thomas: I’m developing an online workshop on building an author platform.
Morgen: Oh great, perhaps you’d like to do a guest blog for me on it when it’s ready? What do you do when you’re not writing?
Thomas: I love macro photography, Bocce ball and horseshoes.
Morgen: Bocce ball’s a new on me, but then I know there are many sports out there that are incredibly popular but are unheard of (my brother plays ‘Octopush’, underwater hockey, worldwide but from memory I’ve only ever met one person (a relative, as it turns out) who’s heard of it). Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Thomas: I read a lot of author blogs—too many to list. I look for one thing I can use in everything I read. I usually find it. Steve Miller’s Sell More Books is a good one. This isn’t an ebook, but The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron has been very helpful.
Morgen: Julia’s book has been mentioned here a few times. Are you on any forums or networking sites?
Thomas: I belong to the John 3:16 Marketing Network. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Linkedin and Pinterest. These are the main ones.
Morgen: LinkedIn is how we met, I think. It’s a great resource. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Thomas: I think it’s very good. The Tale of Two Cities has a line (paraphrased) “it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.” The publishing industry is changing fast. The world market is growing rapidly. The Internet and social network programs allow the author to reach the whole world from a computer in their home. The potential is phenomenal.
Morgen: It is, and I think it’s never been such a good time to be a writer. We have research tools on tap (thank you Messrs Google, Wikipedia etc al) and can ‘meet’ our readers without leaving our chairs, who can access our work in an instant. I love technology. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Thomas: These are a few places: Night of the Cossack available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble, 10 Day Lesson Plan for homeschool, Facebook, My Blog, Twitter @tomblubaugh, Missouri Writers Guild, Tom Blubaugh, Christian Author and Genesis Project.
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Thomas: I want to say thank you for interviewing me. I am very grateful.
Morgen: You’re so welcome, Tom, thank you for interviewing me last month. 🙂 Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Thomas: How did you get involved in what you’re doing with authors? What is your motivation / purpose? How many subscribers / followers do you have?
Morgen: I started this blog (31st March 2011) because I’d heard it was a good thing to do and put things that interested me. Then I was interviewed via email and really enjoyed it. I was doing audio interviews podcast at the time, which were so time-consuming so phased those out and started these in the June. Then I added the spotlights, guest blogs, flash fiction and finally poetry (and lots of useful information) and it’s gathered momentum from there. I do it because I love it (some would say “obsessed”) and whilst I’m keen to help other authors (especially independents like myself) I do of course hope that it will glean exposure for myself and my books (my debut novel The Serial Dater’s Shopping List went live yesterday!). I have just under 500 subscribers to the blog and 200+ visitors a day (my best day to-date was July 25th this year with 495… I’d love to break the 500 barrier – maybe if I can interview JK Rowling :)). Thank you, Tom.
I then invited Tom to include an extract of his writing…
Nathan’s eyes flew open. Sounds, screams and gunshots penetrated the cold air of his upstairs bedroom. The pungent smell of smoke invaded his nose. He coughed. Am I having a nightmare?
Shadows danced wildly across the ceiling and down the walls.
Heart pounding, he threw off his covers, jumped out of bed, and rushed to the window. His little brother, Israel, followed. Its real!
“What is it, Nathan?” Israel whispered.
Nathan pulled his brother against the wall behind him.
“Hey! I want to see!”
“Shush, Israel.” Nathan looked through the window at the valley below, his heart racing. Men in long coats and fur hats were running through the village brandishing swords and raising rifles. Cossacks! Nathan turned from the window.
Momma pulled Israel’s clothes from the hook behind the door, hurried him into them, and down the stairs.
Nathan shoved his trembling hands into his shirt, the horrible scenes replaying in his mind—houses ablaze, soldiers on horseback, dead bodies, his friends in terror. Why are the Cossacks here? What do they want?
He pushed his feet into his boots, jumped up, and hurried to the chest at the foot of the bed. Lifting the lid, he pulled out a knife in its sheath and shoved it into his right boot. He reached back for a leather bag containing lead balls and patches, and a powder horn. He fastened the pouch and powder horn to his belt. The firelight danced across his father’s pistol. He picked up the gun and balanced it in his right hand. Momma said I can’t use it until I’m older. She doesn’t know I’ve taken it out when I’ve gone hunting and practiced shooting it. I’m sixteen. I’m a man. Why should I have to wait? The thought calmed him.
Nathan shoved the unloaded gun into his belt, went back to the window, and stared at the nightmare below. He turned away and tried to close his mind against the violence. His rifle, loaded and ready to fire leaned against the wall in the corner. He slipped his arm through the sling, hefted the rifle on his shoulder, and grabbed his coat.
a synopsis of his book…
Night of the Cossack is a compelling adventure by Tom Blubaugh about a teenager who is forced to grow up quickly. The main character, Nathan Hertzfield, faces many life or death situations during his saga.
Join Nathan on his exhilarating journey through parts of Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Hungary, Italy and France during the early 1900s. Live with him through the terror, changes, romance, sorry and betrayal as he runs for his life.
Tom Blubaugh was raised in a small town in southeast KS. He began writing poetry at age fourteen. Tom has written nonfiction most of his adult life. He self-published his first book Behind the Scenes of the Bus Ministry in 1974. Tom wrote articles for denominational and business magazines from 1975 through 1995. He co-wrote The Great Adventure for Barbour Publishing Co. in 2009. Bound by Faith Publishers published his first fiction Night of the Cossack in April, 2011. Tom is married to Barbara. They have six children and fourteen grandchildren. Both are retired. Tom has been public speaker for 40 years. He was a self-employed entrepreneur from1973 to 1995. Tom retired in 2004 and has devoted most of his time to writing and volunteer work.
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