Interview With The Author: Tom Young
John Dwaine McKenna
Hey out there to all our friends, fans, writers of all types and avid readers everywhere . . .
Today we have a special item of interest for everyone; an interview with author Tom Young. He’s the best novelist of World War II thrillers to cross the MBR’s desk since Jeff Shara or the late, great Phillip Kerr, as well as an avid practitioner of the writing craft. It’s the longest of our interviewees so far, because Mr. Young’s responses are open, honest and reflect his dedication to this business of words that we all love so well. Here’s Tom Young:
When do you write?
I usually write first thing in the morning, when my mind is the freshest. I like to start the day with strong coffee and a couple of hours in my study at the keyboard. However, when I need to, I can write pretty much anywhere, whenever I have time. I’ve written in the bunk room of a C-5 Galaxy, and in a tent in Afghanistan.
Are any of your characters autobiographical?
Yes and no. There’s a part of me in all of my main characters, but none of them are purely autobiographical. If I tried to write a character based solely on myself, I’d get bored with it.
Why do you write?
I can’t NOT write. It’s almost an addiction. I’ve known I wanted to write ever since I learned to read. I just like hanging around words.
Who inspired you to write?
I’ve been inspired and influenced by MANY writers. But if I had to pick one, I’d say it’s the French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. When I was a kid, I discovered his books in the Oxford, NC public library. Saint-Ex flew air mail back in the days when airplanes were made of cloth and pilots were made of steel. His books include WIND, SAND AND STARS; NIGHT FLIGHT; and FLIGHT TO ARRAS. After the fall of France during World War II, he could have avoided combat due to his age. But he returned to the fight with the Free French Air Force, and he disappeared on a recon mission in 1944.
How do you deal with a negative review?
If it makes a good point, I learn from it.
What’s the most important element for writing success?
To simply keep writing. Keep improving your craft. Keep on keeping on.
Do you plot-outline or wing it?
I do very little outlining. When I begin writing a novel, I’ll start with a good idea of what the conflict will be, and how the story will open. I’ll have a vague idea of how the story will end. And I won’t have ANY idea what will happen in the middle. I just start writing and let the characters talk to me. If I get stuck, I just ask myself what I would do in that particular scene.
What makes a character despicable?
I once heard someone say the ultimate definition of evil is the assertion of self-interest over the greater good. So, for me, that’s what makes a villain despicable—placing one’s self over others. But at the same time, the best villains are relatable, not purely evil. They’re more interesting if you can ALMOST understand how they got to be evil—if you can see what made them that way. For example, if there is some hurt in their past, and they’ve overreacted to that hurt.
Do you use humor in your work?
I try to. Most of my novels are set in combat environments. With a setting that heavy, you need to break the tension with humor from time to time. And, believe me, most deployed military personnel have a very creative sense of humor.
Does your style make heavy use of adjectives and adverbs?
I try to use few adjectives and adverbs. Mark Twain said, “When you catch an adjective, kill it.” As far as adverbs are concerned, if you’re using an adverb, you’ve probably chosen the wrong verb. For example, let’s take this sentence: “Joe ran quickly across the parking lot.” Technically, there’s nothing wrong with that sentence. But if we kill the adverb and change the verb, we get something like this: “Joe sprinted across the parking lot.” Much stronger.
Do you use long, detailed and in-depth descriptions of your characters and their environs?
I like to write descriptions, but never much at a time. Description works best when used in light brush strokes. Just two or three sentences here, then two or three sentences there. Understatement is a strength of the English language.
What’s your next project?
I’m working on another WWII novel, tentatively titled THE MAGNIFICENT RESCUE. It’s based on the real-world rescue of more than 500 downed Allied airmen in German-occupied Yugoslavia. The downed airmen, along with villagers and Yugoslav guerrillas, built a dirt landing strip with hand tools. Crews flew in with C-47s and recovered all the airmen, right out from under the noses of the Germans.
Bonus questions, and your last chance for brilliance . . .
Do you have any other comments, suggestions, tips, anecdotes, quotes or inspirational
material you’d like to share?
My advice to would-be novelists is that there’s nothing mystical about writing. It’s a learned skill, just like anything else. If you work at it long enough, you’ll get good at it. It might take a while; it took me years. But if I can do it, you can do it.
Where could you be reached on the World Wide Web?
Thanks again for your insights and expertise, and for taking time out to speak with our
audience today. Please keep us in your contacts list and let the MBR know about your
next literary project.