Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Conversation with Thriller Writer Tom Avitabile

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Tom Avitabile
with Tom Avitabile

We are delighted to welcome back novelist Tom Avitabile to Omnimystery News, courtesy of The Story Plant, which is coordinating his current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find his schedule here.

Last month we featured an excerpt from Tom's third thriller to feature presidential science advisor William "Wild Bill" Hiccock, The God Particle (The Story Plant; June 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats). Today we're sitting down with him to talk a little more about the book and the series.

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Omnimystery News: Introduce us to your characters. What is it about these characters that appeal to you as a writer?

Tom Avitabile
Photo provided courtesy of
Tom Avitabile

Tom Avitabile: I am all my leading characters, whether in a series or stand-alone. I am self-confident, but not cocky. I do some not-so-great things but that is offset by a lot of good deeds. I am inherently positive about the human condition, even though I have seen it at its worst. No matter what level of fame, success, notoriety or satisfaction I achieve, I still have to take out the garbage and plunge the toilet.

I earn my place with the opposite sex and it is not a sure thing or automatic. I don't always understand everything in the first moments, but with a high-resolution, situational awareness, I make good choices along the way and keep an even keel as the world around me buckles. I adapt, I innovate and I overcome, in any situation. Parts of me are parts of all my leading characters.

OMN: What criteria do you use to decide whether a book will feature a series character or not?

TA: There's an old joke that states, "I can have any woman I please … The problem is I don't please too many." No author can decide on a series. The readers and the sales numbers do.

It's like the old saw about a three-picture deal in Hollywood. If the first movie bombs, there ain't gonna be no number two or three. All a three-picture deal is, is an insurance policy for the studio that if the first movie is any good, they'll own you for the next two.

Series are like that. If you design a "Series" and you imbue it with sustainable characters who won't burn out fast and plot lines that don't answer everything in the first book, and you research the crap out of it to insure you are within the boundaries of other successful series it doesn't matter. If the first book bombs, you won't be able to get arrested. Nobody orders sequels to non-selling books.

I try to write the best damn book I can. If it does well, and somebody wants more, I'll deal with it then.

Having pontificated all that, I have both. My Bill Hiccock series, my three book "Thrillogy" The Eighth Day, The Hammer of God, and The God Particle and my stand alone book, The Devil's Quota, which is coming out on October 28th. I will go back to the series if The God Particle does decent numbers. This fourth book in the series will be titled, Give Us This Day.

OMN: Why did you choose a male character as your lead? Is it challenging to find the right voice for your character? Do you think it matters to readers if your character is of the opposite gender than you?

TA: There are two types of gender, literarily speaking. The first is M writing F, or F writing M.

I decided that the third book of my "Thrillogy" would focus more on the life of my former Female FBI agent, Brooke Burrell, now the main operator in a Top-secret Operations Cluster being run out of the White House. As a male writer, the biggest fear I had in trying to write a lead female character was not winding up having simply written a male character with breasts. A female lead must be endemically female. Not a modification of a male or an augmented male.

For an average man like me, women are complex, often seemingly contradictory beings. After much soul searching and inquiry I found the map. The elusive map of the internal processes and pathways of the female homo-sapiens was in my hands. However, to my dismay all the markings and road signs were in a Cyrillic kind of cuneiform that was unreadable by my male eyes.

So I engaged in a stimulus-response series of experiments to better understand the feminine mystique. I posed ethical, moral and situational dilemmas to a wide variety of females. Their answers, in many cases, shocked me. But they illustrated the basic wiring differences between the genders. That wiring allows us to perform different roles in evolution, unconsciously. *Other than procreation, I do believe that either gender can perform either role but not without applying extra effort.

To me it's not enough, when writing a female character, to just add a moment after using the rest room to check her make up. That doesn't make my character a female. What helps is knowing how everything she does is connected to a female baseline, in some ways defined as, a nurturing instinct, positive assumptions of intention- until proven otherwise, avoidance of needless confrontation, but firm in resolve if provoked. There are more underpinnings that served, not as an absolute profile of female predilections, I would never have the hubris to say that, but these fundamental instincts are helpful handles, tools if you will, for a male writer like me, to decode those elements of the female instinct that elude our philosophy.

The second gender situation is more nuanced and only now am I starting to be aware of it. The tone of the book, that too can have a gender. One of my reviews said, I would describe the overall tone and POV of the book as masculine; in the way Clive Cussler's books are masculine (without Cussler's 1970s sexist streak). Which is not to say that the female lead character isn't well written; she is well written.

I still need to go to school on Masculine tone. Stay tuned.

OMN: Describe your writing process for us. And where do you usually find yourself writing?

TA: I am basically guilty of being a "Pantser" — with an explanation! I write by the seat of pants for most of the first draft. Then I outline what I wrote, then add to the outline on my way to the end. However, those pants that I am writing by, were well pressed, usually months before, by me telling the story to everyone who'll listen. Trying different plot points, seeing what they respond to, and adjusting the story to keep them interested. Therefore, before I sit to write, I know most of the story. I have told it so many times that I am almost transcribing it. But then the details, mini-tensions, beats and twists come in and make it even more interesting. I think this also lends itself to the "Dream" concept below. When I sit to write, I experience the story as it unfolds, keeping me interested. Wanting to get back to that dream interrupted when I have to return to real life.

As to my writing environment, since to me, writing is a dream. Then it follows that not writing is a dream interrupted. When life interrupts those wonderful moments when I am ensconced in setting, character and plot.
Therefore, wherever I am — is my environment because, like a hypnotic suggestion, as soon as I start writing, everything around me disappears. I become wrapped in the cocoon of the story. Only fire alarms, screams or gunshots break me out of it. I guess I am a "turtle" writer, in that I bring my writing environment with me.

OMN: What are the differences between writing a novel and writing a screenplay?

TA: A novel is the "script" that allows the reader to produce the movie in their theater of the mind.

A script is a blueprint, which allows artists, craftspeople and investors to produce a movie for the movie theater.

A movie has over 100 people involved: Exec Producer, Four other Producers, Director, assistant directors and cast. There are camera, grip, electric, make up, wardrobe, scenic, post-production departments.

For a book it's 3 people — Author, Editor, Publisher then directly to the "premiere" in the reader's head. They fill in all the production blanks from look and sound of each character to the soundtrack. Reader's fill in the wardrobe, the day, and ambient sounds. They determine the pace of the story and the details of location, sets and atmosphere.

Therefore, the screenplay is dependent on external action which will become kinetic in a "real world" production. The novel is internal and is unbounded by real world limits and budgets.

Long internal dialogues or scenic descriptions are seconds long on screen. You can spend 5 pages describing the sunrise on Chesapeake Bay, or use one really good shot for 5 seconds in a film.

Robert Benton (three time Oscar winning Writer/Director) said, "You have three chances to write a movie: In the typewriter, in the camera, and on the editing table." I say, (no Oscars) you get one chance to write a book. Going the other way, a book represents the garden, the screenplay of the book is a bouquet made from that garden. It that represents only parts of the garden, depending on the producer/director's choices of what to bring forward and what to leave behind in the arrangement.

OMN: What advice might you give to aspiring authors?

TA: Don't think about money, fame or awards. Think about if you have an idea that is so compelling that you must get it out. Think if you have the love of writing your work, to be able to spend the next 6 months to 3 years voraciously writing and rewriting it! Because unless you already have a TV show, or you are a movie star or have an A-list name, you'll have to work hard. All the money, fame and awards, won't come without the hard work happening first.

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Tom Avitabile, a senior creative director at a New York City advertising firm, is a writer, director and producer with numerous film and television credits. He has an extensive background in engineering and computers.

Avitabile's work on projects for the House Committee on Science and Technology helped lay the foundation for The Eighth Day, his first novel. In his spare time, Avitabile is a professional musician and an amateur woodworker.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at TomAvitabile.com or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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The God Particle by Tom Avitabile

The God Particle
Tom Avitabile
A Suspense Thriller

When the smallest imagined particle of matter threatens to destroy all that matters, science and religion collide on the world stage and within the corridors of power. Presidential Science Advisor William "Wild Bill" Hiccock and his top-secret Quarterback Operations Group (QUOG) has already faced down some of the most sinister high-tech rivals imaginable. Now they must face one that can eliminate all life on Earth in an instant.

This super-kinetic thriller pits brains, religion, political power, and common humanity against the onslaught of extremely dangerous, narrowly focused scientific exploration into the fabric of creation, complete with a plot to shoot down one of the President's helicopters. Fringe religious groups — but not the usual suspects — engage in terror. Ugly espionage is set against the beauty of the Cote D'Azur. The romance of Paris offsets the grit of Boston's South of Roxbury while the Euro-pop discos of Switzerland punctuate the quest.

In the end it comes down to one question: Can former FBI agent Brooke Burrell, now QUOG's lead operative, choose between her personal and professional life in time to solve the puzzle and stop it all?

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)  BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)  iTunes iBook Format  Kobo eBook Format

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Lance Wright owns and manages Omnimystery, a Family of Mystery Websites, which had its origin as Hidden Staircase Mystery Books in 1986. As the scope of the business expanded, first into book reviews — Mysterious Reviews — and later into information for and reviews of mystery and suspense television and film, all sites were consolidated under the Omnimystery brand in 2006.

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