Tom, welcome to the blog. You book's title got my attention. LOL. I’d be fascinated to know more about you.
How many books have you written? In what genres?
My latest book is Cheese Grits, Stories to Nourish the Southern Soul. It is a collection of short stories spanning the years from 1948 through 1968. It’s about growing up in the 1950s and 60s. It is a balance of stories about coming-of-age events from those times and the larger events that influenced and molded the values of a generation. These larger events are seen from the unique perspective of the children who lived through them. It gives some insights into how the values and priorities of the “sixties generation” evolved.
The first complete book I wrote is a massive how-to book about restoration of antique clocks completed in 2005. It is around 750 pages long with over 2,500 color photos and graphics. Because of its size, the volume of color photos and the relatively small audience, it was only practical to produce in electronic format. It was released in a pdf format and supplied on a single CD. I created a web site to promote the book (http://www.xrestore.com) then worked for several years to push the site to the number one search response for the keywords “clock restoration”. The book has sold well globally since being released and continues to sell well today. Just a few weeks ago, I released a paper version of the book in black and white.
What books or authors have influenced you, Tom?
Like a lot of reading enthusiasts, my reading tastes are broad. I love the non-fiction writings of David McCullough. His book, John Adams, brings our founders to life like no one has done before.
At the other extreme, I have read and reread everything Douglas Adams wrote in his foreshortened life. He had a unique way to compose a sentence and a madly imaginative mind.
What is your most rewarding experience during the writing process?
The thing I find most rewarding is when a reader looks up while reading something I wrote and says, “I know exactly what you are saying here.” In Cheese Grits, one reader, who is a baby boomer, said that she wanted her grandchildren to all read the book to understand what it was like when grandma was growing up. I found that the highest compliment I’ve ever received.
Is it available in print, eBook, and Kindle formats?
Cheese Grits is available in all popular formats: paperback and hardbound through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other traditional book sellers; eBook formats for Kindle, Sony, Nook, Apple and others.
Do you think your writing has improved since your first attempt?
I have written professionally since my mid-twenties when I created technical books and training materials. There is no doubt that my writing has improved over the years thanks in part to technology (there was no such thing as ‘spell check’ or ‘grammar check’ when I started out), but mostly to those people I trust for input and criticism. By keeping my ears open and my mouth shut, I’ve learned a great deal about how to improve a draft.
Were any of your books more challenging to write than the others? If so, why?
Extreme Restoration, my book about clock restoration, was easily the most challenging to create. I wanted a book that provided accurate, period-correct restoration techniques, presented in a form that the average restorer could follow. Unfortunately, many of original techniques were poorly documented or not documented at all. It took several years of research to nail down accurate procedures. Then, I had to carefully write up the procedures for each technique, including sourcing of period-correct materials. Finally, I had to accurately photograph the key steps of each process. All in all, I think I have over 2,000 hours in the first edition of the book.
Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track with your writing?
I usually get a thread of an idea then rush to get the essential points down in writing. This is particularly true of a story. This draft is very brief and usually not particularly interesting.
I then look at the sketch and try to determine the real point I’m trying to make.
What do I want readers to get from Cheese Grits?
Some stories were intended to be reflections of those coming-of-age events we all experienced (early dating, the differences between girls and boys, the less than intelligent things teen males often do). Other stories were intended to show how some events of those times deeply influenced the lifelong values of the children who lived through them. Things like the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the growing specter of Vietnam had a profound effect on the values and worldview of a generation.
How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
I grew up in the south, in and around Atlanta. I left the south in my mid-twenties and only returned some thirty years later, in 2006. Returning to the south, as well as growing a bit older, has made me realize that the places and times of my youth were special and in some ways magical. Individual imagination, not video games, drove our lives as children. It is something I will be eternally grateful for.
I'm with you, Tom! I truly appreciate my roots and my over-active imagination too.
We all know how important promoting our work has become. How do you get the word out both off and online?
Promotion, particularly as an independent writer, is challenging and requires imagination and commitment to a long term effort.
For the non-fiction Extreme Restoration, I created a strong web presence which provides free how-to information to interested clock restorers. I also work with the largest clock enthusiast organization by writing a series of how-to articles for their magazine. I communicate regularly with clock enthusiast clubs to stay in their minds.
Cheese Grits is targeted more to the general public or, more specifically, baby boomers. To promote this book, I created a new web site that encouraged participation in forums about events and remembrances of the 1950s and 60s. I’ve also distributed dozens of reader copies in order to promote reviews on Amazon and B&N. I promote the book on Twitter, Facebook, Booktown and other book-related social network sites. There are really dozens and dozens of book-related web sites interested in new works and willing to help an author get the word out. I try to find some new way to promote or increase awareness every day. I keep a log of my efforts to track what I’m working on and to keep me honest. Promoting a new book is a long term effort and a lot of work, but the results are worth it.
Can you tell us about current or future projects, Tom?
I’ve hooked up with several childhood friends as a result of Cheese Grits and we have begun sharing memories. It may lead to another book of stories or I may try to advance the current stories beyond its 1968 end point.
I’m also working more on the non-fiction clock book angle. I find that there is a wealth of clock designs I’ve not touched on in current offerings. I continue to collect information with the intent of a second volume on high quality restoration techniques.
Where can folks learn more about your books and events?
I have a number of web sites your readers may find interesting:
http://www.xrestore.com is the site created for clock restoration. It continues to evolve as I add new information.
http://www.cheesegritsbook.com/ was created to promote Cheese Grits, Stories to Nourish the Southern Soul. It is something of a nostalgia site where “boomers” can share stories.