Author Interview with Tom Doyle
Hi Tom, welcome over at The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us!
TD: Thank you for having me here!
BP: First off, could you give us a short introduction as to who Tom Doyle is? What are you hobbies, likes and dislikes?
TD: I grew up in Michigan, then went to Harvard for undergrad and Stanford for law and its Grateful Dead concerts. I came to Washington, D.C., to practice with a branch of a Wall Street firm, and they sent me to work in Tokyo for a year and a half. For a while I was working on mortgage-backed securities, but I was long gone before those went south with the global economy. Then, after the turn of the millennium, I changed course and began writing.
Every week, I have a jam session at my creepy, old, turreted house, and I play whatever instrument is necessary, though I do it badly. I run daily. I enjoy listening to audiobooks. I’m a prog rock fan. I love popcorn. Most recently, I’m a cancer survivor.
BP: You have been involved in writing short fiction and other stories, American Craftsmen was one of your first full length books. What decided that you wanted to pick up the pen and start to write stories in the first place?
TD: I quit the law at the turn of the millennium and went on a pilgrimage. Among other things, I stayed in a Zen monastery, visited Rio during Carnival, interned at the Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University, and started a Guided by Voiced cover band. After a while of such bucket list items, I realized that, for the near future, I needed a job where I was my own boss. Writing seemed like a natural fit, and science fiction and fantasy were the genres I knew and liked best. After all those experiences, it also felt like I finally had stories to tell.
BP: The first story in the American Craftsmen series was released last year, what gave you the idea and inspiration for this story?
TD: Strangely, one of my initial inspirations was L. Frank Baum. When he began telling children’s stories, he had the idea of discarding the existing European folktales and building a fantasy that was modern and distinctly American. That’s how we got The Wizard of Oz.
I wasn’t going to write a children’s story, but the idea of confining myself to a U.S. mythos for an adult fantasy was very appealing. At first, my book was going to cover a whole secret world of American magic. But the reader of my earliest draft section, author Stephanie Dray, saw the military intrigue element and said, “This is great. Do this.” I really owe her a lot for getting me to focus on that plotline.
BP: Writing a story is always a difficult task, did you go into writing American Craftsmen with a full plan or did you just started to write and see where it would end?
TD: I’m a pantser with trajectory, so I write without an outline, but with some vague notions of my ultimate destination. My other, as yet unpublished novel manuscripts were expansions of existing short stories, so American Craftsmen differed in that it was conceived as a novel from the beginning.
BP: American Craftsmen, is military fiction with a supernatural twist, but much more. The whole idea of setting up the craftsmen as the elite of the elite and the whole background must have taken a lot of planning. How did you go about and execute this?
TD: You’re right, it took a lot of research. I talked with a childhood friend who was a special forces veteran of the First Gulf War. I read and reread the American classics of the fantastic. I researched New England history and folklore, special operations, and military families. I toured the Pentagon. I drew on a lot of previous historical reading, and I tried to tie together the uncanny events in America’s past. Only the tip of this research iceberg appears in the narrative, which has to keep moving like a techno-thriller.
BP: The sequel to American Craftsmen, The Left-Hand Way is out later this August. If you would have to sell the book with a single sentence, how would it go?
TD: It's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy meets ancient magic, with the fate of the world in the balance.
BP: What has been the most difficult part in writing American Craftsmen to date?
TD: That would have to be last summer’s treatment for cancer. It brought my work on book 3 to a complete stop. Fortunately, the odds are very good that I’m completely cured, and I’ve been writing away on book 3 since.
BP: Besides the difficult parts in writing, which chapter scene or character did you enjoy writing about the most?
TD: I think the most fun I’ve had was writing the prologue to book 2, where the villain faces off against seven Russian magician-soldiers. I knew the who, where, and what of it, so I could just concentrate on making the scene as intense and enjoyable for readers as it was playing in my own head.
BP: Last year it was unclear whether we would see a sequel, what are you future plans with the series? Can we expect more books in this universe?
TD: I’m currently writing book 3, tentatively title War and Craft. That book will bring the trilogy to a close. After that, if readers want more of that universe, I’m ready, but if they want something different, I’m ready for that too.
BP: Do you have any other ideas that you want to turn into stories besides American Craftsmen?
TD: Yes, but first, two novel manuscripts are waiting in the wings. One is the continuation of my award-winning contemporary fantasy story, “The Wizard of Macatawa.” The other is the continuation of my edgy space opera, “Crossing Borders.” As with American Craftsmen, both of these novels could potentially be series. I also have some YA ideas.
BP: everyone enjoys fantasy and science fiction in their own way. What do you like most about the genre?
TD: While I enjoy great adventures, what distinguishes science fiction and fantasy for me is their ability to hold the mirror to our world and ideas, and I like it best when SF & F teach me new things and expand my understanding. But as a well-read adult with experience of the world, I also enjoy seeing things I already know reflected and re-interpreted, and it’s nice to have a literature that rewards the clever and attentive reader.
BP: If you would have to name your top 5 favorite books, which would they be?
TD: This is a tough one--I have a lot of recent faves, but older stuff has stood the test of time. I’m going to cheat slightly and include two trilogies and two series.
The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I now realize that it’s problematic politically and artistically, but it got into my psyche early, and there it will stay until I die.
The first Kushiel trilogy, Jacqueline Carey. Reading Carey’s work was a revelation of the possibilities in the genre.
The Story of Civilization, Will and Ariel Durant. A transformative experience in my view of history.
Preacher, Garth Ennis. During its height, I enjoyed the entire Vertigo line of comics. For a graphic fave, I could have said Gaiman’s Sandman, but that series I loved for its short stories and not its continuity plot. Preacher is a great cosmic romp.
Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny. Like LotR, this book poses some problems for my adult self (e.g., the supposedly adult characters seem more like teenagers in re-reading), but this classic mash-up of science fiction and mythology has affected how I’ve seen both since childhood.
BP: and just lastly, can you tell us a bit of what will be in store for the readers of The Left-Hand Way and the possible continuation?
TD: As Craftsmen readers will know, “Left-Hand” is the euphemism my characters use for “evil,” so the title of The Left-Hand Way is the equivalent of saying The Empire Strikes Back. Since I’ve done the heavy lifting of world building in book 1, The Left-Hand Way and War and Craft can afford to be more streamlined and action-packed, though still full of literary and historical Easter Eggs for the attentive reader. Also, having created an American mythos that can stand on its own, I’ve made the action in books 2 and 3 much more global. Locations in The Left-Hand Way include Istanbul, Tokyo, London, and Kiev. Finally, readers should be ready for a change in the first person point-of-view character. For The Left-Hand Way, we’re now following Major Michael Endicott, the Puritan rival of Dale Morton from the first book.
BP: thank you very much for your time Tom and good luck with your future writing!
TD: Thanks, and thank you again for having me here!