Tom Coffey’s most recent novel, BRIGHT MORNING STAR, was published earlier this year by Oak Tree Press. His first novel, THE SERPENT CLUB, was published in 1999 by Pocket Books and earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Pocket Books published his second novel, MIAMI TWILIGHT, two years later. In 2008 Toby Press printed BLOOD ALLEY, which also earned a starred review from PW. Tom has worked as a reporter and editor for some of the leading newspapers in the country, including The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and New York Newsday. Since 1997, he has been a staff editor at The New York Times, and since 1999 he he has been a member of Mystery Writers of America. Tom lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife and daughter.
Here’s a link to my author page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tomcoffeyauthor/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel
And here’s a link to my website: http://bloodalleynovel.com/
And now for those questions:
(1) WHERE DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR MOST RECENT BOOK?
BRIGHT MORNING STAR is a historical novel with a mystery at its core. It’s set in the early 20th century, in both the United States and the Philippines, and the plot revolves around the nasty guerrilla war that American troops fought against Filipino insurgents after the Spanish-American War.
I got the idea for the book a long time ago. I’m old enough to remember the Vietnam War, and its attendant controversies. Many members of the World War II generation were puzzled by all the dissent. Didn’t America always unite in times of war?
Actually, it doesn’t. With the exception of World War II, all of America’s wars faced considerable opposition while they were going on. Which led me (I’ve always been a history geek) to study this country’s military involvement in Asia, which dates to the Spanish-American War (1898), when America, to the astonishment of everyone in the United States government, gained control of the Philippines.
The Filipinos wanted independence, but the United States was not going to grant it. The result was a protracted struggle that featured atrocities by both sides, but particularly by the Americans. The squelching of another people’s desire for independence, coupled with lurid stories about war crimes, combined to make the war deeply divisive in the States. Many prominent Americans, most notably Mark Twain, lined up to denounce the government’s policy as being in direct violation of the principles upon which this country was founded.
I’ve wanted to write a novel with the Filipino war as its backdrop for many years. With our seemingly endless struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the topic seems particularly timely. (We keep fighting wars in Asia. We keep learning nothing.) A few years ago, I hit on the idea of framing the book as a love story. The protagonist is a young woman (a departure for me) who is, daringly for her time, a magazine journalist. She is assigned to investigate the court-martial of a soldier who has been convicted of murdering civilians in the Philippines. The twist is this: the soldier is a young man she was romantically involved with back in her hometown in upstate New York.
The setting gave me a chance to explore issues about sex, race, religion and America’s role in the world — all topics with a great deal of resonance today. It also gave me a chance to have some fun with historical figures like Twain and Theodore Roosevelt.
(2) HOW DO YOU GET INSPIRED TO WRITE?
“Inspired” really isn’t the word I’d use. Writing is the best way I know of trying to say something meaningful about the human condition. To that end, I view writing as a craft, and I do my best to set aside time every day for writing. Since I work nights, I’m almost always able to get some writing done during the day.
I’m always looking for ideas. I carry around a small battered notepad with a New York Mets logo on it, and whenever an idea strikes me (which can happen frequently as I go about my business), I write it down immediately. At this point in my life, I have to write down an idea right away. If I don’t, I’m almost certain to forget it.
(3) WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON?
I am returning to my roots and writing noirish crime/mystery novels. I recently completed a novel titled PUBLIC MORALS, which is set in the New York of the 1970s and today. I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll say this: In the first part of the book, in the ’70s, a crime is committed. In the second part of the book, in the very different New York of 2015, the crime is revisited. I’m trying to get an agent to represent it, and if anyone out there knows of anyone …
Right now I’m writing a sequel to PUBLIC MORALS titled SPECIAL VICTIM. All of my previous books have been one-offs, and the process of writing a sequel is interesting. For one thing, I already know a lot of things about the main characters. That’s saving me a lot of time.
(4) WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
Do not wait for inspiration, whatever that is, to strike. You have to write consistently, and you have to hone the craft constantly. Carve out a specific time of the day, every day — at least an hour — and make that your writing time.
And be observant. As Yogi Berra was once reputed to have said, “You can observe a lot by watching.” If you prefer to quote Henry James, he put it this way: “Be the type of person upon whom nothing is lost.”
(5) WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
When my daughter was in second grade, her reading ability made tremendous strides. One day she was looking around our apartment and she asked me, “Daddy, why does that book have your name on it?” And I replied, “Because I wrote it.”
That felt good.
My daughter is now a teenager, and about a year ago she read my novel BLOOD ALLEY, a murder mystery set in New York in the 1940s. She was visiting her grandparents while she read it, while I was stuck in New York, and she started texting me as soon as she finished it. She went on and on about how twisted it was, especially at the end, and finally I asked her if she liked it. She confessed that she did.
That felt good, too.
(6) HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH WRITER’S BLOCK?
Weirdly enough, I’ve never gotten writer’s block. I think that stems from creating a schedule where I write at least five days a week. I know that some days will be better than others, but I never get too down on myself when I struggle — or too euphoric when it all seems to be coming easily.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that I’m just not intelligent enough to get writer’s block.
Closing out this e-interview, I just want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to promote my latest book and say a little bit about it. And thanks for the questions — they gave me a lot to think about.