Who are you?
Tom Minder lives in southern New Jersey with his wife Paula, and writes novels and short fiction. He is published in various online journals and in the Beach Nights anthology from Cat & Mouse Press. He is a member of the South Jersey Writers’ Group and The Writers’ Coffeehouse. His novel, The Long Harbor Testament, was released by Black Rose Writing on January 5th 2017.
1. When did you start writing?
While I had the central details of my novel rattling in my brain for about ten years, I only started outlining and writing my novel five years ago. After years of telling friends and relatives that I would someday write my presumed masterpiece, I was at a family baptism where my daughter and nephew asked about the progress. Busted! I had to admit that the book was between my ears at the moment.
That night, I opened a Word doc and did a brain dump of everything I knew about the novel: characters, setting, and storyline. Hours later, I had three pages of bullet items in no particular order. I spent a month turning this into an outline, fifteen months writing the first draft, nine months of beta reading and editing, and three years of reworking, querying agents and small presses, and attending workshops, until accepted by Black Rose Writing.
2. What is your inspiration?
The works of Dostoyevsky and Graham Greene, my Catholicism, and Jersey diners. Both Dostoyevsky and Greene feature characters faced with moral dilemmas, but too susceptible to human needs to think clearly. My Catholicism, while forming my moral base, also contributed the angst needed to question good versus evil, and the expedient versus the long-term. I’ve also met with several priests over the years when they were
‘off the clock’ so to speak, and got to understand their humanity and needs.
Jersey diners are a miniature replica of the outside world: a place to meet, eat, expound of the troubles of the day, make business deals (both legal and illegal), all while consuming fat-driven dishes served by waitresses who have experienced more of life that most customers, or cops and priests, for that matter.
3. How did you come up with your stories?
The Long Harbor Testament was this mixture of Dostoyevsky, Greene, Catholicism, and minor criminals which formed into a story of small town crime and those affected.
For my anthology, which will come out later this year, I took stories of everyday Jersey life: skunks, diners, gambling, life at the shore, murder, and had my mythical couple, Sam and Lana, vanquish each foe with the help of human and mythical neighbors.
4. Where is your favorite place to write?
I have an office at home. I’m not really tempted to write anywhere else. No back of napkins, notes on my Smartphone, etc.
5. Do you plan your stories before starting?
Yes, I outline everything, even short fiction. The story takes on a life of its own as the writing proceeds, so the outline becomes more of a reference point to make sure I’m not drifting too far off.
6. When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I finished my first draft. Typing ‘The End’ transforms the literary weekend warrior to an aspiring writer. Beta reading, professional editing, and querying turns you into an aspiring author. That big acceptance letter turns you into an author in search of an audience.
7. Do you see writing as a career?
More of an avocation for now. I don’t need writing to pay the bills, but I need it to continue to give purpose to my life in my retirement years, and stay out of Paula’s way.
8. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Exposition can get out of hand. It’s better to say just enough and have the story fill in the blanks through dialog or plot elements. Also, I’m still working out the ‘show don’t tell’ approach, as I continue to trust the reader to add their own vision to my stories.
9. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
For the first draft, staying on course towards the end. Too many temptations to review and edit prior portions. Better to proceed to the end before fine-tuning the parts. After the first draft, the hard part was accepting feedback, especially related to removing extraneous scenes. Here you think you have the perfect child, and you hear that the kid needs to lose weight, and maybe get a haircut.
10. Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I am creating an anthology of stories with the same two main characters (a South Jersey married couple) and a recurring supporting cast. The couple is a composite of myself and Paula, Dagwood and Blondie, and Nick and Nora Charles. The supporting cast includes the Jersey Devil (Herb, to his friends), the cat lady next door, Wawa clerks, diners, and other Jersey institutions.
11. Do you have advice for any other writers?
Always outline, always expect the process to be more difficult than imagined, always expect to be thrilled that you’ve taken a concept from beginning to end and produced an offspring that will outlive you.
12. Do you have anything specific you want to say to your readers?
Yes, enjoy the experience and feel free to provide feedback. Reviews are the life-blood of writing. They help the writer to see the work beyond their narrow perspective. If the story hasn’t grabbed you, let the author know.
13. What was your best support during the writing process?
I joined the South Jersey Writers’ Group in 2013, then, shortly afterwards, The Writers Coffeehouse. In both groups, writers, agents, freelancers, etc., in various stages of producing stories, share their experience, successes, stumbling blocks and advice.
I also joined a critique group which reviewed my ongoing work and provided feedback and support. It also allowed me to see the work of others and understand different approaches to writing.
Read our review for The Long Harbor Testament by Tom Minder