Sunday, September 11, 2011

On Writing Author Interview: Author/Screenwriter Tom Szollosi

To avoid pre-conceived notions which can sometimes be connected with certain genres, the number of books published and/or an author's appearance, none of that information will be revealed until the bottom of the interview. So pour a cup of coffee, have a seat, and check out this interview - see how much, or how little, you have in common with this published author.

What is your favorite part of being a writer?  Being on a creative roll, listening to my characters get up and walk around and talk "on their own".  They show you where you ought to be going, whether it's what you planned or not.

What is your least favorite part? Getting notes that make me realize I don't always have all the answers, and having to admit to myself that they're well taken and if I follow them the project will get better. Ugh.  I do hate that.

Name one obstacle you’ve had to overcome. Stuttering.  I had a miserable time when I was a kid, and I think it's one of the big reasons I became a writer.  Many of my friends tell me they don't even remember or realize that I stutter, but they should hear me read.  That's when it's a bitch.  And frankly, it's the one thing I dread in publicizing my writing, the idea of doing readings.  NOBODY would want to sit and watch me struggle through my own words, so I've avoided it.  I'm thinking of getting a friend of mine (I know a few actors, being a longtime Hollywood creature) to act as my mouthpiece when it comes time for the reading segment of the show.  I can answer the questions fine, and I've taught classes in screenwriting and did well enough to want to show up every week, but the idea of actually READING my stuff is more than a grown man should have to endure.  Not to mention his audience.

Is there a specific part of your writing you’re working on to improve?  I'm of the opinion that the day you quit trying to be a better writer is the day you ought to quit being a writer. It's a constant quest for a better way to do it, a clearer, more impactful, more graceful style.  And by the way, when I say graceful I mean in control,  so even if it's gritty and hardboiled, it works with clarity and accomplishes exactly what you want it to.

What part of your writing makes you particularly proud?  Some of the dialog.  I've studied it a great deal in script writing, and have always been astounded at the lack of naturalistic dialog in fiction.  Many really accomplished authors just cannot write dialog that anybody would ever say.  It's about listening to people, hearing what they cut off, what they truncate or jump over or ignore.  There's a lot of shorthand between people when they speak, and a lot of implication in what's said.  While this is harder to convey in prose, I do NOT think it's impossible.  It's just tough.  Read Elmore Leonard if you want to see the best in dialog.  It's like a great left jab. It pounds away with amazing speed, very light on the adjectival garnish and tending toward short, declarative statements that take a position.  This does a great job of advancing the character's point of view, and contributing  to the conflict.  I am not ashamed to say that my goal is to write dialog that somebody might believe actually came from Elmore Leonard.  I could then die happy.

What does your favorite main character have in common with you?   A whole raft of ...similarities.  My favorite character is named Mike Cotter, he's the main character -- or one of them -- ...which I hereby acknowledge was written at least in part (okay, large part) in as straight-from-life a way as I could stomach.  It was cathartic, specific, and therefore raced along at a really good clip.  I've always heard people say "write what you know", but to that I would add the words "better than you wish you knew it".

Do you do a lot of research for your projects or do you only write about what you already know?   I do just as much as will get me by. I prefer thinking from a character point of view; psychological over dry fact. Of course there are some times you simply have no choice, even though I don't love doing it.

How do you use the internet for your writing?   Promotion.  Not that I've been great at it, and not that I claim to really understand it.  I am constantly on the lookout for what I don't know, what I've overlooked, what I've just missed. Things like blogs, links, RSS, and zillions of other things that seem like second nature to a lot of people are elusive as hell to me.  Setting up a website was a clumsy, humbling experience, but I wanted to do it myself. It does NOT look like the most professional of sites, but that's okay, it's really mine.  I want the books to be professional.  The websites are supportive, but I never claimed to be a websiter, I claimed to be a writer.

If you’ve won any awards for your writing, what impact do you think that has had?  I have not won any awards since I got a trophy in little league baseball when I was 13.  I don't write to win awards, I write to tell stories and explore things about people that I find curious and interesting.  If they're not the kind of things that garner awards, I could care less.  I hope people like and respect what I do, because I bust my back doing them and I love being appreciated as much as anyone, but awards seem pretty arbitrary and are often based on things having nothing to do with quality and integrity.

What one marketing tool have you had good success with?  In all candor, it's too soon to have an answer to that.  I hope to be able to answer what marketing I've had success with in a few months.  I'm blogging and doing interviews like this one, along with verging on the obnoxious on Facebook and LinkedIn with my "news" about my new book and how it's available in Kindle, on Smashwords for every other kind of ereader, and on CreateSpace for paperback Print on Demand (see how I fall right into the ol' sales pitch?).  But so far, the jury's out.'s humbling...

What good writing habits have you developed that you think would be helpful to someone starting out?  Do it every day.  Don't listen to people who say how intimidating it is to face the blank page.  Nonsense.  It's blank, it's full of potential.  And if you mess it up, you start over.  So what?  You're not cutting diamonds, you're writing stories.  There's got to be a lot of trial and error, because it's hard.  It's not going to just roll over and surrender for you.  Don't go back and reread to edit everything you've done up to the point you've reached.  (Of course, make sure you remember where you left off.) Don't do anything to stop the forward motion of the train.  Plenty of time to do that when you go back and start playing rewriter.  That's another hat, and you don't take it out of the closet till you're finished with the first one, the writer's hat.

Do you have any bad writing habits that you’d advise writers to avoid?  I'm pretty much a slob.  I tend to let papers pile up on my desk, and that literally cramps one's style.  It gets oppressive.  When the desk is clean and clear, it's a free, open feeling, which is literally going to pay off in what you write.  Clutter breeds clutter and less than strong, muscular writing.

Do you have any strange writing habits?  I regret to say, not really.  I drink a lot of coffee, but that's not so strange.  But it's just about the only habit.

When you’re not writing, do you read, and if so, what?  I read anything that challenges me to write more effectively.  I like to read writers who seem to be better at some facet of the job than I am.  Also, I like subjects and genres that I'd be very reluctant to try myself.  I don't think I'd be comfy writing an international spy thriller.  But I enjoy them when they're good.  I also love genuine, flat out literature.  Serious writing that gets reviewed by the big boys.  I loved "Let The Great World Spin" by Colum McCann, and I always buy the new Thomas Pynchon book, whatever it is.  The object there, incidentally, is not getting all the way to the end, because Pynchon is far more impressive as a stylist and when his verbal prowess and flexibility are on display.  His plotting and sense of story will sometimes, frankly, annoy the hell out of me or anybody else.  But he is a stupendous talent, and he reminds me of all the kinds of things you CAN do when you're writing, which almost no one else ventures into.  He's like listening to an orchestra comprised of instruments you've never heard before -- at least you've never heard them played quite that way.  When I was in college, some time before the invention of fire, I idolized Pynchon and wanted to be him -- not like him, actually him.  I'm not quite pleased that wasn't in the cards, but I still admire him no end.  I also -- from the opposite end of the spectrum -- love Elmore Leonard, especially his earlier works.  Nobody wrote hard boiled crime fiction on a par with Leonard, except Chandler and Hammett.  Those are the three Gods of tough fiction...

What are you trying to accomplish with/through your writing?  There are lots of snotty answers I could give, but the main things I want to accomplish are: to be a decent writer, tell an entertaining and well crafted story, and make a living at it.  That may sound like oversimplification to some, but not to anyone who writes.  I'd like, along the way, to illuminate readers about the human condition, especially when it comes to the dignity of just doing what you're supposed to do, the honorability of giving it your best shot, and the importance of loving generously when it's so tempting to be stingy.  Whether it's a son, a wife, an old friend or the family dog, the more you put out there, the more you get back.  I also -- and maybe this is odd, I don't know because I've always been fascinated with it -- enjoy exploring the nature of evil.  The remarkable banality and ordinary qualities of evil, which is all around us, every day.  It's unsettling, yet it's hard to take one's eyes off of it.  I think people don't understand what it is, how close they are to it every day, brushing right up against it.  They attribute it to sources rooted in superstition, instead of looking with clear eyed honesty at the fact that it's very much part of human nature.  Everyday human nature.  If I could make more people recognize that it's not Satan, it's the guy in the next apartment, I think I'd have accomplished something good.

What words of wisdom do you have for young writers?  Save your money.  This is not a reliable profession.  You're a small businessman (person) if you're a writer, and you need to be comfortable thinking that way.  Be honest with yourself about your own talent, but don't let rejection eat your lunch.  Everyone gets it, hates it, and the sun nevertheless always rises the next day.  Shake it off.  Don't be jealous of the talent you see in others, the world's got plenty of room for everybody to succeed.  No one ever did anything but poison the waters by saying "not only must I succeed, but you must fail".  I've seen far too many talented people actually limit their own success by lugging such ideas around.

What advice do you have for someone looking to get published? Be patient, be dogged.  Understand that today it's quite possible that being formally published by an old fashioned brick and mortar publishing house is going the way of the record business.  The internet has changed everything.  Self publishing, independent publishing, whatever you want to call it -- is the rising wave of writing's future.  Already, ebooks outsell paperbacks.  That's not to say you shouldn't try going to traditional route if that's what you really value and want.  Of course you should.  But know that it's just ONE of the ways to get your book out there, and to start your career as a writer.

Any thoughts on what this author writes? How many books published? Here's a little more information about the author...

How many published books are to your credit?   Four.

Do you have an agent?   Not a literary agent. I have a manager for my screen and television work.

Are you self-published?  Yes, on the most recent book.

How many different companies have you published with?   Two.  Doubleday, in 1988, and Ravenous Romance in 2009.

How long have you been writing?   Since 1976, professionally.  That includes over 35 years writing for tv and screen.

Do you write full-time? If not, what is your other job? And how do you balance work/writing?  I'm writing full time now because it's been miserable finding a straight job to augment my writing income.  Of course, when I've been successful (translation: younger and not suffering from ageism), writing was the only game I'd consider.

So, any thoughts?  Here's the full scoop:
     I'm an LA native, longtime TV and screenwriter, sometime teacher of screenwriting, and oh yeah, I'm the novelist I wanted to be when I was a kid.  I've got a loving and incredibly patient wife, two sons, a terrific nephew with two gorgeous daughters I think of as grandchildren, and a chocolate Labrador Retriever named Kahlo (after the artist, at my younger son's insistence).  Professional details?  I've worked on shows like "The Incredible Hulk" and "The A-Team" along with a whole raft of other, lesser lights that I poured all my energy and heart into, because the truth is you work harder on the bad ones than you do on the good ones.  Don't know why that is, but it's true.  If you looked me up on Imdb, you'd see that I co-wrote "3O'Clock High" with my partner (for the first 17 years) Richard Christian Matheson, who was, is, and always will be one helluva writer.  I'm a very lucky guy.
     Tom's books include:  The Proving, horror/thriller police procedural elements.  Cold Angel, desert noir erotic thriller with large doses of humor, irony, and the belief that any beautiful woman can make a complete jackass out of any man, if she really wants to.  Dirty Hollywood, LA Noir, cops and desperados of the celluloid bottom-feeder variety.  The Space He Filled, family dysfunction goes off the rails when a 24 year old son moves out -- and vanishes.  A father's desperation leads an old friend to delve into the reaches of Hollywood's and Los Angeles' murkier corners and denizens to try and find where that wayward son has gone -- and why.  
     The Space He Filled in the Amazon Kindle Store, or through Smashwords for virtually every other kind of eReader, such as Nook, Sony, iPad, iBooks, iPhone, Blackberry and many other formats.  For a paperback copy of The Space He Filled, go to CreateSpace. The Proving is available as an eBook in all formats at Smashwords and in paperback on Amazon.  Cold Angel and Dirty Hollywood are available on Amazon in paperback and as eBooks.


What are you working on now?  I'm writing a novel called "Fat Tuesday", another one called "Bad Moon Over Hollywood", and a television pilot called "Eldorado Crossing", which is about two small border towns -- one in the US, one on the Mexican side -- and their interconnecting relationships and conflicts.  I'm not talking about the novels because they're not as far along yet as Eldorado Crossing, and they could yet undergo significant changes.  Suffice to say both are LA Noir of the kind I've explored in "The Space He Filled" and an earlier, far racier novel called "Dirty Hollywood" (which is also available on Amazon as an EBook from Ravenous Romance Publishing) , which is full of cops, desperate characters ranging from a drop dead gorgeous stage mother to a part time actor/part time serial killer who dresses in white and wields a knife like a master swordsman.  And of course, I'm working every day to figure out how to promote these things!

Anything else about being a writer that you’d like to share?   It's tough on the eyes! It's also the only thing I've ever imagined myself doing -- with the exception of pitching in the big leagues, but that's not going to happen!

You can learn more about Author/Screenwriter Tom Szollosi at his website  as well as his author page on Smashwords,  and his Facebook page.  He's also got a blog at: 

Is there anything else you'd like to know about Tom, or any questions you'd like added to future interviews? Let us know...drop us a comment below.


  1. Tom said some interesting things about dialogue, the authors he likes and the discipline of writing. "To illuminate readers about the human condition" is what all good novelists aspire to do... and they do it anyway, because it's hard to escape if one is writing honestly, about real people. I suppose an author's characters become real people after a while. Well done - I liked this a lot.

  2. I agree, Rosanne. Thanks for stopping by. I really got a sense of how passionate Tom is about writing.

  3. Excellent, Kat and Ton. In many senses the author's characters are real people, sometimes more real than those we see in everyday life.

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  4. Wow, I relate to a LOT of this. Stuttering and all. And I agree with the assertion that watching the characters take charge is where it is at. That's half the fun.

    Great job, both of you. I read 'The Space he Filled' and enjoyed it throughly. Tom is great. His last name is overly-complicated (which speaks to bit of pretension, IMHO). ;) That's my only gripe. (Hell of a name for a reformed stutterer).