Tom Clavin is the bestselling author of more than 20 books in multiple genres from American and military history, sports, and entertainment. Several of his books have been #1 New York Times bestsellers.
A native to the East End of Long Island, Tom resides in Sag Harbor where he has made his home for decades. He enjoys the quality of life that the East End has to offer, and after previously working as a newspaper editor and writer for the New York Times, he writes for the Sag Harbor Express.
Tom’s newest release Lightning Down is available now online and from local Hamptons bookstores. Tom spoke about the inspiration behind the story, his writing process, and the evolution of his career as an author.
Congratulations on your latest book Lightning Down! Can you tell us about it? Where did the idea and inspiration come from to write this story?
TC: This is a true story about Joe Moser who is shot down over occupied France in August 1944, is captured by the Germans, and winds up in Buchenwald. He discovers he is one of 168 Allied pilots sent there to die, and the rest of the book is about the struggle to survive in Buchenwald and beyond. In December 2015, I stumbled across an obituary of one of the pilots who survived and wanted to find out more . . . and I discovered much more than I expected.
For those who are unfamiliar with your books, what would you say is most important to know about your work?
TC: I tell stories based on facts that can be as intriguing, if not more so, than stories that have been embellished or even fabricated. Readers might be surprised and say, “This can’t be true.” In my books, at least, it is.
When did you know that you wanted to be an author? And what drew you specifically to your chosen genres?
TC: It chose me. I can’t recall not wanting to be a writer. I just wish I’d been more talented or fortunate to have begun to write full-time earlier in life.
You have written and published more than 20 books. Does it ever get easier? Is every release different or surprising in some way?
TC: With experience comes the ability to know how to dig out and relate stories in a more efficient way. I think with any craft, you know what you’re doing more often. However, each book is different. Once I had enough research, Dodge City practically wrote itself. Blood and Treasure was also fun because there is a combination of tons of information about 18th-century America and Bob Drury’s brilliant writing. Lightning Down was a very hard book to write yet I almost hoped it would never be finished.
How has your writing style evolved over time? Has your writing changed as your experiences and the world around you have changed?
TC: I try to be less convoluted and more spare in the writing. And when the story is really good, don’t get in the way of it, let there be a direct connection between story and reader because the book is not about me. For good or bad, I’ve found that over the last few years between our political situation and a needlessly long pandemic, my writing has been more of a refuge. With Tombstone, for example, I was much happier in Arizona in 1881 then America in 2020.
What is your process? Do you have a set writing schedule each day?
TC: I am a creature of habit and I adhere to a schedule every day, with 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. devoted to writing and related tasks six days a week (a half-day on Sunday). This may seem like I’m good at self-discipline, but I think it’s more about obsession. One of my favorite quotes is from Gustav Flaubert: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so you may be violent and original in your work.”
How does the local area influence your creative process?
TC: Sag Harbor has been my full-time home for decades but I’m still not sure how to answer that. I believe I could write anywhere, so my surroundings might have less to do about my work and more to do with trying to have quality of life outside of work.
What’s your favorite pastime in the Hamptons?
TC: Except for July and August, I enjoy taking drives, which can include the North Fork too. Almost every day I park on a main street (usually Sag Harbor’s) to read and observe people. During summer, nothing beats picnics at Long Beach, marveling at the sunsets and recalling my children being taught to swim there as soon as they were old enough.
How do you define success as a writer?
TC: The ability to write full-time. With the exception of already having money, this means being published and reaching and being appreciated by enough readers that I don’t have to do other work to fund a writing life. Bestsellers are a bonus. For me, let me write and whatever happens, happens.
Are there any authors or other creatives who have influenced you in a significant way?
TC: In any field, people who are the best at their craft—Derek Jeter or Serena Williams in sports and Stevie Nicks in music are examples—have inspired me. Authors whose work I’ve kept coming back to over the years are a diverse lot, ranging from John Steinbeck, James Lee Burke, and C.S. Forester to Flannery O’Connor, Laura Hillenbrand, and Graham Greene, with tons of writers in between. I’m no snob. I could be reading Hemingway one day and C.J. Box the next.
What do you think is the hardest thing about writing? What is the easiest?
TC: The hardest is doing it every day while ignoring reasons not to, especially the painful self-doubts that the work simply is not good enough. Some days, you’re right. The goal is to arrive at those days being the exception, and unless you’re a Mozart of the keyboard, writing every day is the only way to get there. For me, the easiest is writing every day. The rest of life is the nerves-rattling challenge.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
TC: If you have writing heroes, keep reading their work. There is a reason their works of fiction or nonfiction speak to you. When writing has left you despondent, exhausted, or flummoxed, they will help pick you back up.
To learn more about Tom and his books, including his latest release Lightning Down, visit him at www.tomclavin.com.