by Lorie Lewis Ham
KRL had the wonderful pleasure of interviewing mystery/suspense author Thomas Caplan, reviewing his new book The Spy Who Jumped Off The Screen. There’s also a chance to win a copy of the book–details at the end of this post. Thomas actually went to school with President Bill Clinton and he wrote the forward for TPWJOTC! Learn more of Thomas in the following interview.
Lorie: How long have you been writing?
Thomas: Almost, but not quite forever. My father and I used to write detective stories. I can remember sitting beside him at the dining room table. I could have been no more than five. The hero of these tales was William Bell, hence the name of Ty Hunter’s father, William Bell Hunter, in The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen.
Lorie: Can you share with our readers a little about your writing/publishing history?
Thomas: My first published novel was Line of Chance (1979). It charts the rise of a nineteenth and early twentieth century American tycoon and his family, based on charm and a swindle. Parallelogram (1987), a contemporary novel about the collision of “worlds” in 1980’s New York, was next. Grace and Favor (1997) tells the story of a young American merchant banker who marries an alluring, although complicated, English woman from an aristocratic family.
Lorie: How did you get interested in writing mystery/suspense?
Thomas: I have always been interested in the genre, but did not want to take a stab at it until I was sure that any attempt I made would not be derivative of those already out there. I had too much respect for the form. The idea of Ty Hunter, a spy turned movie star who is pressed back into his country’s service by the President, came to me out of the blue. Ty’s character was original and, with fame deflecting suspicion from him, I knew he could take the reader into milieus where any other agent would stand out.
Lorie: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Tell me a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Thomas: As I’ve suggested, the novel’s hero came first. When we meet Ty Hunter he is thirty-two, at the peak of his powers and, after four back-to-back blockbusters, the acknowledged number one film star in the world. Less than a decade before his life was very different. Possessing unusual multi-lingual and martial arts skills by virtue of his upbringing, he was an officer in Army Intelligence and trained special operative. An accident of fate has landed him at the Hotel du Cap during the Cannes Film Festival, even as another random encounter there propels him around the globe.
Lorie: How does it feel to have President Clinton as a fan of your book and how did it come about for him to write the forward?
Thomas: President Clinton and I were roommates at college and have remained close friends ever since. I knew he was a fan of thrillers and so I sent him an early draft of The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen. He was kind enough to make a number of very helpful editorial suggestions, then to write the evocative Introduction to which you refer.
Lorie: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Thomas: The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen is meant to entertain, of course, but there are other levels on which it can be read. It deals with one of the most pressing issues of our time, the need to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of those who might use them, especially in an age of privatized terror. And it examines the complicated rationales by which human beings justify actions with consequences posing incalculable harm to others.
Lorie: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Thomas: Every day, business hours – except Sundays and occasional Saturdays. Like customers or clients, inspiration doesn’t invariably walk in the moment you open the door. If it arrrives at all, it might be at eleven or two or four o’clock. But it is much less likely to come if you’re not open for business, i.e. at your desk.
Lorie: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Thomas: I have a general idea where things are going when I start out and, if I am lucky, a few scenes, plot points and venues in mind. Inevitably, however, the characters have a way of rearranging these, as well as of turning up where I’d least expected they would.
Lorie: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Thomas: For me, the morning is best for original writing. The afternoon is a good time for re-reading and editing. Occasionally, an idea will come to me in the evening and I will sit down at my laptop and not get up for a few hours. Almost without exception that proves more fun than whatever was on television.
Lorie: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Thomas: I’ve blocked the former, but will never forget the day my agent, Peter Lampack, called to tell me he had sold Line of Chance, or, for that matter, the day he decided to represent me. When I put down the telephone, I jumped so hard on the side of my bed that one of the slats supporting the box spring broke. Peter is still my agent and has long ago become my friend.
Lorie: Future writing goals?
Thomas: One good book at a time, though at more frequent intervals. I am nearly through a sequel to The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen, due for publication next year.
Lorie: Writing heroes?
Thomas: Scott Fitzgerald, John Cheever, John O’Hara, Eric Ambler, John LeCarré, amongst many others.
Lorie: What kind of research do you do?
Thomas: An awful lot, and be every means imaginable: reading, interviews and travel, both actual and virtual.
Lorie: What do you read?
Thomas: I try to read as widely as I can and do my best to keep up with new fiction and biographies. Needless to say, the tide is overwhelming. I read The New York Times and the FT daily, The Economist, The Spectator [British] and The New Yorker weekly and Vanity Fair monthly.
Lorie: Favorite TV or movies?
Thomas: Alfred Hitchcock Presents; The Twilight Zone, Brideshead Revisited, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley’s People [BBC series].
Lorie: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Thomas: Never give up! Or allow yourself to become dispirited! The more original a work is the harder it may be to sell initially, but the eventual satisfaction — psychically and, with luck, in the marketplace — will justify the risk. Talent and ambition are useful, but perseverance is essential.
Lorie: How do you feel about the growing popularity of e-books?
Thomas: I am too attached to, indeed, I suppose, in love with the book as object to adjust easily, but it is the story, the words themselves — the content — that matters. Any means of bringing that content to the consciousness of more readers, especially young readers, has to be profoundly positive.
Lorie: Anything you would like to add?
Thomas: Only what a pleasure it is to be back writing after a long period away. It was a necessary break as I had to care for an aging parent. Many people share this experience, which can be ineffably rewarding as well as exhausting. I would not have had the exposure or latitude or even, perhaps, the way with words I do, had it not been for the love and attention and sacrifices of a wonderful mother and father.
Lorie: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Thomas: That I am far less surprising than my characters.
The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen by Thomas Caplan
While I enjoy watching spies on TV and film, I have to admit I had never really read a spy novel until asked to review The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen. What really drew me in to try this one was the fact that the introduction was written by President Bill Clinton, who had gone to college with the author Thomas Caplan.
In this book Ty Hunter is an ex special ops officer who stumbles into major movie fame while recovering from an injury. The President decides to use that fame to the country’s advantage and asks Ty to use it to get close to someone whom they suspect of being involved with the disappearance of some nuclear warheads—a one-time Oxford don turned billionaire financier named Ian Santal who is also a clandestine arms merchant. Ty begins to fall for Ian’s goddaughter Isabella Cavill who is the girlfriend of Ian’s protégé Philip Frost who on the surface appears to be a decent man, but in reality is a truly scary and dangerous individual.
This book is more about the action, location, and the rich and famous then about any one character. The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen takes the reader into the world of the insanely rich and famous with exotic locations, expensive yachts, mansions, and great cars. This is a typical James Bond type spy story filled with all of the elements that those who love spy novels expect—action, style, sex, a damsel in distress, a world saving mission and a hero who oozes charm and sophistication, and of course saves the day. Throw in some missing nuclear warheads and some crazy villains and you’re set. Ty is charming and I really hope this one is turned into a movie because it would make a fun one I wouldn’t want to miss! Hmm now I wonder who would play Ty?
To enter to win a copy of The Spy Who Jumped Off the Screen, simply email KRL at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Spy”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 4, 2012. U.S. & Canada residents only.
If you love mysteries, why not check out Left Coast Crime: Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012. Registration is only $225 & day passes can be purchased for $75 for Friday and Saturday panel sessions. Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.