Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thomas Kaufman, Guest Blogger

Today, I'd like to welcome guest blogger, Thomas Kaufman. Tom is the author of STEAL THE SHOW,  the sequel to last year's award-winning DRINK THE TEA. He is also an Emmy award-winning director and cameraman who has spent a lot of time with cops, filming "The FBI Files," "The Prosecutors," and "New Detectives" for Discovery Channel. He has also shot training films for the FBI, as well as hundreds of documentaries.

Tom has an interesting perspective on writing. Thanks, Tom.

Driving and writing

Good morning, campers. Today we're going to talk about driving and writing. And I do NOT mean writing while driving, not even if you're Parnell Hall and dictate the prose of your books.

No, I'm talking about the similarities between these two activities. I'd guess that most Americans, almost the majority, know how to drive a car. I've been thinking about this lately because my wonderful 17-year-old daughter is learning to drive and for want of a better teacher, I sit whiter-knuckled beside her.

Why the white knuckles? It didn't start out that way, I assure you. In fact, at the start of our drives together, I resolved to be Mister Cool. What my daughter needed was a calm, humorous, detached teacher, an unflappable guide to show her the tricks and tips I had accumulated over the decades. That was until she drove the car into the garage. The garage door was closed at the time.

About twenty-five hundred dollars later, I was not so carefree. Then we were on the interstate and she changed lanes without checking her blind spot. And there was the time she nearly side-swiped a line of cars when she –

Well, you get the idea. And while she doesn't understand why the cool and unflappable dad beside her has turned into a sweat-soaked banshee who screams no No NO! when she's about to make a mistake, she somehow makes allowances for the old man's lack of nerve..

When you think about it, there's a lot to keep in mind when you drive a car. There's your speed, controlled by your foot on the gas and the gear you've chosen.

There's your direction, controlled by the your hands on the steering wheel.

You must observe other cars – and people, animals, and the occasional ice cream truck – as you careen through the city.

The rearview – you need to see what's behind you, even as you go forward.

The turn signals – to let others know what you're planning to do.

It's a lot to remember, and none of us began knowing how to do it. We all had to learn. And now we do all those things automatically. And in many ways, driving a car is like writing a book. The pace or tempo of the book is the illusion of speed the writer creates. The direction the book takes depends on where you wish to take the reader. You have to be aware of all the elements in front of you – the characters, the locations, the weather. You have to remember what's already happened, and let the reader know what you intend to do.

Are any of us born knowing these things? I know I wasn't. I had to learn them.

You can read books about driving a car, you can take classes, you can watch videos about what not to do (and when I was a teen these videos had titles like HIGHWAYS OF AGONY and FREEWAYS OF TRAGEDY). But in the end, if you wanna learn to drive, you gotta get behind the wheel.

Same with writing. You wanna write a book, do like Ed McBain said – sit your fanny down and start typing.

Another similarity is that, once you've got the basics down, you don't need to keep thinking about them. In fact, there's a certain amount of disassociation going on. For example, how many of us will drive a car, think about something, and then miss our exit?

It's because driving has become second nature. We're so comfortable with it we no longer need to think about it, and our mind is free to wander. I find that happens to me when I write. Not all the time, but when it's going well I'm not thinking about all the things I need to do as a writer. I'm simply doing those things, bopping along, enjoying the view.

One last thing, there's a major difference between driving a car and writing a book. When you write a book, you can go back and correct your errors and mistakes in the next draft.

Try doing that with a garage.

Thank you, Tom. I shared that picture with one of my staff members who had just replaced a garage door after her daughter hit it with the car. She appreciated it! And, we all appreciate your comments about writing and driving.

I hope you stop back in the next few days. I'll have a review of Thomas Kaufman's Steal the Show, and I'm planning to go hear him at the Poisoned Pen tonight. Look for that recap in a few days.

Tom Kaufman's website is

Steal the Show by Thomas Kaufman. St. Martin's Press. ©2011. ISBN 9780312546328 (hardcover), 288p.


Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Tom, you've scared me to death! My son is getting ready to take driver's ed this year in school. :)

Such a good point, though--we've got to keep writing to get practice. Classes and how-tos help, but only actually writing will make us better.

Lesa said...

And, of course, Elizabeth, one of my staff members has a daughter who did the same thing to their garage door.

I thought Tom's comparison was very interesting.