I LOVE Middle Grade fiction, but I have a confession…I could never write it. To write really good MG, I think there needs to be some part of you that is still in touch with your inner nine-year-old. There are many successful authors out there that write phenomenal MG because they can still tap into that wonderful world of imagination. Today’s featured author, Tom Torre, is one of those talented people. His manuscript, Copernicus Nerdicus, explores that important time between childhood and adolescence as young boy tries to save his father’s lab by competing in a video game tournament. I love Tom’s approach to this creative world and I can’t wait until his book hits shelves one day!
Many thanks to Tom for sharing his journey today…
Amy: At what age did you truly know you wanted to be a writer?
Tom: To this day, I still remember the first book I wrote. I was in kindergarten, and it was a ten page book about dinosaurs. I must have spelled every single dinosaur wrong, but it didn’t matter because at the time I was writing about things I loved. Not to mention I was able to draw pictures of them as well. I seriously really have to dig in my folk’s attic and find it.
Maybe that was the first hint, but I think it really hit me back in high school when I would send out a mass email to my friends with a weekly ongoing story. There was something about my friends begging me to tell them what was going to happen next that made me want to create even more adventures at a more epic level. In a way, the desire to be a writer was always there, but it didn’t hit me until recently that I should really try to pursue it. I should have really pitched my dinosaur book – it was incredible. Well, my parents loved it at least.
Amy: How much did your stints as a comic book colorist influence your decision to write middle-grade fiction?
Tom: Comics were always an escape for me. I was the type of kid that didn’t mind sitting alone in a room reading comics, playing with action figures or playing video games. That was one of the reasons I decided to go into cartooning in the first place. Before I was a writer, I was an artist. I’m not going to say I’m anything great, because there are thousands of people out there who are a better artist than me, but it was still something I was at least good at. When I went to the School of Visual Arts, my professors convinced me that “penciling” (creation of line art) wasn’t my strong suit, but I had a knack for graphic arts and coloring. So I went that route.
In the years since graduating I was lucky enough to get a few coloring gigs with a few big name comic book companies, and while it was fun, my desire to create was even stronger. It was during the years after college that a close friend of mine and I started to write our own comic books, which in turn made me want to write a novel. For me, it was all about creating my own worlds, and not just helping fill in what was already created. Don’t get me wrong though, I love being a colorist, but to be the brains behind the world felt so much more rewarding.
Amy: When did you complete your first manuscript?
Tom: I completed my first manuscript around five years ago. It was young-adult sci-fi / fantasy novel called “THE WANDERERS GUILD”. It followed a boy named Lucas who travels through a portal at Stonehenge to another world where he chases after his kidnapped archaeologist father. He was taken by a group of aliens trying to drain Earth’s sun of its power by use of portals scattered about Earth.Yeah, I know, a portal book. At the time, I thought it was brilliant! Ha, boy was I wrong. I was a young and immature writer, and there was so much wrong with it that I didn’t even realize it at the time. I even sent out ONE query to an agent before I finally figured out I wasn’t even close to being ready. It’s shelved at the moment, collecting dust in my top drawer on a USB drive, but I know I want to go back to it one day. My wife won’t allow me to let that book go. It’s still her favorite.
Amy: How many completed manuscripts did you query before one garnered agent interest?
Tom: COPERNICUS NERDICUS was the first manuscript I queried. Unless you count THE WANDERERS GUILD, but that was only to one agent before I learned my lesson.
Amy: Are you one of those people who has an easy time writing a query or does it take several tries before you land on the one you want to send?
Tom: Oof – my query must have gone through at least a dozen or so re-writes before I was even remotely happy with it. To this day, I can still think of multiple areas of improvement, but I don’t think any query will ever be perfect. You just have to make it the best that it could be. Once you start getting positive responses from agents on a consistent basis, I would say your query is set. If it aint broke, don’t fix it!
Amy: How much did your love for the movie, GOONIES, inspire COPERNICUS NERDICUS?
Tom: I have a ritual that I need to watch the THE GOONIES at least once a month. For me it is like the epitome of a middle grade adventure. A bunch of kids in search of lost pirate treasure only to find that they are being chased by a bunch of criminals? Come on, it doesn’t get much better than that. THE GOONIES does such an amazing job of showing how kids react to situations and how different they are from adults in finding a solution. They come up with the craziest schemes and it’s all brilliant. Every character has their own unique personality, and you relate with each and every one of them. I can recite the movie by heart. It’s really bad. I tried to create the same group of crazy characters and stakes in COPERNICUS NERDICUS, but of course with an entirely different plot. But if you’re looking to write middle grade, and need some inspiration, just pop in the THE GOONIES. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch it again.
Amy: Can you give us a short summary of your call with the agents at Red Sofa Literary? How did you know they were the right fit for you?
Tom: The call was more like a casual conversation more than anything else. Sure there were a lot of questions from both ends, but it was all about feeling each other out, and getting to know one another. It was probably a good twenty minutes into the conversation before the offer of representation even came up. I think right off the bat I knew they were going to be the right agency for me. Dawn seemed to know exactly what I was looking to do with COPERNICUS NERDICUS in terms of which publishers to send to, what type of possibilities the book can lead to, and how to market it. Not to mention it was so good to hear an agent rattle off scenes from your book that she loved. She knew every little tidbit and was able to talk about every character. I could tell that she was passionate about my book just as much as I was. And that’s basically what did it for me. To know that she was on the same page as I was and to know she was so eager to champion my book made my decision so much easier.
Amy: The writing process is grueling and querying even more difficult. What one piece of advice can you impart to aspiring writers to encourage them to keep working towards their dream?
Tom: There’s really only one thing I can say, and that is to never stop writing. There will be days where you want to give up, but you really can’t. Every writer struggles, but those that succeed are the ones that never give up. It’s not a fast process, and it never will be. You have to be in it for the long haul and be as patient as possible. Never – stop – writing.
Tom is an IT whiz by day (just think of one of those guys from Office Space), and a comic book artist, video game buff, and middle-grade writer by night. After a few stints as colorist in the comic book industry, he completed his first major middle grade novel, COPERNICUS NERDICUS, which combines his love for video games and robotic warfare.
When he isn’t locked away in his man-cave watching The GOONIES for the 347th time, or catching up on some geek-news on Kotaku, he’s probably busy cooking up some chaotic food dishes for his wife and his 100 lb doberman named Braveheart’s Dantes Inferno. Yes…that’s his dog’s real name. Tom is represented by Dawn Frederick of RED SOFA LITERARY. For more on Tom, check out his blog or follow him on Twitter @CopernicusNerd.