Tom Young

How did you become a writer?

To tell the truth, I can't remember not wanting to be a writer. I think I got the fever as soon as I could read. For many years I worked as a journalist, and I enjoyed the decade I spent with the Associated Press. But I always wanted to write fiction. Along the way I published the occasional short story or essay. During my career as a reporter, I also pursued a parallel career as a flier in the Air National Guard. As you might imagine, life changed for me after 9/11, as it did for anyone in the military. While flying airlift missions over Afghanistan, looking down at that forbidding terrain, I often thought to myself: This would be a really bad place to go down. 

Well, they say your best fiction comes from what hurts you the most or what scares you the most. The frightening prospect of getting shot down in Afghanistan led me to the plot idea that became my first novel, The Mullah's Storm. I workshopped the manuscript for The Mullah's Storm at the Sewanee Writers' Conference in 2008, and things began to fall into place from there.

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

Some of my favorite authors include Hemingway, Twain, and the French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Favorite modern authors include many of the Southern writers, such as Charles Frazier, Ron Rash, and Jill McCorkle. (I know; those authors are way out of my genre. But I'm very much a creature of the South, and I really enjoy the region's literature. In fact, I think all writers should read widely outside their genre. I even read a lot of poetry because I think we prose writers can learn a lot from the way poets use words not just for their meaning but for their sound.) 

One of the best books on fiction writing I know is Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass. 

As far as teachers are concerned, I've had some great ones, and I've had some not-so-great ones. But I can tell you this: ignore any teacher who discourages you. If you really want to become a writer, no matter how much you have to learn, you'll get there if you stick with it.

When and where do you write?

On a typical day, I go to a local coffee shop and start my morning my writing there. Very old school--longhand on a notepad. Later in the day, I'll transfer that morning's writing to my desktop computer, and that process becomes the first phase of editing.

However, I've written everywhere--on airplanes, in cars, on beaches, in parks. If you want to become a professional writer, you need to be able to write every day, pretty much anywhere, whether you feel like it or not.

What are you working on now?

I'm currently working on a new thriller for Putnam. My two main characters, Air Force flier Michael Parson and Army veteran Sophia Gold, will face a new adventure in North Africa.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

Not yet (knock on wood). Here's how I keep writer's block at bay: Every day I tell myself I have to write at least one page. Some days I produce a lot more than that, but even on a bad day I can force myself to write one page. That keeps my momentum going. And even if you do only one page a day, at the end of a year you'll have a hefty manuscript.

What’s your advice to new writers?

Attend as many writers' conferences and workshops as your schedule and wallet will allow. You'll hone your skills and meet agents and editors who can help you. 

And write every day, if possible. There's nothing magic about writing; it's a learned skill. But you have to keep at it.

Tom Young served in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Air National Guard. He has also flown combat missions to Bosnia and Kosovo, and additional missions to Latin America, the horn of Africa, and the Far East. In all, Young has logged nearly five thousand hours as a flight engineer on the C-5 Galaxy and the C-130 Hercules, while flying to almost forty countries. Military honors include two Air Medals, three Aerial Achievement Medals, and the Air Force Combat Action Medal.

Young is the author of three novels set in the Afghanistan war: The Mullah's Storm, Silent Enemy, and The Renegades. His latest novel, The Warriors, will be released on July 11. In civilian life, he spent ten years as a writer and editor with the broadcast division of the Associated Press, and flew as a first officer for Independence Air, an airline based at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.