Interview: Tom Doyle, author of American Craftsmen

Please welcome Tom Doyle to the blog! His debut novel, AMERICAN CRAFTSMENT, just came out yesterday and he stopped by to answer a few questions about it, and more!

tomdoyleTom, welcome to the blog, and congrats on the new book, AMERICAN CRAFTSMEN! Will you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write it?
Thanks for inviting me to My Bookish Ways! American Craftsmen is a modern-day fantasy of military intrigue. The craftsmen of the title are magician soldiers and psychic spies descended from some of the founding families of the country. Two craft soldiers from rival families, Dale Morton and Michael Endicott, fight against a treasonous cabal in the Pentagon’s highest covert ranks.

Oddly enough, one of my initial inspirations for this novel was L. Frank Baum. When he began telling children’s stories, he had the idea of discarding the existing European folk tales and building a fantasy that was modern and distinctly American. That’s how we got The Wizard of Oz.

I wasn’t going to write a children’s story, but the idea of confining myself to a U.S. mythos for an adult fantasy was very appealing. At first, my book was going to cover a whole secret world of American magic. But the reader of my earliest draft section, author Stephanie Dray, saw the military intrigue element and said, “This is great. Do this.” I really owe her a lot for getting me to focus on that plotline.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I may have always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t want it enough until I’d already gone through another career: I was a lawyer. When I quit the law, I went on a personal pilgrimage to clear out my old self and start forming a new one. Among other things, I stayed in a Zen monastery, traveled to Rio for Carnival and Jerusalem for New Year’s Eve, interned at Boston University’s Center for Millennial Studies, and formed a rock band that played Guided by Voices covers. After this pilgrimage period, I thought about a new career. It had to be intellectually stimulating yet not involve others telling me what to do, so I decided on writing science fiction and fantasy. I first attended a Strange Horizons workshop, and then I went to Clarion. I started selling stories soon after that.

americancraftsmenAmerican Craftsmen combines dark fantasy with plenty of references to American literary greats. What kind of research did you do for the book?
For the literary backstory, I imagined that the great American authors of the fantastic such as Poe and Hawthorne were writing thinly veiled nonfiction. To fill out this secret world, I not only reread the well-known classics such as The Scarlet Letter and “The Masque of the Red Death,” but read for the first time many of the “deep cuts” of the nineteenth-century American canon. I also listened to several literature courses to help generate further ideas. As an example of how I sometimes used this research to create Easter Eggs for the reader, the parlor of the House of Morton has sickly yellow wallpaper in a nod to the early feminist story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Of course, I also had to do a lot of historical and military research for the book.

What is one of your favorite classics?
One of my favorite American classics is Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. The period it covers is outside of the early American backstory that I built for my novel, but I really enjoy its style.

Tell us more about Endicott and Dale. What did you enjoy most about writing their characters?
Dale, my main protagonist, is a modern descendant of Thomas Morton, who was a pagan amidst the Puritans of colonial Massachusetts. Writing Dale was relatively easy; his personality and his outlook on life were familiar to me. The fun was in exploring the points of emotional fragility for this powerful person and in finding ways to keep his cynical humor intact in adversity.

Endicott is a descendant of Salem’s John Endicott, who with Puritan zeal attacked Thomas Morton’s settlement at Merry Mount. Writing Endicott was more difficult than writing Dale. In my earliest draft, Endicott started out as almost totally unsympathetic, which didn’t work. So he evolved into a quite different character: a person trying to maintain his integrity even as his trials and tribulations seem to mock him.

Was there another character in the book that you particularly enjoyed writing as well?
My other favorite is actually a pair of characters: Sphinx, who is an oracle for a secret branch of the CIA, and the Appalachian, who is a guardian of the Sanctuary, the place of America’s lost. They’re both older women who’ve paid for their wisdom with some portion of their sanity, and that makes them interesting.

What is your writing process like?
On the macro level, I’m a member of a local writing group. When I’m working on a novel, I try to get a new draft section of the book to the group for each monthly meeting. At the end of draft zero, I stitch together all the sections and address the group’s comments, then revise further as needed.

On a daily basis, I write mostly in the afternoons and evenings. In the morning, I run, which ensures that I’ll be fully awake the rest of the day, and I take care of any other necessary tasks.

I mostly write at a big wooden desk on the third floor of my nineteenth-century brownstone home. I have a turret, which helps keep me in a fantasy mindset.

lordoftheringsIf you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
I would be back in the summer of fourth grade reading The Lord of the Rings under a beach towel on the Lake Michigan shore. There have been better books and more important books in my life, but there hasn’t ever been anything like the experience of reading that book for the first time.

What are you currently reading? Are there any books that you’re particularly looking forward to this summer?
As I write this, I’ve been reading to prepare for some panels at Ravencon: The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross, Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, Silverlock by John Myers Myers,Undertow by Elizabeth Bear, and Ghost Story by Peter Straub. After the convention, I’ll turn back to immersing myself in relevant material for my series (e.g., spy and military books, both fiction and nonfiction).

I have been so busy lately that my awareness of upcoming books isn’t as broad as it should be, but over the next few months I’m looking forward to new novels from my friends Jack Campbell, Eric Flint, Chuck Gannon, and Jacqueline Carey.

When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I hold a rock-and-roll jam session in my house once a week. I run every day, and I listen to dozens of audiobooks a year.

What’s next for you?
American Craftsmen is the first book in a three-book series. I’ve recently turned in book two, The Left-Hand Way, and I’m hard at work on book three, The Master Craftsmen. But I also have two other novels that I think would be great as stand-alones or first books in different series. One is the continuation of my award winning story, “The Wizard of Macatawa,” a fantasy about L. Frank Baum in 1899 and a kid growing up on Lake Michigan in the late ‘70s. The other is the continuation of my twisted space opera, “Crossing Borders.” I hope they’ll see the light of day at some point. If you’re interested in a preview of what those novels would be like, the short story precursors are available in my collection, The Wizard of Macatawa and Other Stories, or you could listen to the audio versions at

Keep up with Tom: Website

In modern America, two soldiers will fight their way through the magical legacies of Poe and Hawthorne to destroy an undying evil—if they don’t kill each other first.

US Army Captain Dale Morton is a magician soldier—a “craftsman.” After a black-ops mission gone wrong, Dale is cursed by a Persian sorcerer and haunted by his good and evil ancestors. Major Michael Endicott, a Puritan craftsman, finds gruesome evidence that the evil Mortons, formerly led by the twins Roderick and Madeline, have returned, and that Dale might be one of them.

Dale uncovers treason in the Pentagon’s highest covert ranks. He hunts for his enemies before they can murder him and Scherie, a new friend who knows nothing of his magic.

Endicott pursues Dale, divided between his duty to capture a rogue soldier and his desire to protect Dale from his would-be assassins. They will discover that the demonic horrors that have corrupted American magic are not bound by family or even death itself.

In Tom Doyle’s thrilling debut, American Craftsmen, Seal Team Six meets ancient magic–with the fate of the United States hanging in the balance . . .

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