Starving Interview: Thomas A. Mays, Author of A Sword Into Darkness

Another Friday comes to us, my friends, so it’s time to have a sit-down in the kitchen with another literary chef for a Starving Interview.  This week, welcome Thomas A. Mays, author of this week’s Starving Review subject, A Sword Into Darkness!

Please introduce yourself to my literary foodies!

Hi! I’m Tom Mays, or Thomas A. Mays, or Commander Thomas Mays, or The Improbable Author. I write Sci-Fi, Fantasy, military fiction, and bad puns.

Do you do any work outside of the writing kitchen? Any non-work interests?

Yes. My day job is in the US Navy, where I am a Commander in the Surface Fleet on the East Coast. I’ve served aboard destroyers, cruisers, carriers, big-deck amphibs, and various large staffs. My coolest SFF-related Navy job was as the Range Operations Officer at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai. I got to fire rockets up into space and then blow them up with kinetic kill warheads. I also bike, kayak, and play with my poor, doomed progeny.

What is your latest dish to be served up? Are there any past pieces of literary cuisine you think we should take a bite out of?

My latest project is a sequel to the novel you’re reviewing, A Sword Into Darkness, titled Lancers Into The Light. In a perfect world, I would have published it last year. Alas, life and the day job intervened. If folks like my work, they are encouraged to seek out my collection, REMO, or check out my short stories in Jim Baen’s Universe, the Grantville Gazette, Daily Science Fiction, or the Riding The Red Horse anthology.

What made you want to put on the chef’s hat and whip up your own books?

I love and consume SFF by the bucket-full and had a fairly good talent with wordsmithing. I realized that I’d never seen a proper primer for space warfare, so I set out to make one.

Do you have a genre of specialty or do you dabble? Why?

I guess you could call my cuisine a fusion of military sci-fi, hard science fiction, and space opera. I bring with it the aesthetics of modern naval warfare, but the rigors of actual space science. Most of the stuff you read – though great – are usually either Horatio Hornblower in space, or a pastiche of WWII submarine combat.

Style! Every literary chef aspires to have their own unique one! What do you think sets yours apart and why?

A sense of fun, a great deal of verisimilitude as far as the actual military goes, and some realistic physics (with a little bit of cheating to make the story more fun). And, take it or leave it, I spent a LOT of the book showing how you might build up such a thing as a space navy.

Even the best of us find inspiration is the dishes of others. Do you have any literary inspirations, heroes, and influences?

David Weber, David Drake, Robert Forward, John Ringo, and Robert Heinlein

Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: the art and craft of writing itself! Do you have a preference of points-of-view when you write?

As a newb, I followed the received, conventional wisdom and stuck with limited 3rd person for the most part. Now that my voice and know how are improved, I’m delving more into 1st person. A lot of it depends upon the story, but I think your protagonist should be an everyman caught up in events and learning the ropes alongside the reader.

Sparse or wordy, how do you like your descriptions served up? Are you a Hemmingway man or do you like some saucy adjectives with your nouns?

Wordy, verbose, and filled with purple prose (some have said). I love words and could probably stand a lot more judicious editing.

Picking off the menu of base literary conflicts, what’s your favorite and why?

I tend to use a mix of man vs man and man vs society, with technology and the supernatural as tools for either side, neither of which is demonized. I like to root for the underdog, but I don’t want my antagonists to not present a valid case. The bad guy is rarely the bad guy in his own mind.

What do you think is more important to your recipes, plot or characterization? Why?

I’d love to say characterization, but I know I write pulp. Plot is king. I love a lot of action and a lot of decision-making, with my characters riding the wave to victory. They may change some, but I haven’t really gotten into much navel-gazing. It’s not my strong suit.

We all know that the first taste means the most! What do you do to get that first bite hook with your readers?

Eccentricity. I posit an unusual scene, circumstance, or a character acting outlandishly so you stay for the explanation. My stories tend to build toward the action, so I have to hook you some other way.

The most important of questions: Cake or pie?

Pie. Specifically real Key Lime pie, and not the green stuff. Does cheesecake count as pie or cake? And what about quiche? Gimme all three (and fried chicken) and you could take me right to the gallows as a happy man.

Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring literary chefs out there, what would it be?

Keep writing, save it, let it sit, then go back to it with fresh eyes. Once folks read it and critique, sit on the critique and your response for a while. Let your subconscious be your best editor, but recognize that he edits slowly. Time heals all wounds, even the ones you inflicted on your writing yourself.

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