Thursday, April 11, 2013

My Guest: Thomas Block

Today I’m privileged to have as my guest an outstanding best-selling author of Techno-Thrillers, and someone who has directly contributed to the success of yet another best-selling thriller writer. Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thomas Block

A writing journey

I was a professional pilot for a long time (I finally retired more than a dozen years ago), and a professional writer for almost as long as I flew airplanes. While my airline flying is behind me, the writing portion of my professional life hasn’t ended in the least; matter of fact, it’s been cranked up a peg or two in the past several years.

I flew for an airline for over 36 years, ending my career crossing the North Atlantic several times a month as I plied my way between the US and various European cities - just like my characters do in my latest novel Captain. My professional writing began a few years after my airline flying, first strictly with magazine work but then on to novels as I began helping my childhood friend Nelson DeMille as he began his own bestselling novelist career. Over the years, I have assisted Nelson DeMille with a good many of his novels in one way or another, and you’ll find that fact in most of his novels on the acknowledgement page - including a very generous mention of my new novel Captain inside DeMille’s newest novel, The Panther, which was released in October, 2012. Here is an extract from that acknowledgement section of The Panther:

“Many of my novels have benefited from the assistance of my childhood friend Thomas Block, US Airways Captain (retired), columnist and contributing editor to aviation magazines, and co-author with me of Mayday, as well as the author of seven other novels.  Although Tom has retired as an International captain, he has not retired from writing, which does not require good eyesight or quick reflexes, and Tom has recently published his seventh novel, Captain, available on his website:
Many thanks, too, to Tom’s lovely wife, Sharon Block, former flight attendant for Braniff International and US Airways, for her timely and careful reading of the manuscript and her excellent suggestions, as well as her keen eye for typos and bad punctuation.  Sharon’s reading skills have been invaluable to both me and Tom, as our minds tended to wander in high school English class.  What we were thinking about is another story, but we both knew we’d someday have a lady in our lives who knew how to proofread.”

In 1978, with Nelson DeMille’s help and introductions (his breakthrough novel By the Rivers of Babylon had made him into an International bestselling novelist the year before), I signed a contract to produce my first airplane action/adventure novel Mayday - which went on to also become an International bestseller. In 1997, Nelson and I took the out-of-print Mayday, revised and updated it together, then republished the novel with both our names as co-authors. That version became a CBS Movie of the Week in October, 2005, and is still readily available from Nelson DeMille’s extensive backlist.

During the 80’s I wrote five additional novels that had a good run of success throughout the world. For various logistical reasons I didn’t find myself writing any novels through the 90’s, although I did do even more work with Nelson DeMille through that period and well into the new century. With all of my old novels long out of print (excepting Mayday), I realized that with the dawning of the new era of publishing for both print and ebook versions, that I could go back to those older novels (the rights to those works had long since reverted to me), extensively revise and update them, and then send them back out to once again see the light of day - now dressed up in their modern-day clothing.

All of these novels were basically airplane-theme action/adventure, although they ran a gamut from hypersonic airlines on through Airships and even a detective story. You can see all of the details of these novels - which continue to sell nicely and receive good reviews - at our website

But in the back of my mind I had yet another story - a new story that I wanted to tell in what I consider a classic manner, with emphasis on plot, motivation and timing - and with an appropriate cross-section of characters. While writers have debated continuously whether it was best to begin the idea of a new novel with ‘plot’ or ‘characters’, I’m firmly from the school of ‘plot’. To me - especially in the action/adventure/mystery genres that I’ve worked in - I need to have a ‘plot’ in my mind and then I’ll discover that appropriate characters will simply show up to advance that storyline as I continue writing. The other way, of course, is to develop a few interesting characters and have the ‘plot’ develop around them, but that’s not my particular working method.

 As always, my new novel would be an aviation-theme action/adventure. But unlike many of the modern stories I was reading, I intended right from the beginning not to pump it up unnecessary violence, sex and endless mayhem. To me, too many modern novels (and especially modern movies!) are hardly more than comic books with storylines that don’t hang together and with endless and brutish snapping from one scene to the next as if the creators expected that the audience had an attention span (and a companion attention to detail) that could only be measured in the smallest portions possible.

So I began writing Captain, a story that was developed in, as I’ve said, what I consider more of a classic fashion - old fashioned, really, because it would have an unwinding beginning, a solid middle built from those earlier chapter underpinnings, and what I wanted to become a very satisfying ending.

Captain is a story about what happens to the crew and passengers on a particular flight from Rome, Italy to New York when unthinkable things begin to happen to their airliner. It is full of characters that readers have repeatedly told me that they loved - and also loved to hate. It is an action/adventure tale with a backdrop of emotions. It is a novel that slowly moves from scene to scene - but at a fast pace.

Is that sort of slow/fast mix possible? Look at the classic movies Casablanca and Dances With Wolves, or the novel Lonesome Dove. That’s exactly what I was trying to do with Captain; a number of reviewers and general readers have told me that, to them, Captain is a powerhouse of emotions while it is simultaneously packed with a very high level of action, intrigue and adventure.

When I finished Captain we sent it to several New York publishing houses but their editors initially told me that ‘airplane stories were out’ and ‘this isn’t what readers want these days’. Since Captain was the story that I wanted to tell and in the manner that I wanted to tell it, I elected to go with my own gut feelings about the novel and stick with what I had. Captain is now published Internationally in print editions, all ebook formats, and I’m just beginning the process of having Captain (and all my other action/adventure/mystery novels) put into audio-book form.

Speaking of reviews, it’s quite an interesting education for a writer to spend a little time with the growing mound of reviews and comments that you get (and instantly, for that matter) courtesy of the Internet. While it’s silly to expect any book to be all things to all people, it’s quite a revelation to see such a broad spectrum of opinions on exactly the same issues/segments within a particular novel; here are a couple of examples from Captain:

The flying scenes (which is only one-ply of the novel’s multiple layers of storyline and character development) were created to be absolutely authentic - I used my own 36+ years of airline flying and my own experiences at piloting wide-body jetliners across the oceans to develop a very real sense of what can and might go on in an airliner. Most of the Reader Reviews and comments that have come from pilots have said things such as “…everything is very accurate and realistic”, “Thomas Block knows his stuff, both aviation and writing” and “As a 10,000+ hour licensed pilot, I found this to be a very accurate and exciting book”. Now, to balance that out, I did get one review from a fellow who said he was a ‘retired airline pilot’ and that the novel was “totally unbelievable and unrealistic”. How, I wondered, could he possibly say that? I came to the eventual conclusion that this man must have personally ‘identified’ with the actions of the characters that I created to become the ‘bad guys’ and, thus, to him, the good guys were “unbelievable and unrealistic”.

Another example of never being ‘all things to all readers’ are the psychological/emotional undercurrents throughout the novel. Here are some of those reader reviews: “…excellent character development across its entire complement”, “Something for everyone - action, romance, intrigue”, “Wonderful characters that will pull you in”, “…several sub-stories made me consider the meaning of life and the way people react to stress” and “Most compelling is the parallel between the psychological impact upon people in life threatening situations”. Sometime after those reviews were posted, one man wrote that “…the action was okay, but it was full of psycho-babble and bad romance-novel stuff”. Oh, well - I guess I struck out with him.

Here’s my own - obviously very prejudiced - opinion of my latest action/adventure thriller: Captain is an exciting adventure story that you can curl up and spend an enticing, intriguing, enjoyable time with. That’s not just my opinion, but also the opinion of a good percentage of the readers who have already spent time with Captain. You can see those reviews for yourself on our website, or directly through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

I’m very proud of what Captain has meant to the readers who have found the novel to be the experience that I intended. These readers were quite satisfied with the time and effort they spent with the crew, the passengers and the other characters involved in the emotional saga of Trans-Continental Airlines Flight 3.  As the creator of Captain, I have every hope that you will be, too.

Welcome aboard.

Thomas Block has written a number of aviation-oriented novels, many which have gone on to acquire best-seller status in numerous countries. His novel writing began with the publication of "Mayday" in 1979. That novel was rewritten with his boyhood friend, novelist Nelson DeMille in 1998 and remains on DeMille's extensive backlist. "Mayday" became a CBS Movie of the Week in October, 2005.

Several of the other novels by Block include "Orbit" (a top bestseller in Germany, among other nations), "Airship Nine", "Forced Landing" (also done as a radio serialization drama in Japan), "Skyfall", "Open Skies" and "Captain". Thomas Block is still writing both fiction and non-fiction, and has edited and updated his novels into ebooks and printed editions.

Block's magazine writing began in 1968 and over the next five decades his work has appeared in numerous publications. He worked 20 years at FLYING Magazine as Contributing Editor, and as Contributing Editor to Plane & Pilot Magazine for 11 years. Block became Editor-at-Large for Piper Flyer Magazine and Cessna Flyer Magazine in 2001. During his long career as an aviation writer he has written on a wide array of subjects that range from involvement with government officials to evaluation reports on most everything that flies.

An airline pilot for US Airways for over 36 years before his retirement in April, 2000, Captain Thomas Block has been a pilot since 1959. Since 2002, he has lived on a ranch in Florida with his wife Sharon where they board, compete and train horses.  

Complete information (including direct links to booksellers) is available at and also through the author’s Ranch website at  

For Facebook users, additional information about Thomas Block Novels can be found at two interlinked Facebook sites:

Thank you, Thomas, for this interesting insight to your journey as a best-selling thriller writer. It goes to show that personal experience is invaluable when imbuing a novel with convincing authenticity, and younger aspiring authors should take note of this when researching for their work.

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