Thomas Perry interview with David Alan Binder

posted Sep 6, 2016, 6:00 PM by David Alan Binder

Thomas Perry interview with David Alan Binder

Bio from his website:  Thomas Perry was born in Tonawanda, New York in 1947. He received a B.A. from Cornell University in 1969 and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Rochester in 1974. He has worked as a park maintenance man, factory laborer, commercial fisherman, university administrator and teacher, and a writer and producer of prime time network television shows.  He lives in Southern California. 

Perry is the author of 23 novels including the Jane Whitefield series (Vanishing Act, Dance for the Dead, Shadow Woman, The Face Changers, Blood Money, Runner, Poison Flower, and String of Beads), Death Benefits, and Pursuit, the first recipient of the Gumshoe Award for best novel. 

He won the Edgar for The Butcher’s Boy, and Metzger’s Dog was a New York Times Notable Book. The Independent Mystery Booksellers’ Association included Vanishing Act in its “100 Favorite Mysteries of the 20th Century,” and Nightlife was a New York Times bestseller.

Metzger’s Dog was voted one of NPR’s 100 Killer Thrillers--Best Thrillers Ever. Strip was chosen as a New York Times Notable Crime Book for 2010, and The Informant was a New York Times Notable Crime Book for 2011 and won the Barry Award for Best Thriller, 2011. Poison Flower was chosen among Booklist’s Best Crime Novels of 2013.


Web Site:


Twitter:  @TPerryauthor




1.     How do you pronounce your name (only answer if appropriate)? 

Perry is pronounced “PEAR-ee.”


2.     Where are you currently? 

I grew up at the western end of New York State, but have lived in Southern California since 1974.


3.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far? 

If any writer is going to be remembered after he’s gone, it will be for the parts of his work that are absolutely original, and would never have existed if he hadn’t written them. So if you’re writing a scene that you’ve read, watched, or heard before, then you’re wasting your time and your reader’s.


4.     What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

To the extent that it’s possible, a writer’s attention should be turned outward, at the world and the people around him.  For that reason, my own quirks don’t interest me.  Other people’s quirks do.


5.     Tell us your insights on self-publishing or using a publisher? 

It is best to submit your work to a publisher.  A publisher has a sales force, can get reviewers to write about your book, has a distribution system, and maintains a backlist that may help your work have a longer life. They also pay advances.  And, although authors don’t like to admit it, a publisher has editors and copyeditors who can improve your work.  They can even teach you to avoid bad writing and mistakes in future work.  Self-publishing really wasn’t a viable option 36 years ago when I started.  But now I would say it offers a useful second chance. 


a.      Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they? 

My publisher is Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic. They are in New York City.


6.     Any insights on eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

As you can probably tell from my answer above, I think conventional publishers are a writer’s best chance of reaching readers. A conventional publisher will promote your work. Most will also make sure your work is available as an eBook (although the company will keep most of the profit), and as a paperback, and will often help sell foreign language rights. But I like having the option of selling eBooks too. I had two books I wrote in the early 1980s go out of print for a while, and so I put them up for sale on Kindle a few years ago. I was surprised and pleased at the number of copies sold.  I’d say that eBooks have become a terrific second-best way of selling books. 


7.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published? 

My advice would be the exact opposite of what many people think.  Beginning writers often imitate books which are extremely popular at that moment.  Some of these derivative works have done well in the marketplace. But there isn’t room for many of them. And frankly, I haven’t seen any that were as good as the originals. The way to catch a publisher’s eye (or a reader’s eye) is to write a book that’s good, and is not like anything anyone else is doing.


8.     How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one? 

I found my first agent by reading a magazine article about how near to impossible it was to get a first book published.  This was in 1979.  I read what the journalist had tried, and learned how to go about it.  The first step was to get a list of reputable agents. I got mine by writing to the Authors’ Guild in NY. Then I wrote a letter of inquiry to each of them, asking whether they would read my book, and included a one-page synopsis.  I got some replies, and one of the agents read my book, liked it, and sold it.  I would say the process is the same these days, except that everything must be easier and faster because computers exist.


9.     Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

Do the best work you’re capable of doing.  Go over it as many times as you can, fixing and polishing it. When you’ve done everything you can to improve it, show it to one person who is very bright, loves books, and is brave and generous enough to tell you what he doesn’t like about yours.  Only after you’ve satisfied all of his criticisms should you start thinking about agents.

10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

The people I’ve met in the publishing world over the past 36 years are in that business because they love books.  Some of them, editors and others who spend every day reading and publishing books, also join book clubs on their own time.  I’ve found it very useful to listen to many of them and always take their advice to heart.  I’ve learned that even if an editor’s suggestion about what to do to save a scene is utterly mistaken, her contention that something is wrong with that scene is always correct.  The proof is that she, a person who loves books, didn’t like your scene.  You lost her. Rewrite the scene and win her back.

11. How many books have you written? I’m working on my 25th right now.  I’ve also written pieces of shorter fiction for anthologies, a lot of television scripts, and have collaborated on a couple of other novels. 

12. Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?  

The most important part of a writer’s job is learning to be a better writer.  Try to make each day’s work better than the last.  Even if you’re busy, try to write a few lines every day.


13. Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

Yes.  Never listen to anybody like me suggest any twists.  If you didn’t invent it, don’t use it.  You have no idea where it’s been. 

14. What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

 It’s good to cooperate with your publisher and booksellers to help increase sales—sign books, visit schools, libraries, book groups.  Have an online presence.  But the main thing you can do to help your book stand out is to make it the best book you can before you let it go. The only part of the process that you control is how good your book is.

15. What are some ways in which you promote your work?

I do the things I recommended above—travel to bookstores, conventions, libraries, and book festivals to speak and sign books.  I also have a web site, a Facebook page, a twitter account.  And when the publicity department of my publisher asks me to do something, I do it if I can. 


16.  What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why? 

I tend to focus my attention on the present, so I don’t look back to second-guess much.  But I would say that I’d do more of what I’ve done—get the best education I could, then read and write for pleasure for a number of years, and finally, when I’d written something I thought other readers might enjoy, try to get it published. 


17. What saying or mantra do you live by? 

I try to pay attention to everything.  As Mark Twain said, a writer should be a “prodigious noticer.”


18. Anything else you would like to say? 

Thanks for the good questions.  And good luck to all new writers.