Monday, September 19, 2011

Interview with Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield

Briefly describe your journey in writing your first or latest book.
My latest book to be published is “Hide and Seek”, which is a murder mystery told in reverse: the murderer narrates his story, and is trying to find out who the detective is who is after him. He’s invited to a murder mystery weekend where everyone is pretending to be a detective, but our anti-hero figures out someone there is a real detective.

The book I’ve recently finished should be ready for publication later this winter is a cross between Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code that takes place at Boston College, where I’m an English professor. The book hasn’t a title yet; the first draft is done and I’m editing it. I had the idea for a long time to write a book set at BC, and finally got around to reading the first of the Harry Potter books. They’re fine for 12 year-olds, the ambience wonderfully English, but I thought what the world might like is such an adventure for more mature minds, and college students these days were weaned on HP. Knowing something of the Grail legend, I was struck by how commercial and inchoate really the Da Vinci Code is in its treatment of the legend, so I thought I’d set the record straight with my own made up version, which includes scheming Jesuits (BC is a Jesuit college), and addresses one of the most important themes of our day—the shift away from the old heroic model which we are now experiencing, to a new era of cooperation and so forth. The images are everywhere, and it’s the writer’s job to address the great preoccupations of the day. The internet of course is the primary image for our connectedness but so is global warming, which is our test, as one of my characters puts it, of our ability to imagine ourselves as part of a connected ecosystem.

Did you query agents and traditional publishers?  How long before you got your offer of representation/your first contract?
I did query agents and about 20 years ago got a manuscript for a book accepted by one at Wm. Morrow. The book sat with them for years with nothing happening. Eventually I queried small publishers and found a very small literary press, Kepler Press, in Cambridge, Mass. After having published short stories and essays in various publications over the years, I saw my first novel (not the first I have written) brought out by Kepler Press in 2005, “Memoirs of a Shape-Shifter.”

What factors influenced your decision to go with a particular agent or publisher?
Kepler Press offered to publish my book, and my agreeing to their contract arose out of desperation and cynicism about the system as it existed, as well as an understanding that the entire publishing industry is changing. The means of production are now in the hands of every one of us. Friends who have had books published by major publishers have seen their books languish for lack of publicity, so even the big boys can’t be counted on to promote their own titles. Publicity—the money to pay for large ad campaigns—is the one thing that large traditional publishers apparently can do better than a small press or an individual, but when they do not, that would seem to take the large publishers out of the equation entirely.  So while Kepler Press didn’t have the budget for a lot of publicity, I was fine with that and did much of my own. They did such a great job of producing a beautiful hardback that I was willing to take on a lot of the rest of the work.

Are you currently under a traditional publishing contract for future books or do you have manuscripts that you will publish directly for Kindle?
I am not under contract of any sort, although Kepler Press has published my latest novel this past spring, “Hide and Seek”, which is available in hard copy (as is my first novel) as well as in downloadable format.

What lessons have you learned being an indie author vs. being traditionally published?
Really those stated above. If you have an in with a publisher or agent, then by all means use the traditional system. Humans always work by connection—as I mentioned above, it’s the great lesson of our age, and so knowing someone in publishing will always help with the traditional route. The rest of us must find small presses or publish ourselves. I’m a great believer in small presses, as most of them are most emphatically not in it for the money. They are now carrying the torch of a love of literature for its own sake, as the large publishers once did, before the graduates of all the damn management schools took them over and decided that their god was and shall remain Mammon.

Did you design your cover art?  If not, would you care to share your graphic designer’s information?
My wife is a book editor and designer who works independently, and she was able to get the contract from Kepler Press to design both my book covers. She’s an excellent, award-winning editor and designer, and I leave her to do her work. Her website is

If you used a graphic designer/publisher’s designer, how involved were you during the creative process for your cover?
I stayed out of it, except for minor input.

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with trying to garner publicity for your book(s)?
I don’t have a facebook page, but will have one soon to promote the books. When my books were published I was able, working with Kepler Press, to organize readings in various bookstores and other venues. My website is:

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
My books are available for Kindle as well as the Nook at Barnes and Noble, and Googlebooks.

What is the best advice you can offer new authors?
As a writing teacher, I regularly tell students that the single most important thing I learned as a writer is to ignore the voices that tell you what you are writing is not worth the effort. Every artist has to deal with these voices, and to listen to them is like trying to vanquish ghosts in the Underworld with a day world sword, as Hercules did. You can’t insist what you are writing is actually good; that’s thin armor which wears out and puts one in a defensive posture. You can’t believe the voices, no matter how certain they seem, for that is suicide to whatever you are writing. You simply have to persist, which the demons hate. It’s irrelevant anyway whether the voices in your head say what you are writing is good or bad, and in that sense it’s just as dangerous to love your own work too much as it is to hate it too much. Your job is simply to get it down as best you can. What’s important is not you; it’s the work at hand.

What’s next for you?
After finishing editing the rough draft of my present book, I’ll get back to “Belongings”, which is my novel about the issues I raised above and is set immediately after 9-11. It’s a satire about our consumer culture being the mirror and reverse image of our need to wake up to our interconnectedness. To come full circle in this discussion, this book is rooted in the primary feeling I had when I wrote my first fictional story, in 5th grade. I was struck by the power and magic of entering the fictional world, but most primarily I was filled with a longing to enter that world and stay there, for I had a profound sense that that world was my real home, this one being merely where I sojourn. Thus a desire to belong has characterized my entire life as a writer. I’m trying, like Ulysses, to get back home.

Thanks for the chance to speak a bit about what we all love and long for.

Author bio:
Novelist Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield ( is an English professor at Boston College, where for over twenty years he has taught courses in Detective Fiction and in Love, among others. In addition, in 2005 he published Memoirs of a Shape-Shifter to wide acclaim (see reviews on, which is in part a historical novel set in New England during the Salem witch trials; it is available in both print and e-book versions. A friend of the late writer Lawrence Durrell, his writing was referred to by Durrell as "direct messages from the script."

He is currently at work on a novel that is a cross between Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code, set on the B.C. campus. He is also a green residential builder in Greater Boston.