Thursday, April 22, 2010


By Ruby Johnson

Thomas Kaufman is an Emmy Award-winning motion picture director/cameraman. He shoots TV shows for National Geographic and Discovery channels about all kinds of policeman, including the FBI, the DEA, and metro police all over the United States. Graduating from the University of Southern California with an MFA in Film production, he has also filmed documentaries for BBC, WGBH, WNET, and for Academy Award winners Charles Guggenheim, Barbara Koppel, and Mark Jonathan Harris.
Mr Kaufman has twice won the Gordon Parks Award for Cinematography, and an Emmy for a documentary about deaf children, SEE WHAT I'M SAYING. So it’s no surprise that he is now the winner of the PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Competition for DRINK THE TEA, a novel with an original PI character and an authentic cast of supporting characters.

RJ: Tom, thank you for being here. I’ve been looking forward to this interview since I contacted you. I know you’ve been on a recent book tour, so I am especially glad you could work us into your schedule.

TK: Hi Everyone, thanks for tuning in.

RJ: Can you tell us how your career as a cinematographer influenced your ability to develop and show your characters in your novel?

TK: Whether you’re shooting a film or writing a book, it’s all about story. Film and the written word are just the means of the telling. But the same principles apply.
Good writing means you show things, not just tell them. As a guy who spends a lot of time looking through the viewfinder of a camera, I “see” the scenes I write. When I’m sitting in some coffee shop with my laptop in front of me, I close my eyes and visualize the scene. I think of the characters I’m writing about as actors on a set, and I try to write roles that would interest a good actor. So I guess I’m trying to write interesting characters and visual scenes.
I try to see the body language of my characters as well.
A few weeks ago, my talented and wonderful wife—and there’s an example of telling instead of showing, you don’t know why she’s amazing and wonderful and I’m not about to tell you—my wife took me to see Renoir’s “The Boating Party.” What’s so interesting is how Renoir uses body language to tell stories. This painting has two love triangles in the foreground, and four smaller sub-plot stories in the background. It’s a masterpiece of showing through expression and body language.
When I write a scene, I try to picture how someone moves, their body language, what they say and, of course, what they don’t say. And most of this comes from me being behind the camera. Most times, I’m shooting in high definition. A good friend says I write in high definition. That’s certainly something I try to do.

RJ: Will you share with us a little bit about DRINK THE TEA?

TK: Willis Gidney is a private detective who grew up on the streets of Washington D.C. without parents or a home. He’s a born liar, and a con artist. He’s got a great sense of humor, which he’s needed to survive. His childhood affects everything he sees and does. And his parentless background compels him to take a case he shouldn’t: his best friend asks him to find a missing daughter, a daughter the friend has just discovered he has. This leads to major complications and pits Gidney against a corrupt congressman, a ruthless corporation, and woman desperate to conceal her past.

RJ: Could you also discuss the challenge of taking Willis Gidney, a rather derelict individual, and turning him into a character readers can cheer on. I liked how you defined him against a background of influences and also held him responsible for his actions.

TK: Our actions define us. You get to see what kind of person Willis is when he’s under pressure. So I put him in situations, some of them pretty rough, and let him react. The difference between his reactions and ours, you can attribute to his background.
When DC Police Captain, Shadrack Davies adopts Willis, he keeps Willis off a criminal path. But Shad’s influence puts Willis in a tough spot: Willis now knows what the right thing is. He knows about ethics, but the con man in him is always spotting the scam at the same time. I think that provides a complexity to Willis that readers can relate to.

RJ: Will there be another Willis Gidney book?

TK: I’ve written the sequel, SON OF AN ELEPHANT, and St. Martin’s has said they like it, but they’re waiting to see how well DRINK THE TEA does. So if you like the book, please tell your friends.

RJ: Tom, it’s been such an honor to have you here. I wish you much success with this and your next book.

TK: Thank you!!

View the trailer for Drink the Tea:, and learn more about the book and author at Thomas Kaufman's website: and blog:


Lacy said...

sounds interesting. It's on my list. Great interview.

Lacy said...

Just viewed the trailer...excellently done.

Thomas Kaufman said...

Thanks, Lacy. I hope the book lives up to the trailer!

Anne said...

Interesting interview. I'm now intrigued by his character, Willis!

chadwick said...

I am definitely excited about reading this book now. This was a fantastic article & I like the fact he noted how to show-dont-tell instead of just stating it. Most writers only reference the common saying. Lastly, I would like to ad is that I believe most PI stories can be a successful series.

Jeff Turner said...

I liked what he said about seeing what he was writing about. A good point to remember when you write: just what will the reader picture? Is it what you want or not?

Anonymous said...

So often, when I occasionally read an occasional interview, the interviewer
seems to be trying to impress the interviewee with their knowledge of
whatever he or she is important or notorious for...hence to interview! You
did a very impressive job, in my opinion, of asking Kaufman questions that
let him tell his story.letting him shine, in other words. Nice to read
something that helps the interviewee remain in the spotlight!

Donnell said...

Mr. Kaufman, congratulations on Drink the Tea. Based on Ruby's fantastic interview, your background and answers, I believe it is definitely something I'd enjoy reading. Can you tell us what authors influenced you. Thanks and best wishes.

Thomas Kaufman said...

First, thanks to everyone for the positive comments. I owe it all to Ruby!

As to which writers influenced me -- I think I'm influenced by everything I read, for better or for worse. It all has an impact. But as to favorite writers, there's Chandler, Hammett, Donald Westlake, Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, and Horace McCoy. Of the younger writers, there's George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, Steve Hamilton, Edward P Jones, & Dennis Tafoya. The list goes on...

By the way, I've traveled to the Dallas/Ft Worth area many times. It's a great place! I'm not sure when I'll be back, but if any book groups would like a Skype evening with the author, please let me know.

Robert Gillespie said...

Great interview! I will look forward to reading the book!

Anonymous said...

Well, you inspired me! I went out & bought the book! I enjoyed your interview. Blessings, Peggie

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