Thursday, April 22, 2010
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.
View the trailer for Drink the Tea: http://thomaskaufman.com/drink-the-tea.html, and learn more about the book and author at Thomas Kaufman's website: thomaskaufman.com and blog: thomaskaufman.blogspot.com