Interview with thriller author Tony Vanderwarker

guest is thriller novelist Tony Vanderwarker to talk about his debut novel, Sleeping

He has quite a bit to share,
including a conversation with John Grisham, and a shout out to some canines who
can’t, well, I won’t spoil it… Let’s listen in.
Founder and former senior creative
officer at one of Chicagos largest ad
agencies, Tony Vanderwarker moved in the early 90s to a Virginia farm
overlooking the Southwest Mountains to fulfill his dream of writing fiction.
There, neighbor and fellow football dad John Grisham took Tony under his wing
and taught him the secrets of writing thrillers. Now author of the forthcoming
memoir about this experience, Writing with a Bestseller (Skyhorse Press), Tony
has also penned three novels: Sleeping
— written under Grishams exacting eye — Ads
for God
and Say Something Funny.
Welcome, Tony. Please tell us
about your current release.
Sleeping Dogs is about a Pentagon weapons specialist Howie Collyer
who has tried for years to alert Washington to the potentially lethal presence
of eleven live nuclear bombs dropped accidentally by the Air Force over US
territory during the Cold War. Forced into retirement, he continues to spread the word
about the unrecovered nukes on his website. Little does he know that an
al-Qaeda sleeper cell has been monitoring the site and watching his every move,
poised to zero in on any nuke whose location is revealed and detonate it,
killing millions and devastating the eastern seaboard. But the only person with
information on the whereabouts of the nukes is a former B-52 pilot whose plane
went down—nukes and all—decades earlier and is now locked up and heavily
sedated in the VA hospital.
When VA nurse Sharon Thorsen
catches the drift of Risstups incoherent ramblings about
lost bombs and discovers Collyers website, the three are off on
a tense search for the missing nuke which they discover is in the Chesapeake.
With an al-Qaeda suicide diver on their tail along with a Pentagon task force
determined to keep their ugly secret under cover, the three find themselves in
a mad scramble to evade the Pentagon and keep the suicide diver from detonating
the bomb.
What inspired you to write this
I’d stubbed my writing toe on
three comic novels. All the feedback I got was that comedy was a hard sell in
the publishing business. So I started looking around for thriller plot ideas
and about the same time I found a couple, John Grisham invited me to lunch and
offered to mentor me in writing a thriller. After I picked myself up off the
floor and said, “Yes!”, he asked me if I had any ideas. I pitched two to him
and he shot them down. “Okay,” I said, “let me try another. There are eleven
unrecovered nukes scattered around the U.S. as a result of mid-air mishaps and
collisions of bombers during the Cold War.” “You’re kidding?” John asked.
“Nope, it’s documented and the Pentagon maintains they are harmless,” I
answered. And he said, “Who ever heard of a harmless nuke? What if a bad guy
got a hold of one?” And we were off to the races.
What exciting story are you
working on next?
Im working on a humorous novel about an ad guy whose agency is taken
over by the Mafia entitled Client From Hell. I’m also working on a
thriller bringing back the main characters in Sleeping Dogs entitled,
Terrible Cold.
It’s a novel about terrorists trying to infect the U.S. with
bubonic plague.
When did you first consider
yourself a writer?
I felt like a writer when I left
the corporate world and started writing full-time. I even built myself a
writing studio on my property which overlooks the Southwest Mountains where
I’ve written seven novels and three non-fiction books. Signing my first
publishing contract for my non-fiction novel, Writing with the Master
validated all of that work.
Do you write full-time? If so,
what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do
you find time to write?
Yes, I write from 9-12 every weekday.
What would you say is your
interesting writing quirk?
I come up with ideas in my sleep,
develop plots, come up with great names for characters. Sometimes I wake up and
scribble them down, more often I just commit them to the sleep cycle and hope I
remember. I find the semi-conscious mind much more fecund than the waking one
as there are fewer inhibitions and more go-for-the-fences ideas.
As a child, what did you want
to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a nuclear physicist
but went into advertising instead.
Anything additional you want to
share with the readers?
In working with Grisham, I learned
a couple things not directly from John, but from the experience. There’s a T.S.
Eliot quote that goes something like, “The end of the journey always ends up at
the place where you started and you come to know that place for the first
time.” I found that it wasn’t until that I went back and wrote Writing with the Master that I really
internalized all the lessons John taught me and was able to do a major revise
to Sleeping Dogs that resulted in a sale. And that was eight years after
I began the novel. So the moral is: never give up the dream and never give up
making your book as good as it can be.

Thanks, Tony!

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