Interview with Tom Saric, Author of Don't Look In

I know you began exploring writing in your teens and early twenties. Can you share about your early love of writing? Did it evolve from childhood, or start in school? Why did you start with screenplays and at what point did your move from writing to focusing on being published? 

The first book I can recall writing was when I was in grade 5 for a short story assignment. It was a story about a boy searching for treasure in Australia in a hot air balloon with his pet kangaroo. By the time I was done, it ran eighty pages or so. I doubt my teacher appreciated the length, but I remember he read the entire book and gave me a lot of great feedback. 

I then began writing screenplays with a friend of mine, mainly because we were bored and we thought we had funny ideas to put to paper. We eventually got a screenplay optioned by a production company (which came to nothing in the end). But that feedback kept us going for a while, until we both got lost in other careers. I'm still convinced that there is something usable in those old scripts. 

Once I got into my medical career, I noticed that I wasn't totally fulfilled with the work I was doing. While medicine has a lot of great positives about it, there is not a lot of space for creativity. And I was concerned that perhaps I had gone down the wrong path and I was considering leaving medicine altogether. 

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After I had finished medical school and was halfway through my residency finally had time to read books again! There was a good period of four years where I didn't read for pleasure. At that time, Dan Brown's Da Vinci code was just released, along with a slew of super fast paced books and I really got into reading again. And one day I simply decided to sit down and try writing again. I was so glad that I did. My work days seemed to go by quicker, and they seemed to have more meaning. It was as though another part of my brain was active again.

So, I wrote for a few years and eventually I had (what I thought was) a finished product. And then I thought, well let's see if someone will publish it. So I began emailing agents and publishers, until someone finally said yes. That journey was long and protracted, not unlike what you might hear from a lot of authors, with countless rejections, the occasional request for a full manuscript followed by rejection. Lots of ups and downs in that process. But eventually, a publisher decided to take on my work.

What drew you to the field of psychiatry as a profession? Does your experience as a psychiatrist help you as an author develop interesting and unique characters? 

When I started medical school, I said I’d be happy with any field of medicine other than psychiatry. I actually said those words. It’s ridiculous now that I think about that.  But about half way through medical school I realized that a lot of medicine, physiology, anatomy, etc., were boring to me. What I liked was connecting with people, trying to understand their experience, connecting on a deep level. There was only one specialty that allowed the time to do that, and that was psychiatry.

I think my experience in psychiatry and in psychodynamic therapy informs character development. I’m very conscious not to write about any patients, so instead I try to create my characters from the ground up. So what I do is I ‘formulate’ the characters, starting with their deep psychology usually using something called object relations theory. It is really applicable to writing because it focuses on how early life experiences influence all later relationships and how we interact with others. I’m not sure if it makes my characters any more developed than other methods, but it’s a framework that works for me.

You currently have 4 books published, all thrillers. What do you love about writing thrillers? Do you ever scare yourself? Have trouble sleeping? Bad dreams?

Sixty percent of what I read is thrillers. The other forty percent is nonfiction. I love the thriller genre because it offers a constant external conflict, which, when well written offers a mirrored internal conflict. It keeps me flipping pages and seems to hold my attention.

Sometimes I get my heart rate up while I write certain scenes, which is cool, because I know that I’m tapping into something visceral. The challenge is then to translate that experience into words.  Bad dreams or poor sleep? It’s never happened. Whether I’m stressed or relaxed; mad, sad or happy; I can fall asleep anytime, anywhere in 5 minutes flat.

Where do you find inspirations for your story lines? For the characters that inhabit those books? Do you ever find part of you becoming part of a character in your story?

I think Gus Young is the closest experience I’ve had to taking on traits of a character. Something about his commitment to the purity of psychotherapy is really appealing to me. Sometimes in my work I find myself wondering how Gus would react or interpret a situation.

Also, Gus drives a big Ford truck. A few weeks before Don’t Look In was published, I bought my first Ford truck. 

Don't Look In is book #1 in your Gus Young Thrillers series and your first to have a psychiatrist as the main character - a strongly ethical, but flawed character. What inspired this series in particular? With 2 titles already published, do you see this as a long term series or just a few books

I’ll see where it goes. But at this point, I see this character going the distance. I have five more books roughly sketched out, so it is certainly my intention to keep the series going. As long as Gus continues to develop and grow as a character, I’ll keep the series going. 

How does the writing process work for you? Do you have a set time to write every day or do you just write when inspiration hits? How do you balance your 2 careers - psychiatry and writing?

I’m afraid balance is still elusive for me. It is a major challenge. At times, my clinical work takes over. At other times, all I think about is writing. I’m definitely at my best when it is somewhere in between but life feels like a pendulum swinging between those two extremes.

I make a writing schedule and that really does help to keep me focused. I don’t really stick to it, but it gives me a guide to get me to where I need to be. I’m certainly not a write every day person. Rather, I try to set 1-2 full days of writing aside every week, where for six or seven hours I have no distractions and just write. It seems to make me more efficient.

With 2 careers, it must be challenging to find down time to recharge. What are your favourite ways to put work aside and enjoy some downtime?

Basically, if I’m not writing or doing clinical work, I’m driving kids to activities. Hockey, swimming, soccer — I’m in the stands watching. While it can get exhausting, watching any kids play sports is one of my life’s joys.  I also fish a lot. I’ve got a place in the woods that I retreat to when I need calm.

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