Interview with Thomas Block

Published 2013-09-13.
Where are you from?
I was born in New York City, grew up on Long Island very near to Kennedy Airport (which was Idlewild back then). I was hired as a copilot for Mohawk Airlines in 1964 and based at LaGuardia/Kennedy until moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1971. After many years there, I eventually moved to Florida.
When and why did you begin writing?
I was a professional pilot for a long time (I finally retired more than a dozen years ago), and a professional writer for almost as long as I flew airplanes. But the writing portion of my professional life hasn’t retired in the least; matter of fact, it’s been cranked up a peg or two in the past few years. That being the case, that means I’ve been a professional writer for over 50 years.

I flew for an airline for 36 years, ending my career crossing the North Atlantic several times a month as I plied my way between the US and various European cities -- just like my characters do in my latest novel, Captain. My professional writing began a few years after my airline flying, first strictly with magazine work but then on to novels as I began helping my childhood friend Nelson DeMille as he began his own bestselling novelist career. Over the years, I have assisted Nelson DeMille with a good many of his novels in one way or another, and you’ll find that fact in most of his novels on the acknowledgement page.
Who or what influenced your writing over the years?
Without a question, it was bestselling novelist Nelson DeMille. But I was actually a ‘professional writer’ before he was, because I was working for FLYING Magazine, doing monthly columns and features, when Nelson returned from the army in the early 70’s. He decided that he wanted to become a novelist, so I began helping Nelson with all his earlier works - matter of fact, the major plotting and storyline for his big breakthrough novel ‘By the Rivers of Babylon’ was written by the two of us in a Uhaul truck while taking my furniture to western Pennsylvania after the airline I flew for moved our crew base from New York to Pittsburgh.

In 1978, with Nelson’s help and introductions, I signed a contract to produce my first airplane action/adventure novel Mayday - which went on to be an International bestseller. In 1997, Nelson and I took the out-of-print Mayday, revised and updated it together, then republished the novel with both our names as co-authors. That version became a CBS Movie of the Week in October, 2005, and is still readily available from Nelson DeMille’s extensive backlist.

During the 80’s I wrote five additional novels that had a good run of success throughout the world. For various reasons I didn’t find myself writing any novels through the 90’s, although I did do even more work with Nelson DeMille through that period and well into the new century. With all of my old novels long out of print (excepting Mayday), I realized that with the dawning of this new era of Indie publishing for both print editions and ebooks, that I could go back to those old novels (the rights to those works had since reverted back to me), extensively revise and update them, and then send them back out to see the light of day once again -- now dressed up in their modern-day clothing. All of these novels were basically airplane-theme action/adventure, although they ran a gamut from hypersonic airlines on through Airships and even a detective story. You can see all of the details of these novels -- which continue to sell nicely and receive good reviews -- at our website at
What genre are you most comfortable writing?
I like action/adventure and plot oriented fiction. While it is an argument that goes back to when novel writing and storytelling first began, from my point of view it is plot that determines character. Others (including Nelson DeMille) say it exactly the other way. I like to get a situation (storyline) going, and then see how the characters will be affected by it and how they’ll handle it. Captain is very much along those lines, as are all of my other novels.
What is your favorite quote, by whom, and why?
I’ve got lots of favorite quotes and, in fact, I like to use them at various spots in my novels. After all, why try to improve on something that has basically ‘said it all’. One particularly pithy quote that certainly meets the requirement of having ‘said it all’ is this succinct thought from noted psychologist Abraham Maslow: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” I like that quotation so much that I used it in Captain to lead off a section where it more than applied to what was about to happen.
What do you consider the most challenging about writing a novel, or about writing in general?
Every book brings its own challenges. Since I wanted Captain to be extremely accurate from a piloting/flying point of view, making certain that all the zillions of details that go into flight planning a Trans-Atlantic flight (especially one that had these many problems) were lining up just as they should. That stuff took LOTS of visits to the book’s details and my North Atlantic plotting charts.

Naturally, you run into stumbling moments during the creation of a novel, but what gets me through them is keeping my eye on the next target - which is often a scene that I’m really looking forward to getting into. In Captain, there were a number of little ‘scenes’ in my head that just had to occur, and whenever I was approaching one of them I was really buoyed up about getting to it and through it. Sometimes they were entire sections (such as when Lee and Tina were sitting down in the airliner’s cabin to talk), and other times it was just a quick line or a character impression (such as the Captain Jack moment toward the very end of the book). It’s those fun times that more than keeps you going and motivated to keep pressing on through other areas that haven’t quite formulated in your mind as yet.
What inspires you to write, and why?
The overall fun of being able to put together a story that begins with just a small and misty thought in the back of your mind and develops into a full-blown adventure for both the writer and the reader. Captain was a fun book to write, and many who have read it have said that it was an engaging, compelling and exciting ride for them, too. I enjoyed writing it, and I'd very much like the readers to enjoy the time they spend with it.

While all my novels have used an aviation theme, they have all been totally different - and that, too, helps to keep you inspired. I particularly enjoyed doing Open Skies, which is a first-person detective story (with an airline background, naturally!) Again, each of the novels is different, and that keeps the projects fresh and alive to me.
What is the best way to overcome writers block for you?
For me, ‘writer’s block’ is when you hit a point where you just don’t know where to take the story next. If I bang up against that solid granite a few times, I’ll just write around it knowing that down the road I can revisit that area and revise. I like to kid myself that I can write a novel in one pass and not have to go back except for some minor adjustments, but reality has made me go back to do lots of revisions.
What was your favorite part of a book to write and why?
Using 'Captain' as an example (although each of the other novels also have similar traits), there were a number of little ‘scenes’ in my head that just had to occur. When I was approaching one of them I was really buoyed up about getting to it and through it. Sometimes they were entire sections (such as when Lee and Tina were sitting down in the airliner's cabin to talk), and other times it was just a quick line or a character impression (such as the Captain Jack moment toward the end of the book). It’s those fun times that more than keeps you going and motivated to keep pressing on.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Even though I had previously been published worldwide by the biggest houses, when I finished Captain we showed it to several New York publishers and their editors told me that ‘airplane stories are out’ and ‘this type of storytelling isn’t what readers go for these days’. I had heard of 'Indie' publishing, so I began to investigate those possibilities. Eventually, I published Captain via the Indie route because it is the story that I wanted to tell, in the manner that I wanted to tell it. This novel is an exciting adventure story that you can curl up with to spend some enticing and enjoyable time; I probably don’t have to tell you that I’m proud of it. I've also gone back to all my other novels, revised and moderized them, and also made them available.

Going the 'Indie' route has enabled me to take total control of my projects and to make the final decisions for each and every one of my choices for Captain and all the other novels. All seven of my novels (including Mayday with Nelson DeMille) are up and running in ebook, print and audio editions (and with me doing my own narrating for all the titles excepting Mayday!) - my website at has the details.
What else do you do in your life besides write?
My wife Sharon has been a horse-involved person her entire life, and she managed to finally get me involved soon after I retired from airline flying in April, 2000. I rode my first horse when I was 56 years old, so I was definitely an older guy starting something totally new!

You can see more about this at both of our two websites: and Matter of fact, the two websites are directly connected, so you can simply slide from one to the other by hitting the link button between them.

I’ve found that I’ve really enjoyed working with horses on our Florida ranch a great deal, and then got myself involved in Cowboy Mounted Shooting (a competitive sport where we shoot at balloons from horseback with old-west style guns). With Mounted Shooting, I’ve discovered something really neat to do with my horse that more than fills my free time, and it was an absolute thrill for me to be able to finally become one of those cowboys that I loved to watch at the movies and on TV when I was a kid.

I’ve made a great many friends from the horse world, and particularly among the cowboy mounted shooters (at most events, the participants are about evenly divided between men and women). The biggest of the mounted shooting organizations that I belong to is the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA), and I’ve been an active member of that group for nearly ten years. I’m also happy to report that the CMSA has recently featured Captain in their magazine with a big spread and a rave review - here’s what they said: “…A diversified and very realistic cast of complex characters are thrown into the chaos…one heck of a gripping saga…I found the story to be fascinating, I couldn’t put it down…” are some of the quotes from that Mounted Shooting magazine’s review. It’s very satisfying to have folks from a totally separate portion of your life make an enthusiastic crossover to something else that you’ve done and are proud of. I’ve gotten a huge amount of very positive feedback about Captain (and also about my other action/adventure novels) from many of the people I’ve met during my mounted shooting travels across the country.

Sharon and I do most of our ranch work ourselves, and if you’ll look through our ranch photo gallery you’ll see that our 33 acre ‘Ranch and Horse Motel’ is a place where we like to spend time. I’ve swapped my captain’s seat in the front office of a Boeing airliner for a seat in a John Deere tractor, backhoe and excavator, to name just a few of the pieces of ranch rolling stock that keeps our place in good working order.

The two parts of our life style complement each other real well, and there is nothing more ‘real’ and hands-on after spending several hours at the desk working on novels than to saddle up your own horse and go for a ride. It’s an exciting and satisfying way to balance out all the requirements that go into developing and creating a fictional world on paper to share with others.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life?
From all I’ve seen, I’d have to agree with the cliché that ‘Life’s a journey, not a destination’. That being the case, the entire journey has been basically a satisfying trip for me (don’t get me wrong; I have bad days, too - but as the old song goes, "too few to mention…”). On the skills side, over the years I developed myself (and with lots of help from others) into an airline pilot, a magazine writer, a novelist, and now into a ranch owner and horse-involved person. All of those directions have been satisfying and meaningful personal journeys, so I feel proud of all of them.
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Books by This Author

Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 119,890. Language: English. Published: May 12, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
Terrorists aboard Flight 42 will force the airliner to land in Communist China where a top-secret computer program will fall into Chinese hands. But the hijacking attempt is bungled and, with many passengers dead or wounded, the airliner's survivors attempt to keep the airliner aloft. Meanwhile, a macabre deal is struck between the Chinese Ambassador and the US State Department as a coverup...
Forced Landing
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 111,670. Language: English. Published: May 12, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
Taking place in a pre-9/11 world of the 80's, a former US submarine is hijacked in the Gulf, a floating aircraft carrier museum is hijacked from its dock in South Carolina, a Learjet and then a DC-9 are hijacked from New York shortly thereafter. A vintage-era big-and-fun caper that involves gold, hostages and a cast of noble and exceptionally nasty characters, 'Forced Landing' has it all!
Open Skies
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 77,510. Language: English. Published: May 12, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Mystery & detective » General, Fiction » Adventure » Action
The death of an airline copilot during a layover in Chicago may have looked like an accident, but there were suspicions that hinted at something else. Jack Sawyer - a private detective who had once been an airline pilot - is then hired to investigate. Along with his estranged wife Susan and a caste of others, Jack sets out to track down a killer and the real reasons behind the murder.
Airship Nine
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 93,720. Language: English. Published: May 12, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
Airship Nine is a tale rich in technological detail and vision, full of action, passion - and the eerie splendors of the Antarctic. An unbridled nuclear war has caused the black clouds of nuclear winter to rapidly spread across the globe. The only hope for survival for Airship Nine - a passenger-and-cargo blimp - and those onboard the Soviet supply ship Primorye lay in the ice fields ahead.
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 120,630. Language: English. Published: May 10, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Action & suspense
(4.00 from 2 reviews)
A compelling adventure/thriller about a routine Trans-Atlantic flight that turns absolutely insane. In the doomed airliner's cockpit, inside the passenger cabin and on the ground, a complex array of characters are in a race for survival. 'Captain' is about the individual and collective struggles of each of these men and women as they fight against the odds and circumstances stacked against them.
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 100,180. Language: English. Published: May 10, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action, Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure
During a routine flight, an unexplainable engine malfunction hurls the Star Streak hypersonic airliner far too high and into a low-earth orbit. With only limited oxygen onboard, a desperate action is being attempted to save the ship. On the ground, evidence is mounting that the airliner might have been sabotaged. Survival now becomes a race against time and the inescapable laws of physics...