Always begin a nonfiction work with some plan of where you are headed — an outline. As discussed above, this does not need to be inflexible but does provide direction, flow, and logic to the work.
As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Thomas (Tom) Gabor. Gabor is a criminologist who lives in Palm Beach County, Florida. He has been a Professor of Criminology, an international consultant, author, researcher, and expert witness. He is the author of over 200 publications and of the new release, ENOUGH! Solving America’s Gun Violence Crisis.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?
Iwas studying sociology at Loyola College in Montreal, Canada and a course on the sociology of deviant behavior really resonated with me. That course dealt with people living on the margins of society — criminals, drug addicts, the mentally ill. Perhaps, I identified with these groups due to my immigrant status and membership among a religious minority. That course led to my interest in criminology and I proceeded to study criminology at the University of Ottawa and then at Ohio State University.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
Following the 1996 massacre by firearms of elementary school children in Dunblane, Scotland, the United Kingdom commissioned a national inquiry under Justice Lord Cullen. I was contacted by attorneys to the victims’ families and, at their request, drafted an expert report that was submitted to the Inquiry. Lord Cullen referred to my submission on several occasions in his final report and handguns were virtually banned in the UK. I was told that my submission was very influential in his recommendation to change the law.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This is not so funny but I spent a two-month holiday drafting a book without a plan or outline. Every day I wrote for a few hours and had well over 100 pages written. When I returned from the holiday, I realized it was somewhat disjointed and scrapped most of it and subsequently devised a plan. The lesson learned is that it is always good to have a plan although this does not have to be inflexible. However, I believe an overall direction as to where you are going is a good idea.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My latest book, ENOUGH! Solving America’s Gun Violence Crisis, sets out a road map of solutions to bring about a reduction in gun violence in America. I’m presently speaking, writing, and getting this plan out to legislators, activists, and concerned citizens. My suggestions are grounded in research and the international experience with which I am familiar. In addition, I am serving as an expert witness in a major national Canadian lawsuit in which it is alleged that Canadian law enforcement has failed to take seriously the disappearances and murders of Native women that have occurred over the past few decades.
What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?
Perseverance certainly is critical for writers due to the length of time it takes for a manuscript to be completed and published, especially in the case of the type of nonfiction books I have written where a great deal of research must first be identified, compiled, reviewed, and then organized. One of my books took 10 years to complete, although I completed several other books during that time. I guess you might say that discipline is one of my strengths. I have found that if I write just a couple of hours per day every day, including weekends, it accumulates. I tend to do my writing in the morning when I’m fresh and save tasks that involve less creativity or mental energy for later. Thus, being organized and focused is critical. I try not to get too distracted with other things like reading the news, social media, emails in the morning although I do devote some time to these.
Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?
In addressing the slogan of the gun lobby that “guns don’t kill, people do”, I introduce evidence that the weapon, independent of the intent of the shooter, has an enormous impact on the outcome of a shooting. I write that the increasing annual number of fatalities from mass shootings is especially noteworthy because great strides have been made in the management of bullet wounds over the last 15 years due to lessons learned on the battlefields of Afghanistan. Survival rates also have increased due to the spread of hospital trauma centers, increased use of helicopters to transport patients, and better training of first responders. Despite higher survival rates, we have seen a rising death toll from mass shootings when we would have expected the opposite. Increasing injuries and deaths reflect, at least in part, the greater lethality of weapons and a higher proportion of victims who suffer multiple bullet wounds.
Here is what one surgeon had to say about the damage produced by the high-velocity bullets fired by the assault weapons used today in many mass shootings: “The tissue destruction is almost unimaginable. Bones are exploded, soft tissue is absolutely destroyed. The injuries to the chest or abdomen — it’s like a bomb went off.” Assertions such as these by those on the frontlines of gun violence illustrate why weapons, in fact, do make an enormous difference in the violence we are seeing. This reality makes compelling the case for banning such weapons of war from our streets.
What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?
Despite the current rash of mass shootings and other gun violence, I’m optimistic that we will pass effective gun laws. Here are some of the reasons I offer:
1. Gun ownership in the US has been declining since the 1970s. The University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center has shown that in 2010 and 2014 about 32 percent of adults lived in households with firearms. In 1976 to 1982, 51 percent of adults lived in households with one or more guns.
2. Public opinion has been shifting in the last few years in favor of stricter gun laws.
3. A large grassroots movement to counter the gun lobby and effect major change has been growing since the 2012 mass shooting of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown (Connecticut).
4. The National Rifle Association’s economic strength and political influence are in decline.
5. In the 2018 midterm elections, anti-gun violence groups outspent the NRA, and many candidates calling for stricter gun regulations prevailed.
6. The voters of the future are youth, and they tend to support more restrictive gun laws because they feel threatened by gun violence.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?
Two major challenges: lack of time and lack of funding for research. Many writers have a “day job”. Mine was working as a professor, which involved teaching, preparation for classes, working on committees, and meeting with students. Time is also involved in applying for grants to acquire funding for research. We also have personal lives. This all leaves little time for writing but I always prioritized my writing and tried to get an hour or two in every day. Funding for research that forms the basis for a nonfiction book is also critical. I managed to secure government contracts, which provided funding for research and an opportunity to write reports at the same time. Some of these reports served as the basis for my books.
A third challenge was that when I began my career as a professor and writer, I had no clue as to the publishing field, drafting proposals, how to find a suitable publisher, etc. I recommend finding a mentor with publishing experience and/or joining a writers’ group to learn about the practical issues of getting your work published.
Certain writers in the gun violence field who have done rigorous research and show balance in this highly polarized and politicized field. Their conclusions flow from the evidence, not from ideology. I also like those who are able to communicate their ideas to the non-expert, which is something I strive to do.
How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?
My publications and postings on social media inform people about research and policy. For example, as many people are now calling for a ban on assault weapons, I inform them about the previous experience with an assault weapons ban to avoid mistakes made in the past. I am proud to serve as a bridge between the academic world and the public, legislators, and activists.
What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?
Writing is very rewarding and gives you a voice. It does require that you do some research on your topic, whether it is a work of fiction or nonfiction. I believe you need some time to be alone. It’s hard to compose meaningful text if you are constantly interrupted. Writing is usually not lucrative so make sure you or a spouse has a steady source of income. Read publications like Writers’ Market and get advice on choosing a publisher, writing a book proposal, and negotiating the best contract. You can always self-publish and find some great companies to work with for a fee.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Decide on who your intended market will be. Writers often fail to reflect on this and just write to some undetermined or generic market.
- Always begin a nonfiction work with some plan of where you are headed — an outline. As discussed above, this does not need to be inflexible but does provide direction, flow, and logic to the work.
- In the case of nonfiction, if one is writing for the non-expert, remember to cut out all technical jargon. Your goal is not to feed your ego or demonstrate your command of the language but to inform your reader and perhaps to spur them on to some form of action. My first book, for example, was written in a very heavy manner and would be sure to render most readers comatose.
- Write with certain publishing outlets in mind, whether it is a newspaper, periodical, or book publisher. Take a look at the format and tone of individuals who write for those publications or publisher.
- When negotiating contracts, don’t be overeager. Your work is of value. I used to jump at opportunities to publish and sometimes you take things on that consume much time and may not be the best fit. Identify what your priorities are before you take publishing decisions.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
About 40,000 Americans a year are dying due to gunfire and we have more than one mass shooting per day. We urgently need a strong gun violence prevention movement. This movement needs to merge all the powerful lobby groups that already exist and the leading researchers in the area. The movement to take on the gun lobby is too splintered but is getting stronger.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!