This is the place to come when you need a high-resolution photograph to accompany a story on me, promote an appearance, drop into a book club handout, or frighten a child or a small animal (for a high-resolution cover image of my most recent book, click "Page One" at the left). I'll also post promotional bios, press releases, dialogues and the like here, and keep them posted as long as they are current. So use. Enjoy. Be well.
Tom Morrisey is a mountaineer, aviator, shipwreck diver, and explorer, who holds a Full Cave certification from the National Speleological Society - Cave Diving Section. He has launched, edited or contributed to numerous national publications and is an award-winning adventure-travel writer. A popular speaker, he is also active in both evangelism and the arts. Morrisey earned an MFA in creative writing from Bowling Green State University, and his fiction has been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines. His first novel, Yucatan Deep (Zondervan, 2002) was a finalist for the Christy award, and he is the author of four other novels: Turn Four (Zondervan 2004), Deep Blue (Zondervan 2004), Dark Fathom (Zondervan, 2005) and In High Places (Bethany House Publishers, 2007); and two nonfiction books: 20 American Peaks & Crags (Contemporary Books, 1978) and Wild by Nature (Baker Books, 2001). He and his family live in Orlando, Florida.
Q: Tom Morrisey—is that your real name?
A: Yikes. Only an English major would ask that question! I assume you’re asking because there’s a character named “Tom Morrisey” in Jack London’s novel, John Barleycorn, written in 1913. But the answer to your question is “yes.” My grandfather’s name was Thomas Morrisey—he was born in the 19th century, by the way, well before London’s novel—and my father’s name was Thomas Morrisey, and so I was christened “Thomas George Morrisey,” and while it might make a better story if my name came from a work of fiction, I’m afraid American literature had nothing to do with it. Besides, even though I’ve always liked Jack London’s writing, I think his Morrisey would be pretty low on the list if I was going to pick a pen-name from literature. The Tom Morrisey in John Barleycorn was a brawler and a weeping drunk, as I recall. As far as “Thomas” becoming “Tom,” my father was a “Tommy” all his life, and I was called that when I was quite small, but eventually we both began answering when people would use that nickname. So I quickly became a “Tom,” and that’s what I’ve been ever since.
Q: There are cave divers in some of your novels, and you are a cave diver. What about the rest of the things in your books? Have you done all that stuff?
A: I try to, because I value high-fidelity in my writing, and that’s a good way to guarantee that. So I look back at my diving, and my rock-climbing, and my flying, and my karate, and some of the driving I’ve done on racetracks, and so forth, and I bring some of that into my books. And in some cases, I go out and do things to gain experience. My character Beck Easton was an extremely accomplished marksman in the Marine Corps, for instance, and while I literally cannot remember the first time I fired a rifle, I’ve never thought of myself as a crack shot. So I bought a good target pistol and I became qualified in NRA Bullseye, because that makes me think more about the nuances of precision shooting. Now I’m addicted—I love getting into that zone you have to get into to shoot well, and I find it both relaxing and invigorating.
Q: So are you an adherent of that old writers’ adage, “Write what you know?”
A: I am not. Writing should be liberating, so why would you want to shackle yourself like that? I think you should write your passion … write what you love. If writers only wrote what they knew, we would have no science fiction, no fantasy, and the field of literature would be considerably diminished. Certainly there are writers who reach into their pasts to find grist for their stories: Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling come immediately to mind. And writing what you know is one way to find a story when you’re looking for a starting point, but it is certainly not the only way. Now, that said, I think that one of a writer’s responsibilities is to make a story believable within its own framework. And you can do that several ways. If you are writing about something that your readers are likely to be knowledgeable—my novel, Turn Four, for instance, which was set in the world of NASCAR racing, which many people know about—then you need to learn enough, and do enough research, to avoid the sort of mistakes that will jar a reader out of suspension-of-disbelief. But believability is not necessarily tied to the author’s experience. The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin, takes place on a planet called Winter, where the inhabitants spend most of their lives in an androgynous state, and the novel works because Le Guin is faithful to the structure she creates for her story and its setting, and that helps keep the reader there with her. The book works, even though the world of that novel has no counterpart in Le Guin’s own life—or in the known universe, for that matter
Q: You don’t have any problem coming up with ideas for your fiction, then?
A: I do not. Nor do most of the writers I know. In fact, when people come up to me and say, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a story”—and they always do—I stop them before they share it and say, “That's great. But don't tell me, because i want to read it after you write it.” Because for me, and for most of the writers of my acquaintance, the issue is not finding something to write about. The issue is trying to figure out how to live long enough to use all the ideas that come flying out of the air and hit you square between the eyes every single day.
Q: Many writers—and Christian writers in particular—talk about mission statements for their work. Do you have a mission statement?
Q: That’s a pretty short answer. Would you mind elaborating?
A: It’s a short answer because I believe that mission statements are both misunderstood and over-emphasized. I’ve heard people talk about their mission being to “become the world’s premiere suspense writer,” for instance, and that is not a mission statement—that’s a vision statement. Vision is the next big thing you are trying to accomplish, while mission is what you will accomplish if you consistently act in accordance with your core values, and that means that mission must, of necessity, be fairly broad. For that reason my mission statement does not mention fiction, or even writing, because I can remain on-mission through work in nonfiction and through other activities, such as public speaking. But for the record, my mission is “to glorify an adventurous God.”
A: Walking on water, defying the Roman Empire, dying for someone you love … yes. Those are all pretty adventurous things.
Q: Let’s back up a second. You said you believe that mission statements are over-emphasized?
A: I said that because you can have core values and you can behave in accordance with those values without ever articulating them. When I lead creative-writing seminars, I tell people that thousands have made livings as writers without ever being absolutely clear on what a gerund phrase is, or what constitutes past-perfect tense, or when a participle is dangling. But as long as your gerund phrases work in context, and your tenses complement your story, and your participles don’t dangle, you don’t need those definitions. They are remedial tools, used to fix broken writing, and if your writing is not broken, then you don’t need to fix it. The same is true of value, vision and mission statements—as long as your work flows in a smooth line back to things you believe right down to the soles of your shoes, then you’ve already "got" mission. You don’t need to articulate it to make it real.
Q: Okay. Back to basics. What is writing to you?
A: I know the pat answer is that writing is recorded thought, but I disagree. Writing—good writing—is, first of all, recorded sound. Sound is where you get meter and rhythm and inflection and tone, which are some of the things that can make writing beautiful, or exciting, or emotive. We all have a little person in our head who reads the words aloud to us when we encounter good writing—writing that cannot be skimmed—and in great writing, that little person is inspired to a virtuoso performance. But writing is not just sound, because it is visual, as well: the ability to convey imagery without the use of graphics. And finally, good writing is reflective, because the thoughts of the narrator are the things that set writing apart from other media, such as film.
Q: How did you learn to write?
A: I grew up in a small town that had a large Irish-American contingent, and my family is Irish on my father’s side, so we were in constant association with those folks. And one of the things that is valued in that community is the ability to tell a story; to not only tell it, but to tell it in such a fashion that the words fall pleasantly on the ear. My father was never a writer, but he loved words and valued their power. I remember him taking the dictionary to bed and reading himself to sleep, learning new words. I would hear him down the hall, saying to my mother, “Here’s a good one; listen to this….” He even had his own vocabulary and persisted, for instance, in calling the gas-pedal on the car the “exhilarator,” long after he’d been corrected on the matter. And he had a younger sister who was a bohemian writer and a follower of the Beat writers, and so dedicated herself to that world that she wound up having a brief and rather tragic life. So either I grew up in an atmosphere that lent itself to writing, or I was wired that way.
Q: But your schooling was aimed at writing as well?
A: Without a doubt. I have two writing-ish degrees from the University of Toledo: a BA with College Honors in English and an MA in English Language and Literature. And I have an MFA in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University.
Q: Do you believe that writing can be taught, then?
A: I believe that teachers, mentors and honest and constructive peer review can help you to become, sooner rather than later, the best writer you can be. But to that table you have to bring talent, and God’s got the market cornered on that. If one does not have the gift to start with, I imagine this must really be a thoroughly frustrating and dismal activity. And simply wanting it is not sufficient. Unfortunately, passionate desire will never be a substitute for innate ability. You know, I’ve always wanted to play the guitar, and have dreamed of being an accomplished guitarist, but several failed attempts to learn have proven to me that I do not have the underlying talent to make good on that desire. But if God has given you a gift with words and story—or with a guitar, for that matter—then I believe you should do everything within your power to develop and nurture it. Finding a twenty-dollar bill on the sidewalk will make you wealthier ... but only if you make the effort to pick it up.
Q: What writers have influenced you?
A: For better or worse, all of them. Would you like me to single out a few that I admire?
Q: Sure; pick five.
A: Ernest Hemingway. Jack London. The Apostle Paul. O’Henry. Elmore Leonard. And I became very fond of the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, although I must admit that I only began reading her after she was very complimentary to a poem of mine that I read to her at a seminar.
Q: That’s six.
A: You're right. Sorry.
(Revised October, 2005)