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Author Interview | Meet writer, artist, actor, and musician Tom Starace and his novel #bookish #ya

One of the perks of being in the book industry is that I get to meet authors from all walks of life. I meet authors from all backgrounds and get to know how they think, write, and create their stories. I recently met Tom Starace and when he asked for an interview, I couldn’t resist. I think you’re going to like him too as well as his novel, Hero Maker. Tom even reveals a secret. So, grab your favorite beverage and join us. Take it away, Tom.

What is your writing process?

I walk around the house writing in my head. I mutter to myself while doing the dishes, driving the car, taking a shower, or walking the dog. I act out the dialogue scenes. After a few hours of this, I grab a pen and write it all down, long-hand, in a notebook. (Hero Maker took about 10 notebooks.) After I have a few chapters, I type it in on the computer. I rewrite it as I type. (Everything looks different when typed.)

What book do you wish you could have written?

Catcher in the Rye. Yes, it’s dated, but Holden Caulfield’s voice remains one of the most authentic and engaging of 20th Century Literature. There’s no one quite like him.

How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?

I use names that are familiar to me. In Hero Maker I used the first names of all my family members, as well as the first and last names of people I went to school with or who lived in my town. I’m not sure why I do this. I think it makes the characters more real to me.

Just as your books inspire authors, what authors have inspired you?

There are many, and it’s a diverse list, from Jane Austen to Agatha Christie, including Raymond Chandler (the Philip Marlow books), Kurt Vonnegut (Cat’s Cradle, Slaughterhouse-Five), Armistead Maupin (the Tales of the City series), Christopher Isherwood (TheBerlin Stories). I also love Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone books, and Michael Nava’s Henry Rios books. And, of course, J.D. Salinger. (Not just Catcher—Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories are also great.) Years ago, I read a book called No Next of Kin, by Doris Miles Disney. It was about a woman dealing with the repercussions of a fire at a county fair that had happened about ten years earlier. The idea of a tragedy from years ago coming back to haunt you stayed with me and helped form one of the plot lines in Hero Maker.

What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?

I think I’m most proud of Hero Maker. But many years ago, I wrote a very short one-act play called Last Request, about a friend of mine who died of AIDS. I’d completely forgotten about it until I discovered it recently and reread it. It’s better than I remembered, a sweet, sad little gem. It made me cry. I hope to see it produced one day.

What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?

Just do it! Even if it’s crummy, just get it down on paper. If you don’t like it, change it, or put it aside and write something else. I recently picked up a story I started writing about 30 years ago. I rewrote it and finished it and now it works!

What are you working on now? What is your next project? A sequel to Hero Maker!

Do you write naked?


What is your biggest failure?

I don’t really think in these terms. I wish I could sing really well. I wish I could play guitar better than I do. I wish I could write songs. But I don’t really consider these failures. I think I’ve done okay with the talents I do have. I’ve been pretty lucky.

What is the biggest fib you’ve ever told?

I worked as a book designer for many years. I got my first job designing covers without ever having designed one before. It wasn’t really a fib. I didn’t actually lie to the person who interviewed me, and she must have seen that there were no book covers in my portfolio. I could never decide—was she astute enough to realize that I was qualified for the job anyway? Or so clueless she didn’t realize that I wasn’t?

Have you ever gotten into a fight?

With punching and kicking, no. Yelling and screaming, yes.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?

Flying, definitely! I want to fly!

What secret talents do you have?

Writing was my secret talent for all the years I worked as a designer and art director. The secret’s out now.

What’s on your bucket list (things to do before you die)?

Live on a beach somewhere and have a rocking chair where I can drink my coffee and look out over the ocean.

What do you dream? Do you have any recurring dreams/nightmares?

I have a recurring nightmare that I am at work naked. Sometimes I don’t know I’m naked, or I’m surprised to realize it, and I wonder if anybody notices. Sometimes I think, “Oh, I should really put something on.” In one dream I was walking down the hall naked and the head of my publishing company said to me, “We’re casual around here, honey, but not that casual!”

Thank you, Tom, for the insightful interview. I really enjoyed getting to know you better. Readers, scroll down to read all about Tom Starace’s novel, Hero Maker.

Title Hero Maker

Author Tom Starace

Genre YA magical realism

Publisher Fiddler’s Bridge Press


Adam has had frightening dreams his whole life, yet he somehow knows not to tell anyone about them. They are his secret. It began when he was seven, when Adam had a dream in which he helped six-year-old Jimmy jump from a burning building. The fearsome dreams continue, plaguing Adam with what seem like horrifying memories. When Adam is sixteen, everything changes. It happens when he and his cousin Chris are unwrapping packages in their family’s store. The pair come across an old newspaper article about the fire of Adam’s long-ago dream, and the boy who jumped to safety. Adam is reeling as the memory of the long-forgotten experience comes back to him.

With the help of his aunt Rose and family friend Sam, Adam learns what he thought were dreams are actual experiences, and that the people he’s helped are real. Adam has a special power which enables him to help others who are in some sort of danger. He jumps into their bodies and becomes them, feeling their fear and their pain. He helps them perform the brave acts that they thought they couldn’t do. The people Adam helps don’t know that he has helped them. All they know is that they have done something brave. They feel like heroes.

Adam is initially excited about his new power, but complications arise. He gets involved with a boy, Kip, who is kidnapped by his dangerous stepfather, a girl, Valerie, who is cruelly bullied by the “mean girls” at her high school, and Jimmy, the boy in the fire, who suddenly reappears in his life, but now with new problems. Adam’s attempts to help Jimmy, Valerie, and Kip lead him on a wild ride which ends with him dangling over Niagara Falls.

HERO MAKER is a tale of fathers and sons, of family and friends, of bravery and decency, and apple pie.


It was dark. People were yelling.

A man cursed. “You invited him here?”

I knew I was dreaming. I tried to wake up, but I couldn’t.

“Yes, he is coming,” said a woman. She sounded scared.

The man threw something.

The woman shrieked, “Calm down! He will come and then we sit and talk calmly.” She spoke with an accent of some sort.

“Where’s the kid?” yelled the man.

He was talking about me. Except I wasn’t me. I was somebody else.

I was hiding behind a long, dark curtain. When I peeked out, the man spotted me. Through the dim, flickering light, all I could see were his squinty eyes.

“There he is!” The man slurred his words. He was drunk. “Get over here, Jamie!”

My name isn’t Jamie, it’s Adam. In the faint light, I looked at my hands. They weren’t my hands. They weren’t my legs or my feet. Somehow, I was Jamie. Somehow I knew that Jamie was six years old. Adam was seven.

What was going on?

“Get out here, Jamie!” yelled the angry man.

These people were Jamie’s parents. I suddenly knew that, too. Jamie’s heart was pounding. I felt his fear.

The man rushed over and tried to grab me through the curtain.

“Leave him alone!” screamed the woman.

She tried to pull the man away from me, and he pushed her over, so hard that she fell and knocked something. over. I heard breaking glass.

Oil splashed across the floor, spilling into the hallway. It must have been an oil lamp that fell! In a second, the room was on fire. Flames leaped up the curtain I had been hiding behind.

“Look what you did, stupid!” Jamie’s father shouted. I heard his mother scream.

I felt a knot in Jamie’s stomach—a familiar pain. This had happened before. “Stop!” he screamed. Or was it me screaming? I couldn’t tell.

The man picked me up and threw me against the wall. The pain in my side made my next breath hurt. I gasped. It was Jamie’s body, but I felt the pain!

“Get out, Jamie!” shrieked his mother. “Run, chéri!”

I bolted to my bedroom, but when I opened the door, the flames rushed in from the hallway, and I couldn’t close it. I ran to the corner by my bed. Jamie curled into a ball under the window. He cried, “Mommy!”

His mother was screaming. The flames spread across the ceiling, getting closer.

“Mommy! Mommy!” Jamie sobbed. He was frozen with terror.

He’ll die if I don’t help him, I realized. And my second thought was: that’s why I’m here.

I heard a siren and people outside yelling.

I forced Jamie to stand up. The window was the old-fashioned kind that opens outward with a crank. I cranked it open just enough to squeeze my—or Jamie’s—body out. I stood trembling on the windowsill, coughing from the smoke. I felt the cold air in my face and the heat of the fire on my back.

I heard voices below.

“That kid!”

“The fourth floor!”

A woman Jamie knew called to me. “Jamie!” Mrs. Panzica—the name popped into my head.

“We’ll get you, Jamie!” shouted a fireman.

Below me, firefighters rushed to push their truck’s big ladder up, but it wasn’t long enough, or something. It was hard to hear them. I swayed on the ledge. I felt like I might faint.

“He’s gonna fall!” somebody yelled.

Then four or five firemen stood under the window with a red blanket stretched between them.

“Here, little fella, we’ll catch you!”

“Jump, Jamie, jump!”

Jamie cried and shook with panic.

I knew what I had to do. The part of me that was still me knew. I had to crouch down on the ledge and push myself off, hard enough so that I would fall away from the building and land in the blanket.

I took a deep breath and fought back the fear. Just do it, I told myself. Just do it!

One . . . two . . . three. . . .

I jumped. I fell through the air in slow motion. I saw the blanket getting closer and closer.

Next thing I knew, I was wrapped in the scratchy wool blanket. People cheered all around me. Mrs. Panzica hugged me, saying, “You did it, Jamie, you did it.” I laughed and cried at the same time.

The scene began to blur. A man Jamie knew pushed out of the crowd to hug me.

Jamie buried his face in the man’s neck. I heard him ask, “Where’s my mommy?” And then . . .

And then what?

I woke in my own bed, as myself, as Adam, shaking and sweaty. I got up quietly so I wouldn’t wake my cousin sleeping across the room. I tiptoed into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. I looked sleepy but normal. There was no soot on me, no smell of smoke.

It was just a dream, I reassured myself. Dreams aren’t real.

But when I came down for breakfast, I saw the front page of the morning paper in my father’s hands. There was a picture of the burning building, exactly as I’d dreamed it. There were the firefighters with the blanket. There was Jamie in the window. The headline read:


Boy, 6, Saved in Dramatic Rescue

Buy Links (including Goodreads)

Giveaway: I’m one of the authors participating in the Be Mine Bookish Giveaway and you can win an autographed print copy of Hero Maker by Tom Starace (US only).

Runs February 1 - 28 and is open internationally for many prizes. Winners will be drawn on March 1, 2022.

Author Biography

Tom Starace is a writer, an artist, an actor, and a musician. In a career that has spanned five decades, he’s worked for most major publishing companies as a designer or art director. He has illustrated six children’s books. This is his first novel.

He lives in New York State’s Hudson Valley, not too far from where Adam lives. He plays banjo, writes books, paints pictures of clouds, and acts in his local theater group. In the fall, he watches the leaves turn colors, and he buys apples and pumpkins from the local farm.

Social Media Links


Barbara Bettis
Feb 17, 2022

Terrific interview. I enjoyed getting to know you, Tom, and I enjoyed the excerpt. Here's wishing you all the best with this book and your subsequent ones. And Yay for your local theatre participation. I used to be involved in a community theatre group and it was such fun. Especially at the after-party on closing night, when every one of you swears never again to step on a stage. And then, of course, ten minutes later you're all naming your next potential show! 😊


N. N. Light
N. N. Light
Feb 17, 2022

Thank you, Tom, for the great interview!

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