Meet Thomas Maier - (Part 2)
Last week Tom discussed his prolific writing career, dating back to early childhood when he had aspirations of writing a book, to finally seeing that dream come true with many successes as a best-selling author. We also learned about his accomplished career as an award-winning journalist with Newsday and how that role impacted his success as an author.
This week we focus on the nuts and bolts of authoring books that chronicle the lives of famous people. We delve into his novel, Masters of Sex, and how it went from book to Emmy-winning Showtime series. He candidly discusses pitching his work to Hollywood execs and shares how he keeps his writing momentum up. We finish with a tidbit of what's on the horizon for him.
Let’s talk about your book Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love. Can you give us a brief synopsis?
Masters of sex is a dual biography of sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson who studied the physiology of human sexuality from the 1950s through 1990. Initially they were not married but eventually they got married and combined both their work and family life in an amazing story. It began when I interviewed Masters in 1994 on the day of his retirement. I was already doing a book about Dr. Spock, but I held onto that idea for nearly 10 years until I finally got around to writing the book. By that time William Masters had died but it was the cooperation of Virginia Johnson, and the willingness of the Masters family to share in his unpublished memoir, that really made that book.
I’m fascinated about the process of turning this book into the popular series on Showtime. Please share how this happened:
When did you envision this book as a possible series?
When I write a book, I try to make sure that I look for cinematic scenes that readers can envision. Certainly, the Masters of sex book had a lot of interesting characters and some incredible scenes. So, I knew it had a lot of potential as a movie. But the big surprise was that Sony wanted to develop it as a television series for Showtime and to really explore all the various aspects of the book. The producers had read the reviews of my book in the New York Times, and they reached out to my entertainment attorney, Scott Schwimer, who put together the deal.
Did you pitch the book to Hollywood execs, yourself?
I didn’t pitch Masters of Sex, but I did pitch my other books to Sony, Warner Brothers, and Disney who bought options on my other work. With each of these pitches, I prepared a memo that breaks down how a pilot would look, scene by scene, and a Bible of how it could be broken down into a multi-season series. Covid has hurt some of these plans. But I still have great hopes for other projects in the future.
How did you find the right people to talk to?
I rely mainly on the advice of my entertainment attorney Scott Schwimer, who has represented me for 20 years and deals with several big names in the entertainment business. Probably more than most writers, I enjoy going to lunch with studio executives like Peter Roth at Warner Brothers and the TV execs at Sony. It’s staying in touch through emails and written treatments is the best way of letting them know I’m working on creative ideas.
How did you set up meetings with Hollywood execs?
As a reporter, you learn not to be shy and ask for help whenever possible. So, when I’ve visited Hollywood, I’ve always requested meetings with executives. And to my great surprise, they’ve always been willing to meet with me. A successful series can bring in many millions of dollars for a company. So, I’ve been deeply impressed by Hollywood executives who are seeking out the next big idea.
Does your publisher or literary agent pitch ideas to Hollywood for you?
My book publishers have had nothing to do with my Hollywood projects, except to publish updated versions of my book. Generally speaking, all of the Hollywood interest has been generated by either my New York literary agents or by my entertainment attorney in Beverly Hills.
In Hollywood, I’ve learned that one success can open the door to many other places. It’s still very hard to get a project off the ground, especially in the past two years with Covid. But I’ve stayed in contact with everybody and hope to see more of my projects come to fruition in the days ahead.
How involved were you with the scripts and episodes for Masters of Sex?
The showrunner of Masters of sex, Michelle Ashford, was quite open to my ideas and interpretations of my book. However, I was not a writer of any scripts, and I am not yet a member of the writers’ union. In recent years, I’ve written treatments for my books which has helped sell the options to Sony, Warner Brothers, and Disney. And I am currently working with a very accomplished script writer on a new movie based on one of my books.
*** Treatment: document that presents the story idea of your film before writing the entire script.
Do you plan on turning any of your other books into a series or movie? I can envision your book All That Glitters: Anna Wintour, Tina Brown, and the Rivalry Inside America's Richest Media Empire or Mafia Spies: The Inside Story of the CIA, Gangsters, JFK, and Castro, as two new series. Is there anything in the works?
All that glitters was announced as a miniseries for Bravo cable network, but they backed out just before the filming started in Scotland. I’m hoping to find a home for that terrific story in the days ahead. Mafia Spies is under contract with a very well-known Producer and we’re hoping to see that on TV screens in the next year or so.
Your books are full of facts and some chronicle the lives of famous people like in your book, When Lions roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys. Can you briefly explain the process of how you go about collecting the data to fill your books?
There are a lot of visits to major libraries to look for primary source documents. With, When Lions Roar, I discovered that Churchill’s financial records were online at the Churchill archives in Cambridge, England and I was able to immediately find some surprising facts. I particularly learned about a deal for British liquor that involved Churchill, Joe Kennedy, and the oldest son of President Roosevelt. I eventually traveled to London for further archival research.
I also went to Boston’s JFK library, where I spent many hours, and to the Library of Congress and National Archives in the Washington area. Each major fact or assertion that I find in my research is written down into a Google document. Then I take these building blocks of fact and construct a writing outline that is both chronological and sometimes based upon themes. I am a big believer in following this process and it helps me think out exactly what I want to say in my books.
When authoring books about real people what type of permissions if any do you need to seek?
I make it very clear from the beginning that I am a writer doing a book about subject X and whatever I would like to interview them about. I am meticulous in making sure that I never mislead anybody or give them the wrong impression of where I’m headed. Generally speaking, permissions are not needed for interviews.
I was very fortunate that Dr. Spock put in writing that he was cooperating with me when I was looking for a publisher. But Spock had no right to look at my book in advance. Virginia Johnson was also very cooperative. But she didn’t read the book advance either. I’ve never done an authorized book and have no intentions to do so. The Newhouses were completely uncooperative with my book. But I still made every effort to get their views and incorporate them into my work.
How do you keep up your writing momentum and where do you get the inspiration to continue compiling book after book?
I enjoy writing books and find each one to be a unique challenge. Some of the books that I have done have led to others that are somehow related. In a way, I’ve written a trilogy about the Kennedy era. The first was about the Irish origins of the whole Kennedy family. The second was about the Kennedys time in London prior to World War II, with the Churchills, and the aftermath of that. And the third, Mafia Spies, dealt with the CIA, organized crime, and Cuba during the Kennedy administration. So in a sense, I’ve been able to build one book upon another.
Were there events in your life that prepared you to write about the people and worlds you chose?
Not really, and that’s part of the fun of discovery and keeping things fresh. A lot of book writers who are journalists will do books about crimes that they have covered, or about the beats that they cover. I’ve looked for new ideas outside the realm of my Newsday investigative work. I find this much more interesting and allows me to bring a fresh pair of eyes to my books.
Are you currently writing any new books? If so, can you share a tidbit?
I’m currently working on a movie script based upon my Dr. Spock biography. I have also completed a novel about the current era, and I plan to start a nonfiction book about the World War II era sometime in the near future.
To learn more about Tom Maier or to purchase his books, visit: