Meet Tom Maier - (Part 1)
Thomas Maier is a longtime Newsday investigative reporter and author of numerous books, including When Lions Roar: The Churchills and The Kennedys, Dr. Spock: An American Life, and a dual biography of William Masters and Virginia Johnson that was adapted into the Showtime television series Masters of Sex.
At Newsday since 1984, Maier’s investigative work has twice won the Sigma Delta Chi Award from the National Society of Professional Journalists and many other awards. In 2002, Maier won the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ top prize, the Daniel Pearl Award, for a Newsday series about New York immigrant workers getting killed on the job at the highest rate in the nation. He later testified about it before the U.S. Senate.
More recently, his 2019 investigation about one of the longest “innocent man” murder cases in U.S. history won both a NY Emmy and the NY Press Club's award for best newspaper documentary. In September 2021, Maier produced The Gift, Interrupted, a print/video project about the little-known but devastating impact of New York’s two-month shutdown of organ transplants during the height of 2020’s Covid crisis.
You're an award winning and Amazon Top 100 Best-Selling author with many books to your credit, that is phenomenal. How did you begin the process and go from writing the first words of book one to becoming a famous author? I’m sure aspiring authors would benefit from hearing about your journey and whether there were bumps in the road you overcame.
I’ve always wanted to write books as much as I wanted to be an investigator reporter. In grade school in the 1960s, I wrote a little book called “the rise and fall of the New York Yankees”. I still have it around the house. What kind of crazy kid puts together something like this? But I figure most writers start in the same modest way.
I was the editor of the high school paper at Saint Anthony’s high school here on Long Island and I was a reporter and editor of my college paper at Fordham university in the Bronx. At Fordham, I had a favorite journalism teacher, a Jesuit named Ray Schroth who was also a book critic, and he influenced me a great deal towards becoming an author. I went to Columbia journalism school and learned a great deal, putting together a big masters project that was almost the size of a book. And from there, I went to the Chicago Sun-Times. I joined Newsday in 1984, recruited by Newsday’s famous investigative editor Bob Greene, a genuine journalism genius and the person most responsible for giving Newsday its investigative reputation. Greene’s methods in researching and developing a story were invaluable when I turned to book writing.
I tried to write a book three times before I finally landed a book contract. The two earlier attempts were about murder cases, and in retrospect I’m glad that I didn’t do those books. Instead, I focused on telling the story of America in our times through the window of biography.
My first published book focused on billionaire S.I. Newhouse Jr and his Condé Nast media empire. It grew out of an assignment from Newsday’s Sunday magazine editor about Random House, the publishing company owned by the Newhouse's at that time. The Newhouse book was not only an attempt to talk about a family dynasty but also included a cast of fascinating characters such as Anna Wintour. It allowed me to explore the state of America’s media and how the Newhouse company contributed to the rise of Donald Trump’s power. That book was very controversial but received good reviews and won the Frank Luther Mott Award for best media book that year. A lot of people in the publishing industry read that book, so it helped a lot in the years to come when pitching other book projects.
When you wrote your first book, how did you go about seeking representation?
I got a call from an agent named Faith Hamlin after I did a New York Newsday investigative series about drug treatment. Faith wanted to know if I was interested in doing a book about that subject. Eventually Faith became my agent on the Newhouse book. She also represented me on my biography of Dr. Benjamin Spock and a 2003 book about the Kennedys and how their Irish Catholic immigrant background effected their public and private lives.
How long does it usually take you to go from idea to publication?
A nonfiction book generally takes me about four years from the first idea to its actual publication. And sometimes I have the idea for quite a while before I really begin work on it. Generally speaking, a new book takes me about a year and a half of research, then another year of writing the first draft, and then another year of editing and preparation for its publication. The process of putting together a proposal also can be very lengthy and take at least six months.
What is your writing process like and how do you make time to write books with your busy schedule at Newsday?
I’ve incorporated a lot of the skills that I have learned as an investigative reporter and applied them to my book writing process. The Cardinal rule for me is to make sure that I do at least something for the book every day, once I’ve started the process. It doesn’t have to be a tremendous leap forward, but rather a steady progress one step at a time. Get something done every day or the book will never be finished.
Unfortunately, much of my limited vacation time at Newsday has been devoted to my book writing. I’ve tried to make this process fun for my family, like the time we went to Ireland for two weeks as part of my research on the Kennedy family and their Irish origins. My family also accompanied me on a trip to England for my book about the Churchills. So I’ve tried to make it into a broad learning experience for my three sons and an engaging time for my wife, especially when we went to Hollywood to see the filming of my book about Masters and Johnson.
I think Newsday has been a great beneficiary of my book writing, probably more than anybody there realizes. I won a top international prize for a Newsday series about immigrant workers getting killed. And that idea was generated from my research about how JFK’s great grandfather, Patrick Kennedy was among many Irish laborers who landed in Boston and got killed on the job.
I believe the old maxim that ‘work expands to the amount of time that you have to do it’. By working hard at Newsday, I was also able to maintain that same pace in my book writing. Every writer likes a deadline. And I had a lot of deadlines, particularly early in my career, lol!
Have any of your books changed since writing the first draft?
Yes indeed, my books have changed quite a bit from the first draft. I wrote a biography of Dr. Spock, but my wife pointed out that it didn’t directly address his famous baby book and analyze its contents. So, I added a whole chapter right there.
The biggest change was with my 1994 Newhouse book. In 2019, I published a completely revised and rewritten version of the book, now called “All that Glitters”. It’s rare in life that you get a chance to come back to a topic like that. But the story became even more fascinating in realizing what happened to characters like Newhouse, Wintour, Trump, and others since 1994.
How much of a role does your journalism background play when writing your books?
I think some of the best non-fiction authors today had backgrounds in journalism and I found my own experience to be very helpful. You learn how to affectively sort through the documents and where to find them. But it also teaches you organization skills, like how to put together a writing outline.
I was fortunate to come of age through a period in journalism that stressed good writing and that experience also influenced me greatly. Newsday had a writing coach named Harvey Aronson. He kept me ever mindful about the words that are put down on paper. Harvey was also a best-selling book author and he encouraged me to think big.
Favorable book reviews are the dream of many authors. Tell us about some of yours and how they influenced your career as an author.
I’ve been fortunate to have received many wonderful reviews. My 1998 Dr. Spock biography was a New York Times notable book of the year. The 2014 Washington post review of When lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys was my favorite because I so respect historian Douglas Brinkley. And it was the excellent 2009 New York Times reviews of Masters of Sex that led to the TV show.
Unfortunately, the amount of book reviewing press out there has diminished greatly. There used to be a book review for virtually every major newspaper, but that’s no longer the case. Yet there are some wonderful reviews still out there. For instance, the Tampa Bay Times gave an excellent review of my 2019 book Mafia Spies, and I was invited to their book fair with hundreds of people in attendance.
Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
There are plenty of authors that inspired me for a variety of reasons. Newsday’s former reporter Robert Caro is certainly one of the inspirations, based upon his Pulitzer Prize winning books about Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson. Author Gay Talese has also been very supportive and helped me with two of my books.
While every author feels that each of their books are like their children, do you have one that you’re most proud of?
I’ve been fortunate to have a great deal of success with all my books. I think my bios about Dr. Spock and Masters and Johnson really drilled down into their personal lives, and therefore worked very well in the storytelling. But I would say I’m most proud of When Lions Roar, because I found a lot of new stuff about the Churchills and the Kennedys, and it became kind of a tour de force of two families over an extraordinary time in our history.
In the meantime, to find out more about Tom Maier or to purchase his books, visit: