International best-selling author finds new home in Davao-A A +A
Sunday, October 27, 2013
“TRUTH is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”
That was what American humorist and novelist Mark Twain once said. It came to mind while talking with Thomas “Tom” Anthony. If you don’t know him, then, you haven’t been reading your local newspaper.
To the literary and entertainment world, Tom needs no introduction. He is the man behind Sabine, the movie that will soon hit the screen before the year ends. No, he is not the director but the person who wrote the story and the screenplay.
That’s a fact. Another fact is the he and his family now lives in Davao. So, it is no wonder why Sabine is set in the country’s biggest city. “I am a writer and I write. I write what I see and feel,” he replies when asked what inspired him to write the novel.
If you care to know, Sabine is one of the most engrossing books I have read this year. The characters are engaging. The author has this own way of making you part of the story. A must read!
There is an interesting story on how Tom came up with the novel. While driving back and forth from Toril to downtown every day, Tom wrote down what he saw. One of those that caught his attention was the MacArthur Highway in Matina.
“General (Douglas) MacArthur was a personal boyhood hero and inspired me to go to West Point,” he admits. “I found it ironic that I now live along a highway named after him. I began to wonder how he would feel if he drove along this highway, today, and I started to write a report called ‘MacArthur Highway.’”
It was not a novel, though but just a location. So Tom created fictional characters: Sabine (the central figure of the novel and so the title of the novel was named after her), a lost waif who wanders in from the boondocks; Leopatro, a cockfighter who cuts of Sabine’s ears when she refuses to do what he asks; Manuelo, Leopatro’s gay assistant; Richard, an American schoolteacher who runs into Sabine while driving along MacArthur Highway, his first day in town; Adriana, an honorable whore who rescues Sabine; Juanito an ex-cop who rapes Adriana; Hans, the owner of the Dutch Bar; Philip, a married missionary who is uncertain of his sexuality; and the Kristo, the ruler of the cockfight gallera who believes he was cheated by Leopatro.
On why he selects Davao City as the setting of Sabine, he answers: “I think it is interesting to see a place you know through the eyes of a foreigner, it makes one see it differently.”
Tom, who hails from California, compares his place and Davao: “It gets hot in Davao and in California. In California, there are those few days in winter when we have to light a fire in the fireplace. I like that. But everything else is more interesting here, especially for a writer. Too much has been written about California, not enough about Mindanao. I want to fix that.”
It’s no wonder why his first novel, Rebels of Mindanao, is set in the country’s second largest island. If you don’t know, Tom graduated from West Point, spent six years as an Army officer in Europe and Asia, and for three years lived in the war-torn Mindanao, where he had close contact with military and political leaders of the highest stature.
The synopsis of the story, according to the press release, goes this way: “Haunted by the failure of his last mission and the lost lives of his team, Thomas Thornton had hoped to escape his former life as an undercover operative, seeking the calm beauty of tropical Mindanao. When two West Point friends, now high ranking officials in the government and military, ask him to run one last clandestine operation, he finds himself in the fray once again. Thornton recruits a hunter-killer team of Manobo tribesmen – and the tough but beautiful Elaiza – to thwart the insurgency. The mission: eliminate the Turk carrying millions in cash into Mindanao to finance an Islamic revolution. The deal: make the Turk and the cash disappear, no questions asked.”
The novel was not only a bestseller; it also earned for him the Book of the Year Award from New York’s Forward magazine. But what most people didn’t know that it was rejected several times – just like most neophyte novelists experienced.
“I wrote it while living in Mindanao from 2003 to 2005,” he recalled.
“(When I submitted my first novel), publishers rejected it.” It was not because the novel was not engrossing; the reason: “They had never heard of Mindanao,” he said.
Fortunately, Mark Victor Hansen, author of the Chicken Soup series, and a personal acquaintance in California, introduced Tom to Eric Kampman of Beaufort Books in New York. Kampman liked the novel after reading it so he decided to publish it.
Although Beaufort Books has the copyright being the publisher of the novel, Tom says he has the right to print it in the Philippines. He will do it in conjunction with the movie. “I think Rebels of Mindanao is a better movie than book,” he points out, adding that he has already the screenplay. “We plan to make the movie next year – in Mindanao!”
Tom indeed has gone a long, long way. He started writing when he was about six years old – and he never stopped since then. “I wrote to convince other people of my ideas and to achieve something,” he says. “I wrote to my congressman to appoint me to West Point and later to Firestone to get a job, to customers to sell something… I just write.”
Although he loves to read, he says not one but many authors influence his method of writing. “However, I have tried to define my own style,” he explains. He cites the case of Sabine, where he changes the so-called point of view in chapters: from telling the story in the first person to that of the narrator, and then snap back again to the other. “I hope it helps the reader see perspective; but it might be seen as confusing,” he says.
According to him, he has five favorite books of all time – and they were written by his most favorite authors, too. These are Chesapeake by James Michener, The World According to Garp by John Irving, The Executioner’s Song by Normal Mailer, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, and Fountainhead by Ann Rand.
When asked which is harder to write between a novel and a script, Tom replies: “Neither is hard if you love doing it. If you do not love doing it and cannot stop yourself from writing, you should be doing something else.”
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on October 28, 2013.