Eagle Designs
Tom Sullivan

Tom Sullivan was born prematurely in 1947 and was given too much oxygen while in an incubator. Though it saved his life, it cost him his eyesight. Over the years he's made a number of guest-starring appearances in shows such as Designing Women, Highway to Heaven, Fame, M.A.S.H, Mork & Mindy, and WKRP in Cincinnati. Tom has been nominated twice for Emmy Awards. As a special correspondent for ABC's Good Morning America, Tom has become a regular morning fixture in millions of American homes. He is now writing and producing for television and film. He is a bestselling author of fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books.

Genre Happenings

What Creates a Genre?

I’ve heard it said that writing is 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration. That really is the truth. At some point a writer has to sit before his computer, his pad and pencil, or, in my case, my tape recorder and just start to write—to communicate, to share ideas, to entertain, to motivate. Ah, yes, and maybe to sell the work.

When I attended Providence College, my English 101 professor told us that writing was concrete, specific, diction, connotation, and figures. That’s sort of like algebra. I mean, I haven’t thought that way as a writer for over forty years. Remember algebra? X over Y equals . . . what? Oh, really?

Writing is feeling. Writing is sound. Writing is rhythm. Yes, it can be concrete and specific. There can be connotation, diction, and wonderful figures. But the skill is not in that kind of discipline. It comes from the heart, the soul, the instinct.

I remember the first story I ever wrote, Three Seconds to Death. I was ten years old writing about end-of-life experience. I can still hear the teacher suggesting that maybe my next story should be some kind of a positive expression of what I was feeling. But what interested me even then was the suspense, engagement, and exploration of what it might be like to fall from a cliff in the last three seconds of life. And I suppose because I’m blind, there’s something Freudian in this idea. Growing up I was afraid to step off a curb because I thought I might get run over.

It comes down to this. Writers are complex people who work to turn the complexity of their psyches into a work others can understand. I did that in many of my early books because they were written, if I may say modestly, about me.

If You Could See What I Hear, my first book co-written with my special friend, Derek Gill, was about my college life. It became a rather successful movie in the ’80s.

My children’s books, That Nelson and Common Senses, try to teach kids about how wonderful it would be to learn to use more than just their sight when working to understand the world around them.

I developed Special Parent, Special Child to help parents with special needs children understand the pitfalls of education, social interaction, and the potential opportunity for their disabled loved ones to live independent and normal lives.

Adventures in Darkness, my favorite work, is the story of my life during my eleventh summer, when I struggled to find my place in a world of sighted kids and found my first friend, Billy. It’s clearly my most personal work.

I wrote Seeing Lessons: 14 Life Secrets I’ve Learned Along the Way when I was finally old enough to put these thoughts on paper. Maybe I need to be around sixty to be truly philosophical and have something to offer the reader that’s more than just fluff.

Traveling down the writer’s path, you decide to tackle fiction. My last three books have been novels: Together, with friend

and actress Betty White; Alive Day; and my just released A Short Life Well Lived. I should note that I had tried two other novels earlier. My wife, Patty, hated them so much they now exist only in memory.

That’s the other thing about writing. You need a great critic and a great friend. Patty has been the best in both of those roles for forty-one years of marriage—whoops!—forty-two. We just had an anniversary.

Even though my last three books are novels, I’ve drawn on personal experience in the telling. They all have a principal character who’s blind. They all engage in talking about the human-animal bond. And most important, they all work to understand the mysteries of faith—most particularly A Short Life Well Lived. More than any work I’ve ever done, I am 100 percent convinced that God was on my shoulder during this writing.

It is the story of a family whose little boy, Tommy, is diagnosed with Ewing’s carcinoma—a runaway tumor that threatens to take his life. My blind character, Brian O’Connor, cannot even begin to understand God’s role in his son’s struggle but finds hope in a relationship developed with the hospital chaplain as they train together for the Boston marathon in order to raise money in support of kids with cancer.

Back to the original premise of writing being 90 percent inspiration and 10 percent perspiration. What if, just for conversation, God takes a hand? What do we call that? A miracle. I humbly suggest that in this book I’m at my best as a writer, and honestly, I’m really not as good as the storytelling found in these pages.

So, you decide for yourselves. Read a couple of my books. Test the genre they express. And then read A Short Life Well Lived. I’ll be very interested to learn if you agree with me.

A Short Life Well Lived