Tom Woodward with a copy of his latest book, Shortening Shadows.

Sales of Woodward’s mystery novel support veterans nonprofit

During his years as an assistant district attorney, Tom Woodward would wake up in the middle of the night with questions like, “Will the witness show up?” and “Do we have DNA evidence?” swirling around his mind. 

“Now I wake up and think of a storyline or scene,” observed the retired prosecutor who published his second work of fiction May 4. 

Titled Shortening Shadows, the mystery novel is set in Atlanta in 1935 and follows a young beat reporter, a detective and a private investigator as they seek to unravel a series of violent crimes. 

As with his first book, Woodward is donating the proceeds from the novel to the Wounded Warriors Project. 

“I’ve seen what (veterans) have done and how much they’ve suffered for our country,” said the retired Coast Guard commander, who spent more than 26 years in the Navy and Coast Guard. 

He believes strongly in the charitable organization’s mission “to honor and empower Wounded Warriors” and applauds its efforts to help individuals and their families.  

“Whatever I can send them is important to me. It means a lot to me,” he said.

After raising money for the Wounded Warriors Project, Woodward’s secondary goal for Shortening Shadows is for people to enjoy the book, and thus far, he has received positive feedback on it, including encouragement to write a sequel. 

“This was a different venture for me,” noted Woodward, whose first book, Loose Ends, was a collection of short stories. 

He was planning to do a similar book as his second venture, when he came across a report of a murder that took place in April 1935. 

“The story just took shape in my head and off I went,” said Woodward, who describes himself as a history buff. 

He spent a year and a half researching and writing the book. He particularly spent hours studying old newspapers on microfilm at libraries in Cobb and Fulton counties so as to glean ideas for how to enrich the historical context of the story. 

“I love history with a passion. I would start researching, find something of interest and off I would go on a tangent,” he said. “The whole book is intertwined with the history of the world, nation, Georgia and Atlanta ... Some real people are mixed in through the story.”

Shortening Shadows features a cast of “grittier, rougher characters” than Woodward’s previous work and falls into the category of noir fiction, meaning it is a darker crime story.

“I’ve always loved that genre of writing and film,” said the writer, adding during his time as an assistant district attorney he “unfortunately learned how the criminal mind works.” 

Speaking of other authors who have provided him with inspiration, Woodward observed, “Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were two big influences. I love their work. They are so descriptive and so earthy.” 

Woodward also said he tried to write in the style that would have been used by a writer in 1935. As a result, he included a glossary of slang terms from the era, such as “chisel” meaning swindle and “hard number” meaning a tough guy, in the back of the book. 

Accompanied by his laptop and a cup of coffee, the part-time Gilmer resident did much of the writing for the book on the back porch of his mountain home, which he described as a “quiet and peaceful” locale. 

“I had a blast doing it,” he remarked, adding some of the book characters hail from Gilmer County.

Oftentimes, he became so engrossed with the story that he felt like he was talking face to face with the detective and reporter who feature as main characters in the story and hearing them recount events. 

When asked what advice he had for aspiring writers, Woodward encouraged, “Sit down and start putting it on paper or the computer ... It’s just a matter of doing it. It takes some discipline ... and make it believable ... I follow the philosophy, ‘Write with my heart; edit with my brain.’”

Woodward will be among the authors featured at the Decatur Book Festival Sept. 2 – 4. He is also holding a book signing Saturday, Sept. 3, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Walls of Books in East Ellijay.

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