April 15, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Writer: Interview with Tom Breuer

Tom Breuer is the coauthor, with Joseph Minton Amann, of Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly, Fair and Balanced, My Ass: An Unbridled Look at the Bizarre Reality of Fox News and The Brotherhood of the Disappearing Pants: A Field Guide to Conservative Sex Scandals. He is an experienced writer and editor and lives in Neenah, Wisconsin.

What's your title?

I am an author, freelance copy editor and freelance writer.

How do you explain your job to your mother?

I tell my mother that I’ve written a new book and somehow she finds a copy. I don’t have to explain much. If she realized word processing software had spell check she’d probably wonder why anyone needs a copy editor. Plus she might think witchcraft is involved so it’s a perfect “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of situation.

How did you get started?

A friend and former colleague started the website,, which received a fair amount of attention, and he asked if I wanted to help him on a book. We wrote “Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O’Reilly” and followed that up with two more political satire books. Before that I wrote a humor column for about 10 years for a local alternative paper. I was also the editor and lead writer for that publication. Before that I wrote a humor column for my college newspaper.

What was your educational background? How did you get experience?

Eleven years of Catholic school instilled the required cynicism and bitterness. After that I took philosophy and journalism at various secular humanist state schools. It turned out to be way more education than was required for making fun of people’s physical appearance. Working on a college paper was great practical experience, even though I’d be afraid to look at anything I wrote beyond, say, five years ago.

What was your first job in the profession?

I was an editorial assistant at The Post-Crescent in Appleton, Wisconsin for a few years in the early ‘90s. I wrote business news briefs, did on-the-street interviews and took obituaries on Saturday nights which sadly was actually more of a social life than I have now.

What was your last project?

The last book I worked on was “The Brotherhood of the Disappearing Pants: A Field Guide to Conservative Sex Scandals.” It basically required culling a lot of information from various newspapers and then adding jokes where appropriate. We actually found more than 70 right-wing scandals that were salacious enough to be included. So conservatives excel not only in quality of perversion but also in quantity.

Describe a typical day (or week) in your life when you're working.

Stare at screen, make coffee, get up and walk around, curse self, check my e-mail, check website friend forwarded to me, look at website, look at other website the first website reminded me of, check e-mail again, get another cup of coffee, write something, repeat.

How do you sharpen your skills continually?

I read a lot and try to take as much work as I can. Editing is relaxing to me. Writing can be agonizing.

What advice do you give to those who want to join the profession?

Have your friend start a website making fun of an idiot. Hope Al Franken’s son finds it and tells his father. Be the only professional writer your friend knows.

A series of questions:

What motivates you most about your job? What do you hate about your job?

There really is a natural high that comes with getting into a creative flow that’s unlike anything else. It can be a singular joy — that is, if things really are flowing. If they’re not, that natural high can seem more like a horrible hangover.

Favorite job to date? Nightmare job that still haunts you?

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed anything more, from a professional standpoint at least, than working on our first book, “Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O’Reilly.” The remarkable thing is we did it more or less on faith. We didn’t have an agent or book deal until very late in the game. Every part of the process, from the initial concept stage to promotion (we appeared on Al Franken’s radio show and “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” among other shows) was a thrill. Various jobs haunt me, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone. Actually, I love embarrassing people. I just don’t want to burn any bridges.

If you could go back in time and meet your pre-professional self, what would you tell him?

Tuck in your shirt.

What's your motto?

I don’t know. Probably something Latin-sounding. Maybe “sic semper tyrannis.” I just always liked the way it sounds. It also sort of fits Bill O’Reilly.