Tom Ufert, a 46-year-old quadriplegic afflicted with three different disabilities is an inspirational voice in our troubled times. He received his bachelor of arts in political science and history as a scholarship recipient from Centenary College of Louisiana. Tom is a former Rotary International graduate Fellow who attended Australian National University in Canberra, ACT, specializing in East Asian political affairs and was a White House Fellow nominee. He is a former Lyndon Baines Johnson Congressional Intern and constituency aid for two former United States members of Congress. His past services for 11 political campaigns on both sides of the aisle were highly valued by former Louisiana Governor Charles “Buddy” Roemer, Henson Moore the former assistant chief of staff to U.S. Vice President George H.W. Bush, and the present U.S. Trade Ambassador, Ron Kirk.
At age 23, he was the youngest artistic Board Chairman in the United States as head of the Shreveport Summer Music Festival. Mr. Ufert has served as a member of two other 501(c) three charity boards including his beloved fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia as well as the community advisory board for his former rehabilitation hospital. Over the years he has acquired extensive customer service experience in the food and beverage, hotel, insurance, home security, and pharmaceutical industries. Mr. Ufert has served as a member of two other 501(c) three charity boards including his beloved fraternity Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia as well as the community advisory board for his former rehabilitation hospital. His professional memberships include Phi Alpha Theta, Sigma Tau Delta, and the Worldwide Who’s Who. In recent years he has worked tirelessly as a volunteer fundraiser for numerous AIDS charities in his community and served briefly as the community affairs liaison for Legacy Founders Cottage. Tom Ufert, a native of Louisiana, now resides in Texas.
How have your experiences as a writer compared to the preconceptions?
A complete picture of opposites! I thought writing the book was going to be the hard part. Boy, was I wrong about that one. Without a doubt, marketing and promoting have been the real challenges. I knew that my first book would not leap into the hallmarks of American literature and never foolishly assumed my story was so compelling that it would roar to the top of a NY Times Best Sellers list. Yet, considering my book was just released in November of last year and I’ve had several Barnes and Noble book signings, numerous 4/5 star reviews, a TV interview, a radio interview, nearly a dozen blog interviews, 2 websites, 4 video trailers, rumors of interest from other respected publishers and nationally syndicated literary print magazines…I’M NOT COMPLAINING! Granted, this has not translated into a burgeoning bank account, but I’m a realist—that wasn’t expected over night in the first place. I’ve learned so much about the business, and I think it’s positioned me quite well with a sound foundation for the future. I now feel more confident in my writing and am blessed with a plethora of fellow writers to draw from for feedback and use as competent sounding boards. My knowledge of style, technique, format, character/plot development are all significantly stronger than a year ago.
It takes a lot of character to publish something, to put it out there for the world to see. Even more so with regards a book of such a personal nature. What made you decide that this was the time to make that step?
It was quite personal…THE TIME WAS RIGHT FOR ME! After obtaining the Dragon voice activated software, excuses about difficulty typing were no longer viable. Indeed, writing was FUN – to actually see an entire book grow day by day, chapter by chapter, tens of thousands of words by tens of thousands of words…WHAT A RUSH! Grandma Campbell passed away before she ever got to see her seed grow into a towering oak. I’m grateful she did have the opportunity to read several of the draft manuscript chapters,…especially the dedication. It made her cry, and she was more determined than ever, after reading some of it, that it really would make a difference in other’s lives. I am gratified that certain parts of Adversity Builds Character will have poignant meaning to certain people with regards to contemporary current events. For example, the timing of my book fits perfectly with recent natural disasters causing adversity for so many; the Sandusky tragedy that has affected so many young men may find some comfort in my experiences…maybe not, but the timing actually prompted me to write about my own experience; in the era of when our fellow man needs a helping hand more than ever, perhaps my book will inspire others to reach out an uplifting hand and others will find hope that they, too, can rise like a phoenix from the ashes of their own tribulations.
You include several quotes throughout the book, but is there one that resonates more with you than the others?
“I have food in my gut, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, a little money to get by on, friends who care about me, and those who love me – REALLY, WHAT ELSE MATTERS? It gives one pause when we want to whine and complain about how bad our lives are! “ I think that one encapsulates the lesson I’m trying to convey. We all have difficulties, but think about it and you’ll realize how blessed you are and that so many are not so lucky. I hope that sentiment becomes a contagion that will translate into community action for the less fortunate.
You are in a long term relationship now, but it was not always the case. Did your partner know all about your past before you started writing Adversity Builds Character?
MOST DEFINITELY! For four years before he and I committed to each other, I had been quite promiscuous, to put it mildly. One night stands were not just a way of life, they were a regular pursuit. He knew all too well about my “randy” behavior and even about my infidelities in previous “committed” relationships. We dated or courted for three months with no expectations of monogamy. However, it was clear from the beginning in both our minds that we had found “the right one.” Neither of us was willing to voice our true feelings out of fear that we might scare the other one off from getting too close too fast. Yet Grandma Campbell knew it was real when I confessed two epiphanies—first, I finally knew the difference between LOVING SOMEONE and BEING IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE; second, I FINALLY COULD IMAGINE MYSELF GROWING OLD WITH SOMEONE…Lester! This November will make thirteen years and it is definitely love until death do us part. To top it off, my physical challenges did not deter him in the slightest.
Writing is a craft that you can never truly master, but do you think that there is a big difference between writing Fiction and writing a (form of) memoirs?
Honestly, this is a difficult question for me to answer since I’ve never written anything fictional. Writing a memoir is pretty much a factual account of real events. Now, in my case, names were changed to protect reputations and memories of those that have passed. In many ways this was due to some of the controversial subjects I’ve addressed in my book. Furthermore, it has a legal purpose to avoid any possible objection from individuals that might have felt slighted or misconstrued by the events relayed in my work. With fiction, I surmise, that a very creative imagination is heavily required to establish credible character and plot development. I’m not sure that is one of my strong points but who knows; maybe I’ll give it a try in the future.
Besides being on the promotion campaign, you are working on two other projects right now, correct?
Yes, that’s correct. Presently I’m close to finishing a book of quotes and am diligently working on my second major book. It is a sequel to Adversity Builds Character.
The ABC experience sounds like quite the read. I look forward to seeing it. Do you have a publication date in mind?
ABC – Australia Beyond Canberra is one of the books in the initial planning stages. Certain details still have to be worked out with my Aussie collaborators, so no publication date is set. Perhaps sometime in 2014.
Was it always the plan to split the two experiences into two publications?
Actually, no it wasn’t. However, mid-way through writing Adversity it became very clear that my year Down Under was such an overwhelming experience, I would not be doing my readers or the adventure itself justice by trying to cram it into a few chapters. Furthermore, my fellowship with studies and travels involved so many fascinating events for “a stranger in a strange land” that a mere couple of chapters would not suffice.
I understand you also be donating a percentage to charity.
From the very beginning, I decided that a percentage of everything I write would go to charity. I’ve just felt all along that it was the right thing to do. Besides, I also hoped that my readers would share my sincere belief that it was a perfect deal – purchasing something worth reading knowing that part of their purchase was helping others.
Will you be donating to the same charities or perhaps an Australian branch of the same?
While I was in Australia there were a number of noble causes that caught my attention such as their Kakadu Wildlife Preservation Fund, charities for the air doctors that fly in the outback, and the Great Barrier Reef, etc. However, nothing has been decided. Some more research needs to be conducted.
Thank you for joining us as we start the second week of the Tom Ufert blog tour. I hope you enjoyed this interview, and would like to ask you to join us again tomorrow when we visit the home of Ranee Dillon with another guest post written by the author.