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Ocean City novel features characters from real life

August 02, 1998

Tom CroftBy GUY FLETCHER / Staff Writer




Even when he was a teenager cruising Hagerstown's Dual Highway in the 1960s, Tom Croft considered himself more of an observer in life than someone eagerly stepping into the action.

"I'm not one of the guys in the front lines leading the crowd. I'm one of the guys watching the people," Croft said.

During his 50 years, he has seen enough of people to give him ample material for his relatively new venture as a book author. His first published novel, "Ocean City M.D.," is a mystery that draws characters from people in Croft's life, with some twists along the way.

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"You want to write about what you know and characters you know," said Croft, who lives in Middletown, Md., and works in desktop publishing in Rockville, Md.

Croft has also written two other novels, including an unpublished book about three childhood friends in Hagerstown who grow up and become drug dealers in the city during the 1970s.

The main characters - a Vietnam veteran, a lawyer and a "regular guy" - are based on people Croft, a 1966 graduate of North Hagerstown High School, knew in Hagerstown. Their descent into crime is equally familiar to Croft, who said several of his North High classmates later did prison time.

The novel, called "Unlikely Trio," was actually Croft's first book, which he wrote several years ago over the course of about six weeks.

Croft, who had made an aborted attempt at writing in his 20s, could not explain what drove him to write the book. He just sat behind a keyboard and started typing, and the story just came to him.

"Nothing can beat it. Where else can you beat people up and kill people, and nobody cares?" he said.

But the book was considered too violent and the setting too obscure for a publisher to take a chance on a first-time author, Croft said. After being rejected too many times, and spending "a small fortune" on mass mailings to publishers, he decided to try a different tactic and write a new book.

This time he chose a more recognizable setting, the Maryland resort town of Ocean City, Md.

Croft said he had spent "too many" vacations there over the years and thought it would be an ideal location for quirky characters and intrigue.

"You can run all kinds of people in and out of there," he said.

The book's main character is Billy Lee, a down-and-out writer/fisherman who stumbles upon a human smuggling ring involving a local physician, alluded to by the "M.D." in the book's title. The book features a brutish cop, a scheming ex-wife and numerous betrayals.

"I tried to write this book where I lead you down a path where you think you know what's going to happen. But, believe me, that's not going to happen," Croft said.

After shopping "Ocean City M.D." around for more than a year, Croft was able to find a small publisher, the New York-based Palmer & Stewart, that was willing to print the book.

"You got to keep trying, and it's mostly luck. It has nothing to do with talent," he said.

A third novel Croft has written is a "seat-of-your-pants" thriller that deals with domestic nuclear terrorism and takes place in several sites, including Braddock Heights, Md. He is also working on writing other books.

Croft still has hopes of publishing the Hagerstown novel one day, perhaps if he is able to land a deal with a major publisher.

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