Today we have with us Kevin Tumlinson—Author, Blogger, Host of the Wordslinger Podcast.
Say something about yourself. Something about your inner life.
I started writing at a pretty young age. I tell everyone I wrote my first book at the age of five—something I scrawled on five pages of Big Chief writing pad pages. I gave that story to my stepfather, and in a rare moment of modesty I told him I didn’t care what he did with it. “You can throw it away, if you want.” Which he did. I’ve never been modest again.
I also started writing professionally at 12 years old. I’m using the Olympic definition of ‘professional’ here, meaning I was paid to write. I wrote an ongoing column for our local paper that was sort of a ‘teen beat’ thing. It was mostly filled with brief interviews about football and baseball games, school dances, and county fairs.
My inner life is more or less filled with musings about what could have been or what could be later. I have mental conversations with a cast of characters in my head. And together we decide what story we’d like to tell on any given day. I’m usually outvoted.
The best moment of your life? Apart from your writing career.
It’s a little tough to narrow down a ‘best moment’ for my life that doesn’t involve my writing. My very best moments all seem to spring from my career. Even my marriage, arguably one of my better moments and certainly one of my better life choices, came as a result of the writing. My wife and I met on the dating service, eHarmony, and it was my ability to tell a story about myself that was entertaining and still somehow true that attracted her to me.
But maybe the best non-writing moment of my life came when I was working on a television documentary about a special forces mission in Vietnam. The project was shutting down, the studio I worked for was falling about, everyone was hurt and annoyed and angry. And out of that I built my first business. Which, sadly, also failed, a couple of years later. But it was a start. It taught me that I could do it. And that, apparently, was all I needed to know. That led to me building the author career I have today.
Biggest lesson you’ve learned in life so far? What is your philosophy of life?
My philosophy of life comes down to questions. My grandfather had a saying that I repeat often:
“I never got a thing I didn’t for, even if it was a punch in the mouth.”
What he meant by that was we all get exactly what we ask for out of life. It might not always seem like it, but that’s because we often don’t understand that what we want and what we ask for are usually two different things. I may want a million dollars, but the life I lead and the work I do and the commitments I make are the way in which I ask for it. And if I’m only getting twenty bucks, instead of a million, then my life is only asking for twenty bucks.
So the biggest life lesson I’ve learned to date is that you have to tailor your life and your thinking and your actions so that you’re asking for what you want in the right way. Build your life so that it has no choice but to go in the direction of what you dream of having, and you’ll get what you’re after. People will deny this to extremes, but I can prove it’s true. Just look at anyone who has succeeded at something, examine the life they led up to that moment, and ask yourself if it’s at all possible that they could have gotten a different result by doing everything the same way.
The answer is no. Results come from inputs. And the inputs come from you. Ask for what you want, and keep changing your plans and strategies and approaches until you get it.
Otherwise, you may end up being punched in the face, and having to admit you were asking for that, too.
What book are you reading at the moment? Tell us something about it.
I just closed the cover on “The One Thing,” by Gary Keller. It’s an amazing book about determining how to get what you want by focusing on just the one most important task in front of you.
We tend to pluralize “priority,” as if it just means “a lot of stuff that’s really important.” But it was only ever meant to be a singular noun. Your priority is the one thing that matters most. You can have a new priority in a given situation, or day to day. But you can only have one at a time. So pick the one thing that matters most, and focus on that.
The other books I’m reading right now (because I tend to several at once) are “The 6th Extinction” by James Rollins—because it’s an immensely enjoyable thriller, and I like to study the genre—and “Eat, Pray, Love Made me Do it.” That one is a collection of essays by various authors, all writing about how Elizabeth Gilbert’s book changed their lives. I loved “Eat, Pray, Love,” and I love Elizabeth Gilbert. So I’ve been pleasantly thrilled by each little essay in this anthology.
What books and authors have influenced your writing the most?
One of the first and biggest influences on my writing was Orson Scott Card. I read “Ender’s Game” in 9th grade, and it absolutely sparked the writing flame for me. I had already written short stories and my little ‘book’ by then, but it wasn’t until I read that book that it clicked with me—I want to create things just like this.
I went on to read everything Card ever wrote, and that really influenced my style. And then I discovered works by David Eddings, Piers Anthony, Steven Gould, and then eventually Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Andy Weir, and on to James Rollins, David Baldacci, Dan Brown, and on and on and on.
I’ve lost track of my influences by now. But every book I read informs a little piece of my writer’s soul.
I should also say that I love biographies and histories of science and technology. So Walter Isaacson has been an influence, along with several other non-fiction authors. Too many authors to name, I guess.
When did you first consider yourself a writer? What was that particular incident?
This is a tricky question, because like a lot of writers I don’t know that I really ever considered myself a writer until I’d gotten some sort of external approval. I can say that I most certainly always was a writer, all the way back to that little book at five years old, and likely before that.
Writers write. That’s the definition. So by that definition I’ve been a writer for a long time.
But the first time I actually embraced the title, and stopped feeling like a complete fraud … well, that moment is still forthcoming, I think. I took the professional title ‘Writer’ for the first time around 2003 or so, when I was working on various documentary film productions, and writing for various newspapers and magazines. And I took the title ‘Author’ the first time I published a book, back in 2008. But it wasn’t until lately, here in 2016, and after almost 30 books in print, that I’ve started actually thinking of myself as a writer and author.
Isn’t that strange? I bet a lot of writers feel the same way. I still have doubts sometimes.
Did you ever think that this is what you wanted to do with your life when you were younger?
Dear God, yes. This was all I ever wanted to do. The through-line of my rather eclectic professional career, in a vast variety of titles and industries, has been writing. It’s really the only work I ever wanted for myself. I did it even when I wasn’t supposed to be doing it, while running tests on fixtures at an electronics manufacturer, or while deep frying onion rings and Monte Cristos at a restaurant in my home town. I’ve never been without that voice in my head and my heart, screaming for me to write.
Where do you write? Show us your desk but don’t clean it up.
I don’t have a desk anymore. I used to, and I kind of miss it. But as my wife and I downsize so that we can move into an RV full time, and travel while I write, I mostly write from any table or surface that feels comfortable and provides a nice view and a quiet environment.
You can see by the photo that at the moment I’m writing from our large, wooden dining table. That’s kind of a favorite for me, though sometimes the life happening around me can be a distraction.
Distractions can be good, though. They can feed the writer, keep him well groomed, water him with ideas.
I’m not a messy person, so I keep my writing space neat. Mostly it’s and my iPhone, generally a cup of coffee or Earl Grey. Nothing fancy.
Do you have to do anything to get into the zone when you write? Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t have to get into a zone because I maintain a daily habit of writing.
My first couple of books took two years apiece to write. My third took fifteen days. The shift came when I decided that I needed to develop a daily writing habit, so I could produce more books, faster. If I wanted to treat my work as a business (and I did), I had to produce more than a book every two years.
Ideas are a different story. I get ideas from everywhere. Literally.
I recently shifted from writing purely science fiction and fantasy to writing thrillers. It was a good move for me—I’m enjoying the work more than ever, and I’m producing stories that really hit the right notes with my readers.
My most recent book, at the time of this interview, is ‘The Coelho Medallion.’ That’s the first in my Dan Kotler series, and it’s a pure thriller. It deals with the idea that Vikings may have penetrated deeper into the heart of pre-Columbian United States than we ever imagined. And that idea isn’t fiction. We’ve recently uncovered Viking artifacts in a number of really unexpected places in the United States.
I first encountered that idea in a magazine article, but then I came across it in several television documentaries and programs on History Channel and Travel Channel. So the idea was there. And all it took was for me to combine it with another idea, that of an underground river, and I had the seed of a good story.
Every author struggles with answering the question “Where do you get your ideas?” I don’t. My answer to that question is, “I put them together from bits and pieces I encounter throughout my life.” I build them from disparate bits and pieces. I synthesize them from odd and disconnected concepts. That’s where ideas come from.
What’s your favorite from your own works? Please share an excerpt from your writings.
My favorite work to date is actually ‘The Coelho Medallion.’ It knocked the runner-up out of top position as soon as I was done with it.
Here’s an excerpt I rather like:
Alarms were already blaring, echoing through the canyons of corrugated aluminum among the outbuildings and warehouses of Prime Alert Fire Safety Products.
Alarms were a bit unusual here. The facility was located in an expanse of desert nestled in among some foothills in New Mexico, close to the Colorado border. The closest town only had a few hundred people, officially. Unofficially, maybe a few hundred and fifty. And none of them had any interest in breaking into a bunch of warehouses where smoke detectors were manufactured and stored.
Except for tonight.
Henry “Hank” Lott was pretty sure this would turn out to be a case of some bored teenagers getting a little too drunk and a little too rowdy. He figured he would find them next to one of the metal out buildings with a can of spray paint and more than a few bottles of beer, tagging the giant metal canvases of the warehouses to show their virility before slinking off to diddle each other in the brush. Guys and girls, Hank figured. Kids.
Hank was the night shift here, and he had no issues with that. He didn’t even mind being alone. He made his rounds in the beat up Chevy pickup that the company had issued him almost three decades ago. He ran off the same sort of teenagers who were probably causing all the ruckus tonight.
The monitoring service had called just 20 minutes ago, and Hank rolled out form his little spot overlooking the mountains and the flat-pan of the surrounding desert. He was a little grumpy about putting down the book he was reading, a Nick Thacker thriller that was really killing the hours. But he so rarely saw any activity here it was tough to be mad for too long. There was always the chance he might catch some burglars trying to steal computers from the offices or something.
He pulled up to Building Three, one of the storage and staging warehouses where boxes of smoke detectors were stored before shipping. From here, Prime Alert reached out to the Walmarts and Targets and Home Depots of most of the united states, selling a reliable and inexpensive product to the masses. Hank felt a certain amount of pride, working for a company that actually did save lives, if indirectly.
Building Three’s front entrance was open, and a large moving truck—one of those that could be rented from a home storage center—was backed up to the bay. From his vantage point, Hank saw two men moving within the barely-lit interior of the warehouse. They were using hand trucks to load stacks of boxes into the moving van.
Hank stepped out of the Chevy and drew his weapon—an aged .45 that he’d had since he left the service. It was his personal weapon, and much more comforting to him than the little .9mm pea-shooter the company had tried to issue him. It would make a big bang and a big hole, if the need arose. Thankfully the need never had.
Hank also took out his mobile phone and dialed 911. In a whispered rush he told the operator the situation and his location, and said that there was a robbery in progress. He advised them that he was armed, and about to engage the suspects. Before the operator could tell him to stay put he hung up. The police wouldn’t be here for quite a while—the facility was at least half an hour from the closest police station. But by then Hank hoped to have these guys rounded up and held at gunpoint.
He stepped away from the Chevy without closing the door, and crept quietly toward the moving truck and the gap in the loading bay.
When he was close enough, he saw that there were actually four men, not just two. They were quickly loading the hand trucks and rolling boxes of smoke detectors into the van, then speeding back to reload.
“That’s enough,” he said loudly, aiming his weapon at the men, who were clustered around the next batch of boxes.
They froze, and turned on him.
They were wearing black masks that hid their features, along with black gloves. Their coats were olive drab—probably military castoffs.
“Just step away from the boxes with your hands in the air. Get down on your knees out here in the open floor.”
Hank had stepped through the gap and into the loading area of the warehouse, and he kept the gun trained on the men the whole time. He hadn’t expected four men, but he felt he could keep them subdued until the police got here.
The men made no move to do as he’d ordered.
In fact, it almost seemed like they had no idea what he was even saying.
Suddenly there was a sound from behind him that sent goosebumps up his back and made him break out in a sweat. Hank had heard that sound before, back in the war. He knew what it meant.
It meant he was a damned fool for not looking back.
“Lower your weapon” a voice said from behind him. It was strongly British, and sounded a bit young. But it was firm, and left no room for doubt as to what the owner of the voice would do if Hank didn’t do as he was told.
Hank raised his left hand even as he knelt down and placed his weapon on the ground. When he stood up again he raised his right hand, and turned to look into the back of the moving van
A man stood among the stacks of boxes that the burglars had already loaded. It was quite a lot, actually. In the short time it had taken for Hank to put down his book and get over here these men had systematically emptied a very large portion of the warehouse. There were thousands of smoke detectors already loaded into the van.
“You called the authorities, I assume?” the man asked. He, too, was wearing a mask and gloves, and the olive drabs. And he had a semi-automatic rifle aimed directly at Hank’s head.
“Yeah,” Hank said. “They’ll be here any minute. So I’d …”
“You couldn’t have called them more than ten minutes ago. It will take half an hour at best for anyone to get here.” The man paused, as if running numbers in his head. “We have time.”
“They’ll be here any—“
Before Hank could finish the man raised the rifle and fired a single burst, striking Hank right in the chest. He fell forward, slamming to the ground, and coughed and sputtered from the pain. He tried to crawl away, but the man had dropped down from the van and stepped up to him.
Hank looked up at him, rolling onto his back. The man stood over him, held the rifle in one hand like a pistol, and put a bullet in Hank’s head.
With the deed done, the man said something in Arabic to two of his men, and they rushed to move Hank’s body out of the way, then scrambled back to the boxes. In moments they had emptied the warehouse, and sped away into the night even before the sirens could be faintly heard in the distant New Mexico Night.
Does any of your stories feature you as a character?
Actually, yes. Though I keep that very subtle. I’ve had characters interact with an unnamed avatar of mine in books such as my ‘Sawyer Jackson’ series, and in my ‘Think Tank’ serials.
More often than a personal appearance, though, I’ll sometimes seed in one of my books. In ‘Sawyer Jackson and the Shadow Strait,’ for example, the character Book explains to Sawyer and his friends the plot of a particular book they’ve picked up, and what I’m describing is my ‘Citadel’ series.
I’m a big fan of Easter eggs in my fiction, actually. My books are absolutely riddled with them. I have managed to link every single book I’ve ever written together in one way or another. They all share an Omniverse, actually. Which you’ll understand better when you read the Sawyer Jackson books.
What’s your number one secret about writing? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers? A message?
The secret to writing sucks. I’m sorry, but it’s true. Because first off, you’ve heard it a million times, and it’s going to make you roll your eyes. But second, what you heard is true, and most writers ignore it anyway.
The secret is simple: Write every day.
You’ll miss days. You’ll have crappy days. You’ll have days when the words come like cold maple syrup, and every syllable is just painful and horrible and awful. But those days are the very days when you need to write the most.
You should also treat every type of writing you do—from text messages to personal emails to professional emails to short stories and novels—as practice. Do them to the best of your ability. Labor over them. Make them the best they can be.
Try new things while writing emails. Even if people think you’re weird, you’ll get used to writing creative things for other people.
Write in a journal every single day. I use an app called Day One. I used to use Moleskine notebooks. It doesn’t matter what the tools are, it matters that you write.
And write every word as if someone will read it.
But the key is write every single day. Commit to a minimum word count, and don’t go to bed at night until you’ve hit it. Get a calendar, and put a big red X on every day that you write, and chastise yourself mercilessly for any days that don’t get that X.
Write every day, even when it sucks, and you will get better. And when you have a daily writing habit, you’ll never know what it means to have “writer’s block” or to lack inspiration or to be stuck on a blank page. You’ll have the habit of writing ‘even though.’ That’s what real writers do.
Please suggest us an author for our next interview.
You should interview Nick Thacker – firstname.lastname@example.org
And Justin Sloan – email@example.com
Tell them I sent you!
Thank you so much for being with us. Hope you had a good time!
I did, and thank YOU for your patience!
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Till next time!
Love you all.
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