Kevin and I met through the Fiction Unboxed community through the Self Publishing Podcast, which I’ve been following since almost day one. It’s always fun to get inside a writer’s head and today we have the opportunity to hear from Kevin Tumlinson! (You can also read my interview on site.)
Kevin Tumlinson is the Wordslinger—a full-time indie author and author consultant, spending most of his days enslaved to a MacBook that just won’t let him go outside and play. His “Citadel” and “Sawyer Jackson” series are reader favorites, and his readers are Kevin favorites. Learn more about Kevin and his work at www.kevintumlinson.com.
What’s your story? How did you get into writing?
I started writing ridiculously early in life. One of my earliest memories is of taking four or five sheets of notebook paper, stapling them down the left side, and writing a “book.” I remember it was about a young protagonist (me, presumably) finding boy sitting on a log. The boy was so poor that he had no clothes, and I offered to get him some and help him. That’s pretty much all I remember from the story, but I think it’s telling that my first foray into fiction involved naked people.
Of course, I took this to school, and my teacher informed me that “books aren’t written on notebook paper.”
That was a little disheartening and spirit dampening, and did a bit of permanent damage that gave me just the sort of inferiority complex that fuels all authors everywhere: “My work isn’t good enough.” Luckily I had enough teachers recognize my talent, and encourage me to keep writing. Though several did request that I stop turning in short stories in place of essays.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
The cure for unrequited aspiration is taking action.
It’s terribly cliché, but “writers write.” Presumably we can take that further and say “authors author,” because apparently there is a distinction (who knew?). But that’s the most honest and direct advice you’re ever going to get from anyone who has actually managed to do this insane thing you want to do.
The good news: Writing books is the thing you wanted to do anyway!
So the second half of that advice is “Decide you’re really going to do this, and then sit down every single day to write.” In other words, develop a discipline.
That word just scared off half your readers, because “discipline” is something we’ve been taught to fear our whole lives. It’s as much as saying “I will do this miserable and difficult thing every day, whether I want to or not.” But that’s just the surface. That’s the war paint. Below that is the treasure trove.
If you commit to sitting down every day, and writing to a target every day, then there will come a day when you look at your screen or your note pad or your stack of Starbucks napkins and realize, “Wow … I’m finished. I have a book!”
There’s a famous quote from Dorothy Parker: “I hate writing. I love having written.” Discipline boils down to that. If you can grit your teeth and work through the pain every morning, and focus on hitting a word target every single day, you’ll look up to find a book that just magically “happened.” And then you’ll feel amazing. Because chances are you’re the only person you know who’s done that!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on THE SO MANY THINGS. It seems like no sooner had I finished my first Sawyer Jackson book, I was elbow deep in projects. But for starters, I’m in the home stretch for the second Sawyer Jackson book, which will be titled “Sawyer Jackson and the Shadow Strait.” This series, which started with “Sawyer Jackson and the Long Land,” is amazing. It’s the series I’ve wanted to write my whole life, and it shows. Every day I sit down and add to this universe that’s actually been in my brain since I was a child, playing in the pasture behind our house, telling myself story after story. So with Book 2, I’ll have a really strong start on a series that I honestly believe will leave a mark.
In addition to that, I’ve started a collaborative project with Nick Thacker, from LiveHacked.com (www.livehacked.com). Nick’s a sharp guy, and knows his stuff. He has a marketing platform that’s unbelievable. I actually met him when I paid him for some author coaching, and we kept in touch afterward. Now we’re working on a set of serialized fiction called “The Lucid.” These will be short, sweet, highly digestible bits of high-octane fiction that readers can tune into episode by episode. The first is available for pre-order on Amazon right now. You can find it by typing “Lucid” and “Tumlinson” (or “Thacker”).
I’m also involved in another collaboration with a friend of mine who produces for film and television. He has a treatment for a story called “He3 Wars” that Warner Bros showed a bit of interest in, and he was told that if he really wanted to own the project and control the story, he should get an author to write it as a book. He and I have worked on tons of production projects together, so it was a natural for him to call me. That book is epic in proportion, and scary in the way it predicts some dire geopolitical situations. It’s taking longer to write than anticipated, but it will be gold when it’s done.
Beyond all that, I have some other side projects that are in the “mostly tinkering” phase, including some romance stories I just started under a pen name. This is a new genre for me, for sure. But I have some stories that need to be told, and I didn’t particularly want to set them in a fantasy or scifi setting. So I’m trying something new, and I’m planning to have some fun with it.
And finally, I’ve recently started offering author coaching as part of my business. As part of that, I’m building courses and planning a book that I think will help people get into this business (and also think of it as a business). I’ve had some clients already, and it’s been fantastic. I learn as much from them as they learn from me, and we keep feeding each other and getting author fat.
What has been the most challenging part of publishing or marketing your book?
The challenges that make me bank my head on my desk mostly involve two areas: Building my mailing list, and getting reviews on Amazon (and everywhere else).
Never, in all the years I struggled just to develop the discipline to write a book in the first place—never did I anticipate that these two areas would come to dominate my life so completely. Building that list, and then convincing that list to go read and review my books has been the most difficult challenge I’ve ever faced. I’m still feeling around for the “easy button” for it, frankly.
But despite that … it’s happening. Slowly. The needle nudges to the right at a pace matched only by Galapagos Island tortoises. But it does move.
The key there (in case you, like me, are always desperately looking for hints on how to do this) is to make an effort to connect with your audience. And when I say “your audience,” I mean the audience you want as much as the audience you have. Every single day, after you hit your word count (of course), you need to be out there talking to people.
You’re not “selling” by the way. You’re “connecting.” And every connection is born from the give and take of “what can I do for you?” Ask yourself—in every conversation and on every post on your blog or Facebook or Twitter—“How can I help this person? What benefit do I offer with this post, or with this conversation?”
Remember the Golden Rule? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That really is gold. If you go out there and focus on how you can bring benefit to people, eventually that starts coming back to you by the bucket full. I’m serious … it’s all I can do to keep from going back to the question about “advice for aspiring authors” and making it all about this one idea alone.
What has been your favorite part?
It sounds kind of shallow … but I love being able to tell people I’m an author. I love it even more that I can point at a collection of books and say “I wrote that!” I’ve worked as a copywriter for most of my career, and most of what I wrote was anonymous. There was no way to “prove” that I wrote that TV commercial or that magazine ad or that website copy. But now I have all these books, and my name is right there on the cover and on the spine. And wow. I get a kick every single time I lay my hands on the proof for a new book.
And then there are the readers. Double wow! Because it’s one thing to see your name on a book and think,” How cool is that?” It’s an entirely mind-boggling for someone else to be just as excited about your book! The first time I had a reader approach me to talk about one of my books, I didn’t even know how to respond. We just stood there and fan-boyed/girled together.
Who are your favorite authors?
My favorite author growing up was Orson Scott Card. I’d say of every author I’ve read, he’s the one who most shaped what I write. I got better at this by imitating his voice, and doing a pretty fair job of it.
I’m also a fan of Neil Gaiman, who has a subdued style that is just comfortable to read. It’s like chatting with an older relative (Neil’s an old soul, if not terrible older than me chronologically). Reading his work is like hearing stories of “the good ol’ days,” with more ancient gods and magical creatures.
Of course, I love Hugh Howey—what indie author wouldn’t? Besides being the poster child for indie publishing success, Hugh’s work is amazing and engrossing and everything you really want fiction to be. I read Wool in a couple of hours, before I even knew who Hugh was or what his contribution to the field was. It was fantastic, and it hooked me for life.
Cory Doctorow, John Scalzi, Stephen King, Stephen Gould, Kevin Hearne, David Eddings—these are authors I read religiously, and emulate outrageously. They’re good teachers.
What gave you the idea for your current work?
Sawyer Jackson started with a party game.
The name, anyway. We were playing “Scene It?” at a party, and when a question came up that I partially knew the answer to, I shouted “Sawyer Jackson!” Which was, sadly, incorrect. The actual answer was “Samuel Jackson.” Of course, for every question after that, someone shouted “Sawyer Jackson!” as the answer. And by the end of the night, I swore I would do something with the name someday.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later, after I finished my “Citadel” series, that finally go around to using the name. I had been tinkering with a bit of world building for a place I was calling “The Long Land,” which was originally an alternate version of the United States. A principle character in these stories was a man named Xander Travel, whom I figured would be the main protagonist.
But shortly after creating Xander, I got into “Doctor Who,” and I realized right away that Xander and the Doctor were to similar. Even though I’d had this guy in my head for years before I ever watched even a single episode of “Doctor Who,” it was going to seem like I was creating a knock-off!
I needed a new protagonist. And Sawyer Jackson fit the bill.
The underlying story, about a boy who could see an manipulate the “knotwork” that connects everything in the universe, has been in my head for decades. Which could explain why I’ve been able to knock out Sawyer Jackson books in a month, where it took much longer for other books. It’s like the story is just sitting there, waiting to be written down. Which, I suppose, it is.
If you could be any character in the book, which one would you be?
Oh, I would totally be Xander Travel. He’s cool in the way only a nigh-immortal adventurer can be cool. He has a host of gadgets and tools and paraphernalia in his pockets that can do practically anything. And he’s funny and smart and not bad looking either.
Of course, I wouldn’t mind being Sawyer, either. His ability to manipulate the knotwork makes him powerful, abut he’s also well-grounded. He was brought up by his grandparents, just like me. And he was raised in a quiet, rural area, just like me. But he’s a lot more world-wise than I was at his age, and a lot more mature. He has a code, of sorts, that I don’t know if I could stick to and be happy. But he’s a noble character, and likeable, and he is focused on doing the right thing. So he’s the kind of character I aspire to be, while putting fake vomit on someone’s chair.
What other books have you written and/or are working on for the future?
I covered my current work pretty well above, but for future work I have an endless list of ideas. For starters, there will be more Sawyer Jackson books. Yes, yes. There will be more books in the Luicd serial as well. But I’m also mapping out a story that is most accurately categorized as “historic romance.” Again, a new genre for me, and challenging. But this story is something my wife and I have talked about quite often, and I love the opportunity to explore characters from the eras and locations where this takes place. IT’s going to be challenging, but it could I know I’ll enjoy it.
What’s your favorite quote?
“You can have anything you want, as long as you’re willing to help enough other people get what they want.” —Zig Ziglar
I probably quote that once per day, and it’s thoroughly engrained in my personality and in my business model.
What’s your favorite supernatural creature?
The Liger, which is bred for its skills in magic.