Today we sit down with New Jersey author, Tom Julian. He’s going to tell us about his work, his inspiration and a bit about himself.
Please enjoy this edition of 20 Questions:
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think anyone decides to be a writer, but there are people who are storytellers that can make you envision pictures with words. These people decide to put pen to paper. I think that before I was someone who wrote, I was a kid who pretended. And my Lego people had lives outside of their plastic constructions and they had hearts and things they enjoyed and dreaded doing. People in fiction tend to live always exciting lives, but I like to think of what characters to when they’re not having adventures. Like – is Batman in a bowling league? Does he make guacamole?
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
Jeez – I’ve written one book and a few screenplays. The book, Timberwolf at first was a screenplay called Timberwolf. That was on my mind like 15 years ago, but it germinated over a few years. The real writing was I guess, 5 months. I don’t like to hear about people writing 3-4 books a year. Not that I am jealous, but I think “that possibly can’t be special. It can’t be good.” It seems too pumped out. I would rather write one good book every 10 years, than 10 meh books a year.
The book is a military sci-fi story about a battered super-soldier who has to stop his former mentor from restarting a disastrous interstellar war. Humanity has been running rampant through the galaxy for a hundred years, just wiping out all aliens we encountered. We’re the fire that’s burned down dozens of worlds. It’s sort of the anti-Star Trek. It’s pessimistic in a way, but also very light on its feet. I think that’s sort of a feat. It’s heavy but moves quickly. It feels cinematic as it was originally a film script.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
There’s not ever a good time for writing a book. The clouds will never clear and leave you unhurried. Important things need to happen when you make them happen. You need to sit down and write, child hanging on to your knee. That passion will make it on to your page. I tend to write when I am not writing, going around thinking about my characters and what’s going on in their lives.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know if this is a quirk, but I tend to tell my story almost 100% in scene-based writing. I don’t do too much exposition that would read like a Star Wars scroll. If something is being explained, or experienced it’s done through one of the character’s eyes. They are learning about the world they live in the same as the reader is. I think this gives the writing an urgency and rawness.
Q5) How are your books published?
I work through an indie publishing house. I’ve considered self-publishing, but I don’t think I want to go there yet. I don’t want to bother with the layouts and distribution and stuff like that. Writers would focus on writing.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
Timberwolf came out of just lying on a bed after a rather unfruitful trip out to LA to pitch to the producers of DS9 and Voyager. In the hotel, the idea of a super soldier floating in space amongst all this wreckage just came to mind. That was the first mental image of Timberwolf. Over the years I grew that in to a whole universe and vibrant character. So I don’t really think that scenario was very special. Just lying there after a creative failure. I’ve had other ideas come to mind under much better circumstances! Sometimes something will just hit me at a stop light. Sometimes on long bike rides.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book and how old were you?
The first thing I might consider to be a book was in college. It must have been only 30-40 thousand words. It was called “Jack’s Time” and it was Star Trek fan fiction about Jack Crusher (Wesley’s dad) and how a time portal appeared that might have given Picard a chance to go back and save him.
I don’t think the character of Jack Crusher and Picard’s guilt about the death of his friend was really covered that well in Star Trek: The Next Generation. And Picard had a thing for Crusher. He loved her really. He loved his friend’s wife who died under his command. That’s sort of messed up. Wesley was supposed to feel like more of a son to him that he did. Maybe because everyone was always telling Wesley to shut up. I got in to that dynamic Picard/Dr. Crusher/ Wesley.
Jack’s Time might have been awful, I don’t even remember. I think I liked it a lot. This was pre-internet, so it’s not even out there on the cloud. It’s on some old HP disk somewhere probably lost.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I’m one of those guys who dresses up like Tron and goes long-distance cycling. 40-50 miles at a pop. Get in some nice hills. I do a charity ride over 7 days called Anchor House that helps homeless kids. It’s 500 miles and it makes me feel like superman. The Anchor House team is like a 2nd family.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
Sires of Titan. That book made me cry. It’s so incredibly sad and weird and extraordinary. Vonnegut had a way of making his writing seem effortless. I don’t know if it was, but his work seemed so nonchalant and thrown together and then you’re through and you look back on the wonderful journey he’s taken you on. He was a special writer. I got to see him back in 1994 at a college event. He asked me where a good diner around was after he was speaking. I was dumb and just told him to go down the road to this or that greasy spoon. Should have taken him there myself and had pancakes with Kurt Vonnegut.
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
I can’t describe how supportive my family and friends are about my writing. My friend rob is just waiting for Hollywood to come knocking to buy the rights to Timberwolf.
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I guess it was how much catholic school stuck with me! Timberwolf has a lot of biblical references to it. The 3 main characters, Emmanuel Gray, Timberwolf and Michael sort of play out the dynamics of the war in heaven where god banished Lucifer. Gray being the god figure, Timberwolf is Lucifer and Michael is the archangel Michael – the one who defeated Lucifer. But it’s all twisted around. Gray is a false authority who thinks he speaks for the essence of divinity.
This is all within a sci-context with aliens, mech suits and really amped up action scenes. It’s funny how I modelled my main character Timberwolf after Lucifer – the fallen angel. But as far as Gray is concerned, he was the person of light who betrayed him. The wayward angel. I’ve twisted religious ideas around so they mean the opposite of how they were originally written, that’s sort of a commentary on how religion has been twisted in so many ways. I saw a photo online of Jesus holding an AK-47, so I think that my point is a valid one.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
I am really thorough about my editing. Too much I think. Before I start writing for the day, I read my words from the day before. They eat up a lot of time. I’m going to go back again anyway to look it over, so I think that eats up a lot of my daily start up for something I am going to repeat later.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I’ve had two books published, Timberwolf and Breacher. They are both set in the same universe. Timberwolf is a full novel and Breacher is a novella. I think Timberwolf is a very tight and completely imagined work. Breacher is shorter but packs a hell of a punch.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
Science-fiction doesn’t have to be just about the science part. Or the gadgets or the world building. Make the reader care about your characters. Moneyball was a compelling story, and that’s about freaking baseball statistics! That worked because you liked the character of Billy Bean and what his mission was. I hate spectacle for spectacle’s sake. A hodgepodge of special effects or set pieces just doesn’t do it for me. I’ll pat myself on the back and say that I writer really good action scenes, but I tell the action scene through the eyes of the characters. That way the reader can feel their fear or their excitement. They are not bystanders, but participants. I tell them how a battle smelled and let a plasma burst singe their ear.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
I’ve been threatened with bodily harm if I don’t write another Timberwolf book! I love to hear that. It’s true love. A wonderful compliment that someone would risk incarceration to see my story continue!
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
People that buy they book and think enough about it to write a review. I don’t read books anymore without reviewing them. I think that if you invest the time to read a book for like 10 hours, you have to leave some stars and write a review! I want to hear from engaged people.
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
Mix up action, character and story. Don’t trade one for another. And put me in the moment. I want to ride along with the characters. I guess I want to read an author who writes exactly like I do! I have to get over myself.
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be a creative person of some kind. I always wanted to be a writer, but I had no allusions that I could make a living that way. So I’ve got a day job that I really love working in pharma. I love helping people and telling stories. I do a lot of both at my day job so that is very satisfying.
Q19) Where can we find your books?
www.tomjulian.com! Everyone should buy their name as a URL. It’s only $16 bucks a year or so. Own your name! That forwards to my amazon page where you can buy my book. If I’m doing a charity event, sometimes I’ll forward it to something else.
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
I have a lot of confidence in Timberwolf. I’ve played a game at readings where I have the audience guess a number between 1 and 290 and I just read from whatever page they pick. This is from page 19, selected from a random number generator.
In this scene, Gray is remembering when Timberwolf was exposed to a psychic alien spider named Kizik. He knows that he and Timberwolf and Michael are all on a collision course.
For a horrible instant, Gray recalled the time at Purity Hospital after operation Jackhammer, a more desperate time. Timberwolf was raging, six orderlies were trying to hold him back, and then he melted to the floor, face soaked in tears. What’s here? What’s in my head? He screamed over and over for hours. What’s here? What’s in my head? Gray had thought that if anyone could, Timberwolf could handle contact with the Arnock. Gray tracked his own downfall to that moment as Timberwolf lay on the floor, the horrible choice that had started both their ruin.
Gray shook the memory and grinned, thinking that Timberwolf was out there right now, tracking and watching for them, kneading together the intelligence and lying in wait. There was an endgame in play here, an old clash infused with new rules. He knew that at some point soon, Michael, Timberwolf, and he might have guns pointed at each other. He wondered who would be man enough to pull the trigger.
About Tom Julian:
Tom Julian works days at pharmaceutical company and nights and weekends as an author. He enjoys traveling, long-distance cycling, and waking up early to brew the perfect cup of coffee. He’s an unabashed beer snob and native of Trenton, New Jersey. Tom’s first novel, Timberwolf, is a military science fiction story. The elevator pitch would be “imagine Aliens + Apocalypse Now.” Tom is the father of Izzy and Liam and husband to the lovely Brenda-Lea. He writes while warming his feet under his Bernese mountain dog, Maggie May.