Name: Tom Julian
Tom Julian is the author of Timberwolf, a science-fiction adventure novel set in a galaxy torn apart by war. Get the book on Amazon for a Kindle or in paperback.
Where are you from?
Hamilton Square, NJ
For my full-time job, I work at a pharmaceutical company. I like that we’re making things that can help people. That’s a good feeling to go to a job that I believe in. I’m married to the lovely Brenda-Lea and we have two kids – Izzy, ten and Liam, seven. I warm my feet under a Bernese Mountain Dog named Maggie May when I write. In the summertime, I like to dress up like Tron and go on long-distance bike rides. Sometimes. 60-70 miles at a pop. It’s really great to clear the head.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
God, it’s so cold in the Northeast USA lately! Trying to stay warm. Drinking a lot of Tea, Earl Grey hot, like Captain Picard. The wind is whipping through our old house! Watching a lot of movies with the kids. We just started the Men in Black films, which are really fun and retro.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
As far back as I can remember, creative writing was my most favorite thing to do in school. I could turn any sort of assignment in to an exercise in fiction writing when I was a kid. Sometimes, teachers appreciated that and other times I would get big fat F grades.
My first formalized writing training was actually for the screen. I became intoxicated with screenwriting in college. It’s a wonderful shorthand. You have to get visual, emotional, character and plot across as economically as possible. My senior project was a script for Star Trek DS9 and I got an A+++++++ on it. I lived the impossible dream and posted it to the internet. Someone who actually had a pitch session saw it and asked me to help them pitch ideas. Then nothing happened because we didn’t sell anything!
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s a good question, as I really don’t remember. Maybe when I was a first grader? I remember always being a storyteller, like my Lego people all had backstories. I was never satisfied with not understanding what my little plastic astronauts were doing and what their motivation was. I remember writing down backstories for these little minifigs and giving each of them names. I had hundreds of them set up in my room, all with little complex lives.
I believe that there are people out there with the souls of writers, who may have never penned a work. People with these vivid storybook imaginations like I had when I was a boy. These people are writers and don’t know it and to that extent, someone born a “writer” does not have a choice.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Timberwolf started as a screenplay, but I wasn’t getting anywhere with studios. A lot of people showed interest, but I didn’t get any traction. I was a new, untested writer and it would have been a big-budget feature if produced. Then someone referred me to Zharmae Publishing Press and they suggested I turn it in to a novel, so I did! I recall coming up for the main premise of Timberwolf when I was out at Paramount pitching to Star Trek. I sat on that for years, I guess!
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Oh, you need more? I try do a few specific things when I am writing. ; )
I treat every scene like an action scene. I don’t mean that I have people doing Kung-Fu while talking, but I try to make every scene full of the tension and kinetic feel that someone gets from an action scene. There’s a give and take of the characters. They are doing things when they react that show their emotions. I think of what the reader is feeling when reading that scene and I want them to get the rhythms. It’s a very film-centric way to do things, but that’s where I came from!
I also treat every time a character opens his mouth as important. Not sacred (because I’m not pretentions) but a chance to learn more about them. A phrase they use tells us where they’ve been and makes the reader build a backstory in their minds that holds their interest. Take this line from The Empire Strikes Back: “No disintegrations, this time” Said Darth Vader to Boba Fett. That little exchange makes the viewer wonder about their backstory and build that in their mind. What happened last time? How long have they been working together? Do they trust one another? The operative phrase there was this time. Get rid of those two words and the exchange isn’t memorable because nothing is built within the viewers imagination. So yeah, I try to do a lot of that.
I’m a believer that it’s hard to learn how to write dialogue, maybe impossible. Probably because I never had to learn it. I just listen to the voices in my head of my characters. You have to be able to hear those voices. If you can’t, it’s hard to fake it.
Finally – I try to put the reader in to the scene. What’s a plasma blast smell like whizzing past your heard? What’s it feel like when there are a thousand giant alien spiders bearing down on you? I try to give the visceral sense of things like that, but you can only do that a little bit or else the scene gets bogged down by environmental details. Throw in one or two and let the reader fill in the rest.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Timberwolf is the name of my main character. I wanted something that felt like it fell from the sky. It seems like something written in stone to me that’s just there. It brings up a lot of ideas too. It sounds fierce, mysterious and deadly. These are all things I want the reader to expect when they open my book.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There’s lots of messages, actually. But I wrap them up in a fun, engaging story. There’s a backdrop of politics and power struggle, but I didn’t want that to bog down the story. So, you can enjoy Timberwolf for all the slam-bang action, but just below the surface are the huge questions. What happens to a society that lives in a state of constant war? What do we believe in and who profits from this state of affairs?
It’s got parallels to today. I wanted to draw a straight line from today to a possible future where we become the galaxy’s apex predator. We go beyond the limit of the sky when it comes to conquest and expansion and unlike earth, there’s no boundaries. We just keep going, growing, wiping out the aliens in our path.
Our story is one where we are at a turning point where we may accept a peace and stop being the galaxy’s biggest threat or we keep going. Timberwolf and his former mentor, Emmanuel Gray are on different sides of the philosophical divide. Their struggle is at the core of everything. You take all these galactic factors spanning lightyears and involving billions of lives (human and otherwise) and like every struggle ever has, it comes down to people who have different ideas. These are not new struggles.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Ha! LOL. I don’t know. It sort of feels like Battlestar Galactica with the military sci-fi feel. I think it’s realistic to its own logic. There’s aliens, plasma guns, mech suits, secret weapons facilities run by clones and lots more. But people act like people. Some are sincere. Some care about right and wrong. Some don’t. So I think when these fantastic things are happening, people behave the way you’d expect and that makes it feel real. I’ve had a lot of people leave reviews that they don’t usually read sci-fi, but they love Timberwolf because the book is accessible. That blows my mind that I’ve apparently pulled something like that off… because the book is really out there. There’s tons of factions, competing agendas and such, but I’ve heard that people really get it.
There also aren’t any super heroes here. If you get shot, you’re messed up. But Timberwolf is a consummate badass and a legend in his own time. But I make him black and blue. Think about the realism of the first Die Hard. John McClain was beat to hell in that movie and you can see it. In later movies, he’s like a Marvel hero and that makes those installments so less engaging.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Not really. There is a scene where the characters are on board a creaky old train going through an abandoned weapons facility. That’s a nod to taking New Jersey Transit every day under the Hudson River in to New York City. I wrote most of the book on the train when I still commuted in.
But there’s nothing of my experiences in a book like this. Not even from a metaphor perspective. It’s an out there story filled with mostly bad-guys. Timberwolf isn’t really a good guy. He’s in it for himself to a large degree. He’s got good reason though, so you can’t blame him for looking out for number 1.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I just read the first book in The Expanse series I have to say, that I barley liked it. It’s acclaimed and it sets up a wonderful universe, but there’s a weird turn about halfway through that just killed it for me. It’s a great, majestic story about the colonization of our solar system and then this weird alien threat gets thrown in. It was great enough without this threat from without! I’m following a thread on Goodreads that asks, “Does Space Opera need Aliens?” and the answer is no! Sci-Fi is afraid to do without aliens. Take “The Martian.” It’s fantastic. No aliens in sight. The story is good enough without them! I assumed I would want to keep reading the series, when I was halfway through, but I’m going to pass. Maybe watch the TV version on the Sci-Fi channel.
BTW – Timberwolf is filled with aliens!
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I don’t have an active project right now. I am considering a sequel to Timberwolf though. People really love it and I want to write another one, but I really have to focus in helping my publisher market the book. When I do write my sequel, I want it to feel like a standalone book. Like the events of the first book could simply be alluded to in order to make sense. I want to do something very different.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I’ve made a really great group of author friends on Facebook that have been great. The Goodreads community has been strong as well. Very positive people!
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
That would be great, but not at this time. I also really like my job. I’m working close to home and the company I work for makes drugs to treat cancer. I just started there and I finally feel like I have a mission when I wake up in the morning.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I really wouldn’t. It’s exactly how I wanted it to be. It’s a vision that my publisher didn’t tinker with. Except my editor did suggest a few things to make the story better, but it didn’t take anything away from the overall story – it helped the story very much. I had a great editor. Kerry was amazing.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Oh man, like I said above. I’ve always been a writer. Maybe not someone who always puts words on paper, but certainly a storyteller.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Sure. And I’ll tell you what I did. I don’t think there’s a bad page of the book, so I picked a page at random and pasted the sequence below. This is page 143-144. Timberwolf and a few others are on a damaged freighter. The antagonist has sent a wrecker to drag them in. Timberwolf has a psychic connection to an alien named Kizik he’s been sparring with. Nina is the name of the freighter and Pinta is a small shuttle attached to its underside.
On the bridge, Timberwolf tore open panels, one after the other. “Where’s the shuttle release?” Achilles pointed to a panel on the ceiling and Timberwolf opened it. He reached in and pulled the release.
On the aft-underside of Nina, the wrecker had its laser saw out and approached Pinta. The wrecker pilot maneuvered as close as he wanted. Nina had no guns and he thought there wasn’t anything they could do to stop him. With a grin the pilot spun up the saw—and that’s when he got punched in the face by a spaceship.
With a burst of compressed air, Pinta hurtled at the wrecker, smashing it head-on. The wrecker spun off, thrusters panicking. When the pilot finally recovered, he was two thousand yards away. A long crack went down the length of the front windscreen and vapor leaked in the cockpit, condensing and obscuring the view.
He leaned forward, wiping the windscreen with his sleeve. A beep from his proximity monitor told him there was something close, but all he could see was Nina above him, a trail of vapor and debris coming from the listing ship.
Salla pulled Achilles up from his chair. Timberwolf heard them shouting about something, about getting the rig onto Santa Maria, the other shuttle, but he couldn’t focus on them.
Timberwolf felt the presence. The grinding. Kizik was back and showing him memories again. Jesus, I don’t have time for home movies right now!
Timberwolf was back in his apartment on Earth. It was right after the suicide attempt that Kizik had prevented.
There was the smoking hole in the wall that peaked through the bath-room and into the hall…The plasma pistol that had been set up on a tri-pod was knocked over…Timberwolf found himself in the shower like nothing had happened, the hole in the wall letting water leak into the com-mon hallway outside…He calmly toweled off and found Conrad and six security men training rifles on him in his living room…What? he had asked like they were interrupting his breakfast… 144
Before the lackey could answer, there was a knock at the door and it creaked open…Kizik scurried in, was slipping on the tile floor…Conrad and the security men were frozen like statues…
I don’t remember it this way. The giant spider showing up after I tried to kill myself.
This was much more than a memory. Kizik had inserted his presence into this pivotal moment.
I was here. Inside.
What do you want?
What you want.
I want you to f***ing die. I want to know where the hell my brother is.
Kizik ruminated, buzzing and shaking. Even in memories, or whatever this was, the creature was shockingly disturbing. Its head pulsed and expanded as it “spoke” to him. Timberwolf recalled the odor of the Arnock; burnt cinnamon infused with a heady earthen musk.
Timberwolf could tell he had amused Kizik.
That’s not why I am here. Gray, he is a small man.
How about you kill him and I kill you? Spreads around the work a bit.
He is yours to kill.
Bullshit. You kill him now. You can attack the Nemesis any time.
Kizik didn’t respond. The time wasn’t right for Gray to be out of the picture yet. He needed Gray to clear the path below down on Highland. There were more security systems still operating and Gray would be useful to trip through them.
Timberwolf felt an uncommon frustration in Kizik. Usually his psyche floated above petty things, but Timberwolf could feel him stumbling.
Timberwolf pressed him again.
Why won’t you kill Gray now?
For a moment Kizik considered stepping back and letting events take place as they would. Let Timberwolf die here and then take his chances against Gray on Highland. But Highland was too uncertain and Timberwolf was his senses, his eyes and ears. He needed this to go on for a bit longer, until things were safer.
It felt like Kizik slammed the door on Timberwolf and suddenly the presence was gone, Timberwolf’s suggestion unanswered. The memory Kizik had co-opted was replaced by the chaos on Nina. “We’ve got to go!”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I want to give the reader something really special and valuable. I work very hard to get everything right and spend a lot of time on revisions. I think about what the reader is experiencing and I come from that perspective. I don’t know if that’s challenging compared to other approaches.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I used to really like Frank Herbert, as he created a wonderful world with Dune. But I think he only had one book in that series. The others really get indulgent. I remember feeling bad that I gave up on the series in the middle of one of his later books. Oh geez – so I think I just told you that an author I loved eventually became disappointing! I also really like Kurt Vonnegut. He can make something really sad seem really special.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
An artist named Fiona Jayde. She did such a great job. I was thrilled with the cover. There’s some subtle shading in the background with the spider webs behind Timberwolf. Alludes to him being trapped in something bigger than him. Also, there’s giant alien spiders in the book – so it’s both figurative and literally, which I thought was a nice trick.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
I really wanted to keep it tight. Ever pick up a sci-fi book and it’s 550 pages long? Jeez! I didn’t want to be indulgent and tell a story like that. I didn’t want to waste the reader’s time. Brevity is the soul of wit! Timberwolf tells a really immersive and complete story and it’s 280 off pages. I didn’t cut anything really, but I kept things moving.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
There’s never a good time to do something like this! If you think that one day the stars will align and you’ll be able to sit and write a book uninterrupted and in financial stability – it’ll never happen. You just have to do it. Why wait? Same thing with doing stuff like running marathons (which I don’t do) or traveling. Don’t wait. Get started. Once you jump in, it’s easier than you thought.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t worry about your own voice. Know the voice of your characters. I think that not listening to the characters is a writer’s biggest sin. I recall being in a tough spot about halfway through Timberwolf. It was some writer’s block. So I just started writing about the backstories of a few of my characters. Just random notes as fast as I could. I explored what Timberwolf was about and how he got to where he is. It was fascinating and I learned so much. It also helped me write one of my favorite parts of the book. It gave me the chance to strip all of the technology away and show how Timberwolf reacts when it’s mostly just his wits against his enemies.
Also, if you’re having a problem with a phrase or the way a paragraph is working try taking it out. Then go back and read it without the troublesome words. A lot of time, what you were trying to make work didn’t fit and doesn’t need to exist!
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
First of all – thank you readers! Second, if you’re not a reader yet I’ll promise you, you won’t be disappointed. You’ll enjoy the book, I promise.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Not exactly the first, but I recall reading this Arthur C. Clarke anthology of short stories. Fascinating stuff. The guy was a master. He could weave a tale. His characters could use some work though. Everybody is a scientist. My catholic school upbringing loved a story of his called The Star. It can be found here: http://www.uni.edu/morgans/astro/course/TheStar.pdf it’s only 4 pages, but it’s brilliant.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Firefly makes me cry. The fact that it was cancelled and also how emotionally heavy it was. The episode with their old shiftless comrade who is smuggling organs is heartbreaking. Also, in other senses it was hilarious. The writing was so sharp that it seemed destined to not be long for this world. Sadly, it wasn’t.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
I’d really like to hang out with Jon Stewart. Maybe go get pizza and beers at DeLorenzo’s. He’s a local guy to central NJ. He grew up near me. He bartended at a local joint I used to frequent called City Gardens. He may have sold me a beer when I was younger. I think he’s like a modern day Mark Twain. Love the satire.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
I like long-distance cycling and I take part in a 7 day event called the Anchor House Ride. It’s 500 miles. It’s a crazy time. It benefits a great charity that helps runaway kids. Also, apparently I’m taking up common-core math. It’s pretty hard to help kids with their homework since math is now incomprehensible to the way I learned it.
Me and my son Liam play Legos all the time. He inherited my bricks from the 80’s and so he has a literally plastic trove in the basement. We’ve got it all set up on an old Thomas the Train table.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I really enjoy Firefly and sci-fi that’s made with practical effects. I really can’t stand CGI. It makes someone not care what is going on. Look at Aliens as a visceral experience. It felt like something as those guys where on real sets. Compare that to a gigantic CGI fest like the Star Wars prequels. There is nothing there to hold on to.
My favorite film of all time is O Brother, Where Art Thou? By the Coen brothers. It’s this light and airy oddball film about escapees from a chain gang during the depression. It’s got amazing comedy and this patois southern period dialogue. Not sure if people talked like the way they do in the film, but I don’t care. It’s transporting. Also, the music is amazing. Bluegrass and spirituals. Allison Krauss and such.
With little kids, we watch a lot of cartoons. There’s one called Gravity Falls on now that is totally brilliant. It’s like the X-Files for little kids. It’s funny and weird and smart and filled with all these hidden clues. My daughter Izzy spends hours deciphering them. I have to say I’m impressed by that level of geeky awesomeness.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I live in the pizza capital of the world, outside of Trenton NJ. There’s such good Italian food here, that it’s ridiculous. I go to a place in NYC and I’m like, “I could have gotten this at home for half the price!” I love Mexican, but red onion gives me a headache. I am a huge fan of Belgian beer. That heavy, sweet elixir known as “abbey style ale” like Chimay.
When I write, I tend to listen to music that moves me spiritually, but has a sense of struggle. Odd for a sci-fi writer I think, but when I’m writing I listen to the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. I think traditional Appalachian music will go to the stars with us. Just have a feeling it will. Some miner deep inside of the Martian regolith will pluck along to “you are my sunshine” someday!
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Huh? I don’t think writers have a choice ; ) Also, I can’t draw or take pictures or paint or sculpt. I’m awful at all those things. I can outline visual things and describe them in a way that makes it feel like you’re there. But, I can’t actually make them visually. It’s a weird sort of anti-power.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?