Tomlinson was born and raised in a small Illinois town. He
lives now in rural Kentucky with his wife, fiber artist Gin Petty. His
fiction and poetry have appeared in The Pinch, Five Points, Bellevue
Literary Review, Shenandoah, Sou'wester, New Stories from the South
2008, and elsewhere. Jim has been awarded a 2008 National
Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship and an Al Smith Fellowship
from the Kentucky Arts Council. He has been a visiting writer at
Tucson's Pima Writers Workshop, at Southern Illinois University's
Devil's Kitchen Literary Festival, and most recently at Eastern
Kentucky University's MFA Program.
University of Kentuck Press, 2009
Universty of Iowa Press, 2006
Kept, Things Left Behind
Iowa Short Fiction Award 2006
with Jim Tomlinson
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Jim Tomlinson: How to answer this? Early versions of a few stories in Nothing Like An Ocean
were written ten years ago. I’ve since revised them, sharpened them and
integrated them with several newer stories, those written in the past
year or two. So it either took two years to write the collection, or
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
JT: All except Rose
were written with some sort of collection in mind. The three stories
written most recently were intended to round out the thematic shape and
tone of the book. Each stands alone, I think, but each is an important
part of the whole, too.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
are stories of the yearnings of small town and rural working-class
Americans. Each is somehow tied to the fictional town of Spivey,
Kentucky, either as setting or as a remembered place that continues to
exert emotional pull. Within that place restriction, the stories more
or less self-selected. Sequencing the stories involved considerable
trial-and-error. Final decisions sometimes came down to intuition and
"feel". Storylines suggested that some stories come before others. I
tried to avoid clustering female-character or male-character stories,
or clustering first-person or third-person narratives. And, assuming
the collection is read in sequence (often not true), I tried to keep in
mind the different emotional tones of the stories and to arrange them
in a pleasing (or at least non-jarring) way.
does the word "story"
mean to you?
desire brings a story alive. Novelist and poet Robert Morgan says that
a story is this: Someone wants something, they want it really, really
bad, and it’s really, really hard to get. Robert Olen Butler talks
about the essence of a story being character yearning, striving and
desire. The only thing I might add is that, to be a story, something
fundamental must change in the character or the reader between first
and last pages. Without that, what’s told feels somehow empty, without
deeper meaning, not a story so much as an incident
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
I do in the final revisions, when I try to make certain that my
sentences say what I mean. Until then, there’s no "reader" at the
table. My focus is simply on finding, forming and shaping the thing.
It’s just me, the fiction, and my intentions for it then.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection,
anything at all?
I always enjoy hearing which stories and characters resonated with a
reader and what levels of meaning they draw from their favorite
stories. With both my first collection and now the new one, the range
and variety of answers continues to amaze me.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your books?
It's just incredible to me, to be honest, people buying my books. It's
all quite gratifying, too, of course. I consider myself most fortunate.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
In 2006 I began research for a novel set during the American Civil War.
I took time off from writing the early chapters to complete work on Nothing Like An Ocean. I’m back at the novel now and eager to get deep into it.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
JT: Kentucky Straight
by Chris Offutt;
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
by Alice Munro;
Women Up on Blocks
Akers The first two I’ve recently re-read. I so enjoy rediscovering old
favorites like the Offutt and Munro books. And Mary Akers writes such
engaging stories. I'm sure I'll be revisiting this collection, too, a
few years down the road.