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Jim Tomlinson 


Website: Jim-Tomlinson.com

Jim 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.

Short Story Collections

Nothing Like An Ocean 
University of Kentuck Press, 2009

Reviewed by Majella Cullinane

Things Kept, Things Left Behind
Universty of Iowa Press, 2006

Winner, Iowa Short Fiction Award 2006

 Interview with Jim Tomlinson 

The Short Review: 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 ten.

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?

JT: These 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.

TSR: What does the word "story" mean to you?

JT:  Character 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

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

JT:  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?

JT: 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?

JT: 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?

JT: 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?

JTKentucky Straight by Chris Offutt; Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage by Alice Munro; Women Up on Blocks by Mary 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.