Interview with Thomas King

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
It's drawing that first breath after achieving consciousness that does it for me. Realizing I'm alive and have another day to do things, inspires me. Inspiration is breath being drawn into a body, fueling the brain and body, driving the thoughts that drive the nerves that drive the fingers to pound the keyboard from which flows the words I cannot keep from pouring onto the screen in front of me and fashioning into books and stories and letters and poems. Writers write. It's something we have to do, like breathing.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
At this point in my life I spend my time almost entirely writing and caring for my disabled wife. I've always been what my dermatologist calls a "careful" outdoorsman. It means i wear a hat and sunscreen and that's why after spending 40 years in the sun canoeing, sailing, scuba diving and hiking I don't have melanoma. I work with church youth groups, play guitar, banjo, harmonica and am big into bluegrass, Celtic and all kinds of homemade music. I have built a homemade banjo, a telescope and toys for my kids. I am interested in so many things, I have trouble fixing on any one thing. There is too much out there in the world to see and do and life is not long enough to take it all in.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first story with a plot I wrote was in high school. It was a science fiction story that covered all the teenage angst and was filled with all the teenage fantasy about having no pesky parents and having special powers and running off somewhere with some girl. The story disappeared in one of those periodic shoveling outs of the garage and I barely remember the plot. The important thing about that story was that it got all that nonsense out of my system so I could write grownup stuff.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
The first story I read, was, of course, "See Dick run." In 4th grade I discovered the school library. In order to get my money's worth I checked out "Moby Dick" and dragged that fat beast back and forth to school for six weeks. I read every word. Then I discovered Rafael Sabatini's "Captain Blood" and got hooked on swashbucklers. Then it was books about car racing, then science fiction, T.H. White and then I found the Bible and CS Lewis's wonderful books. I've got shelves and shelves of books and now with eBooks I've got more books than I can read by the time I dead.

My Dad left us when I was 4 1/2 and so I didn't have much in the way of male role models to work from so I found them in books. Robert Heinlein and Lewis taught me logic and how conservatives think and I liked it. Through others I learned how liberals think. Poul Anderson taught me how the elements of history link together at both a personal and cultural level. Asimov was an influence as a scientist and from him and others I learned how science and philosophy/religion were both viable ways to explain the universe. Each new book was in a way a "first" book and as Frost once put it, my roads diverged and I somehow chose the one less traveled almost every time. All those first books made all the difference.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
CS Forester's "Hornblower series" - I like a long leisurely well-told story, especially age of sail stories and an introduction to how leadership works. Helped me a lot during my career.

T.H. White's "Once and Future King" - The Arthurian legend as beautifully told by White is very wise and very human. Arthur was my childhood male role model.

C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity" - Logic, science and theology I discovered, are not mutually exclusive.

Ellen White's "Steps to Christ" - Powerful little book but it explains how Christianity works to change the heart.

The Bible: Thousands of years in the making; the most remarkable of all ancient books. Anticipated science, philosophy and culture for millenia. Works for people at all levels of intelligence, culture and experience - from "Jesus Loves Me" to hints at how the space-time continuum works and the nature of the universe.
What do you read for pleasure?
Reading is always a pleasure, even when it's reading for a purpose. I love learning things. It's why I want to live forever. I don't think I could ever tire of learning. One of my favorite quotes of all time is found In TH White's "Once and Future King": “The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.”

White's prose here leaves me in awe.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I divide my reading between my computers and my smartphone. The smartphone is handier for reading while walking or sitting on the toilet. The computer lets me make the text large enough to read comfortably. I read faster on the larger screen.
Describe your desk
I've got a big oak rolltop I bought on eBay and picked up in Dallas. It's a lovely beast with all these wonderful little drawers and hidey holes I've added to keep all my secret stuff in. The surface area is filled up with my monitor, USB gang ports and a speakers and wires all over the place. I have an overflowing IN basket that never gets emptied and all sorts of papers I'm "workin' on" all over the desk. I close it when I leave because my wife cannot resist "organizing" my stuff. My Sweet Baboo organizes with a trash can. She keeps threatening to rent a dumpster and "organize" my garage.

I keep telling her I have a system, but she doesn't believe me.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Texas 30 miles south of Fort Worth on the border between East and West Texas. You bet it influenced me.

1 - It's Texas so we learned Texas pride and culture from birth. The Alamo is an attitude with Texans. We don't surrender under any circumstances.

2 - We have actual weather in my hometown. I've stood in my backyard in January in shorts and seen the temperature drop 40 degrees in 15 minutes. We called those Blue Northers - a brutal cold that the Canadians send roaring down the plains several times each winter. We get tornadoes in the spring and it's weird if we don't cower in the hallway under a mattress at least a couple of times before summer. We're close enough to the Gulf of Mexico to get some leftover hurricanes in the summer. Then at any time you can get some really serious thunderstorms. Texas is the home of the gully-washer. That's torrential rain that we get on either end of a drought. Texas weather makes you tough and resilient.

3. My hometown was a one-church Seventh-day Adventist college town. We had a population of 2000, one and a half cops, two elementary schools, two high schools, a college and a disaster relief warehouse. We had three broom shops, a cabinet factory, a church furniture factory and a stick horse factory. We were the most heavily industrialized town per capita in the U.S.. Everybody worked their way through church school. The poor kids went to the public school along with the bullies and thugs that either didn't go to church or were kicked out of church schools. Being bullied was for me a way of life. I was a smart kid, made good grades, wasn't terribly active, and wore thick glasses (with tape across the bridge). I might as well have wore a target on my chest. My mom must have thought I was a hemophiliac because I came home bloody most days. So I have this thing about bullies and have very powerful sympathy for the underdogs of this world.

4. We were the village that raised children in Keene, Texas. We could go everywhere in town safely. We enjoyed great freedom as kids, but we couldn't get away with anything. if we got into mischief on one side of town, our mothers knew all about it by the time we pedaled home on our bikes. One didn't have much opportunity to develop symptoms of delinquency.

5. I learned that Christians are like manure. I do a lot of good if you spread them out over a large area, but pile a bunch of them up in one place and pretty soon it begins to stink.

My hometown made me who I am. I am a country boy. Cities are a foreign world to me. I live right now in a mid-sized town in Washington, but we live at the end of a quarter mile gravel lane surrounded by Douglas firs and a cottonwood swamp. We have a small herd of deer that roam the neighborhood, six million squirrels, a half dozen raccoons and some owls that are currently in a territorial dispute. It ain't bad.
When did you first start writing?
I've been writing poetry since fifth grade and stories starting in high school. I published a couple of things in college, but I didn't get serious about writing till after I completed a 40 year career in the nonprofit sector. It was kind of like it took me that long to have something to say. I never stopped writing. I wrote grants, proposals, program plans, policy and procedures manuals, training manuals, promotional materials and brochures, so I did make use of my English communications degree. Then I took up commercial writing and began to do stuff for myself. My first book came out of a workshop I did for Univ. of Pennsylvania. The publisher called me and asked me to write a book on the subject for them. Got the "author" bug after that.
What's the story behind your latest book?
The book I'm finishing now was co-authored with my wife and builds on stories gathered from our two careers working with troubled kids, developmentally disabled adults and working with government social service agencies during a time of reform in the industry. The story follows a woman with a deep-seated need to fix people who must decide what she can do to help and what she shouldn't.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I have some books with a relatively limited audience. I can make money if I get a larger percentage of the take, a small run book can make money. Besides publishers want a book that fits their preconceived notions about what's salable. I've never cared much for dealing with gatekeepers anyway. Now is a time of massive change in the publishing industry. I figure it's time to dive in and try something new.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The incredibly short commute! I like working from home. I pretty much had to work from home since my wife is disabled, but I love the working conditions. I have refrigerator privileges and I can work in my underwear. How cool is that? The pay scale at first is really sucky, but I find that if the economy picks up, so does the amount of commercial work i get. That way I can eat semi-regularly while I get my novels and nonfiction books up for sale. I'm not sure writers are entirely motivated by joy. I think it's more like obsession.
Published 2017-01-09.
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