Interview with Tom Julian, Author of Timberwolf Symmetry
10 Nov 2020
What can you tell us about your new release, Timberwolf Symmetry?
Symmetry is a sequel to my first book, Timberwolf. It starts literally 5 minutes after the last book ends – and that book ended with a nuclear bomb going off! Timberwolf is a bit of a mashup of Science Fiction and Espionage – I call it Spy-Fi! Think if Jason Bourne met Aliens.
In the Timberwolf universe, the human race had been rampaging across the galaxy, wiping out aliens out of xenophobic fear and because constant war had made lots of people very rich. The religious establishment, that controls all the banks, backed all this up. This all came to a screeching halt when we met the Arnock, giant psychic spiders that drove us insane on contact. Our hero Timberwolf is the only person ever to survive contact with them.
In the first book, all the factions were trying to secure Highland – a secret weapons facility – so they could then turn on the others. In the end, the place ended up getting destroyed. In Symmetry, the powerful forces that controlled Highland unleash their posthumous insurance policy, an ancient alien force that will sweep through the galaxy and wipe everything away. Why are they called the Symmetry? It’s an allusion to us. In the Timberverse, the human race was the alpha predator that destroyed dozens of species in our march across the galaxy.
The Symmetry were the alphas from eons ago. Now we have to go toe-to-toe against them and also deal with lots of other machinations happening simultaneously. Oh – forgot to mention humanity is currently in the midst of a civil war waged by several of my main characters. Alliances shift, foes become friends and in the center of it all is Timberwolf. He really just wants to live in peace, but the only person he cares about has fallen in to the hands of the Symmetry. He has to save her!
There is a TON of cool stuff going on, but I promise you it’s like watching a really well put together TV show. You’ll love it and it’ll all come together even though as described, it sounds pretty epic!
What or who inspired you to become an author?
I have always been a storyteller. In college, I fell in love with screenwriting. I lived more or less the geek’s dream. As a senior project, I wrote a teleplay for Star Trek Deep Space Nine. I posted it on the internet, it was seen by the right people, and I was invited out to Paramount Pictures to pitch to the producers of DS9 and Voyager! Really, does that actually happen to anyone else?
Anyway, we didn’t sell anything but I began helping others with their pitches and novel treatments. Timberwolf was originally a screenplay, but it was a little too big for its britches so I turned it in to a novel. I guess – and this is sacrilege – that my influences to tell stories are not confined to books. TV and film really influences me. Especially TV – we are in a new era of amazing storytelling with streaming. The budgets are so much bigger and you can literally make TV episodes that look and feel like films, and they can be whatever length you need them to be.
I write visually and through the eyes of my characters – though in 3rd person. I tell the story through what they are experiencing – seeing, hearing and feeling so it really puts you there! And I take readers to lots of places in Symmetry. The book doesn’t stand still! You’re on space ships, frontier worlds, giant alien Lifeships, a hallowed out micro-planet and a prison of black holes. And that’s just a sample.
What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?
Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut is amazing. Made me really sensitive to the concept of sadness and fate.
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson is wonderful. It has such a sense of a masterplan while you are reading it. It opens up amazing new worlds and has incredible ideas.
Dune by Frank Herbert is the quintessential big-idea novel. I admittedly take inspiration from Dune. I love analyzing how religion, money and politics intertwine to forge events. In my books though, there are very few true believers. Religion is a way to gain money and power and it’s almost nakedly so! Also – Timberwolf is a fun book with heavy themes. There’s a lot of sarcasm and excitement. It’s cerebral and action-packed at the same time.
Forever War and Starship Troopers – I lump these two together as they are the quintessential “space marines” stories that influenced me. They are so vivid and put you in there. I love the way Forever War examined the society that the conflict creates. I do that a lot as an integral part of my world building.
The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey (AKA Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) – I love how these books and the show feel. The heart these characters have is exploding on every page. The way that Captain Holden is committed to doing the right thing gives these stories such a North Star.
Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?
Steven Spielberg – yeah, so flay me but if I had a talk show, I would want to first talk to a filmmaker and not a writer. Why? Because Steven Spielberg is incredibly good at making you feel what is going on through a unique combination of what you are seeing, hearing and experiencing. The music in his films, the set design, the costumes. It all puts you there.
And one of my favorite things is the Spielberg rhythm. The way he tells stories is so full of energy that it’s impossible to look away. Just watch any 10 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Like him, I strive to make each turn unexpected. I definitely give the reader what they came for, but they are going to get it in an unexpected and hopefully delightful way!
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
When you leave something for a while and then come to it with fresh eyes and upon re-read it’s freaking awesome. The time away gives you the space to become objective about your own work. Also – I love how readers surprise me with feedback. They love things that you maybe thought weren’t that special initially.
What is a typical day like for you?
When I am working on a writing project and not at my day job, I wake up early – around 6am and make a pot of French press coffee. You can’t do drip or Keurig. Then I start in. I usually warm up by reading a little of what I wrote the day before. I am an outliner, meaning that I have sketched out where I want my story to go chapter by chapter before I begin to fill it in. Then I give it a good two hours and bang out a few thousand words. I like to keep my prose interesting, so I do a lot of revision to make sure that things rhythmically flow. I want to make each chapter irresistible and assure the reader keeps going.
I like to stop before I get tired. I believe that if you write when you’re tired, you’re going to produce crap and need to revise it later. So I’m usually done by 9:30 – 10 (with a few social media breaks). Then I’ll go out for a bike ride. Go about 20 miles or so. Then I come back, get some lunch. Get a shower and maybe watch a movie or TV show to reset myself. Then I’ll either take a look at what I did in the morning or work on my next chapter, depending on what my motivation is. Or if I’m fried, I’ll call it a day! Take the family for ice cream or get Thai food or something!
What scene from Timberwolf Symmetry was your favorite to write?
There is a chapter where the two human factions that are fighting each other are on neutral ground aboard a resupply station. If they fight each other, they could be denied refuge. But everyone is itching to fight! There’s such a great scene where things totally break down in a bar brawl and everyone has their guns drawn. The tension was just delicious!
There are also heartbreaking scenes in the book. A character is unwittingly used as an assassin and sent to deliver a bomb to someone in the form of a necklace. He even helps her put it on. It’s just so emotionally charged because the reader knows what’s happening, but the two characters think they are sharing a moment of connection.
Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?
I don’t believe in “good enough.” I struggled for two months on a pivotal moment in the book and could not find a satisfying way to move things forward. At one point, I was ready to declare “good enough” and continue on, but I didn’t. I threw away what was mediocre and started over. It was thousands of words and a bunch of characters. What I ended up with was ultimately a lot simpler and more elegant. I owe it to my readers to give only my best!
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