Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Interview With J.M. Tohline

Today is a big day, folks.  Aside from posting my first interview, I have the honor of hosting it with a published author...who just so happens to be my greatest role model to date.  It's a pretty humbling moment for me.

J.M. Tohline is a name to remember.  His debut novel, The Great Lenore, is officially available for pre-order.  And he is, without a doubt, launching a career bound to take the world by storm.  Trust me. 

Among his crazy schedule, Jordan was kind enough to set time aside and share some thoughts with me.  He has taken an impressive journey, one that is different from the path most writers take.  And he is his own person - a talented, genuine soul who remains true to himself and refuses to compromise his mission.  This is, perhaps, what I admire most of all. 

And now, without any further babbling on my end, I present J.M. Tohline.

Hello, Jordan.  Thank you for donating your time and energy, especially during such a hectic week.  To start, when did you first decide to pursue writing and what led you to that decision?

I was fifteen when I decided; in fact, I never felt like I “decided” so much as I felt like the decision found me. That sounds cheesy, huh? But really, it was a random thought I had one Sunday afternoon while sitting in my parents’ van, waiting for them to come out of church. That night, I closed myself in my room and wrote a short story that centered around the Revolutionary War. After that night, I started telling people I wanted to be a novelist, and I started writing all the time.

Have you studied writing professionally?  How has your education influenced your writing career?

I studied formally for a bit. And then I quit. I felt like it wasn’t for me. Not to say that it is not right for some people, but I felt that everyone was being taught the same things about writing—being told what to read, how to read it, what to think about it, etc.—and none of it was conducive to original thought. I was double-majoring at the time (Writing and Finance), and I dropped the Writing major. I used that extra time to study writing on my own, and in time I dropped the Finance major as well…and continued to study writing on my own. It’s like when people ask Quentin Tarantino if he went to film school, and he tells them, “No, I went to films.” That’s how I feel my path for writing had to be: I couldn’t learn from the instructions of others; I had to read as many books as possible and study with all my free time and learn on my own.

Well said!  I'm completely with you there.  What is your favorite part of the writing process?

I have been sitting here watching my cat (while she watches the birds), trying to uncover my answer to this question. Honestly, I believe my favorite part of writing is when I finish for the morning, and I turn off my music and close my notebook (or Word document) and realize that it feels like I am pulling myself out of a movie. Not even a movie—more like one of those “participate in it yourself” plays, where you are right in the middle of everything that is happening. It is a great feeling to finish for the morning and realize that you have truly been inside that other world the whole time.

What is the hardest aspect of writing for you?

Right now, the hardest aspect has been switching back and forth between The Great Lenore and Blue The Person (the story about a man who conquered life—which is the novel I am currently working on). I don’t do well swinging from one story to the other; now that The Great Lenore is on autopilot for a while, I am finally being able to truly fly with Blue The Person. It makes a big difference.

Do you outline your novels, or do you allow the ideas to naturally unfold?

I allow a story to unfold of its own accord. The beginning of a story usually takes much longer than the end, because I am doing everything I can to get to know the characters as well as I know myself—writing and rewriting small parts and even huge sections, getting my feet under me for the story. During this time, the story usually begins to unfold before me, and I will keep notes regarding the story in various, unorganized hiding spots. In this way, I generally know where a story is going before I reach the part I am writing, but this is not always the case, and even when it is the case, it often changes as I enter that portion of the story myself.
What was the inspiration behind Lenore?  How did the initial idea strike?
I am always jotting down story ideas. I probably have about my next 20 novels planned out…and by the time I finish writing Blue The Person, the entire list will have changed. The seed of The Great Lenore was just another idea—the story of a woman who was presumed to be dead, and who used this presumption as an opportunity to begin a new life. And I hit a point where it was like, “Hey, this is the book I need to work on next.” And the idea spawned characters, and these characters grew and developed, and from these characters the story evolved.
From start to finish, what did your timeline look like?  Where was the bulk of your time spent?

I spent about six months writing The Great Lenore. I spent over two years editing it. It was my fourth completed manuscript at the time, and I had already marked the other three as “learning experiences” and chucked them in the trash. But there was something about Lenore that forced me to stick with it. And I edited for so long, partially, because it takes something extra for a “manuscript” to become a “novel.” And for an unpublished novelist, they are still trying to learn and understand exactly what that “something extra” is.
At what point did you assign the novel a title?  Was TGL the only title considered?

That’s a really interesting question…and I haven’t thought about that in a while. Actually, the original title was “Between Death and Put to Rest.” I still think that’s a cool title—would even be a cool title for this novel—but “The Great Lenore” kind of emerged from nowhere and became a serious contender, knocking “Between Death” out of the ring.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

I hope readers will read this novel and it will make them fly.

If writing did not exist, what would be your career path?

I would be a hunter-gatherer. No, really—I would. But that’s only because…if writing did not exist, a lot of other things would not exist either. My options would be severely limited. I would be a hunter-gatherer…and I would be the community storyteller.

I guess I deserved that answer, didn't I?  I should know to choose my words carefully when talking with a genius.  Moving on....

I'm in love with my book collection and I fear a world where literature becomes entirely digitalized.  Do you have any thoughts on this movement?  Are you an e-reader kind of guy?

I feel the same way about my own book collection. Actually, I think books will remain “in print” for a long, long time. I think those of us who love to hold a book in our hands will continue to be able to do so. But I also think the option of e-books is fantastic, because it makes books more accessible and affordable, and it opens up new avenues of reading. I believe that anything that gets people to read (whether it’s Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, a Kindle, or even Stephanie Meyer) is a good thing. And I feel that, since the introduction of e-book readers, more people are reading than before. I won’t go e-book myself, but I have no problem with them.

How did you select the setting for TGL?  Did your Boston roots influence this decision?

I am sure my Boston roots had an influence—after all, it helps to write a place you know. But I travel often enough (and make an effort to “get to know” enough places) that I can write a number of places very well. I think it was more that Nantucket, specifically (and New England, in general), was where this story belonged. It would not have worked anywhere else. Nantucket is such a throwback—no McDonald’s on the island, no Starbucks, no anything-else-super-corporate—and this novel required such an enclosed, pristine setting in order to flourish.

If your novel were to become a film and you could cast anyone in the world, who is playing the lead?

Like any writer, I have entertained this thought before (at least in the back of my mind). But I will choose to not say which actresses or actors (if any) I could envision playing any particular characters in the book, lest I lock a picture in the minds of readers of what a character looks like, rather than allowing readers to decide for themselves!

Any exciting plans for the launch of Lenore?

I have tried to be creative with all my marketing and promotional stuff—have tried to have fun with everything. Of course, many readers probably know already that they can request index cards from me to “strategically litter,” in order to send people to my site. I am not sure how effective this idea has been, but I know people have enjoyed sprinkling the cards around town, so…even if it is not working, at least people are having fun! I also plan to have another post up within the next couple months similar to my “Biggest Mistakes Writers Make When Querying Agents” post, plan to host another community storytelling event on the page soon, and am planning an East Coast book tour for the summer and a West Coast book tour for the fall. There are a bunch of other things I am working on right now, but that’s a pretty good idea of how my mind is working with all this. Oh!—and keep an eye on Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents blog; within the next week or two, I will have a guest post up on there. It’s called “How Do I Know When It Is Time To Quit Trying To Be A Writer?”

I think you have been exceptionally creative in promoting your novel.  The #6WordStory contest was a blast, and I'm rather pumped to do some classy littering.  What can your readers expect from you next?

A few things, actually. Of course, there is Blue The Person. But in the meantime, I am also working on an interesting little short story project at nighttime, and in a couple months, The Shutterbug and I are going to start posting a Saturday Morning Story each Saturday morning, with one of her photographs, and with a short story inspired by that photograph. It might be a little while until Blue The Person is in anyone’s hands, but until then, there will be plenty to hold readers over!

For fun - if you're not writing, what are you doing?

Reading. Hanging out with The Shutterbug. Hanging out with family. Hanging out in public with a cup of coffee, watching people interact with each other and with the world. Taking road trips. Rock climbing. Picnicking. Hiking. Cuddling with my cat. Oh, and spending far too much time following and watching the Red Sox.

Favorite non-writing topics of conversation?  Anything off limits?

As long as I can avoid debates, I am happy to talk about anything. I despise debates, because neither side plans to change their stance, and so the debate becomes a relatively pointless experiment in socially hostile behavior. Other than that, I simply enjoy interacting with people, especially people I do not know. I love listening more than anything; I love hearing people’s thoughts and opinions on matters, understanding why they think the way they think and why they feel the way they feel.

You have first pick in your fantasy football draft next year - who do you take?

Sonofa…longtime readers will know that Paul did exceptionally well this last year in Fantasy Football, despite having never played before. I, on the other hand, had a near-flawless team in my league, and it fell apart at the end of the season. Thanks, Paul. Thanks…

Hmmm - is exceptionally well synonymous with first place? I'm just wondering.  And keep in mind, I didn't win a game until week four.

How do you unwind - particularly when your brain has been overworked?

My favorite way to unwind is to just simply get away. To fly somewhere. Or to take a road trip, whether it is a short one or a long one. It’s always nice to change things up and just take a break.

Absolutely.  I plan to do that once my draft is finished.  My dream is to pack some good books, comfy clothes, and hang out in an undisclosed location while my manuscript incubates. 

You're starving.  Food of choice?

Ice cream. It might not fix the fact that I am starving. But by God, is ice cream ever delicious!

It most certainly is.  And now, I have a craving - a craving I intend to satisfy any minute now.  I'm not even concerned I skipped the gym today.

I have to give a big, huge “Thank you” to Paul for all his efforts in helping to spread the word. Ready? Here it is: BIG, HUGE THANK YOU.

And to all of Paul’s readers, I hope you will continue to follow along on Paul’s journey, and I hope you will consider pitching in an appropriate amount yourself when his time comes!

Keep reading, Dear Reader.
Keep writing, Dear Writer.


Likewise, I must give a big, huge "Thank you" to Jordan for taking the time to complete this interview, for being a huge inspiration, and for extending his friendship.

To learn more about J.M. Tohline and The Great Lenore, check out the links located at the bottom of the left sidebar.

AND DON'T FORGET to enter to win a FREE copy of Jordan's book.  Twenty seconds could make you a winner.  More details can be found here.  It's the easiest thing you will do today.

Thanks for joining us, my friends.  Wishing you all a productive Wednesday.

All the best,


  1. Excellent interview, thanks gentlemen! I especially love that Tarantino quote, and had not heard it before.

  2. Loved this interview. I always like to read the writing process of others, and hearing that he spent two years editing doesn't make me feel bad for taking so long!
    Thanks for the great interview!

  3. Thank you, gentlemen. I apologize that the format was a tad out of whack; it did not look that way when I previewed it last night. But, it is fixed now. Thanks again for stopping in.

  4. Awesome interview - "Between Death and Put to Rest" was an interesting title... but "The Great Lenore" sounds way better.

  5. Excellent interview. This is another reason why I think writing and publishing will be around for a long time to come, because there are stories to be told and people who find ways to get said stories to the reader.

  6. Matthew - I'm glad you enjoyed that Tarantino quote; that one has stuck with me for a long time!

    Jamie - There are too many places online that CAN make you feel bad about your own writing process or journey. Glad you felt that my journey could have the opposite effect on you; and Paul's blog is definitely a great place to hang out at for positive thoughts and reinforcement.

    Austin - It's funny, I hadn't thought of that title for ages, until Paul asked the question about the title. I think the change to "The Great Lenore" was necessary for the feel of this book...but man, that other one sure has a nice ring to it!

    Jeffrey - "...because there are stories to be told and people who find ways to get said stories to the reader." That comment inspired me. It made what I have done sound a lot cooler than it feels; but it was definitely encouraging.

  7. This is a great interview, from both sides of the pen and pad. Imma find/order The Great Lenore ASAP, even if I win the free book contest.

    This - "Honestly, I believe my favorite part of writing is when I finish for the morning, and I turn off my music and close my notebook (or Word document) and realize that it feels like I am pulling myself out of a movie." - is exactly it, that feeling like waking up from a great lucid dream (not that I dream lucidly, but I pretend that this is what it would feel like). Wonderful.

    Also... You had me at rock climbing. You had me at rock climbing. :)

  8. Michael - Your comment was awesome. "...not that I dream lucidly, but I pretend that this is what it would feel like." By the way, I actually went climbing yesterday, on the day of the pre-order launch. Had to get away from my computer for the day and just relax; what better way to do it than by climbing!

  9. Jordan, enjoyed learning more about you and your writing process. I too agree that there is a value to certain elements of a formal writing education, but it is also limiting and that a writer must eventually break free and fly on his own.
    I'll be looking for you when you make your appearance on the west coast leg of your book tour.
    Paul, thanks for hosting Jordan today.

    Tossing It Out

  10. Great interview. It was one of the more interesting ones I've read recently :)

  11. All kinds of awesomeness in this interview! Thanks.

    Maybe this explains my addiction to twitter and blogs:

    "...I simply enjoy interacting with people, especially people I do not know. I love listening more than anything; I love hearing people’s thoughts and opinions on matters, understanding why they think the way they think and why they feel the way they feel..."

    Paul & JM you are both immensely interesting. Thanks JM for the intro to Paul!

  12. It was great to read the opinion of an author and learn more about someone's writing process. I enjoyed learning about the idea for Lenore--it's interesting to find out how ideas sometimes just turn themselves into novels.

    Thanks for the interview!

  13. Excellent interview! Was fascinating to see more of the behind-the-scenes thoughts and habits of Mr. Tohline. Good job, Paul, and thanks for the interesting interview, Jordan.


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