I had the pleasure to interview my uncle upon release of his new book. Tj Akers helped me in so many ways over the years. I was struggling to find myself, he not only helped show me I had the ability to write, and he also edited my essay that I needed to enter the university I achieved my Bachelor’s degree from.
So here we go:
Today we have T.J. Akers, author of two new books, The Final Paladin and Dusty’s Adventures.
Tim currently lives in Minnesota with his wife of thirty-two years, two cats, and a dog. He works as an IT professional at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He has an adult son and a desire to move out of the frozen north, but refuses to live in California. He has been an ordained minister for nineteen years, the last nine of which he was senior pastor.
Q: Wow, Minnesota. Why do you want to move?
Tim: I’m a natural curmudgeon, Minnesota Nice and I don’t always get along. I’m smiling when I say that. I am tired of the winters here.
Q: When did you know you wanted write fiction as a serious endeavor with commercial publishing?
Tim: Specifically, the Spring of 2011, probably the month of February.
Q: You’re teasing me, right? That’s not the answer I was expecting.
Tim: I know. Let me tell you the story. Set the Way-back Machine to when I was 20-some years of age with a learning “issue.” I used to have all kinds of problems in class as a kid and with learning in general. I got away with not being noticed because I could read well and memorize with pretty good recall. I was in Bible School, and my friend’s wife was a third-grade teacher. I used to help her grade papers on Saturdays, and I told her about some of my problems. She suggested I see someone about it. She got me a referral, and I spoke to someone. I can’t remember what they said I had, but the first thing I was told is that they really couldn’t help me unless I wanted to take pills that may or may not work. The doctor suggested, since I’d adapted so well, to keep doing what I was doing. This was 1981. It explained a lot, but the reason I didn’t pursue writing was because I didn’t have the patience to write. I could hyper-concentrate on reading, but writing made my skin crawl. Move the Way-back machine forward to 2002 and my then eight-year-old son was giving up on reading. So I wrote him novel for a birthday present and loved doing it. Of course, the difference was using a keyboard and computer. It worked. For the record, I want everyone to know that I also gave my son real presents too.
Q: Was that when you wanted to write seriously, after your son’s novel?
Tim: No, I really wanted someone to tell me I had talent and my writing was worth pursuing. Any labor or work necessary to make this work was well spent.
Q: Let me guess, no one did.
Tim: Exactly right. No one told me what I wanted to hear, probably because I was a terrible writer. I was working at a University in the IT department and decided to use my tuition waivers to pursue studies in creative writing, but I had lots of reservations. Don’t get me wrong, I fell in love with writing for younger readers from writing for my son and pursued it with all my extra time. I worked very hard. Then I read a book called Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos. Three chapters into the book, I despaired. This is an early reader, middle grade novel. The book was, and still is, absolutely phenomenal. I almost quit right in the library of Minnesota State University, Mankato. Three chapters in and I knew I would never write like this. I had no apparent inborn talent, and no one would say to me, “You have talent, don’t quit.”
Q: Wow, what happened next?
Tim: I was taking a class on Composition Theory for teaching students composition, and read something by C. Robert Woods. He was a scholar that pioneered a form of literary criticism known as Narratology, which is the study of story narrative. His approach in writing is that books have one requirement: “They must be interesting.” Woods explained that you could treat a narrative fiction like an exercise in rhetoric. All you needed was to present a persuasive case and be eloquent. In other words, writing fiction is skill that can be learned. The lights went on for me. Writing may not be a talent, but it is a skill that I love learning about. The question to me then was, was I willing to put in the effort to develop the skill? The answer was yes. At that point, no one had to tell me I was talented anymore. So I approached learning fiction as an exercise in persuasion.
Q: That’s kind of different. Maybe a new one for me.
Tim: I have two books out or coming out, and I’m having fun, which is the most important thing. I have no illusions about how hard it is to write best sellers and popular literature. I’m comfortable with my writing, but the next thing I need to know is how shall I define success for writing. Some people quit after one novel. Me, I’ve got too many stories to get out, but I do need to ask myself: at what point do I have peace about my writing whatever happens?
Q: After how long have you been working on your skills?
Tim: Fifteen years, a new BA in Creative writing, and a Masters Degree in English. I guess I’m a slow learner, but I am a persistent skill builder. In the process, I’ve discovered something about myself. I love creating stories. It’s probably pathological.
Tim: At age five, every night when I went to bed, I would pick a cartoon or comic book I liked and rewrite the story in my head. I would either write myself into the story, or change the story to something better. This was something I did every night, and I finally stopped around 45 after enrolling a creative writing course. I was telling myself stories all the time. Since I’ve been writing, I just go to bed now. No story telling. So, maybe that makes my storytelling pathological.
Q: Can you define writing success for you right now?
Tim: That is a work in progress, but finding someone willing to put in the time and money to publish my work. L2L2 publishing thinks I’m worth it. (I adore Michele Israel Harper, the publisher; she’s like the little sister I never had.) As soon as both books, The Final Paladin and Dusty’s Adventures, hit the market. I’m going to get a tattoo to celebrate.
Q: Seriously? So you aren’t going to quit writing?
Tim: No, I’ve got the inkling for a new goal. Ultimately, I at least want to write one book that becomes a New York Times bestseller, if only for a few weeks.
Q: That doesn’t seem very lofty.
Tim: I believe it’s doable for me, and it’s sort of one foot in front of the other.
Q: So, The Final Paladin, your novel—is it the first thing you’ve ever gotten published?
Tim: No, I’ve had two short stories published, and I have a middle-grade book out—Dusty’s Adventures.
Q: You’ve gotten this far all on your own?
Tim: No, there are lots of people who have helped me—university faculty, friends, family. Even my wife supports me, kind of.
Q: Kind of?
Tim: The deal is that I may not use regular income or funds from my job. If I do, it must be paid back within a period. So all my writing, travel for writing, and editing is paid by me, selling refurbished computers or fixing them outside my regular job. God has been really blessing me through this with funds, which is good because there is no other way I could afford to do this.
Q: Everyone talks about writers being lonely. Is that true for you?
Tim: Not at all! I do have writing community that encourages me, a lot, and they’re called the Scriblerians (www.scriblerians.com). I’ve made some really good friends at Realm Makers (www.RealmMakers.com). And there’s a little dog I have named Rowdy. He lies under my desk and pesters me while I write.
Q: You mentioned the Scriblerians. What are the Scriblerians?
Tim: The finest group of YA writers you will ever meet. They encourage me, tell me the truth, and like me in spite of myself. There are nine of them besides me and are a second family to me. Since I discovered Realm Makers, that community has gotten larger.
Q: Do you want to be a rich and famous author?
Tim: Not necessarily. I would love to be able to write full time, but I’ve met my big life goal and that was getting something out that someone wanted to publish. Like I said earlier, my next goal is to sell as many as I can and make the New York Times Bestseller list. Then we’ll see what happens next.
Q: That seems really “small potatoes.”
Tim: Maybe, but they’re goals that carry a hope that I can feed and maintain. Becoming James Patterson or Stephen King is a little like threading a needle with a camel for me.
Q: So in the meantime, can you recap your writing goals until you hit the NY Times?
Tim: To keep writing things people want to read, and to have fun reading. I want my novels to keep improving. To have a blast and enjoy the people I meet. Life is short, and I need to enjoy what I do. Then there is helping whenever I can. Those are things I have control over and can influence. Everything else is in the good Lord’s hands.