My name is Tom Julian, and my goal in life is to become a rich weirdo.
I like to say that I am halfway there, in that I am not rich, but I’ve mastered the other half of that equation. I was a storyteller from as far back as I can remember, and I would always make up my own universes. My GI Joe’s didn’t come with the mythology included with the packaging. Mine were actually 4-inch-tall members of feuding royal houses that lived in the deep, dark woods. Sort of like the Faye Folk meets Dune. They battled in wooden airships and set the forest aflame with green napalm. I would confidently explain my universes to kids who came over to play. Usually, their faces would register with confusion, but to me, the imaginings going on in my head were standard, though I suspect that some of them had their own worlds at home but were too shy to reveal them. Shifting from my forest warriors, I would then bring their attention to my metric ton of astronaut Legos. “I’ve named each minifig and assigned every one of them a rank and job. Study this chart, please."
Dumb / Luck
I’ve had a few things fall into place for me throughout my life, though when I was a kid, there were some struggles. Today, I would most likely have been diagnosed with ADHD and get a special learning plan, but back in the day, I was just that problem kid who couldn’t focus. At school, I was, in turn, both horribly bored and incredibly engaged, depending on the content. I got consistent A+s in science until a section in geology snuffed out my fire. I loved the big concepts of history but couldn’t be asked to remember dates and details. I wrote beautiful and expressive stories, but please, nobody ask me what an adverb is. I simply could not spell. I couldn’t bring myself to focus on it.
My head was in the stars, and I felt like I was living before my time. “You know,” I told my teachers. “They’re going to invent ways to check spelling.” This usually got me the cross-armed stink-eye. I was told to “get organized” by exasperated nuns, but I had NO IDEA how to do that. Grade school was academic torture for me. I knew I was smarter, more creative, a better leader, and more interesting than everyone else in my grade, but one of my teachers literally told me to take a nap during lessons since I didn’t seem able to follow.
Wow. Re-reading that last part and remembering how it made me feel brings up some intense memories.
But here I am now, a published author, and you, a prospective reader, are interested in how the hell I got here.
I would NEVER have been able to function without the magic of word processors. If I had been born in 1962 and not 1972, I would not have been able to function in high school and college. That magical grammar and spell check icon saved me, and I was able to turn out work that was equal to what was going on inside my head. I was able to use the gift I had been given. My gift wasn’t just the ability to put one word in front of the other but something more. I don’t know if other writers have this, but there’s something in my brain that helps me find not just the words I’m currently looking for but the next few as well. It’s a bit like an auto-pilot and a screen in my head that projects thoughts into language.
A funny thing happened when I went to college. I fell in love with screenwriting. I took a communications class, and lo and behold, I was pretty good at it. I had the ability to craft ideas and scenes with just a few words. I loved letting the reader (or viewer) fill in things on their own and the tactic to get plot across via dialogue and sparse direction. It was so lean, and everything had to have meaning. It was perfect for me. I also had the “ear” for how people talk, which is another gift for sure. My final project was a Star Trek Deep Space Nine script. I chose DS9 because I had read that they actually accepted unsolicited fan scripts. I wasn’t a giant Trekkie at the time, but I wanted to do something that actually might get used.
I wrote a few more scripts and shared them online. A guy who had an upcoming pitch meeting with Paramount got in touch with me. We went out to LA and met with the producers of Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Had the internet not just been invented, that would never have happened. Again, things falling into place. We didn’t sell anything, but it was a crazy and amazing experience. I remember after the pitch, we were pointed in the direction of the exits, but THE ENTIRE CAST OF WINGS was coming our way, so we turned around and followed them to blend in. We covertly managed our way back to the Star Trek lot and met up with a stuntman friend of my writing partner’s. We got to see some live stunt and wire work and run around Quark’s bar. I also experienced the weirdness of guys in full Jem'Hadar makeup harmonizing in a barbershop quartet.
Over the years, I fell into some other things. I worked in a bunch of internet startups and eventually found a professional niche in digital health. I now work experimenting with new technologies to help clinical trials run better. It’s amazing, as most of my work is in Oncology, and I’ve personally been able to help people living with cancer find care options that have helped change their lives. What’s funny is if I could go back in time to my young self and those teachers who told me to sleep through class, I don’t think anyone (including young me) would even understand what I do.
I wonder if I am typical? If everyone has a zig-zag way of getting to where they are? I used to be so jealous of people who seemed to have it all planned out, but maybe they were just hanging on for dear life as well, waiting for the world to catch up with them.
If I could have a minute with the young me, I’d say, “There is no one in this world that can make you feel small. You are not like the other kids. Keep telling your stories. Keep being good to people.” I’d also tell young me that the Challenger explosion is going to be a really big deal to him, and he might want to tell NASA about the O-rings. Visiting my young self. I think that would be a crazy short story to write someday!
I’m going to cover why I wrote TIMBERWOLF in a blog post, but a few other details about me: I live in central New Jersey (yes, it exists). I’m married to the lovely Brenda Lea and am dad to Liam and Astur. I support a children’s charity called Anchor House and take part in their 7-day, 500-mile bike ride (yes, it’s insane). I write while warming my feet under a Cavadoodle named Vancouver. In closing, I will cross the street to pet your dog.
I hope you enjoy my writing and become a fan. I’ll do my best to reply to you if you write to me. Just no haters, please.
Best – Tom Julian