In September of last year, West Kentucky Community and Technical College announced that they would choose Kentucky author Jim Tomlinson's collection of short stories, Nothing Like an Ocean, as the featured literature for the 2019-2020 One Book Read program. Tomlinson talks over the phone with Tracy Ross about the book and his newfound career as an author.
The One Book Read project began in 2008 in an effort to encourage reading across various groups of people and help with the elimination of illiteracy in the western Kentucky region. The One Book Read project encourages members of the community, area school districts, and colleges to read the same book and come together to discuss it in a variety of settings.
This year's One Book Read selection is Kentucky native Jim Tomlinson's Nothing Like an Ocean. Set in and around the fictional town of Spivey, KY, this eleven-story collection spotlights small-town lives that are thrown into unsuspecting chaos by unplanned visitors and events. Tomlinson displays "compassion for characters searching for moments of found grace and earned redemption."
Tomlinson began his writing career later in life after working as an engineer for Texas Instruments. "Through a series of circumstances, I was going to have the choice of continuing as an engineer and relocating either to Mexico, Malaysia, or New England," Tomlinson explains. "My wife and I sat down, and we did the hard math, and we figured that if we lived frugally, I could write, and she could weave baskets."
Although he came from an engineering background, Tomlinson says that he does not approach writing in the same way he approached his previous work. "I use a different part of the brain entirely," Tomlinson says. "It's not planned out. It's not structured. Sometimes, I'll have a first sentence and move on from there."
Unstructured as it may seem, Tomlinson manages to weave a thread of continuity through his eleven-story collection, Nothing Like an Ocean. Although each story shines the spotlight on a different Spivey citizen, each narrative plays with the idea of the twin poles of separation and connection with other people in the community. Even the most independent characters find themselves irrevocably connected with their townmates.
"Nothing Like an Ocean," the short story after which the entire collection is named, is "the story of a high school science teacher," Tomlinson explains. "He's trying to find his way after the death of his young son in a tragic accident and his wife leaving when they can't find a way to grieve together. A lifeline appears for the teacher in the form of a mysterious letter with tickets to a church social dance. His curiosity about what that involves and who's interested in his grief and sorrow lead him to go to the dance and ultimately find out who it was who sent the mysterious tickets."
Tomlinson's stories have appeared in Five Points, Shenandoah, Bellevue Literary Review, New Stories from the South, among others. His fiction has been shortlisted for both Best American Short Stories and Best American Mystery Stories. Tomlinson is the recipient of the Al Smith Fellowship (from the Kentucky Arts Council) and a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship.
Please note: To limit student, faculty, staff, and community exposure to COVID-19, effective Monday, March 16th, on-campus events with an anticipated attendance of 50 or more, including all One Book Read events originally scheduled for March 17 and 18, will be postponed until after May 1, 2020, or cancelled. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but feel it is in the best interest of our campus community to be proactive and allow event participants and organizers to change their plans. (from the WKCTC website)