Today we're talking with Jim Gilliam, author of Tarnished Hero
FQ: You are obviously a multi-talented person and are an emerging force in the publishing world. If you were only to be known for one accomplishment, what would that be and why?
GILLIAM: To be compared favorably with: Joseph Conrad and Jack London, and to be loved by my readers.
FQ: From a runaway to an airborne combat physician assistant is quite a leap. Briefly tell us what motivated you along your chosen career path.
GILLIAM: My parents were divorced when I was nine, I was an only child, and I thought it was my fault. That’s ridiculous of course, but that’s how kids think. Or, at least this kid. I ran away to the mean streets of New Orleans just prior to my fourteenth birthday. I survived on those tough streets, often sleeping on rooftops and under bridges. I ended up looking for work, based out of a Catholic mission for men down on their luck. I lucked out and found work as a deckhand on a sailing yacht the Windjammer II. A little later, I lied about my age and joined the Coast Guard. It’s all chronicled in my first novel: Point Deception. After being medically retired from the Coast Guard, I became an academic bum, changing my major in college like some men change their socks. Then I got serious about a career in the medical field and transferred from the University of Houston to the Baylor College of Medicine’s new Physician Assistant Program—I had a full scholarship. A few years later, I entered the Army as an airborne combat physician assistant, a vocation, I was apparently well suited for.
FQ: In Tarnished Hero, Tim Kelly is the type of hero that movies are made of. Perhaps you had someone in mind who might portray him in a movie? Any hints as to whom that might be and why?
GILLIAM: If I’m lucky enough to have any of my books made into movies—actually, two different movie producers have requested the synopsis of both: Point Deception and Tarnished Hero—I would hope Matt Damon would like to do it. He’s great in the Jason Bourne series.
FQ: Obviously your own service in the military has had an influence in your writing. Do you have a snippet of a story to tell that may have slipped into the pages of your work?
GILLIAM: Most first novels tend to be somewhat autobiographical, and that was the case in Point Deception, which soon took on a life of its own and basically wrote itself as did Tarnished Hero, to some extent. Here is my portrayal of fourteen year-old Tim Kelly’s first real day at Coast Guard boot camp, Cape May, NJ. Just substitute Jim Gilliam for Tim Kelly:
“At 0500 on Wednesday, January 2, Kelly was in a deep REM sleep. Without preamble, the door to the transient squad bay slammed open, the barracks trash cans were hurled the full length of the room, loudly crashing against the far wall, sounding like a mini train wreck, creating apprehension and confusion among the room’s twenty some odd occupants—all of them, new recruits.
Kelly rolled out of the bottom bunk and bounced off the floor, or deck, as he soon learned to refer to it.
“Okay you scum bags, life as you knew it is over!”
Totally disoriented, standing there in his underwear next to his bunk, his whole body was covered in goose bumps; it was bitter cold outside and the barracks heat had been turned down by the barracks watch during the night.
A bewildered Kelly just stood there that first bitter-cold morning, trying, without success, to figure out what had just happened. The beginning of his recruit training had commenced, literally, with a bang.”
FQ: As a onetime airborne physician assistant, was it easy to transition to a similar position in civilian life or was it a whole ‘nother ball game as they say?
GILLIAM: Actually, it was the other way round, I was a fully trained Physician Assistant when I entered on active duty with the Army. Later in my Army career I was a Surgical Subjects Instructor, at the Army Physician Assistant Program, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
FQ: There’s always that turning point in one’s life that make them pick up that pen and put it to paper. What was yours and will there be more books in the future?
GILLIAM: All of us are writers of nonfiction from an early age. We do essays and book reports in school and write work related memorandums and reports and letters—business and personal—after our school days are over. I was the medical service officer on a Navy ammunition ship cruising off the coast of Kuwait in 2008, when I decided to write my first novel. The task of the nonfiction writer is to simply convey information, while the task of the fiction writer is to evoke an emotional response in the reader. That is the very essence of showing versus telling. I’m currently working on my third novel: The SADM Project and here’s what I mean about evoking emotion rather than simply conveying information:
"His skin the color of old leather, attesting to years of operating in jungles from Bolivia to Cambodia and back again, the man in the faded Army fatigue jacket sat on the bench, the regulation duffle bag containing all his worldly possessions at his feet, his Thousand Meter Stare focused on the windows of the apartments across the street, at the strange race of civilians who still had the promise of hope his fallen comrades had secured for them."
As a reader, would: “The man, occupying the bench on Main Street, looking up at the apartments across the street is one of thousands of homeless veterans returning to civilian life from one of our nation’s wars, as reported by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.” Have the same effect? Not for me and I’ll bet, not for you either. Writers and readers are partners, and if a partnership is to work, both, must be attentive to the needs of the other.