Meet Tim Tigner
Interview by: Profile Editorial Team, 20/04/2022
Tim Tigner has lived an interesting life: Soviet Counterintelligence Specialist with the Green Berets, business career in post-Cold War Russia, international business executive with Johnson & Johnson, CEO of Silicon Valley startups – and bestselling author. He lives in Northern California with his wife and daughters, when he isn’t exploring the world.
Questions about writing
Tim, could you take us through your writing process? How do you manage your time? How do you structure your writing? In particular, how do you develop these fiendish plots?
Tim: Each book begins with brainstorming, with looking for a core idea. Usually this is a device I invent, something cutting-edge that doesn’t quite exist yet, but could. Often in the story it’s something designed with good in mind that ends up being perverted. Since I’m inventing the dramatic fulcrum of each book, I know my plots will be original. And since I use a new device every time, the book will also be fresh, even when it’s part of a series.
Once I have something fitting in mind, I put it in interesting hands. Devious hands. Then I begin to outline a story from two perspectives: the villain’s and victim’s points of view. I outline the whole story; usually about 50 chapters’ worth. That’s the only way to write the kind of books I enjoy most: fast-paced with lots of logical twists and turns. Books packed with surprises that make sense but you don’t see coming.
During the actual writing, those 50 outline chapters inevitably stretch into 100 actual chapters. Each a scene. I try to keep my chapters (scenes) about 1,000 words, as that forces succinct writing. Of course, I rewrite each chapter multiple times, probably 5 on average. More for the early ones where I’m feeling my way, less when I’m totally into the story.
I use software to read chapters back to me while editing. I think that’s a great tactic for gaining a fresh perspective. And since I do most of my reading with my ears (audiobooks) it helps me intuit if the writing is good.
In the final stages, I use a lot of volunteer help. Dozens of beta readers for developmental editing and copy editing. These are people with varying demographic profiles and professional experiences (e.g. pilot, doctor, cop, mortician, woman, gay, Australian) who vet the scenes for accuracy among other things.
I note that I also design my own covers and write my own marketing materials. I start working on those early, as they typically take months.
Don’t blow your best idea on your first book
You’ve led a colourful life. This must give you confidence when you’re writing about worlds which most of us only experience in books. Does this constrain your ideas - or does your experience free you up?
Tim: You hit on the crucial word above: confidence. When I write, I know what I’m talking about. This doesn’t mean that I don’t see “unrealistic” in reviews, it just means the reviewer is wrong.
I’m constantly seeking out new, exciting experiences and locations—and loving the process. Fortunately, so do my wife and kids. 2019 included cageless diving with bull sharks in Fiji, and trekking with gorillas in Uganda.
What advice would you give to a new writer starting out?
Tim: Don’t blow your best idea on your first book. Your first book is where you learn to write, and you’ll do this by rewriting it 5-10 times. Plan to write a million words to get the hundred-thousand good ones you need. Plan on it taking 2 years if you write full-time, longer if part-time. Then expect to be disappointed with the market/agent/publisher reaction. But once you’ve gone through that right and acquired those scars, then you can write a really good second book. That one may only take a year. The takeaway here is: success is tough and it takes time. The vast majority of authors rush it and blow it.
Which of your books are you most fond of?
Tim: I truly have no favorites among my thrillers. I think my writing gets a bit better with each book, and there are things I’d change about the earlier ones, but I can honestly say that I love them all equally. Thus far, I’ve been nervous with every launch, and pleased with every result.
I have a philosophical novella coming out in a few days, July 1, 2019, called Leonardo and Gabriel. With it, I now have a favorite book for the first time. But as it’s a pink elephant (a historical, philosophical thriller) on a controversial topic (the nature of God) I expect that it will fail. I may even have to pull it off the market. But I love it most of all. I get goosebumps listening to narrator Paul Michael read it.
Questions about Twist and Turn
The question every author hates after they’ve slaved away for months: what's the storyline?
Tim: Twist and Turn begins with “the little guy,” in this case four medical device startup executives, getting screwed by “the big guy,” in this case Big Pharma. The combination of their rage and financial desperation leads them to seek revenge—and literal payback.
I don’t want to give anything away, so let’s just say their brilliant plan—and it is both brilliant and unique, one I fear will really happen—gets away from them. The story then takes some very unexpected twists and turns that leave the reader glued and guessing for hundreds of pages.
This is your fourth Kyle Achilles book. They’re all different – you don’t rehash a series ‘formula’. Could you talk us through your thought process here?
Tim: Thanks for noticing. I formulate each plot around a unique invention or scheme, rather than the characters. I talk more about this key point above in the Questions about Writing section.
I’m constantly seeking out new, exciting experiences and locations
Which writers are your inspiration?
Tim: I was inspired to write by reading Ludlum, Forsyth, and Follett. I learned to write by listening to Follett, Grisham, and Child—over and over again. And practicing, of course.
I tend to use Follett as a template for great characters; Ludlum as an exemplar for successful plots; Child for writing rules, things like sentence structure and scene flow; and early Grisham for smooth, energetic pacing. I know The Firm, The Killing Floor, and Pillars of the Earth by heart.
The bad guys aren’t the Soviets this time. How does Twist and Turn reflect the current situation?
Tim: Twist and Turn—at least initially—is about the rich exploiting the poor. While this is nothing new in world history, I think that phrase succinctly characterizes the zeitgeist of this decade. Twist and Turn then becomes a story of international terrorism, which is another defining issue of our times.
What kind of reader reaction have you had for Twist and Turn?
Tim: As you noted, Twist and Turn is a bit different from the other books in the Kyle Achilles series in that it’s more domestic. While many reviewers have called it their favorite book in the series, plenty of others have said it’s their least favorite. Overall, Twist and Turn is rated the same as books 2 and 3 in the series with 4.7 stars, which tells me I’m giving 90% of readers what they were hoping for. I consider that a success.
Looking to the future, is there a particular book which you’d love to write – not for the fans or the money, but purely to get it out of your system?
Tim: Leonardo and Gabriel was that book. But I’ve also been working on a nonfiction book for about a decade now, “working” being a generous term. I have an outline and can’t wait to get it written, but prudence is forcing me to push it back in the queue because my fiction is on a roll. The title sums it up: The Young Person’s Guide to Becoming Happy, Healthy, Loved and Wealthy.
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