Jim Waller - Local Author

I actually stumbled upon my interview with Jim Waller as I walked into the Justabreeze Gallery, working on something completely different. When I saw him sitting on a stool in front of Miss Tammy's counter, I figured he was just a friend visiting the gallery.

After talking to Miss Tammy about some different business, she introduced me to Jim Waller (whom I call Mr. Jim), the featured writer doing a book signing that day for his book Tybee Sunrise.

To be in the presence of a published author slightly intimidated me, but Mr. Jim was extremely kind, making it easy for me to talk about myself and my writing, and even asking him about his writing.

He told me how he was mostly a fiction writer, and desired to branch out into nonfiction writing, but wasn't sure if he would just yet. He gestured toward the paper he was holding in his hands, saying it was a chapter from his new fiction novel he was writing.

I was surprised and flattered when he held out the paper to me, and asked if I would proofread the chapter for him. He even stood up from the stool, offering me a place to sit as I read.

His generosity, and my curiousness as to his background before writing led me to push past my intimidation, and ask for an interview with him. 

My conversation with Mr. Jim was more than an interview; it was an opportunity to get to know him as a person, and to learn from him writer-to-writer. It was truly awesome to speak with him. 
Miss Tammy allowed us to sit in the back of her shop, giving us a quieter space to conduct the interview. 

Jim Waller has lived on Tybee Island since January 1997, after he spent three years in Hawaii, and fell in love with island living. When he came back to Georgia from Hawaii, he would travel to an island whenever he had the opportunity. He's visited the islands of Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head, Jekyll, St. Simons, and Tybee. 

"Tybee was the most attractive to me. It fit my personality more than any of the other islands," Mr. Jim explained, "The laid back attitude...'You take care of your business, I'll take care of mine' sort of thing...I kind of like that."

Mr. Jim spent his career in education mostly in rural Georgia, but didn't feel as special of a connection there as he did with Tybee Island. "These rural communities impress me to be very right wing, Republican types (not that there's anything wrong with Republicans, I like them). A lot of these rural communities seem [to be] so uptight about everything - everything's just a crisis. And that just doesn't fit my personality [which is] it is what it is; when it happens, you deal with it. Either you have the self-confidence and strength to deal with it, or you don't. But I'm not gonna sit around, and worry about stuff all the time."

Although he was an educator himself, Mr. Jim says he was not a very good student in school. "I never liked school. Even when I finished, I didn't like it. I felt no pride, or any particular satisfaction.

"When I graduated from high school, I went into the military. I grew up in Atlanta, near the Atlanta airport...as a boy, I thought [that] probably what I might want to do is be an aircraft mechanic when I got older. And so, I joined the Air Force, asked them to make me a mechanic, and they did (and I was a good one!). 

"I was in the Air Force for six years. Normally, there's a four-year enlistment, but I was thinking about maybe making it a career, and then, I decided, ' Well, I think I might want to go to college.' And I could not do that [while I was] in the military. Some can, in some situations but I moved around a lot; even though I was in Hawaii, I flew all over the place." 

Mr. Jim started studying English at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia, after he got out of the military. Unfortunately, Georgia State didn't offer a fine arts curriculum during that time, so he decided that he would specifically study journalism, and double-major in journalism and English. 

By the time his college graduation was closing in, Mr. Jim had a wife and child, and began thinking that the journalism career route would not have been financially sufficient enough to sustain himself and his family. Realizing he had other options, he decided that maybe he'd become a nuclear physicist.

Mr. Jim said with a laugh, "After about the first course of calculus, and so forth, I said, '...This ain't gon' work. What else can we do?' "

He thought about doing social work because he liked working with and helping people, but the salary offered was also low. This is when the idea of teaching came around. Even though the pay for teaching wasn't good either, the benefits and retirement program are what motivated him to enter into the education field. 

Mr. Jim's background fascinated me. As an aspiring writer, I always thought that after graduating college I would have to have some sort of specific writing career in order for me to ever be able to write at all, otherwise, writing would not be possible.

In response to my reaction to his educational and career story, Mr. Jim assured me, "You'd be surprised at how many people have done that. But of course, the sooner you start, the better off you're gonna be. 

"Just start writing. Even if it doesn't make any sense, just start writing. And it'l come to you. What I usually do is, I know where I wanna go; I know what the end is gonna be. I have a vague idea of where to start. And it's the middle that, once you start, it'll fill itself in, and really, if you know where you're going, and know where to start...if writing is really in your soul, it'll come out on the page. And that's the best kind."

When Mr. Jim was in school, he wasn't interested in reading books such as The Hardy Boys, but read authors such as John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Erskin Caldwell, and other Southern writers. 

"Some of the best stories that I have ever read were somewhat biographical. Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath - great book. His East of Eden...in my estimation, it's the best thing he ever made, and it was very largely biographical. Very interesting. And one of the things about it that I liked, is that Steinbeck created the most evil woman tha thad ever been created. God couldn't create a woman as evil as the main woman in that book! Take my word for it: it's the best thing he [Steinbeck] ever did."

Mr. Jim says his favorite place on Tybee would have to be his house! But he also enjoys being near the ocean. "Because I enjoy landscaping, and I spend a lot of time on that. But other than that, I would think the ocean and rivers would probably be my favorite places. I just love water

"And if you think about it...the fact of the matter is, we would not be here if it weren't for the oceans and the sun. And the fact that the good lord placed us in an ideal situation in this great creation that He created.

He continues, "I believe that's where we came form: we came from the water. You know, you still do that - mammals and humans spend the first nine months of their lives in water. I believe we crawled out of the oceans...and we evolved. So it's water; I just love it. I wish it would rain!"

Both Mr. Jim and I realized that the entire interview was pretty much a response to Miss Laura's question What do you like to do in your off time? : He likes to landscape and write.

Now, Mr. Jim's question for the next Tybee Island Profile is this: Since you have been on Tybee, can you give me a general impression of the island's personality has been within the past two years? 

***You can find Jim Waller's latest book Tybee Sunrise at the Justabreeze Gallery & Framing at 1207 U.S. 80 Suite F. You can also visit his blog at https://jimwallersouthernfiction.com/2016/05/17/81/.

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