Tonawanda News — Kenmore native Tim Johnson didn’t have the stereotypical tormented writer experience when he wrote his first novel, crime thriller, “Savannah.”
There were no late nights and long days filled with writer’s block, a fact some writers might be envious of.
But that doesn’t mean Tim, who has lived in Toronto for the past 10 years, didn’t work hard to complete the book about a man in dire straits after he’s unable to pay some gambling debts he owes.
Tim, who has worked as an elementary school teacher for the past 11 years, never had much of a desire to be a writer growing up, or even once he went to college. It was just something he started doing about five years ago — he wrote amusing little short stories to keep his cousin entertained during his long hours in an IT job.
Slowly he started showing more and more of his work to friends and family, culminating in the short story that was the basis for “Savannah.” Enough people showed interest that he decided to expand the story into a novel.
“Two summers ago I sat down and literally everyday I wrote,” Tim said. “I would write for 2 or 3 hours until my mind went numb and my writing got sloppy. I had never written anything like that ... 104,000 words.”
“But I found that when I’m at home and it’s just me and it’s quiet I can really get going,” he said, adding that he kept thinking, “This is fun, I’m having fun.”
He described the first draft as “rough and sloppy,” so with the help of a co-worker, and now, personal editor, he rewrote “literally every sentence.”
Tim could have spent his summers off from school hanging out with friends or doing fun, outdoor activities, but he said he was inspired by his grandmother, Dorothea Johnson, of Kenmore, to keep at it each day and finish the job.
“She’s a huge reader ... just crushes books, upwards of two books a week,” Tim said. “I wanted to give her something to read and she just thought it was the greatest thing.”
Dorothea said she was surprised her grandson wrote a novel, but was proud at the same time.
“I thought it was great,” she said of “Savannah.” “It was unbelievable to think that somebody that we knew and love and care for could do this.”
She said though she loves to read — “I skip things I should be doing, like normal dusting, so I can read” — she never was the sort to sit one of many grandchildren on her lap to read to them. There were just too many — 26 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.
“We weren’t together that much when they were little,” Dorothea said humbly, “not enough to be any kind of inspiration to him way back when.”
Tim says otherwise.
“My grandma is my biggest fan and she’s my motivation,” he said. “The look on her face (when I gave her the finished manuscript) was reason enough to write a second one.”
Tim said that motivation was what kept him persevering through 85 rejection letters and untold numbers of ignored manuscript submissions. He was contemplating self-publishing the book, which would have hit him hard financially, when Old Line Publishing offered him a contract last year.
“That was a really cool feeling when somebody said your book is good enough and they’re staking their cash” on you, he said.
“Savannah” centers on a hard-luck protagonist named Michael who has been jailed for running drugs for a biker gang across the border. Because he’s in jail, he can no longer keep paying off his gambling debts, so now he and his loved ones are in danger of being tracked down by Russian mobsters to whom he owes money.
He has one month to protect those he loves.
“In that month he writes everything into a journal and sends it to his girlfriend along with a letter to her and his sister,” which is the start of the book, Tim said.
“Savannah” is available through Amazon.com and Old Line Publishing’s website, www.oldlinepublishing.com.
Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116, or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.