Jodi Thomas always dreamed of becoming a New York Times best-selling author.
Thomas came to South Plains College’s Library In Levelland on Nov. 12 and opened her speech with the question, “How many of you are interested in becoming writers?” After a show of hands, Thomas said “I never quit writing, because I didn’t want God to say, ‘if you would have written one more book, you would have hit big.’”
She told the audience that she estimates that she has about 20 million books in print. She explained that two things made it easy for her to be a writer.
“One is I have a very loose grip on reality,” said Thomas, adding that she has daydreamed ever since she was a little girl. “The second thing that made it easy for me to become a writer is I come from a long line of liars.”
She told a short story about her uncle who will have a fender bender and by the time he has told the story 10 times, he is saying that it was a near–death experience. Before Thomas began telling about her journey, she said, “I am a story teller; I am not trying to write a great American novel.”
Thomas then described her childhood, saying, “I am the daughter of a father who was a bus driver and a mother who checked groceries,” Thomas said.
She went on to explain that both of her parents read all of the time. However, her first challenge she had to overcome was that she did not read until the fourth grade. One of her teachers had spotted her learning disability and sent her to a special summer school in Amarillo, which is where she is from.
“Now, when you learn to read after the fourth grade, you don’t catch up immediately,” Thomas said. She explained that she caught up by her junior year in high school.
“I do not look at dyslexia as a handicap,” Thomas said. “I look at it as a blessing. For four years, I sat in a classroom and couldn’t read. I made up stories about everybody, and my imagination might have not grown as great if I hadn’t had that disability.”
She paused before adding, “When hard times hit, there’s always a blessing.”
By the time Thomas was a junior in high school, her dad was blind and could not work. She explained that she and her siblings had to go get jobs because her mother could not make a living sacking groceries.
“I had very little interest in school,” Thomas said. “I graduated from high school in the bottom fourth of my class.”
One of her goals was to buy a Camaro, so she saved as much money as she could for one. However, during her senior year of high school, she had to take a remedial English class. In that class, there was a boy named Thomas Koumalats.
“I remember thinking, if lightning didn’t strike that guy, I was going to marry him,” Thomas said. She found out that he was going to college, so she decided to take the money she had saved for a Camaro and go to college too.
“The only place that would let me in was Amarillo College,” she said. “We’d sit in the library and hold hands under the table.”
Two years later, they were still dating and both decided to go to Texas Tech University. Not knowing what to major in, her mother suggested she major in home economics, so she did. Two years later, during their senior year, Thomas Koumalats was drafted to the Vietnam War. Wanting to live together before he went off to war, they got married after they had graduated.
“As soon as he got out of the Army, we went back to school to get our masters,” Thomas said.
By the time she went back to college, she knew that she did not want to work in home economics. So, she decided to be a family counselor. After 18 months, she got her degree in marriage and family counseling. Because of a man who welcomed her into his practice, she did not have to set one up. After six months, she decided that family counseling was harder than teaching home economics. So, she went back to teaching at a high school and at Amarillo College.
Thomas and her husband bought a house and had a couple of kids. However, her dream of being a writer was still there.
“I began to write, Saturday mornings, a few hours at school, and it became slowly a passion,” she explained. “The stories were coming faster than I could write them. I will never live long enough to write all the books I want to write.”
She advised that the best thing to do if you want to become a writer is to take master classes, adding that “James Patterson has an excellent one.”
Thomas entered several writing contests and took several writing classes. However, she got her big start when she attended a convention. Her husband heard about the national Romance Writers of America Convention that was being held in Dallas.
“We did not have the money for me to go to Dallas and spend the weekend,” Thomas said. Her husband told her, ‘we will put it on the credit card.’”
“When I checked in, they had given me a name tag that said writer, and it was like I had been an alien all my life and I had found my home planet,” Thomas said.
The last day she was there, she got a 10–minute interview with a New York editor. Thomas told the editor that her book was about the Civil War, and before she could finish, the editor interrupted and said that they were not buying Civil War. So, Thomas started telling about another book she had written about early Texas during the bloody years.
The editor then asked, ‘how soon can you ship it to me?’ “I said, I’ll mail it before I go to sleep,” Thomas said.
She did not hear back from the editor all summer. Finally, while preparing for a lecture, she got a call from the editor who told her that they wanted to buy her book. There was a problem, though. Her legal name, Jodi Koumalats, would not fit on the book cover. Needing a pen name, she decided to take her husband’s first name as her last, Jodi Thomas.
Thomas’s career kicked off after her first book. She sold five books within the first 15 months. Her third book became a national best seller, which meant Thomas had to write full time. With her husband helping out with dishes and putting the kids to bed, Thomas was able to have more time to write at night.
Thomas has published 50 books and is working on book 51.
“They’re going to have to pull the pen from my hand to get it in the casket,” Thomas said, explaining that she will never stop writing.