The following article was written by Brianne Wragg, and was originally published by The Los Angeles Tribune on May 22, 2021.
Thomas Slatin’s new book, “The Only Child of An Atomic Engineer,” signifies the next chapter in the creative nonfiction writer’s life. Though Slatin has enjoyed a rewarding career as an Emergency Medical Technician and Firefighter spanning some two decades, writing has permeated every aspect of Slatin’s life since writing on his parents’ New York City apartment walls as a child. Slatin says, when it became apparent that he was unlikely to stop, his parents set up a desk and chair with a pile of notebooks and pens. So, how do you rekindle creative passions and pursue them as your second career? For Slatin, rebranding himself as a writer has been one of the most significant challenges but equally one of the most rewarding.
It was reaching his retirement goal from the fire service and a failed relationship that catalyzed Slatin’s conversion to writing and photography full-time – revealing that on his 41st birthday, he packed up his car, drove away, and never returned. Today, you will find the Vermont-based writer scribbling ideas, song lyrics, snippets of news, or conversations on paper that he later incorporates in his writing – a change of pace from his former life.
For many amateur writers, success is incredibly challenging and habitual – it requires disciplines, portfolios, exposure, and contributions. Early on, Slatin turned to the online world, establishing his author platform and building his readership. His journalistic-style entries thrift first-hand accounts and layer them with assiduous hindsight narration – self-describing his writing style as reminiscent of the 1988 television show “The Wonder Years.” Slatin derives much of his writing from personal experiences, some from childhood, though more from his firefighting career – relaying these into his new book. He devotes a passage to his favorite tree as an 8-year-old in his parent’s backyard in Stamford, N.Y., titled “A Little Ghost For The Offering.”
The new book amalgamates Slatin’s most inspired pieces in chronological order – a tangible product, decades in the making. In essence, the book documents his life, careers, and relationships with the potential for expansion in future releases. Though he admits many aspects of his life are irreconcilable, returning even in a volunteer capacity was difficult once he left firefighting as they are so dissimilar. Nevertheless, in his work, Slatin deconstructs, then bridges the two spheres. Slatin recognizes, in life, as in his writing, that everything is connected in some way, even if connections are unseen or not fully understood.
He is also grateful to those who invigorated his writing passion. Slatin received mentorship and encouragement from his youth by some illustrious literary names, including American journalist Charles Kuralt and poet and writer Allen Ginsberg. He describes Ginsberg’s mentorship included sharing his writing process and practices that Slatin still uses today. Beholden, too, is he to his list of personal supporters spanning across his writing career – Slatin dedicates his new book’s title to his father, scientist on the Manhattan Project during World War II, and the entire novel to his wife and agent, Amelia Desertsong. It is clear, talking to Slatin, that his wife is at the center of all his work as his muse, confidant, and biggest supporter. Desertsong’s admiration, love, and respect are also clearly apparent in her description of her husband and his work, having written the foreword to the new book – challenging the myth that writers assume solitary existences and success.
When asked about the most challenging aspect of self-publishing, Slatin answers it takes an enormous amount of discipline, but the most challenging is wrestling with extremely high standards. He reveals that he seeks the absolute pinnacle of quality as a writer, refusing to publish anything short of such a standard. As a self-publishing author with Barnes and Nobel, Slatin also takes on editor, book cover designer, and marketer – through his experience in photography and web design succors his endeavors in these roles. His photography work shapes Slatin’s writing and thrives on its own as Slatin is a contributor for Canva, EyeEm, and Getty Images. In 2019, Slatin published his first photography book, “Entropy,” immortalizing abandoned historic places lost forever to fire, decay, or intentional demolition inspired by his career as a firefighter. These successes and experiences already in photography further embolden him to traverse into the publishing domain.
Slatin continues to share his writing with readers and encouragement with other aspiring nonfiction writers on his website. He highlights that the best advice he ever received was that a successful writing career takes much time. He considers the practice highly personal, and his patience and persistence were necessary to his circumstances, and he advocates this for new writers.
Slatin’s new book “The Only Child of An Atomic Engineer” was published this year, and you can find other shorter works on his website, TomSlatin.com.