Archive for the ‘Book’ Category

Now a New York Times Bestseller!

Tomlinson Hill is now officially a New York Times Bestseller after coming in at #23 in its first week on sale.

Thank you to everyone who pre-ordered the book and made sure we got off to a running start. I have no idea whether we will stay on the list, but even if its only for one week, I am deeply grateful, humbled and thrilled at the wonderful response it has received so far.

We’ve also been lucky to have so many people review the book, and we really haven’t gotten a bad review yet. You can find excerpts and links on the Book Reviews Page.

Community support for the book has also been tremendous. We had standing-room-only crowds at readings in Austin, Houston and Dallas. I’ve also had a chance to do dozens of radio interviews across the country. This is all part of the hard work of making sure a book gets read.

I know I’ve already asked for some of your hard-earned cash, now I want to ask for a bit of your time. One key to getting a book to a wider audience is making sure it gets online reviews at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Let your friends know about the conversation I am trying to start about the history of race relations in the United States, and how facing up to the truth is the only path to reconciliation for the sins of the past.

None of this would be happening without you – my friends, family and supporters – buying books and extending the conversation. This book is convincing people to reconsider what they learned about their family history, which was always my dream, and the more people it touches the further the message of hope will spread.

Thank you!

Tomlinsons talk to Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air about Tomlinson Hill

Last week I drove up to Fort Worth to pick up Lavar Tomlinson for an appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. For those who don’t know, Terry Gross is one of the most popular hosts on National Public Radio and her show appears on more than 500 radio stations around the world.

The best part: Terry Gross fans buy books.

Terry rightfully insisted on having both a white and a black Tomlinson on the show. During the 90 minutes we taped, she spent the first half asking me to explain what I had learned about the Tomlinson Hill plantation, then she brought Lavar in to get his perspective. The show aired on Monday, July 21 the day before the book launched.

If you want to know how important a Terry Gross interview can be for an author: My Amazon ranking went from 54,308 on July 16 to 564 on July 22.

Here’s the interview:

Video: Pulling Cotton Versus Picking Cotton

One of the most fun, and most informative, couples I met while working on Tomlinson Hill was Charles and Zelma Tomlinson. Charles is the grandson of Peter, the last black Tomlinson born into slavery on Tomlinson Hill. Zelma married Charles on the Hill when she was 17 years old and they’ve been together over 60 years.

Charles and Zelma agreed to meet me in Marlin in September 2012 to show me around the parts of Tomlinson Hill and Falls County that they called home. They showed me where the African American Tomlinsons lived when they were sharecroppers, and the home they built when sharecropping came to an end. Their memories, both good and bad, helped me understand our family stories so much better.

The cotton crop was coming in while we were visiting the Hill, and I asked them about pulling cotton, which is the phrase used by most former sharecroppers in Falls County. Zelma told me they are two different things, depending on whether the priority was to harvest the crop fast, or to bring in clean cotton, cotton that doesn’t have a lot of leaves and shells in it. We pulled into a field and she started walking a row, showing us the difference. This 90-pound woman who is barely 5-feet-tall described how she could pick 300 pounds of cotton a day, or pull 700 pounds.

During the filming of this clip, a Texas state trooper pulled up and asked us what we were doing. Zelma, even at 77, recoiled at the big, young white man wearing a badge and a stetson confronting us because we were on private property. He agreed to let us finish filming, but insisted we leave the cotton in the field. Otherwise, he said, it would be theft. Nevertheless, Zelma took some cotton twigs to show her grandchildren in Kansas. She wanted to show them how she had spent her childhood, picking cotton.

We’ll post a conversation with Charles soon.


Video of LaDainian and Chris on Tomlinson Hill

A short video of LaDainian and I on Tomlinson Hill is now available. This is an outtake from the April 2013 interview we did when NFL Films asked us to show them around the old slave plantation for “A Football Life: LaDainian Tomlinson.”

LaDainian had told me about his life and what he’d been taught about his family history in an earlier interview for the book, but this was the first time I had a chance to tell him what I had learned from my research. The film’s director, James Weiner, decided to make LaDainian’s discovery of his ancestors’ courage and leadership the overarching narrative of the film.

This clip captures us standing outside his grandmother’s dilapidated house on Tomlinson Hill on a cold, rainy day as I tell him about his great, great, great grandfather Milo who first took the Tomlinson name upon emancipation, and then about Milo’s grandson Vincent, who was a deacon, a mason and the unofficial mayor of Tomlinson Hill until his death in 1972.

LaDainian was born after his grandfather Vincent had died, so he didn’t know any of these stories. This is one of the most satisfying parts of writing the book and making the film is letting people know about their history.

As we prepare for the book launch, look for more videos from the interviews we conducted for the film and book. All of them are compiled on the interactive site, Voice of Marlin, and will be on file at the Baylor Institute for Oral History.


Book Trailer!

The big thing now is make a trailer for your book, just as you would for a movie. Here’s the one for Tomlinson Hill.

Tomlinson Hill Book trailer from Lisa Kaselak and Lee Billington on Vimeo.

And if you haven’t see the Texas Monthly review of the book, it is a must read.

Publisher’s Weekly calls T-Hill “Engaging and Poignant”

The first reviews for Tomlinson Hill are coming in, and they’ve been very positive so far.

Publisher’s Weekly calls the book “an engaging and poignant look into his own past but also a riveting glimpse of the history of race relations in Texas.” Read the full review here.

Booklist, the American Library Association’s trade magazine, said: “Tomlinson turns his journalist’s acute eye on his own family background to present an unflinching look at the racial history of one small Texas community.” It hasn’t been posted online yet.

This is good early news, but you can decide for yourself. Pre-order a copy of the book from one of the links found here.

We also have an Austin screening of the film along with a book signing planned for Aug. 21 at the Carver Center in East Austin. Come get a double dose of the book, which is about the Hill’s history, and the film, which focuses on present-day Marlin. Details here.

After seven years of hard work, I’m thrilled to finally share it with you. Thank you to everyone who helped make this possble.

Galleys are in, First Book Tour Dates

St. Martin’s has started sending out galleys of Tomlinson Hill to reviewers. This scares me a little because these are uncorrected proofs, which means they are chock full of typos and layout mistakes. The most terrifying is that they spelled LaDainian’s name wrong on the title page. But we have since fixed those things, and I am told reviewers will not judge the book on typos when reading the galleys.

Here’s an image of the stack I’ve got to send out in the next few days.

2014-04-10 14.10.00

I also have the first dates of the book tour booked!

The launch will be July 23 at Book People in Austin at 7 p.m..

Then San Antonio on July 24 at The Twig Book Shop in San Antonio at 5 p.m..

Dallas on July 29 at Barnes and Noble, though not sure which one yet.

Houston on July 30 at the Brazos Book Shop at 7 p.m.

Certainly look for more emails blasts, tweets, Facebook posts and blog entries as we get closer to the dates. Don’t worry, I will try to make sure you don’t forget.

And as always, order lots of copies! Here’s a link back to my post on where to pre-order. If I want to get another book contract, this book needs to sell. I promise everyone freebies on the next book if you buy this one!


Tomlinson Hill Available From These Stores

THill Small cover

Tomlinson Hill is available for pre-order! I’ve included several links below to the more popular online book stories, but if you live in a town with an independent bookstore, you can do that bookstore and me an extra special favor by calling them up and making sure they order some copies for their shelves too.

The shipping date is July 22. For anyone who knows a book reviewer, send me your contacts and I’ll get those in the mail.

Clearly, the goal here is to sell as many books as I possibly can, so please consider buying extra copies and sharing them as gifts, or donations to your local library or school libraries. I am always grateful for your support, but I am equally convinced everyone can learn something from this book, particularly now that Americans appear ready to think about these things.

I’ll post more links as they become available!

Book People:

B&N Hardcover and Nook:

Powell’s Books:

Books A Million:


The Book Cover for Tomlinson Hill is Out

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am happy to reveal the cover for the book, Tomlinson Hill:

Small Tomlinson Hill Cover

Everyone grows up knowing that one should not judge a book by its cover, yet that’s what most people do. So the cover needs to communicate a lot of information with a single glance. The designer decided to let the reader know right away that this is a book about American slavery, and of course, they should know we’re telling a remarkable story about two families who share the same name.

We’re also proudly flying the laurels won by the film Tomlinson Hill. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the book will get its own recognition, but that will come after the release.

Philip Gourevitch, an old friend from Rwanda, graciously provided a blurb that I hope will tell the reader this isn’t only about the olden days. This is a book about the United States of America today, and why yesterday still matters.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with it.

We are getting closer to the launch date, and I have finished going through the copy-edited version. For those who read an early draft, you’ll be happy to know the book is in great shape and much, much shorter than the first draft. I didn’t get to squeeze in as much as I would have liked, but I think it reads much better now.

We don’t know exactly when it will be on shelves, but that should be resolved in the next few weeks. I’ll let y’all know as soon as I do.


Questions, a Photo and a Confession

By Chris Tomlinson

We screened the film Tomlinson Hill recently at Baylor University in Waco, and I was thrilled to see so many people from Marlin present. Afterward during the question and answer period, Lisa Kaselak and I got some hard questions about the choices we made in the film, all of them very thoughtful. One woman questioned whether we should have been more specific about how far Marlin is from Tyler, where we filmed an Aryan Nations rally. The answer is that the film is showing nationally, and most people viewing it outside of the state do not see much of a cultural difference between Marlin and Tyler. Another Marlin resident asked whether our film was making a meaningful contribution to the community, since much of the funding came from non-profit arts groups. All I could reply is that we have yet to make any money on this project, and the arts are a valid way to start a conversation and ultimately bring change to Falls County. Outsiders have offered dozens of economic development opportunities over the years, but until Marlin comes together as a single community, none of them will make any real difference.

One woman from Chilton arrived bearing a photo of my Great, Great, Great Uncle Augustus Tomlinson. Augustus was REL’s older brother and helped raise my great grandfather after their father James K. Tomlinson died in 1865. I will forever be grateful to Cynthia Montgomery for sharing this with me and allowing me to include it in the book. The photo was taken with Augustus’ wife Elizabeth Jane Landrum Tomlinson outside their house in Lott.

Small Augustus and Lizzie Tomlinson

A few Falls County residents lingered afterward to talk about race and racism growing up in Marlin. One woman told me that she’d been researching the history of Lott and had learned that the Tomlinsons had freed their slaves in Alabama, and the African Americans who came with my family to Texas were volunteers. She explained how this showed the Tomlinson’s enlightenment about race. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard similar stories told both by my relatives and other whites who trace their families to slaveholders. I was eight years-old when my grandfather told me how the former slaves loved us so much that they took our last name. I allowed this older woman a chance to finish this latest revelation about my family and took a deep breath before telling her it was a lie.

The 1860 slave schedules compiled by the Census clearly show that James K. Tomlinson owned the African Americans who worked on his plantation. The Census also shows no free blacks in all of Falls County. The African Americans living in Falls County were slaves until June 19, 1865 when Union troops took control of the state, thereby ending the Civil War. The woman, whom I prefer not to name, insisted that the oral history she had collected was true, and that she was including it in her book about the history of Lott. I told her that I was happy to share all of the documents I’d collected and I sympathized with her since I’d also heard similar fairy tales to cover up the crimes of my ancestors. I assured her that while the descendants of 19th century Tomlinsons may have believed the stories they were told, our ancestors were anything but enlightened. She said she would not change her book to reflect this newly revealed fact, she was sticking with what her sources told her. After all, look how sweet the couple in the photo above look.

Another woman told me about growing up in Falls County in the 1950s and 1960s and the segregation that kept white and blacks apart. She recognized how destructive and oppressive that policy was for all involved, and she condemned it and the racism of her youth. But before long she admitted that when she saw her teenage daughter spending time with African Americans her own age, she got upset. She said all of that training from her childhood still controlled her emotions. She even told her daughter that the parents of the black teens would be equally upset because they understood what a bad idea it was for the races to mix. This woman said her daughter laughed at her, told her that times had changed that she needed to change too. This woman told me it was hard to change after so many decades of seeing the world in a certain way. Her last words to me before she left the theater were, “I’m working on it, I really am. I’m working on it.”

This woman sums up what I believe is happening in America today. We know that racism is wrong and no one seriously argues that blacks are inferior. Yet so many Americans still feel the residual affects of our racist history. And like the amateur historian, the truth makes us uncomfortable, so we either deny it or we rewrite history. We all know that racism is wrong, so we adamantly denounce it while failing to seriously consider what the word means or how it manifests itself. Too many people think that condemning the Ku Klux Klan is all it takes to not be racist when it really involves so much more.

I’m not naming the woman who admitted to me that racism still influences her because she deserves some privacy to overcome these deep-seated emotions. I would also never call her a racist, because she knows its wrong and wants to overcome it. But like far too many white Americans, racism still shapes her world view. I admire her for owning up to it. I wish more people would.