He lives on Barnhardt Circle in Fort Oglethorpe. You might see him cycling around town on his bike, hiking in the Battlefield, wandering around in the library — or sitting on his front porch in warm weather typing away.
What Tim Champlin is doing at his typewriter is tapping out yet another book. He’s written over 40 of them and is under contract to finish his latest — the third in a trilogy that sends a young boy back in time to participate in the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn – for publication in 2019.
Champlin, who was born in 1937, ventured into the world of writing for the first time at 12 years old.
“I tried to write a mystery novel similar to one of ‘The Hardy Boys’ stories I was fond of at the time,” Champlin said. “I got 189 handwritten pages into it but discovered I could not plot a mystery. I wrote my protagonists into such a jam, I couldn’t get them out, so I gave up. But my interest in writing never went away.”
Life went on. Champlin’s father was a large-animal veterinarian, but he had a family to support and the Great Depression was raging. Farmers couldn’t pay for a vet, so he took a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, resulting in many moves for his family.
Champlin says that growing up, his family lived in Iowa, Atlanta; Fargo, North Dakota where he was born; Lincoln, Nebraska; Jefferson City, Missouri and Phoenix, Arizona.
“Phoenix only had a population of 102,000 when we lived there,” says Champlin. “It was almost as if we were pioneers. Driving through Encanto Park on a Sunday afternoon, you would see groups of people on outings with signs posted that read ‘Iowa Picnic,’ ‘Indiana Picnic,’ ‘Illinois Picnic.’ Anyone from those states was welcome. Not many people at that time were Arizona natives.”
Champlin graduated from high school, earned a master of arts degree from Peabody College — now part of Vanderbilt University, got married, had three children. Following his father’s path, he worked for the government — a year with the Department of the Interior in Michigan, time at the U.S. Courthouse in Nashville, 18 months as a youth director at the now-closed Sewart Air force Base in Smyrna, Tennessee.
“While the base was winding down,” says Champlin, “I had a bit of spare time and began trying to write short stories and articles for magazines. After 39 rejections, I sold my first article to a national boating magazine.”
Champlin had borrowed a camera to take pictures to go with his article and some of those were published, too. But after a dozen or so articles, Champlin says he began to run out of topics for non-fiction articles and the short-story market was limited. His mind turned to writing novels.
“I knew it would be a category novel,” says Champlin of his first book. “I considered the options — sci-fi, romance, fantasy, mystery. After I eliminated everything I didn’t care to read or knew nothing about, I was left with western. I had lived out west and I knew a lot of western history and biography, so I set out to give it a try.”
The first pages of Champlin’s book were set to paper during the winter of 1977-78. “It was very cold and snowy,” says the author. “I spent many hours at my portable typing table up close to the electric wall heater in our little house, trying to keep my fingers warm while I drafted my novel on a manual typewriter.”
It took Champlin two years to finish his first book-length work of fiction. He sent out sample chapters to multiple publishers. After 16 rejections, the book was picked up by Ballantine Books, who offered him a $2,000 advance. He went on to write eight more westerns for Ballantine before the company changed leadership and stopped publishing westerns.
Champlin returned to magazine writing for a while. But the pull of the western took him back to that genre and soon he was turning out more titles: “A Trail to Wounded Knee,” “The Secret of Lodestar,” “Summer of the Sioux,” “The Tombstone Conspiracy,” “Iron Trail,” “Lincoln’s Ransom” and many more.
But Champlin did not restrict himself entirely to westerns. He ventures wherever his muse leads him. “Treasure of the Templars” features medieval history and in “Annie and the Ripper” Jack the Ripper meets up with Annie Oakley.
Several years ago, Champlin was approached by a publisher to write the copy for a coffee table book titled “The Wild West of Louis L’Amour.”
“Louis L’Amour is the best-selling western fiction writer of all time and I had met him years before,” says Champlin. “I knew if I messed up this book, I would have thousands of his fans down on my head.” Champlin says he took the assignment with some trepidation but that it turned out quite well and resulted in two interviews for him on National Public Radio.
Champlin’s latest project — the time-travel trilogy about a boy who finds himself transported back to the year 1849 and in the company of none other than Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer — contains a character based on a real person. “A friend of mine, Kent Rasmussen, author of ‘Mark Twain A to Z,’ asked if I would write his grandson, Zane, into a novel.” Zane Rasmussen is the time-traveling main character of the trilogy.
“Writing a book is akin to a distance race,” says Champlin. “It starts off with great enthusiasm and great promise, but turns into a real effort, working out details and connecting the dots of plot and pacing, not too much description, just the right amount of action. It’s a matter of balance and touch — that’s where instinct comes in. No two writers will do it the same.”
“I think I benefited from growing up in the 1940s,” says Champlin, “with no TV, when radio dramas and books were all we had, except for a rare movie now and then. As kids, we invented our own games and our imaginations got a workout they would never get today.”
At 81 years old, Champlin says the only thing that really surprises him is that he’s lived as long as he has and is still in good health. In addition to his writing, he plays tennis, bikes, goes shooting and sailing, collects coins and buys and sells manual typewriters and old military saddles.
Tim Champlin’s books can be found online (some in e-book and audio formats), in bookstores and at the Catoosa County Library. Readers can also email Champlin about books at email@example.com.