Author Interview - Thomas M. Sullivan

I love to laugh almost as much as I love to read and I consider it something of a double bonus when a good book makes me laugh out loud... even when this leads to others casting me odd glances on my city's public transportation system.  So it is with great pleasure that I can introduce all of you to an author that did make me laugh in his memoir, Life in the Slow Lane.  Join me in welcoming Thomas M. Sullivan!

*applause, applause*

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started as a driving instructor?

I had been a teacher for a number of years before teaching drivers ed. I taught computer software (things like Microsoft Word and Excel) to people retraining for new careers. When my wife and I moved to Portland, Oregon I tried being a computer draftsman for a state agency, but the climate was too grim to continue. So, I started looking for teaching jobs, landed on the drivers ed thing, and figured “Why not, this could be fun.”

How and when did you make the decision to record your teaching experiences as a memoir?

We had very erratic scheduling, so I would end up with a few hours between lessons and little to do. So, about a month into the job I started jotting down notes on funny stories (like the girl who couldn’t practice at home because Mom wrecked the car at a Starbucks drive-thru). Then I decided to tell the whole story, and the longer book emerged from those chunks of time.

Were you interested in writing before tackling driver's ed as a career?

I’d always been an avid reader, but I hadn’t considered writing. And if you want to write, there’s always the question of what to write about. So, when I got into drivers ed I figured it was a strange and unique enough experience to warrant a book.

You have great stories in your book about life as an instructor, but do you have any anecdotes from when you were a teenager learning to drive?

I was a well behaved student, so my learning phase was fairly mundane. I did, however, blow out a clutch on the family Camaro just after getting my license. I was thinking about something else and got the gears mixed up while downshifting. I went from 3rd gear to Reverse coming down a hill. Big grinding noise, smoke, etc. I’m not one for multitasking and try to avoid it.

One of the things I loved about your book is that parts of it had me literally laughing out loud! Do people generally consider you a funny person or do you save your humor for your writing?

I’d say that people think I’m pretty funny. That or they’re just humoring me so I’ll go away and let them get back to work. I’m learning that the humor that “works” among friends often should be avoided at the DMV or airports or with the police. Humor is a very objective thing and it goes nowhere with grim people, so anticipating your audience can be tricky.

The company you worked for displayed appalling levels of poor management and unprofessionalism. What kept you from simply walking away from the job?

Probably the same things that keep anyone mired in a bad job. You’re hoping things will change when problems are identified. You don’t want to look for another job. You don’t want to forego the income. You don’t want to add to the workload of others. And so on. You assume the CEO will figure out the email system and stop sending those inappropriate photos to every employee in the company – but he doesn’t.

Mostly, I’d worked so many different short-run jobs in the few years prior that I didn’t want to job hunt again. One thing I’ve learned over the past twenty years is that bad businesspeople are usually stubborn creatures, a quality that makes them awful at what they do. It’s best to get out sooner rather than later.

Are you planning to write any more books? What projects are you currently working on?

I’m finishing up a collection of nonfiction/humor essays that I hope to publish at some point. The stories range in topic from an encounter with a Flowbie-wielding hair stylist to a strange run-in at the DMV to a ridiculous encounter with a road-rager. The weirder life gets the more fun it is to write about.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

A number of the essays I mentioned above have appeared in online journals. I have collected several of these and linked them to my author website. If anyone would like to read these, they can go to

Thanks for the interview!
 Check out Life in the Slow Lane - available now!

2 Response to "Author Interview - Thomas M. Sullivan"

  1. Sue Says:
    January 18, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    "...people think I’m pretty funny. That or they’re just humoring me so I’ll go away and let them get back to work."

    I feel that way a lot. Nice interview!

  2. Melissa says:
    January 18, 2011 at 7:00 PM

    I knew if I'd stop by I'd find a book I'd like to read. Just finished Anne Tyler's _Noah's Compass_ today and planned to start _Room_, I forgot the author. But _Room_ is starting off so bizarre, which might be part of its charm, and it could be phenomenal but I don't know how much more I can read. So strange!

    P.S. I have an award for you at my blog!

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