Jodi Thomas Amarillo Romance Novelist
From schoolteacher to best-selling romance novelist.
It may sound a thing of fairy tales, but for Amarillo native Jodi Koumalats — better known by her pen name, Jodi Thomas — it’s a reality.
The fifth-generation Texan spent years working at Amarillo High School as both a teacher and a counselor — a job she loved dearly — but she never forgot her first love: storytelling.
Thomas said as a child she always loved to tell her sisters stories. As she got older, she didn’t think she could write out her stories because English was her worst subject in school. But then one day, when reading a book as an adult, she thought, “I could write it better.”
So in her own words, she “gave it a try.”
Now 45, books deep in both the historical romance and contemporary genres, Thomas is a New York Times Bestselling Author, USA TODAY Bestselling Author, Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award winner, Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame inductee and National Readers’ Choice Award winner.
“I think when I taught school I always wanted to make people’s lives better and richer and they learned. But when I write, I just want to entertain,” she said. “I see my reader as a nurse coming home or a teacher coming home from a long days work, and she just wants to relax and slip into a world where the good guys are going to win. I want them to walk this journey with me, and when they close the book smile and say, ‘That was a good read.’”
Thomas published her first book in 1988. And she’s published a book every year since then — the majority set in her home state of Texas.
The land itself inspires Thomas. She said she likes to go on walks and imagine what stories the landscapes would tell. Of course, the people of Texas also spark ideas, too. When she meets people, Thomas said she likes to imagine what their story might be in relation to each other and their surroundings.
“I love the way people interact together. I love the way you’re not an island. You’re affected by all the people around you, and the people in your family all have influence on who you are,” she said. “I wanted to write stories that weren’t about a man or a woman or a crime. I wanted to show — how in small towns particularly — even though you don’t like the person, they’re a part of your town. And if a flood came, ya help them.”
When it comes to specific characters, Thomas said she likes to think of them as real-life people. She starts with the idea of a personality trait. From there, it’s as if the character is sitting in front of her desk telling her their story just as if she met a person in real life.
“Sometimes they don’t turn out to be exactly what I thought they’d be and they make a great bad guy then,” she said. “I don’t sit down and say, ‘They’re going to have this color hair and be this high and have these weaknesses and strengths.’ I just talk to them in my mind.”
Her character development can be so convincing that Thomas said she often has fans inquire about specific characters — asking what the real person’s name is or where they live.
“When someone becomes your fan — especially when you meet them and talk to them — you have the sense they’ve walked around in your brain because they’ve read your book,” she said. “Some of them know my characters better than I do. When I say goodbye to a book, I’m on to the next character. But they still love the characters.”
Many of Thomas’ fans have become a source of character inspiration themselves, she said. One fan in particular helped her research a character who was a gambler. Thomas and the fan met in Las Vegas where Thomas observed the fan playing poker.
For her most recent novel, “Sunrise Crossing,” a part of the Ransom Canyon series, which released Aug. 30, Thomas weaves together the stories of a rancher, an art dealer and an ex-con.
“‘Sunrise Crossing’ is about how sometimes the best people for you to be around — for you to fall in love with — are not the most predictable people you would find,” she said. “Sometimes it’s better to find an opposite match.”
Thomas said the “Sunrise Crossing” characters all work together to solve a mystery. But despite the book’s romance and suspense, she said it’s her funniest one to date. She even caught herself laughing out loud as she wrote it.
With the book’s release date around the corner, Thomas has scheduled no time to rest on her laurels. In fact, she wrapped up an additional novel last weekend — with the ultimate goal to complete three novels a year.
To reach her goal, Thomas said she has a daily writing schedule. And it’s one she doesn’t plan on letting up on any time soon. Some day, she hopes her piece de resistance is a book on writing. Until then, her fans can look forward to a steady stream of stories featuring characters they can fall in love with.