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Monday, May 25, 2020

Fort Thomas Resident's Book Lands Spot on New York Times Bestseller List

Author Chris Tomlin and his family. 

By Kara Gebhart Uhl
Fort Thomas resident Chris Tomlin, along with Lexington, Kentucky-based attorney and founder of Kentucky Sports Radio Matt Jones, recently received an email from their editor at Simon & Schuster regarding the book they co-authored, "Mitch, Please!: How Mitch McConnell Sold Out to Kentucky (and America, Too)." Attached was a PDF of the next day's New York Times bestseller list.

They were on it.

"It was incredibly surreal," Tomlin says. "There's Michelle Obama and Malcolm Gladwell...and us. It's really nuts. Hitting The New York Times bestseller list is, for a writer, like the dream of winning an Olympic medal would be for a hurdler. It's something you always dream of, but in the back of your head you realize that's a huge long shot. It's such a blessing."

"Mitch, Please!" is filled with stories about McConnell's shortcomings from his constituents. "We hit the road to visit each of Kentucky's 120 counties and talk to the people there, to find out how he's helping the people in these counties," Tomlin says. "Who better to tell this story than the people who elected him to represent them? We always knew we essentially wanted to write a political book for people who don't read political books, so we decided to wrap this narrative in along with Matt's decision on whether to run for Senate [more on that later], a travelogue of the state, and a collection of the portraits of the people who live there."

It worked.

The New York Times wrote, "Reading Jones and his co-writer, Chris Tomlin, on Kentucky can be like reading Larry McMurty on Texas."

Tomlin grew up in Maysville, Kentucky, and attended Transylvania University. He's worked as a copywriter for the J. Peterman Catalogue, as an advertising creative for the Lexington, Kentucky-based ad agency Meridian, and as the creative director for Lexington's NBC affiliate WLEX-TV's nightly program "Hey Kentucky," for which he served as a writer and on-air personality. Tomlin's writing has appeared in Cincinnati Magazine, The New York Post and McSweeney's. He and his wife, Laura, moved to Fort Thomas in 2008. They have two children at Moyer Elementary.

Tomlin and Jones attended Transylvania University together, and have known each other for nearly 24 years. "When Matt founded Kentucky Sports Radio in 2005, he called me and asked me if I'd write for the entity ---- a startup blog which would be covering Kentucky sports ---- and provide humor in a weekly column," Tomlin says. "Since then I've written, traveled and worked with Matt and the rest of the KSR crew for 15 years, covering basketball, football and more. In addition, Matt and I have covered college basketball road trips for both CBS Sports and Fox Sports together. We're pretty much lifelong friends at this point."

Initially Simon & Schuster approached Jones with the idea of writing a book about Mitch McConnell's impact upon Kentucky. Jones liked the idea and asked Tomlin to be the co-author. "We decided to take the angle of writing the story as an overview of the state told by the stories within each of its 120 counties," Tomlin says. "Each county has its own story, so why not just tell those stories?"

Some background: At the time, Tomlin says Jones has been courted by the national Democratic Party to run against McConnell in the 2020 election, and Jones was considering the idea pretty heavily.

"We felt that the time was right for a book like this ---- I mean, here you have arguably the most powerful political figure in the nation (perhaps even more powerful, some might argue, than the president himself), and the state for which he's been re-elected for decades to represent has a lot of problems," Tomlin says. "Many of which, if we're being honest, could be easily fixed by one of the most powerful political figures in the nation. So we wondered: Why isn't he doing more for this state? He can, if he wants."

Tomlin says the rise of McConnell's star nationally seemed to come at the expense of those in Kentucky who could use his help. So he and Jones took a road trip.

For four months, Tomlin says he and Jones were in a car 10 to 11 hours a day, stopping in each county or wherever they'd find something interesting.

"Neither of us were home much," Tomlin says.

Chris Tomlin, along with Lexington, Kentucky-based attorney and founder of Kentucky Sports Radio Matt Jones go bow hunting together.

There was no detailed plan. Rather they went by word of mouth and recommendation. "We never knew were we'd end up each day," Tomlin says. At night they'd hole up somewhere on the road and write long after the sun shone bright.

Tomlin says they wanted the book's stories to be the voices of the people they met traveling the state. So, they'd visit businesses, eat at restaurants and talk to people on the street in each of the counties' larger towns or in each county seat.

"They're amazing, the people of this state," Tomlin says. "What we found was that Democrat and Republican lines blurred when we looked at things from a local level. Party lines mean so much less in small, rural areas with communities in which everyone knows one another. But those of both parties felt forgotten by McConnell."

Tomlin says this was unexpected because these counties still vote for McConnell.

"One thing consistent was that everyone's afraid of him," Tomlin says. "Democratic officials would ask us not to mention them because they were afraid of repercussions from the Senator, and Republican officials would ask us the same for fear of his rebuttal at speaking out against him. It felt like taking down a mob boss."

Perhaps it's their years of friendship, or their individual talents or their ability to just talk to people in a down-to-earth, friendly way, but with this book Tomlin and Jones manage to accomplish something rare in the political book genre. Their voice and opinions are supported by hundreds of fellow Kentuckians, Democrat and Republican, from all walks of life.

"In the end, we found that the people of this state are so unfailingly kind, hospitable and charitable, and we ended up making real, lifelong friends along the road trip across the state," Tomlin says. "We went bowfishing for Asian carp in Lark Barkley, we drove combines in McLean County and shot antique muzzle-loading rifles in Magoffin County.

There are truly wonderful, kind, fantastic people in this state ---- in each county ---- and the more we continued our trip we realized this more and more."

With that realization came further infuriation that Kentuckians aren't being fairly served. "Something's wrong here," Tomlin says. "And it's not fair to them."

And so their interviewing, reporting and writing become almost quest-like with a goal to reveal the truth behind a man they describe as "quite simply everything wrong with American politics in 2020."

From the book's Kirkus review: "Throughout the book, Jones employs a sharp political scalpel, eviscerating McConnell. Those looking for a disinterested analysis of the senator will not find it here ---- as the subtitle broadcasts. The author assails McConnell for his numerous flaws: flipping on issues (abortion rights), hypocrisy (on the power of money in political campaigns), and favoring the rich over most of his constituents. Ultimately, writes Jones, McConnell is 'a soulless political being.'"

Tomlin and Jones didn't have a lot of time to write the book so, Tomlin says, the duo worked at a
breakneck pace.

"But the process worked because Matt and I know one another so well," Tomlin says. "We played to each other's strengths; he has a great political mind and a recognizable beloved voice in the state, and my strong points are talking to and writing about the people and places we encountered."

The book officially dropped March 31.

"In an ideal world, there would have been a book launch, signings and both local and national publicity ---- there was a plan for that," Tomlin says. "But things, obviously, changed ---- so none of that ended up happening. As it turns out, a national pandemic isn't the ideal backdrop for a book release. But hopefully when things die down a bit, those things will set back in motion."

Despite a lack of publicity, the book is currently in No. 11 on The New York Times bestseller list, No. 8 on The Wall Street Journal bestseller list and No. 6 on the Publishers Weekly bestseller list.

Tomlin says they never could have made these lists without the readers who have purchased and supported the book. "I hope those people will enjoy it and not regret passing over Malcolm Gladwell's book for it," Tomlin says, sharing his humorous side. "That's probably a really, really good book too."

"Mitch, Please!" has garnered many positive reviews, and Tomlin says after working so hard for five straight months, the validation has been refreshing.

"But to be honest, the thing that has been so unbelievable has been the response from readers right here in Kentucky," Tomlin says. "We've both had so many people tell us that we got their counties right, or subjects tell us they were proud to be a part of the book.

That's what makes it even more worthwhile. It is great that readers are responding to it nationally, but we really wanted the people of Kentucky to read it, because at the end of the day it's really a book for them. It's something we hope can do some good."

To purchase the book, visit Blue Marble Books' website here. The book will be mailed to you directly with Blue Marble Books receiving credit for the sale.

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