Hoai-Tran Bui, special to wtop.com
ARLINGTON, Va. - Most college students spend their spring break vacationing in Florida or lounging at home while catching up with TV shows on Netflix. But 19- year-old R.J. Tolson spent much of his break being interviewed by local television stations and newspapers about the publication of his debut fantasy novel "Zephyr: The West Wind."
Tolson, who grew up in Arlington, Va. and attends Whittier College in California, is an author and chief executive officer of his own company, RJTIO. He says he hopes to continue his streak of success with a debut music album "Human," as well as continuing to publish sequels to "Zephyr."
WTOP Living sat down with Tolson to talk about his aspirations and the obstacles presented by his youth.
You are a fairly young CEO. What made you decide to start your own company?
I just wanted to make more than my allowance in high school. I had like $15 allowance, and I wanted to have more than that on the weekends at boarding school. I didn't want to ask my parents for money so I tried to find a way where it could be long-lasting, something that's needed and that I could make revenue from.
Why didn't you go for a part-time job? Why jump straight into founding a company?
I'm not really good at following people's orders so I didn't want to be under anybody. So I just wanted to be my own boss, and I think I work best that way.
So can you explain what your company does?
There's one company called RJTIO, and this company has several divisions. Four divisions: one's a charity called Forever Trust. The other is RL Infinity, which is an international tutoring and business consulting division. And then I just started a printing, or publishing, division in which we publish authors who otherwise wouldn't be published. They contract us, and they're under our name. And through that we help with the process of editing, as a normal publisher would do. And then we have the web design company, which was the original one.
You started this in high school, so how did you balance schoolwork and running a company?
I started in senior year of high school, so by that time I was lowering down my class load and getting ready for college. During school I was doing varsity soccer and varsity tennis, but other than that I had a lot of free time. And I just spent it writing, starting my business and getting clients. But then as I went into college, it got a lot harder to manage everything.
So let's get into the real meat of this: your book. You recently published a book called "Zephyr: The West Winds." It's the first in a series of fantasy books. And you've said in previous interviews that you were inspired by "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings." Were there any other classical fantasy authors that inspired you?
I guess if you're going to go by classical, I'm more into urban fantasy. I was inspired more by urban. Newer books like "The Lightning Thief" by Riordan. "Pendragon" is probably my favorite series of all time by D.J. MacHale. Which is a great series. That's probably the one that inspired me to write the most, more than "Harry Potter." I wasn't really into "Harry Potter" -- it wasn't that big when I was younger. I grew up with it though, so it became big for me. But I was inspired by "Pendragon" the most.
So does science fiction play into your books as well?
Metaphysics is my thing. So I like thinking about other worlds, concepts like that. Physics and science history. Science fiction, it's interesting -- I like fantasy more, and I write more fantasy, but I might be experimenting with science fiction soon.
Are there any other genres that you're thinking of getting into?
I want to go out of the fantasy genre, but I'd like to stay in it at the same time. So what I'm doing is a fantasy-romance novel called "Blood Red Love," which will be released hopefully in the next few months. It's not like "Twilight" at all, but it's the same genre as "Twilight."
How do you plan on going into romance without making it too kitschy?
I stick to my fantasy elements, and I bring in romance that I think connects with readers a lot more than just the basic cheesy stuff, like "Oh I love you, you're so amazing." You know, it builds up. You have to connect your readers, so that's what I'm trying to do first before I do all the cheesy stuff. It's going to be a lot of fantasy and action, but it's going to have that romance aspect.
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