INTERVIEW and GIVEAWAY
How to Be a Man
by Tamara Linse
How to Be a Man is currently on tour with Bewitching Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my interview with the author and a giveaway. You also get to read the whole of the title story and my review. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
"Never acknowledge the fact that you’re a girl, and take pride when your guy friends say, 'You’re one of the guys.' Tell yourself, 'I am one of the guys,' even though, in the back of your mind, a little voice says, 'But you’ve got girl parts.'" – Birdie, in "How to Be a Man"
A girl whose self-worth revolves around masculinity, a bartender who loses her sense of safety, a woman who compares men to plants, and a boy who shoots his cranked-out father.
These are a few of the hard-scrabble characters in Tamara Linse’s debut short story collection, How to Be a Man. Set in contemporary Wyoming-the myth of the West taking its toll - these stories reveal the lives of tough-minded girls and boys, self-reliant women and men, struggling to break out of their lonely lives and the emotional havoc of their families to make a connection, to build a life despite the odds. How to Be a Man falls within the tradition of Maile Meloy, Tom McGuane, and Annie Proulx.
Never acknowledge the fact that you’re a girl, and take pride when your guy friends say, “You’re one of the guys.” Tell yourself, “I am one of the guys,” even though, in the back of your mind, a little voice says, “But you’ve got girl parts.”
You are born on a ranch in central Colorado or southern Wyoming or northern Montana and grow up surrounded by cowboys. Or maybe not a ranch, maybe a farm, and you have five older brothers. Your first memory is of sitting on the back of Big Cheese, an old sorrel gelding with a sway back and—you find out later when you regularly ride bareback—a backbone like a ridge line. Later, you won’t know if this first memory is real or comes from one of the only photos of you as a baby. You study that photo a lot. It must be spring or late fall because you’re wearing a quilted yellow jacket with a blue-lined hood and your brother’s hands reach from the side of the frame and support you in the saddle. You look half asleep with your head tilted to the side against your shoulder, a little sack of potatoes.
Your dad is a kind man, a hard worker, who gives you respect when no one else will. When you’re four, if he asks, “Birdie, do you think the price of hogs is going up?” ponder this a while. Take into account how Rosie has just farrowed seven piglets and how you’re bottle-raising the runt and how you’ve heard your brothers complaining about pig shit on the boots they wear to town. Think about how much Jewel—that’s what you’ve decided to name the pig—means to you and say, “Yes, Daddy, pigs are worth a lot.” He’ll nod his head, but he won’t smile like other people when they think what you say was cute or precocious.
Your mother is a mouse of a woman who takes long walks in the gray sagebrushed hills beyond the fields or lays in the cool back bedroom reading the Bible. When your brothers ask “Where’s Mom?” you won’t know. You don’t think it odd when at five you learn how to boil water in the big speckled enamelware pot and to shake in three boxes of macaroni, to watch as it turn from off-yellow plasticity to soft white noodles, to hold both handles with a towel and carefully pour it into the colander in the sink while avoiding the steam, to measure the butter and the milk—one of your brothers shows you how much—and then to mix in the powdered cheese. You learn to dig a dollop of bacon grease from the Kerr jar in the fridge into the hot cast iron skillet, wait for it to melt, and then lay in half-frozen steaks, the wonderful smell of the fat and the popping of ice crystals filling the kitchen. When your brothers come in from doing their chores, they talk and laugh instead of opening the cupboards and slamming them shut. And your dad doesn’t clench his jaw while washing his hands with Dawn dishwashing liquid at the kitchen sink and then toss big hunks of Wonder Bread into bowls filled with milk.
When you wear hand-me-downs from your brothers, be proud. Covet the red plaid shirt of your next older brother, and when you get it—a hot late summer afternoon when he tosses three shirts on your bed—wear it until the holes in the elbows decapitated the cuffs. If you go to town with your dad for parts, be proud of your shitty boots and muddy jeans and torn-up shirts. It shows that you know an honest day’s work. Work is more important than fancy things, and you are not one of those ninnies who wear girlie dresses and couldn’t change a tire if their lives depended on it.
Be prepared: when you go to school, you won’t know quite where you fit. All the other kids will seem to know something that you don’t, something they whisper to each other behind their hands. They won’t ever whisper it to you. But they won’t make fun of you either because—you’ll get this right away and take pride in it—you are tough and also you have five older brothers and the Gunderson family sticks together. Be proud of the fact that, in seventh grade social studies, you sit elbows-on-the-table next to a boy about your size, and he says with a note of admiration, “Look at them guns. You got arms bigger than me.” It’s winter, and you’ve been throwing hay bales every morning to feed the livestock.
Your friends will be boys. You understand boys. When you say something, they take it at face value. If they don’t understand, hit them, and they’ll understand that. For a couple of months—until your dad finds out about it—your second oldest brother will give you a dime every time you get into a fist fight. The look on your brother’s face as he hands you those dimes will make your insides puff to bursting. Use the dimes to buy lemons at the corner grocery during lunch time. Slice them up with your buck knife and hand them out to see which of the boys can bite into it without making a face.
Leave the girls alone, and they will leave you alone. When you have to be together, like in gym class, they’ll ignore you, which will be fine with you. Always take the locker by the door so you can jet in and out as fast as you can. You’ll be mortified that they’ll see your body, how gross and deformed it is. Be proud of the muscles, but the buds of breast and the peaking pubic hair will be beyond embarrassing. Still, you’ll be fascinated with their bodies, not in a sexual way, but in that they seem to be so comfortable with them, even—to your disgust—proud. They’ll compare boobs in the mirror, holding their arms up against their ribs so that their breasts push forward. One girl, Bobbie Joe Blanchard, won’t stand at the mirror though because she’ll get breasts early, big round ones. She’ll quickly go from a slip of a girl who never says anything to the most popular because the boys pay attention, and the attention of the boys is worth much more than any giggling camaraderie of the girls. You’ll agree with this, but you’ll also be mystified as to the boys’ motivations. Ask your best friend Jimmy Mockler, “What’s up with that?” He’ll just shrug and smile, sheepishly but with pride too.
In middle school, don’t be surprised if the guys who used to be your friends forget about you. They’ll still be nice, but they’ll spend their time playing rough games of basketball and daring each other to talk to this girl or that. You won’t be good at basketball—you’re tough, but you don’t have the height or the competitiveness. Plus, they don’t really want you to play—you can tell. Think about this a lot, how to regain their respect. Go so far as to ask the coach about trying out for football. He’ll look at you like you’re a two-headed calf and say, “Darlin’, girls don’t play football.” You’ll want to scream, “I’m not a girl!” but you won’t. Instead, never tell anyone, especially the boys, and hope to God that the coach never mentions it in gym class, which he teaches. He won’t. He’ll agree with you that it’s embarrassing.
One day at lunch time, Jimmy Mockler will tell a story to the other guys about Bobbie Joe Blanchard and how he’s asked her to meet him under the bleachers in the gym during fifth period study hall. There is no gym during fifth period. He and Bobbie Joe are going to get passes to go to the bathroom and sneak in when no one’s looking. “I bet she lets me kiss her!” he says and laughs and the other boys laugh. Then he says, “Maybe she’ll even give me a hand job.” He’ll glance at you and this look of horror will come over his face. They’ll all look at you. Right then you’ll know you’ve lost them. At home that night, cry in your room without making a sound in case your brothers walk by.
Realize at this point that you have two choices: either you have to win back the boys or you have to throw in with the girls. But you don’t understand the girls at all. You wouldn’t know the first thing about it. How do you talk to girls, anyway? Don’t lose heart. Maybe there is a way to make it through to the boys. If pretty girls are what gets their attention, maybe you’ll have to learn to look like a girl, even if you aren’t really one. You can learn. Didn’t you teach yourself how to make peach pies from scratch? How to braid horsehair into hat bands? How to pick the lock on the second oldest brother’s bottom drawer, only to be disgusted with the magazines you found there? You can do this.
Imagine the looks on the boys’ faces. The admiration filling their eyes. Respect, even. And the jealousy in the girls’ eyes. Jimmy will walk up to you and put his arm around you and say, “Where you been?” There’ll be no more awkward silences, no more conversations that switch when you walk up. It’ll be the same as before, once they notice you. All you have to do is get their attention.
Raid your mom’s closet for a dress. Smuggle it into your room. It’s the one you’ve seen her wear to church—knee-length, sky blue with a white scalloped collar. You are her height now, and it’ll fit you. To your surprise, you’ll even fill it out in the bust. Surreptitiously steal a copy of a girls’ magazine from the library and study it—the way the girls’ hair is curled, the way their lips shine, how clean their hands are. Decide to try it the following Monday. Sunday night, take a long bath and try to soak off all the dirt and scrub the elephant hide off your feet. The leg bruises from working in the barn won’t come off, but sacrifice your toothbrush to scrub your fingernails. Tie up your wet hair in rags like you’ve seen your mother do on Saturday nights before Sunday church services. The next morning, get ready in your room so no one will see you. Climb into the dress. You will feel naked and drafty around the legs. This is normal. Brush out your hair. Instead of nice wavy curls, it will stuck out all over the place. Wet it down just a little, which will help, but it will still look like an alfalfa windrow. You don’t have any lip gloss, so use bag balm, the sticky yellow substance you put on cow teats when they chap. This won’t really be new because when your lips crack from sun or wind burn, that’s what you use. It will feel different though.
Look at yourself in the mirror. You won’t recognize yourself. It will be a weird double consciousness—this person in the mirror is you, you’ll know it, but you’ll have to glance down anyway just to match the image in the mirror with the one attached to your body. Beware. It will creep you out. It looks like a girl in the mirror, but it can’t be because you aren’t one of them.
Whatever happens, keep telling yourself: it’ll be worth it if it works.
Don’t go downstairs until just before your brothers are ready to drive to school. When you come down, your brothers will stop talking. The brother just older than you will laugh, but then your dad will whistle and say, “My, don’t you look pretty today.” This will make you feel a little better and stop the boys’ wolf whistles, though they’ll keep glancing sideways at you in the car. If the brother just older than you whispers, “Look who’s a ger-rel,” the oldest one will tap him upside the head to shut him up.
Make your oldest brother drop you off two blocks from school and hide behind a tree until you’re sure school has started. You won’t want anyone to see you ahead of time. In fact, you’ll be having second thoughts about the whole project. Be brave. You’ll think of Jimmy Mockler and the embarrassed way he looks at you, maybe even avoids you when you come down the hall, and that’ll help. Creep in a side door, scoot to your locker, get your books, and go to homeroom. If you feel like you might let loose in your pants as you peek into the classroom through the wire-latticed window, wait—this will pass. Mrs. Garcia will probably have everyone working in groups, and desks will be pushed together in four messy circles. The guys in the back will be in one group, including Jimmy. Rest your hand on the door knob for a long time, take a deep breath, and then push through the door.
The noise of everyone talking at once will hit you as the door opens. That and the smell of the fish tank and Mrs. Garcia’s sickeningly sweet perfume. Stutter-breathe and make a beeline toward the boy’s circle. Talking will begin to peter out as you enter the room, and you’ll make it halfway along the wall toward the back before there’s dead silence. Everyone will be looking at you, but keep your eyes on the boys’ circle. The looks on the boys’ faces will be wonderful. All their eyes fastened on you, looking admiringly, small smiles in the corners of their mouths. They will be looking at you, noticing you. Jimmy, particularly, will have a wide-eyed slack-jawed grin on his face.
Celebrate. You’ve done it. You’ve regained their attention. You are once more an honorary boy, respected and included.
But then it’ll be like a slow-motion horror movie. From behind you, Mrs. Garcia will say, “Why, Birdie Gunderson, I almost didn’t recognize you.” Watch these words register on the boys’ faces. Some of them will give a little shrug and turn back toward the others, but it’s Jimmy’s reaction that will bruise you to the core. You’ll see the time delay of the words entering his ears and then his brain and then the look on his face fix as his brain processes the words and then his eyes widen as he finally understands. Then, it’ll be as if someone grabs the center of his face and twists. The look will be so awful your body will wander to a stop, and you’ll stand, unbelieving, still caught in the adrenalin of the moment before. You’re going to cry, so flip around and push back out through the door and run down the hall and out the big double doors by the principal’s office. Run until you can’t breathe and then walk, taking in big hiccupping breaths of air, all the way to the high school. Make your oldest brother take you home.
Accept your fate. You’ll never regain that special place with the boys, and you become a second-hand friend. Every once in a while your brothers will say, “Remember the time Birdie tried to be a girl?” and they’ll laugh. Laugh with them. You know how ridiculous it was.
High school will be a long lonely blur, but take it like a man. Never go on a date, never kiss a boy. Instead, watch football and memorize the stats and, if anyone tries to strike up a conversation, bring up the Dallas Cowboys. Take your one stab at getting outside your life—after high school, go to community college for a semester, but when your mom dies of some unnamable female ailment, your dad will need you on the farm. You’ll tell yourself that you can always go back and get that degree, but you won’t. Fill your days with the routine of agriculture. The animals won’t care if you’re a boy or a girl—they just need to be fed and watered. Same with your dad and brothers. Don’t think about being a man. Or being a woman. You are an efficient cog in the machinery of the farm.
“Sis, you’re the best,” they’ll all say. “Birdie is as faithful as a hound dog.”
You are, you know? You’re a good cook, you know a lot about football, and you work hard. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have any friends, men or women. It doesn’t matter that you don’t get out much and you’ll never be kissed, much less married. When you have needs, take care of them yourself. Don’t think about becoming a skinny whiskery-chinned old batty with too many dogs. You’re happy. Or at least you’re not sad. You’re comfortable. You have a full life taking care of your dad and your brothers. You do. You really do.
Or, maybe this isn’t the way it goes.
Maybe, when you’re in your early thirties, your fourth oldest brother will bring home an old college buddy for two weeks one summer. Conrad Patel. You’ll resent the hell out of it, this change in routine. This guy will make you uncomfortable. At first you’ll think he’s gay because he’s thin and has a loose-limbed way of walking. This will make you wonder about your brother. Then you’ll understand by the way they talk about women that they’re just comfortable with each other. They understand each other. It’ll remind you of how it used to be with you and Jimmy Mockler—you’ll be sad at first and then angry. Go out of your way to avoid this Conrad Patel. You might even do little things to make yourself feel better, like flushing the downstairs toilet when he’s in the upstairs shower. Every time you get the chance.
A lot of your energy during the summer goes into growing the garden, and after your dad and the boys leave for the fields, spend your mornings watering and weeding. In the evening after the supper dishes are done, walk through the garden and inspect things—pollinate the tomatoes, check for potato bugs, and shut the hothouse boxes. You will love this time of cool breeze and setting sun. But it will annoy the hell out of you when Conrad Patel breaks away from the card game or the sitcom TV to follow you out the back door and down the porch steps. He won’t seem to understand the very strong hints you drop. Start sneaking out the front door, but don’t be surprised if you find him already there in the garden.
“But you don’t grow coriander?” Conrad Patel will say. “You don’t grow fennel? Not even tarragon?” He will say this with wonder, as if these things are essential to life.
Say, “If you don’t like what I cook, don’t eat it,” and turn your back.
If he says, “Oh no—your cooking is a marvel. So very different from my mother’s,” you won’t be sure how to take this, just like you’re never quite sure how to take anything he says. Say, “You’re comparing me to your mother?” It will irritate you. Really irritate you. You’ll wish you were ten again so you could sock him.
“Yes, of course,” he’ll say, once again as if this were a given.
Realize that he doesn’t understand you any more than you understand him. You won’t know what to say so don’t say anything and hope that’s the end of it.
But it won’t be. He’ll say, “You would drive across this country to eat her mashed potatoes. The key is browning the mustard seeds, with just enough chilies to make your lips burn. This makes me want to drop everything and go for a visit.” His voice will be both intense and wistful.
As you finish up in the garden, he’ll talk about cooking but then about his family. He’ll tell you about his mother and his aunts and grandmother. Also about his brothers and his dad, who has passed away. It’s not what he says so much as how he says it. Women to him are a mystery, much like they are to you, but not in a contemptuous way. He talks about them with such respect and such admiration, like they are men and men are women. To him, women are the source of all goodness and men are the source of all evil. Women are the ones who get things done, the practical ones, and men spend their time being frivolous with money.
It will all be so foreign to you that when he stops talking it’ll be as if you walked out of a movie theater. Remind yourself of where you are. And who you are. Your body and your approach to the world will have traveled to another place where what you were supposed to be doesn’t seem so far from what you are. You’ll want to reject it whole cloth, but there’s a part of you that will want to break into tears.
Shut the last hothouse lid and turn to leave.
Conrad Patel will say, “I have said something wrong.” He will step in front of you. “What I meant was that your potatoes are the same. Not the same—they don’t contain mustard seeds. But the same in that they are wonderful. And your beef stew is wonderful. You are a wonderful woman.”
Are you? Do those words go together?
It’s dark enough that you won’t be able to see his face, but if he steps closer to you, don’t step away. He’ll stand in front of you and you’ll feel the heat of his body through the cool of the evening. You’ll like this feeling. You might wonder what’s coming, if he’s leaning toward you ever so slightly—it will be hard to tell in the fading light. Don’t let this frighten you. Don’t run away. Face your fears. Be a man.
By Lynda Dickson
How to Be a Man is a collection of fourteen short stories by Tamara Linse. The titular story, "How to be a Man", is an unusual tale told in the second person. It has a satisfying ending and sets the tone for the rest of the stories, which all pertain to standing up for oneself or "being a man".
"Men are Like Plants" is an extended simile likening flowers to different types of men. "Mouse" is a touching tale of a young country girl who undergoes a rite of passage. "Oranges" is heart-breaking in its simplicity. In "Nose to the Fence", a country girl's world suddenly opens up; it is a story of hope. In "Control Erosion" it's hard to tell who's the man in this marriage; I loved the comparison of relationships to scientific laws and theories. "In the Headlights" and "The Body Animal" both use clever analogies. In "Revelations", three friends take things a bit too far; I loved the way the author wrote the ending. In "Wanting", a woman on a jury holds her ground against the other jurors in order to avenge a previous injustice; this was one of my favorites. The collection ends with a handy "Reading Group Guide" and a "Letter to the Reader" which provides some background to the stories.
This is a mixed bag of stories told from the points-of-view of children, young girls, young men, young women, and older men and women. The author is comfortable writing as all of these characters. These stories are not short stories in the traditional sense, but are snapshots of life. Some are stronger than others, but they are all moving and heart-felt, and you can tell the author has lived on and loved the land.
An impressive debut. This author is a talent to watch.
Interview With the Author
Hi, Tamara, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, How to Be a Man.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
How to Be a Man is a book for adults, as it includes sex and violence and bad language. However, I have to say, some of my most thrilling reads as a teenager were those books that showed me the real world. Not sex, necessarily, but just adults’ inner lives as they struggled to make it through their days. They reflected lived reality.
What sparked the idea for this book?
Because How to Be a Man is a collection of stories, there were many inspirations that encompass why I write in general, which is to try to make something meaningful and aesthetically pleasing out of the confusing bits of lived experience. Sometimes I’m inspired by a specific incident that happened to me or someone else, and other times I’ll start with nothing more than a line or an idea. I’m also inspired by things I read, and sometimes I’ll think, "That’s an amazing story." I want to try to write something like that. The first type of inspiration was "A Dangerous Shine", which was inspired by an incident that happened when I was getting my undergrad and bartending at the Buckhorn Bar. The second type, "Control Erosion", started with the conceit of trying to get into the mind and language of an engineer and how he would see the nonprofessional parts of his life. The third, "How to Be a Man", is inspired by Junot Diaz’s great story "How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie)". It’s a second-person story, and I’d always said to myself that I’d never do one of those, but once you’re caught up in an idea, it’ll carry you along whether you like it or not.
Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the story?
That’s a good question. The more I think about it, the more I’m inspired by situations and what motivated people to do certain things. My two novels are definitely inspired by events - one by a friend who had a child with a severe birth defect and the other by the family stories of my great grandparents, Ma and Pa Strong. The short stories seem to be more motivated by trying to capture an emotion or epiphany, although they’re also about events and motivations.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
For a short story collection, that would translate to which story was the hardest to write. There are two answers to that question - the story that was the hardest from a craft standpoint and the one that was hardest from an emotional standpoint. From a craft perspective, "Nose to the Fence" was the hardest. It was one of the earlier stories that I wrote in the fifteen-year period that these were written, yet I was doing major revisions up until it was published at the beginning of the year. I took it to writer’s conferences and sent it out to literary magazines and received rejections. I think I’ve finally honed in on what the story is actually about. From an emotional perspective, "The Body Animal" was the hardest. Many of us have body issues, but trying to portray that in a concrete way is difficult, and it involved confronting things that I wasn’t ready to confront. I find that writer’s block, for me, is often because I’m writing about something I’m not ready to pull out of the dank slimy recesses of my subconscious into the stark light of day.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I remember those many books that have rocked me to the core, that have comforted me, that have shown me that my feelings weren’t crazy. When I was very young, one of those was The Secret Garden. When I was a teenager, I loved science fiction. I also distinctly remember reading The Thorn Birds and The Women’s Room. In my twenties, I loved Virginia Woolf and Hemingway. And there were so many other books that made such a huge impact on me. So my hope is that at least one person is moved as I have been moved by the books I’ve read.
You'll be pleased to know I was moved by your stories. How long did it take you to write this book?
Fifteen years. I’ve been writing and revising these stories for fifteen years.
What is your writing routine?
I avoid. I feel awful. I inevitably read things and feel inspired, but still I avoid. Then I make myself sit at the computer and start. It’s hard, really really hard. But then something magical happens. The real world goes away and the world I’m creating becomes more real than the real world. It’s like the real world is in black and white, and the world I’m creating is in technicolor. Sure, sometimes it still comes slowly and painfully, but sometimes it comes like lightning from my brain. And then I’m in love. When I finish a story, revised and all, I’m in love with it. I can’t see its flaws. I want to take it to dinner and then make out with it in the back seat. Then, like all affairs, after a while I start to see the story’s strengths and weaknesses. Then I either revise some more or I write a new story or both.
How did you get your book published?
How to Be a Man is self-published. Willow Words is another iteration of my freelance company Willow Freelance. But I’m made for it. It’s like all my various backgrounds come together in this one endeavor. Of course the writing part - I’ve been writing and improving my craft my whole life. But then also editing - I’ve been an editor in all different capacities. I’ve also been an artist and taken art classes for years, not to mention jobs as a document designer. I took classes in electrical engineering and computers for a number of years, and all that experience goes into making a website and working with digital publishing. And I’m in marketing and have done freelance marketing for years, which prepares me to be a promo-sapiens. And I love social media and tend to be a bit of an early adopter. Not to mention I’m a bit obsessive. Everything, all my experience, comes together in this one endeavor.
Fantastic! What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Write in the style of what you read. The best writing often comes from what obsesses you and makes you uncomfortable. Be brave. Submit. Persevere. Make a lot of writer friends. Sorry, there are no shortcuts.
Great advice! What do you like to do when you're not writing?
You’re assuming I do something other than write. Seriously, my day job is as an editor and writer for a foundation. Other than that, I take care of my seven-year-old twins and my husband, I read a lot, I like to cook, and I’m on the internet a lot.
What does your family think of your writing?
My husband is very supportive. He hasn’t always been, as he’s an engineer and had that skepticism science has for the arts. But now he’s my biggest fan, so supportive. My kids are, like, "That’s nice, mom." They’re seven. My extended family in general is pretty excited, especially my mom and my wonderful mother-in-law. I’m not sure my family always know what to make of me, though.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
My childhood. Well, if you’ve read any of my stuff, you’ll know I have an ambivalent relationship with my childhood. I had it better than my older siblings, though. I’m the youngest of seven - four sisters in ten years, ten years of no kids, then my two brothers and I in five years. I’m the youngest. My father was a farmer/rancher rock-hound ex-GI and my mother is an artistic musician from small-town middle America. My husband and I joke that I was raised in the 1880s because we ranched old-style. I learned how to bake bread, break horses, irrigate, change tires, and be alone, skills I’ve been thankful for ever since. I worked on both the ranch side and the farm side. I irrigated, drove tractor, and chased cows. It’s no wonder I’m a writer. My mom read us Shakespeare from the World Book Encyclopedia and loves family stories. My troubled childhood - isn't every writer supposed to have a troubled childhood?
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
They are the reason I am a writer. Being the last in a big family, I felt like I had no voice. In fact, I secretly thought I was invisible until I was in my late 20s. It didn’t help that I didn’t learn social skills until I was an adult, and we had little money and so I dressed badly and didn’t bathe and so I smelled, I’m sure. To this day, there are times when I feel like that ugly unlovable forgotten five-year-old. It’s probably largely just my perception, but that’s how I felt.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
YES. I have always loved to read. That’s not quite right - reading saved my life. As a kid, I’d read on the hour bus ride to and from school, as well as throughout the school day and into the night, finishing three or four books a week. It showed me the broader world and myself.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always written, but I didn’t call myself a writer until I was almost 30. I’ve been writing - and reading - my whole life. My mom read us Shakespeare when I was a kid, and I loved books from an early age. I had an hour bus ride to and from school every day, and so my backpack was stuffed to the brim with books. I was ecstatic when I went from grade school to middle school because I’d exhausted the grade school library. My first story, called "The Silver Locket" was about a girl who went back in time to become her own great grandmother. I had written things before but I hadn’t thought about shaping them into a story until a friend who introduced me to the British children’s mysteries of Joan Aiken wrote a story that ended with a head rolling in a gutter. I edited the high school newspaper, wrote a little for our local paper, and won a prize for a poem, but I still didn’t call myself a writer. Nobody I knew was a writer. Authors were these mystical beings that lived somewhere else. It wasn’t until I was almost thirty that I dared to call myself a writer, even though I was working as a technical editor. Then I began to take writers’ workshops and started a novel and the stories that eventually became the collection How to Be a Man.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
My writing gods are Virginia Woolf and Hemingway. I love Woolf because she portrays what I try to - the social experience, what it’s like to live in a family and go through your day. My favorites of hers are Mrs. Dalloway (because it’s exactly that) and To the Lighthouse. There’s this great passage in To the Lighthouse where she writes about a mother and son in the garden and the father comes up and the son hates the father in that moment because he takes the mother’s attention away. There’s also this great part when she shows time passing by telling the story of a house. I love Hemingway because he’s my natural inheritance in content and style, growing up the way I did in the American West. I love "Big Two-hearted River" and For Whom the Bell Tolls. When I finished For Whom at two in the morning, I sobbed uncontrollably for an hour.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
This is my first book, so I haven’t heard much, other than at writers’ workshops. I look forward to hearing from them.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
Great question! I have a novel coming out in July and another coming out next January. The one in July is called Deep Down Things. Set in contemporary Colorado, it’s about a young woman who falls in love with an idealistic young writer. They get pregnant, and he blames her, but because he’s idealistic he "does the right thing" and marries her. Then they have a darling baby boy with a severe birth defect, and she tries to save her child and her marriage. A point of interest: this book is told from four points of view, so you get not only her and his POV but also her brother’s and sister’s POVs, and they all have their own arcs. The book coming out in January is historical fiction called Earth’s Imagined Corners, the first book in a trilogy. Set in 1885 Iowa and Kansas City, it’s about a young woman whose father tries to force her to marry his grasping younger partner, and so she elopes with a kind man she just met who has a troubled past.
They both sound great! Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Tamara. Best of luck with upcoming releases.
Thank you so much! I am honored to visit Books Direct and I so much admire what you do!
About the Author
Tamara Linse grew up on a ranch in northern Wyoming with her farmer/rancher rock-hound ex-GI father, her artistic musician mother from small-town middle America, and her four sisters and two brothers. She jokes that she was raised in the 1880s because they did things old-style - she learned how to bake bread, break horses, irrigate, change tires, and be alone, skills she’s been thankful for ever since. The ranch was a partnership between her father and her uncle, and in the 80s and 90s the two families had a Hatfields and McCoys-style feud.
She worked her way through the University of Wyoming as a bartender, waitress, and editor. At UW, she was officially in almost every college on campus until she settled on English and after 15 years earned her bachelor’s and master’s in English. While there, she taught writing, including a course called Literature and the Land, where students read Wordsworth and Donner Party diaries during the week and hiked in the mountains on weekends. She also worked as a technical editor for an environmental consulting firm.
She still lives in Laramie, Wyoming, with her husband Steve and their twin son and daughter. She writes fiction around her job as an editor for a foundation. She is also a photographer, and when she can she posts a photo a day for Project 365.
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