Friday, July 27, 2012

Interview with Author Tamara Linse

Tamara Linse was raised on a ranch in northern Wyoming.  She received a master’s in English from the University of Wyoming.  Her work has been a finalist for Georgetown Review, Glimmer Train, and Arts & Letters contests, and a book of short stories was a semifinalist for the Black Lawrence Press Hudson Prize.  She has been published in the South Dakota Review, Georgetown Review, Word Riot, and Talking River, among others. She lives in Wyoming, where she is an editor for a foundation and is hard at work on a new novel. Her website is www.tamaralinse.com, and she blogs at tamara-linse.blogspot.ca


How/why did you start to write?

Well, there’s when I actually started to write and then when I admitted I was a writer ~ two very different things. 

First, when I actually started to write.  My dad was a company clerk in World War II, serving in France, Germany, and Austria, and so he had this very old manual typewriter.  I still can hear the clink clink of the keys and the ka-chunk of the shift key.  I got a notion in my head that I wanted to find out everything I could about my family, and so I designed and manually typed each of many copies of a one-page form.  On it, I asked everything a nine-year-old could think of ~ from where they were born to their shoe size to their favorite color.  I think it was the first time I thought about character as a individualized conjunction of traits, and I was trying to figure out exactly who were these people who were my family.  My first developed short story was in high school.  It was called “The Locket,” about a girl whose grandmother gives her a locket.  She goes back in time and then becomes her own great-grandmother.  And so I’ve always written.

Second, when I began calling myself a writer.  It wasn’t until I was almost thirty.  When I was growing up, no one I knew was a writer.  They were ranchers and teachers and waitresses and construction workers.  I had no models for being a writer.  And how did one make a living as a writer, exactly?  Because we were poor, I believed that the number-one consideration in a career was making money, and so I took engineering classes a number of years in college.  It was my future husband who said, “You love English.  Why don’t you get your degree in English?”  Even then, I didn’t call myself a writer.  I wrote and edited all kinds of things ~ academic papers, theses, scientific reports, journalism, marketing, poetry, and fiction ~ but I wasn’t a writer because I wasn’t published.  Then, finally, tentatively, I started owning it and calling myself a writer.  I believe that’s the biggest stumbling block in many people’s careers:  They do not give themselves permission.

And so, now I’m a writer.

Why did I start to write? 

I think it was because I didn’t have a voice as a child.  I was the last of seven, growing up isolated on a ranch.  I was between generations, so I had no one really to talk to ~ my two brothers closest in age were each others’ best friends.  And as importantly, no one really listened.  And so writing offered a tentative and safe step toward a voice.  Also, I have always been a reader ~ reading saved my life, really, as it showed me a world outside my own.  I also write to heal old wounds and to figure things out.  Finally, I believe in the written word because it’s as close as you can get to another person’s insides, to their consciousness.  It is a tool for empathy. Peace on earth, man.

How did you become an author?

By that, I think you mean “published author.”

In a word, pigheadedness.  I wrote and wrote and revised and revised.  I read craft books and dissected the work of my heroes.  I took bricks-and-mortar workshops and online workshops and went to conferences.  I sent out piles and piles of short story submissions.  I started blogging and created a website and making all kinds of writer friends.  I wrote a lot of other things besides fiction.  I wrote and rewrote two novels over 11 years.  I sent the first one out to almost 130 agents and the second one out to something like 63 agents before I signed with one.  And that’s by no means the end.  On one of those novels, I tossed everything but the bare-bones plot and rewrote it in the first five months of last year for my agent.  It’s now on submission to editors.

What was your first published piece? Where was it published? How long ago?

My first published piece was a poem in high school for a regional contest.  I don’t remember what my own poem was, but I do remember a great poem by someone else ~ a teenage version of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  It had the words “pith me” in it, which was exactly how I felt at the time.

But my first “real” publication was a short story called “Change Your Hair, Change Your Life” published in the then-new literary magazine Prick of the Spindle in 2007 (http://www.prickofthespindle.com/fiction/1.3/Linse/change_your_hair.htm).  The story is about two sisters, with the conceit of hair cuts running throughout.  In the eyes of their mom, the older sibling can do no right and the younger one can do no wrong.  It’s set up in four scenes: the first is when they cut each other’s hair as kids, the second right before high school graduation, the third right before the younger leaves her husband, and the fourth right after the older, a soldier, comes back from war.  I am very grateful to the Prick of the Spindle for taking a chance on me.

I actually had had a story accepted for publication before this, but then the litmag, the Steel City Review, folded right before the issue when my story would come out.  Talk about your heartbreak.

What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?

There is no before ~ at least for most writers I know.  The career begins with the angst of childhood and the frustration of trying to express that.  But what you’re really asking, I think, is what else I’ve done.

Growing up on a ranch, I drove tractors, did irrigation, chased cows, and broke horses.  As soon as I could, I got a job as a waitress.  In college, I waitressed and bartended and had my own housecleaning business.  As a temp, I got a job in document production at an environmental consulting firm, where I became a technical editor.  I got my bachelor’s and master’s and taught freshman composition, science and technical writing, and a cool course called “Literature and the Land” where we read literature about landscape and spent every weekend hiking in the mountains. I was a freelance writer and editor with my own company.  Now I’m the editor for a foundation.

I think all of it was an asset to my writing.  First of all, it makes me who I am, influences my worldview, and what is writing if not expressing your own peculiar worldview?  My subject is often women in the West and how that has affected them.  Being a waitress and a bartender gave me the drive and focus to try to succeed on my own impetus, not to mention giving me lots of insight into human nature.  Teaching and being an editor and a freelancer has done nothing but make me a  better writer.  When I was in college, I was in engineering for quite a while, and that too has been a real asset - it has not gone to waste.  Besides helping me be a better editor, it gives me a precision that I might not otherwise have.

Take it to heart: none of your experiences are ever wasted.

What inspires you?

Bottom line ~ it’s people that inspire me.  Writing is as close as you can get to another person’s insides, their consciousness, and so it always comes back to people and their struggles and triumphs.  It is a way to connect.  I am also inspired by other writers and the beauty of what they do.  It’s a wonderful and horrific world out there.

Please share one of your successful marketing techniques

I think the best thing a writer can do is not to think of it as hard-sell marketing but as building relationships.  That’s what readers want.  They most often want to know YOU and have a connection with YOU, the amazing individual who created this thing that moved them.  If you’re busy saying “buy my book, buy my book,” what you’re saying is “me, me, me, me, look at me, look at me!”  Instead of that, what you’re really selling is you, your worldview, your creative products.  As such, you should be your best, most courteous, most entertaining, most generous and reliable self. 

Think of it as one huge cocktail party, be on your best behavior, and wear your best dress.  Oh, and don’t drink too much.

And so your best marketing may not have a one-to-one correspondence to a book sold, but rather it’s tools that create relationships.  Certainly, you can’t be a wallflower ~ you need to earnestly and thankfully mention when you have successes and cleverly introduce your blog posts on Facebook and Twitter and elsewhere.  It’s active participation on Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and Pinterest. It’s blogging every weekday about interesting things, not just your cat.  It’s creating a persona yet being yourself.  Everything we need to know, we learned in kindergarten ~ go out and make some friends.

Parting words

It’s all too easy to go negative and become cynical and to hate.  But this is just the opposite of what you need to be to create.  You need to be a kid, to have joy and discover wonderful things and try and fail and get up and try again or do something different.  You have to be a doer. 

This can be in direct opposition to what us writers do, which is to think.  We’re always in our heads, analyzing, storing our experiences to mine for material.  Yes, we need to do that, but we also need to stow that guy in order to get our work done.  Don’t think about the big picture.  Don’t think about the successes other people are having.  Apply the butt to the chair and get the work done.  That’s all you can control.

So just do it.  It’s all going to look like crap at first ~ and maybe for a long time ~ but you have to do the work and have faith that good stuff will come out of it somehow.  The process works; you just have to keep after it.

2 comments:

Laurie Buchanan said...

"Well, there’s when I actually started to write and then when I admitted I was a writer ~ two very different things."


I love this observation - brilliant!

Author Leanne Dyck said...

Yes, I agree, Tamara is very insightful regarding the author journey. It was a pleasure reading her post. : )