Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Interview with Tamara Linse

I am honored to visit Roxanne’s Realm, where passion reigns supreme.  I love Roxanne’s dedication to writing and books and authors.  Thank you so much for having me!

What inspired you to become an author?

There’re actually two answers to that question.  The first: 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.  And so the second answer: 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.

Do you have a specific writing style?

We all do, don’t you think?  We’re drawn to what we like, and we really don’t have much say over it.  For example, you’re drawn to paranormal romance and erotica, and I am out to sea in that writing style.  The challenges of portraying erotic experiences aren’t something I’m good at.  I’m drawn to taking those little social violences we inflict on each other and trying to make them meaningful and aesthetically pleasing. The literary story is a genre with its own conventions, and that’s the style I like.  I like trying to portray the subtleties of lived experience, and I like nothing better than the challenge of writing what it’s like to be inside the head of a wife or a husband or a sister or a brother and the little emotions that go through you as you interact with your family. In a general sense, the way I write depends on what I’m writing and where I am in my life.  Being raised in the American West, I had Hemingway tendencies ~ short sentences, lots of  emotional distance, a withholding style. I worked hard to get a more lush style.  I also write both female and male protagonists, and I once did that online test that measures whether you write like a man or like a woman.  My female protagonists measured to be women and my male protagonists were classified as men.

How did you come up with the title for your latest book?

This title was easy, as it’s the title of the first story. The story got its title “How to Be a Man” because it’s based on Junot Diaz’s great story “How to Date a Brown Girl (Black Girl, White Girl, or Halfie).”

Is the book, characters, or any scenes based on a true life experience, someone you know, or events in your own life?

Definitely.  An author can only write what they know or what they imagine, don’t you think? Even if an event isn’t something the writer has experienced, it is his or her emotional truth. But some of these stories are based on things that happened to me or someone I know. The title story “How to Be a Man” is based on those women who try to be men.  They grow up in a male-dominated culture, and the only way they see to have worth is to be male, and they can’t be a man but they try. I was one of those girls.  “A Dangerous Shine” is based on an incident that happened when I bartended at the Buckhorn in Laramie, Wyoming.  “Nose to the Fence” is based on something that happened on our dude ranch. “Revelations” is based on an incident that happened to a friend of my brother’s. I could take each story and point out what inspired each bit: “This is something that happened with my first boyfriend. This is how I felt when I was in grade school and my friend dumped me. This is a character I saw in a movie.” All writers are like that, I think. 

What book are you reading now?

I’m always reading a whole bunch of books at a time because I tend to “taste” a book and then put it aside before I come back to it.  Right now I have the pleasure of reading books by my two best writer friends.  Pembroke Sinclair is out with a kick-ass YA called The Appeal of Evil about being torn between the nice guy and the bad boy, who turn out to be an angel and a devil.  Nina McConigley is out with a great book of literary short stories called Cowboys and East Indians that’s about the intersection of being Indian-American and living in the American West. 

What is your current “work in progress” or upcoming projects?

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. 

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Writing is just challenging, no two ways about it.  It’s like the most complex puzzle you’ll ever attempt, and the more you do it the less sure you are of it. You master the basics but the challenges keep changing and getting bigger. For me, there’s always a tension between the raw material ~ those messy bits of lived experience ~ and constructing a satisfying whole ~ the art part of it. What do you include and what do you leave out?  How do you be clear yet reflect the complexity of it? 

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

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.

Who designed the cover of your latest book?

I had the pleasure of designing it.  I wouldn’t normally recommend that for all authors ~ you really want to have a professional design ~ but I have a background in art and document design.  I always knew I wanted to have a face of a girl on it, and I looked for a long time on iStock before I found the one I liked.  I had to be careful because any time you put “Man” and a girl on a cover you get connotations of sex or rape, and that’s not what the story “How to Be a Man” is about. It’s about her wanting to actually be a man. So I positioned the words over her so it seems to be coming out of her mind.  Also, there’s a subtle pink and blue motif, but not in your face.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read a lot. Write a lot. Write in the style of what you like to read. The best writing often comes from what obsesses you and makes you uncomfortable. Be brave. Persevere. Make a lot of writer friends.

How to Be a Man
Tamara Linse

Genre: Literary Short Story Collection

Publisher: Willow Words

ISBN: 0991386701
ISBN-13: 978-0-9913867-0-3

ISBN: 099138671X
ISBN-13: 978-0-9913867-1-0


Number of pages: 238
Word Count: 59,650

Book Description:

“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.

The author Tamara Linse—writer, cogitator, recovering ranch girl—broke her collarbone when she was three, her leg when she was four, a horse when she was twelve, and her heart ever since. Raised on a ranch in northern Wyoming, she earned her master’s in English from the University of Wyoming, where she taught writing. Her work appears in the Georgetown Review, South Dakota Review, and Talking River, among others, and she was a finalist for an Arts & Letters and Glimmer Train contests, as well as the Black Lawrence Press Hudson Prize for a book of short stories. She works as an editor for a foundation and a freelancer. Find her online at and

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 a Project 365. Please stop by Tamara’s website,, and her blog, Writer, Cogitator, Recovering Ranch Girl, at You can find an extended bio there with lots of juicy details. Also friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, and if you see her in person, please say hi.

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Tamara said...

Thank you so much, Roxanne! You're amazing. Thank you for letting me stop by!

I hope everyone in your family is back to 100% very soon!!