Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Guest Blog and Giveaway with Tamara Linse

Altered States

What we do as writers is try to portray in words what it feels like to be alive. In some cases, we’re trying to show what it’s like in extreme situations ~ what it feels like to die or to go crazy.  Sometimes this comes from experience, but sometimes we have to extrapolate from we know and we’ve heard from others. (Good fiction often needs research, just like nonfiction.)

In the novel Deep Down Things, there are two characters who by the end of the novel have gone a little crazy. 

Well, it could be argued that one character, the villain named Jackdaw, is crazy throughout because of the abuse and abandonment of his childhood.  Because we get his point of view, you get to see how he has these impulses that are violent and antisocial, yet on the surface he seems charismatic and outgoing.  But at the end, he’s gone round the bend. I mean, he does some pretty horrible things.  In the second to last chapter from the end, though, he’s really lost it ~ he’s incarcerated and he can hear what his best friend Tibs is saying within Tibs’s head.  I think the reader can explain this away as he’s just guessing at Tibs’s thoughts by what Tibs is saying and his expressions and body language.  But I meant to actually be Jackdaw hearing Tibs’s inner monologue.  It’s in italics, so it looks like inner monologue. 

See, that’s the problem.  How do you portray “crazy”?  We use the term to discount someone and push them away and try NOT to understand them, but as a writer you can’t do this.  You’re trying to show the specific ways that their thoughts prompt their antisocial actions.  But, unless they’ve become catatonic or had a severe break, you have to make this understandable to a reader.  With Jackdaw, I wanted to show that he’s rational, but his rationality has gone beyond.  He makes what seems like a logical decision, but that decision is horrible (trying not to spoil the ending for you).  Maggie, the other “crazy” character, is different, though.

Maggie is a young woman who is just struggling to keep it together.  She lost both her parents as a teenager, she married an asshole, and then she has a darling boy with a severe birth defect, which puts her through hell.  Her first major break is about three quarters through the book: 

It’s one o’clock in the morning on a Saturday night. I try to drag myself up from the heavy pall of sleep. It’s dark except for what’s reflecting into the kitchen from the hall light. I sit at the table drinking strong black coffee and hold Jes next to my chest. He fusses. He can’t make any noise with the ventilator, but he waves his arms and scrunches his face, and tears reflect little spots of light on his cheeks. I sit forward and rock and sing, “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word. Mama’s going to buy you a mockingbird.” I’m too out of it to be frantic. You can get used to being scared out of your mind, you know? Adrenalin’s already coursing through your system, so when another crisis builds, your body reacts by being resigned, rather than another spurt of juice. “You can get used to hanging, if you hang long enough,” as Jackdaw says.
I hear a noise. At first I think it’s just a car out on the road. But it gets louder and comes through the wall and it’s in the room. It’s got that in-motion quality like a fly buzzing around and around. It’s a humming and then it’s a gravelly voice singing one note and then it’s a voice talking very very slowly, so slowly I can’t make out what it’s saying. The sound dips from in front of the sink down to the floor and then picks up speed. It moves along the floor and then speeds up more, zipping up and past my head and behind me. I turn my head and try to follow it. There’s nothing there, absolutely nothing, but if I close my eyes, I swear that it’s real, substantial, and getting bigger. While it’s behind me, it splits into two, and one of it zips back past my head on the other side and the other stays behind me, first going high and the falling low, to my left, to my right.
I’m too tired to be alarmed. One part of me says, this isn’t right. No way this is real. You should be afraid. Another part totally accepts it, believing the evidence of my ears.
Then they split again, first the one in front of me and then the one behind me. They morph into voices talking slowly and then faster, but they’re all talking at once and I can’t make out what is being said. I think I hear the words “dog” and “she’s going.” They’re splitting and forming voices and buzzing into a mass of sound above me, a cloud of zipping voices like locusts buzzing and weaving above my head. The Ms meld with the Os and the Ss. I close my eyes, but that makes things worse. The only thing I can sense are those voices and the hardness of the chair underneath me and the warmth of Jes in my arms.
I open my eyes and focus on Jes. I turn so that what little light there is shines on Jes. He’s stopped crying now, and his eyes are on my face. I wonder if he can hear the voices too—loud, insistent, buzzing round and round and covering the ceiling. I focus on the white circle of Jes’s face and put my fingers in my ears to block out the sound, but it doesn’t block anything out. Then I realize that the sound is inside my head. I can’t block it out because it’s not something that’s outside my ears. The buzzing is louder now, louder and in my ears. I clutch Jes to me and start singing the song again, louder and soon I’m shouting, “MAMA’S GONNA BUY YOU A MOCKINGBIRD!” over and over. It doesn’t block out the sound, though. It’s there and I can’t hear my own voice. “MY GOD!” I yell, and the voices cut out. There’s nothing. The hum of the refrigerator, the soft whoosh of the ventilator. Jes lays in my lap, his face scrunched up to cry again, but the voices are gone.

This is something that actually happened to me.  I was a college freshman and I was very stressed about school because I was way behind on homework and I’d started skipping classes.  Plus I was working three jobs, one of them at night.  I had probably overdosed on coffee at this point.  I lay down on a couch at one in the morning and this exact thing happened ~ voices came winging through the room and split and buzzed.  It was very creepy, to say the least.  Maggie, here, is going through the same thing, in that she’s totally stressed and drank too much coffee.

In the last chapter, Maggie’s totally lost it.  She’s lost the continuity of time.  This presents a real challenge to the writer and the reader.  How do you make it coherent or understandable yet incoherent (in the true sense of the word, which means everything in the right order to make logical sense)?  I chose to challenge the reader a bit, a la Faulkner’s The Sound and Fury.  I tried to give enough hints where she is and what she’s doing, but you’re so internal to her you get her deep sense of dislocation and extreme emotion.  She is metaphor at this point, in one sense.  I trust the reader with her or his intelligence to work it out.  This is something that’s really important to me ~ you have to treat your reader like the intelligent person he or she is. 

Only you can judge, however, how well I did. Happy reading!

Deep Down Things
Tamara Linse

Genre:  literary fiction

Publisher: Willow Words
Date of Publication: July 14, 2014

Number of pages: 330
Word Count: 75,000 words

Cover Artist: Tamara Linse

Book Description:

Deep Down Things, Tamara Linse’s debut novel, is the emotionally riveting story of three siblings torn apart by a charismatic bullrider-turned-writer and the love that triumphs despite tragedy.

From the death of her parents at sixteen, Maggie Jordan yearns for lost family, while sister CJ drowns in alcohol and brother Tibs withdraws. When Maggie and an idealistic young writer named Jackdaw fall in love, she is certain that she’s found what she’s looking for. As she helps him write a novel, she gets pregnant, and they marry. But after Maggie gives birth to a darling boy, Jes, she struggles to cope with Jes’s severe birth defect, while Jackdaw struggles to overcome writer’s block brought on by memories of his abusive father.

Ambitious, but never seeming so, Deep Down Things may remind you of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong and Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper.

Available at Amazon  BN   Smashwords  Kobo other international ebookstores and through Ingram.
Chapter 1


Jackdaw isn’t going to make it. I can tell by the way the first jump unseats him. The big white bull lands and then tucks and gathers underneath. Jackdaw curls forward and whips the air with his left hand, but his butt slides off-center. Thirty yards away on the metal bleachers, I involuntarily scoot sideways—as if it would do any good. The bull springs out from under Jackdaw and then arches its back, flipping its hind end.
Jackdaw is tossed wide off the bull’s back. In the air he is all red-satin arms and shaggy-chapped legs but then somehow he grabs his black felt hat. He lands squarely on both feet, knees bent to catch his weight. Then he straightens with a grand sweep of his hat. Even from here you can see his smile burst out. There’s something about the way he opens his body to the crowd, like a dog rolling over to show its belly, that makes me feel sorry for him but drawn to him too. With him standing there, holding himself halfway between a relaxed slouch and head-high pride, I can see why my brother Tibs admires him.
I haven’t actually met Jackdaw before, but he and Tibs hang out together a lot, and they have some English classes together. I haven’t run across him on campus.
The crowd on the bleachers goes wild. It doesn’t matter that Jackdaw didn’t stay on the full eight seconds. They holler and wolf-whistle and shake their programs. Their metallic stomping vibrates my body and brings up dust and the smell of old manure.
With Jackdaw off its back, the bull leaps into the air. It gyrates its hips and flips its head, a long ribbon of snot curling off its nostril and arcing over its back. Then it stops and turns and looks at Jackdaw. It hangs its head low. It shifts its weight onto its front hooves, butt in the air, and pauses. The clown with the black face paint and the big white circles around his eyes runs in front of the bull to distract it, but it shakes its head like it’s saying no to dessert.
The crowd hushes.
Then, I can’t believe it, Jackdaw takes a step toward the bull. The crowd yells, but not like a crowd, like a bunch of kids on a playground. Some holler encouragement. Others laugh. Some try to warn him. Some egg him on. My heart beats wild in my chest like when my sister CJ and I watch those slasher movies and Freddy’s coming after the guy and you know because he’s the best friend that he’s going to get killed and you want to warn him. “Bastard deserved it,” CJ always says, “for being stupid.”
It’s like Jackdaw doesn’t know the bull’s right there. He starts walking, not directly to the fence but at a slant toward the loudest of the cheers, which takes him right past the bull.
I turn to Tibs. “What’s he doing?”
“He knows his stuff,” Tibs says, his voice lower than normal. The look on his face makes me want to give him a hug, but we’re not a hugging family, so I nod, even though Tibs isn’t looking at me.
Tibs is leaning forward, his eyes focused on Jackdaw, his elbows on his knees, and his shoulders hunched. Tibs is tall and thin, and he always looks a little fragile, a couple of sticks propped together. His face is our dad’s, big eyes and not much of a chin, sort of like an alien or an overgrown boy. He has the habit of playing with his fingers, which he’s doing now. It’s like he wants to reach out and grab something but he can’t quite bring himself to. It’s the same when he talks—he’ll cover his mouth with his hand like he’s holding back his words.
Tibs is the tallest of us three kids—CJ, he, and I. CJ’s the oldest. I’m the youngest and the shortest. Grandma Rose, Dad’s mom, always said I got left with the leftovers. Growing up, it seemed like CJ and Tibs got things and were told things that I was too young to have or to know. It was good though, too, because when Dad and Mom got killed when I was sixteen, I didn’t know enough to worry much about money or things. They had saved up some so we could get by. But poor CJ. She in particular had to be the parent, but she was used to babysitting us and she was older anyway—twenty-two, I think.
Like that time when we were kids when CJ was babysitting and I got so sick. Turned out to be pneumonia. I don’t know where our parents were. Most likely, they were away on business, but it could have been something else. Grandma Rose had cracked her hip—I remember that—so she couldn’t take care of us, but it was only for a couple of days and CJ was thirteen at the time. In general, CJ had started ignoring us, claiming she was a teenager now and didn’t want to play with babies any more, like kids do, which really got Tibs, though he didn’t do much besides sulk about it. But that day she was playing with us like she was a little kid too.
We had been playing in an irrigation ditch making a dam. I pretended to be a beaver, and Tibs pretended to be an engineer on the Hoover Dam. I don’t remember CJ pretending to be anything, just helping us arrange sticks and slop mud and then flopping in the water to cool down. I started feeling pretty bad. Over the course of the day, I had a cough that got worse and then I got really hot and then really cold and my body ached. My lungs started wheezing when I breathed. I remember thinking someone had punched a hole in me, like a balloon, and all my air was leaking out. CJ felt my head and then felt it again and then grabbed my arm and dragged me to the house, Tibs trailing behind. All I wanted to do was lie down, but she bundled me in a blanket and put me in a wagon, and between them she and Tibs pulled me down the driveway and out onto the highway. We lived twelve miles from town, in the house where I live now. I don’t know why CJ didn’t just call 911. But here we were, rattling down the middle of the highway. A woman in a truck stopped and gave us a ride to the hospital here in Loveland. Can you imagine it? A skinny muddy thirteen-year-old girl in her brown bikini and her skinny nine-year-old brother, taller than her but no bigger around than a stick and wearing red, white, and blue swim trunks, hauling their six-year-old sister through the sliding doors of the emergency room in a little red wagon. What those nurses must’ve thought.
On the bleachers, I glance from Tibs back out to Jackdaw. The bull doesn’t know what’s going on either. It shakes its lowered head and snorts, blowing up dust from the ground. Jackdaw bows his head and slips on his hat. Then the bull decides and launches itself at Jackdaw. Just as the bull charges down on Jackdaw, the white-eyed clown runs between him and the bull and slaps the bull’s nose. Jackdaw turns toward them just as the bull plants its front feet, turns, and charges after the running clown.
Pure foolishness and bravery. My hands are shaking. I want to go down and take Jackdaw’s hand and lead him out of the arena. A thought like a little alarm bell—who’d want to care about somebody who’d walk a nose-length from an angry bull? But something about the awkward hang of his arms and the flip of his chaps and the way his hat sets cockeyed on his head makes me want to be with him.
The clown runs toward a padded barrel in the center of the arena, his white-stockinged calves flipping the split legs of his suspendered oversized jeans. He jumps into the barrel feet-first and ducks his head below the rim. The crowd gasps and murmurs as the charging bull hooks the barrel over onto its side and bats it this way and that for twenty yards. The bull stops and turns and faces the crowd, head high, tail cocked and twitching. He tips his snout up once, twice, and snorts.
While the bull chases the clown, Jackdaw walks to the fence and climbs the boards.
The clown pops his head out of the sideways barrel where he can see the bull from the rear. He pushes himself out and then scrambles crabwise around behind. He turns to face the bull, his hands braced on the barrel. The bull’s anger still bubbling, it turns back toward the clown and charges. As the bull hooks at the barrel and butts it forward, the clown scoots backwards, keeping the barrel between him and the bull, something I’m sure he’s done many times. He keeps scooting as the bull bats at the barrel. But then something happens—the clown trips and falls over backwards. The barrel rolls half over him as he turns sideways and tries to push himself up. The bull stops for a split second, as if to gloat, and then stomps on the clown’s franticly scrambling body and hooks the horns on its tilted head into the clown’s side, flipping the clown over onto his back.
Why do rodeo clowns do it? Put their lives on the line for other people? I don’t understand it.
The pickup men on the horses are there, but a second too late. They charge the bull, their horses shouldering into it. They yell and whip with quirts and kick with stirrupped boots. Tail still cocked, the reluctant bull is hazed away and into the gathering pen at the end of the arena. The metal gate clangs shut behind it.
Head thrown back and arms splayed, the clown isn’t moving. Men jump off the rails and run toward him, and the huge doors at the end of the arena open and an ambulance comes in. It stops beside the clown. The EMTs jump out, pull out a gurney, and then huddle around the prone body. One goes back to the vehicle and brings some equipment. There’s frantic activity, and with the help of the other men, they place him on the gurney and slide him into the ambulance. It pulls out the doors and disappears, and the siren wails and recedes.
Tibs stands up, looks at me, and jerks his head, saying come on, let’s go. I stand and follow him.

About the Author:

Like the characters in Deep Down Things, the author Tamara Linse and her husband have lost babies. They had five miscarriages before their twins were born through the help of a wonderful woman who acted as a gestational carrier. Tamara is also the author of the short story collection How to Be a Man and 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 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 on her blog Writer, Cogitator, Recovering Ranch Girl at

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