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, www.tamaralinse.com, and her blog, Writer, Cogitator, Recovering Ranch Girl, at tamara-linse.blogspot.com. 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.
“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 tamaralinse.com and tamara-linse.blogspot.com
I am so honored to be visiting Pembroke Sinclair’s blog today! She is one of my oldest and dearest writing friends, and when her name appeared on the list of blogs I was visiting, I was stoked. I hope you all have friends like her in your life ~ they support you when you’re down and then they’re there to celebrate with you when you’re winning. And they also gently call you on your sh*t. The best kind of friends.
Q) What inspired you to write this story?
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 one day that’s the way my muse drug me. Those muses ~ they’re pretty bossy sometimes.
Q) How long did it take you to write?
These stories were written ~ and rewritten and rewritten ~ over 15 years. I would get an idea and write a story over a couple of days. I tend to revise extensively as I go along, and so when I get to the end of a story it’s usually fairly complete, unless I go back and totally rework it. Then out it would go with a batch of short stories to literary magazines. When I’m actively submitting, I tend to send batches of stories out every three to six months so that I always have something out there. And so most of these stories have been published in litmags or been runners up in a contest. (Thank you so much, all you editors doing it just for the love!) I sent this collection in a different iteration out to a couple of contests, and it placed in one (the Black Lawrence Press Hudson Prize), but I never sent it out to a publisher. Word on the street is that short story collections don’t sell, and my agent wasn’t interested. Finally, I decided I would put it out myself, and it’s been an amazing process. I edited through it again and in some cases majorly rewrote and reorganized stories. So you might say each story was written in a couple of days and over fifteen years.
Q) What is your favorite thing about writing?
Having written? I’m only half joking ~ eh, Pembroke? Seriously, getting started writing is the hardest part. You procrastinate. You clean your bathroom with a toothbrush. You check the internet. God, you check the internet and check and check and check. But once you apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair ~ plumbers don’t get plumbers’ block ~ and start, this magical thing happens. You get swept up and your critic goes away and your writer kid comes out to play and it starts flowing, more often than not. Sure, there are days when the critic is firmly planted on your shoulder, but luckily for me once I get going I can usually send her to her room. My favorite part is when I’m into a project and the real world goes away and the world I’m creating becomes more real than the real world. It’s like the real world goes black and white and recedes and the world I’m creating goes Technicolor. It’s amazing. It’s like your best reading experience only better. Just saying this makes me want to drop this writing and go write a novel.
Q) What is your least favorite thing about writing?
Getting started. Isn’t it ironic when the thing you want to do the most is also the thing you sometimes dread the most? But in the broad scope of things, this is a small part, and there’s so much to love about writing. The positives far outweigh the negatives.
Q) If you could be any famous person for one day, who would you be and why?
You know what? I’ve never thought about this before. Not really. I tend to be fairly pragmatic, and if I’m daydreaming it’s about something I can actually do. So instead of dreaming about being a rock star, I think obsessively about how I’m going to construct my new website or what steps I need to get my chores done so that I can get to my writing. I’m a huge fangirl about people who have smart things to say or who create amazing art. And so if I’m admiring anyone ~ if I wanted to be anyone ~ it’d be someone like Virginia Woolf or the street artist Banksy or Adele with her amazing voice or a bunch of people who’ve given TED talks. But that doesn’t answer your question. Hmmm. Okay, if I was going to choose I’d say Hemingway in his villa Finca Vigia in Cuba, hanging out with friends, eating good food, drinking, and talking writing.
Q) What is the oldest thing in your fridge and how old is it?
Confession: I don’t pay attention to expiration dates. On the plus side, I regularly purge things out of the fridge and out of closets because I like to keep things organized. You may want to take that into consideration next time you come over for a book club.
Q) What can readers expect 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.
Thank you so much, Pembroke! Write on!
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