January 31, 2014

Jim Ruland and Pearl Jam

This:  Jim Ruland's great piece in Granta about being a fan and about his wife being a fan.

And then I watched Pearl Jam's "Even Flow" video, and it gave me chills.  What it brought home was the sheer force of energy and emotion and will that erupts from the band and especially from Eddie Vedder.  As those lyrics from another great song go, "Every ounce of energy, he tries to give away." And he does.  He's a fountain raining down on the whole audience and changing them irrevocably.

That's what you're trying to do as an artist ~ every ounce of energy, you're trying to give away. You're trying to transport people.

It moved me.

January 30, 2014

Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends


I've been a freelance reporter and an amateur photographer for years. I'm comfortable behind the scenes ~ doing the interview, writing the feature, holding the camera, the one in control shaping the story.  It's a nice little suit of armor. 

But today I strip the armor and do my first media interview about the short story collection How to Be a Man. It's nerve wracking, but of course I wouldn't have gotten into this biz had I not secretly craved being the center of attention as well.  Ah, that craven writer soul.

Wish me luck!  I hope I don't say something stupid!

January 29, 2014

It’s My Own Damn Fault


You know what?  It’s largely my own damn fault it’s taken me this long to get where I am in writing and publishing. This isn’t self-pity nor a guilt thing ~ it’s a fact.

The reason I say this is because time and again the reason I haven’t moved forward on these dreams is because I wouldn’t allow myself to dream them, or I got in my own way, or I sabotaged my own success.

Sure, there are outside forces at work as well.  I could go on and on listing them.  But, really, a large part of why it took me so long was because I wouldn’t let myself, I didn’t put myself out there, I didn’t believe I had worth.

For example, this piece from Kelli Russell Agodon, editor of the Crab Creek Review, about what she learned as an editor:

Submit Like a Man (for the women)--
This has become a mantra I've shared with my women friends because here's a trend we've noticed as editors.
When we tell a writer we like their work and ask them to submit again, the male poets will submit work within a month (two at the very latest) of our asking.  The women writers?  We usually never hear from them again or until a year or more later.

This is the perfect example.  I have been asked to submit again at some pretty great places.  For the most part, I have not submitted again. Rapid resilience is a huge part of success ~ my only saving grace is my pigheadedness.  Eventually I pick myself up and have another go. 

In so many other ways, I have had a failure to dream, a failure to apply myself.  I could blame it on my upbringing or whatever ~ and certainly it’s contributed ~ but moreso it’s about me not valuing myself.

Like putting myself out there in a book of short stories.  Once again I sat back waiting for someone else to give me permission.  “Am I good enough? Someone please tell me what I have to say is worth something!”  No.  I need to tell myself what I have to say is worth something.

And now that the first book is out, I feel like I’ve taken my power back, like that power I granted the outside world (which has been very kind to me, but it has its own agenda) has shifted.  I’ve always had this power ~ I just haven’t let myself believe it.

You do too.  Take it.

January 27, 2014

Thank you!

Oh my gosh!  Thank you all so much!  Your response to the release of How to Be a Man has been phenomenal, and I'm so glad to have you along with me on this journey.  *hand to heart*, guys. YOU ROCK.

January 24, 2014

Blog Tour!

I’m so stoked!  I may soon be hanging out on a blog near you!

My blog tour begins February 10 (though I’ll be stopping by a few places in the meantime) and goes through March 10.

As part of getting the word out about How to Be a Man, I contacted the lovely and amazing Roxanne Rhoads at Bewitching Book Tours to help me connect with bloggers and others online. 

So I’ll be posting a schedule, if you would like to join me on my stops, and in the meantime, if you’d like to have me on your blog, don’t hesitate to contact Roxanne or myself (at tamara [at]  I love to hang out with you!

January 23, 2014

Dani Shapiro's Courage

Reading Dani Shapiro's lovely Still Writing.  I love this bit!

Dani Shapiro (via)
John Updike once called fiction “nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that mankind has invented.” Engagement with this most subtle of instruments requires daily summoning of stamina, optimism, discipline, and hope.  We are in the ocean, yes.  We are constructing the very thing that holds us.  We have nothing to latch on to.  If beginnings and ends are shorelines, middles are where we dive deep, where we patch holes, where we risk drowning.  This is no time for half measures. We must meet the page with everything we’ve got.  We must lay every last bit of ourselves on the line, to, in the words of Annie Dillard, “spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time.”
You might think this requires fearlessness.  I used to think so, too, which was a problem because I am anything but fearless.  Shellfish, bees, thunderstorms, airplanes, snakes, bears, random allergic reactions, black ice are only a few of my phobias.  I am not a risk taker, not in the physical sense.  You won’t catch me hang gliding, or even waterskiing.  But when I’m alone in a roomsay, on the chaise lounge, for which I haven’t budged since my first cup of coffee, the sky an overcast gray, the house emptyI am compelled to take risks.  Because there’s no point, really, in spending one’s life alone in a room, out of rhythm with the rest of humanity, unless the stakes are high. What will today bring? I hold my breath, dive down.  Come to the surface, gasping, empty-handed.  I catch my breath, then dive again.  Maybe this time.  I reach for treasures in this underwater landscape.  Ones that only I can see.  Ones that, should I discover them, will be mine and mine alone.  I suppose this requires a certain kind of courage.  But courage and fearlessness are not the same thing.  Courage is all about feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

January 22, 2014

A Reading by Claire Vaye Watkins

Claire Vaye Watkins
We don’t have many beaches in Wyoming, and my family didn’t take many vacations, so the concept of a beach read is a bit foreign to me.  Not to mention that fact that I read voraciously all the time and don’t reserve it for vacation.

But I totally get you now!  Every other summer, my husband’s family rents a house on a lake somewhere and we hang out for a week and it’s so great.  This past summer, we went to a lake in Minnesota, and one of the books ~ one of the many, which you understand, because you’re a bookworm too ~ that I took with me was Claire Vaye Watkins's Battleborn.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it was sitting on the beach in a beach chair or lying in bed at night with the sounds of family conversations and the kids playing on the beach next to the campfire.  Then, later, as I was still reading, the sounds of loons and lapping water.

And that’s why I was so stoked that Claire read in Laramie last night!  I love her short story collection ~ they’re the type of stories I try to write. They don’t offer easy answers, they reflect the subtleties and nuances of life, and they don’t skirt around the hard parts.  But they also don’t throw in gratuitous violence or tidy endings.  I love that.  They’re the kind of stories you can go back to again and again. 

And Claire herself is so lovely.  It was so great to meet her in person.  We talked briefly about how being a writer from Nevada or Wyoming gets you labeled as a “regionalist” but that’s a good thing too because wherever you go, you’re often the only writer from Nevada or the only writer from Wyoming. You’re an unusual commodity, and it has a bit of caché.

She read an epistolary story called “The Last Thing We Need.”  It’s so great, after hearing her voice in your head, to hear the story read.  You hear the ticks of accent and you can hear what makes her sad or what amuses her come through in her voice.  The story is about a man who finds some letters and photos and medicine bottles in the desert, and he begins writing to the person who left them there.  It begins with him conjecturing about the person he’s writing too, but then it’s more about himself, of course, and the man he’s become.  Again, a story you can read and reread. 

And above all, I love that fact that these are the kinds of stories that inspire me, that make me think, this is what I want to write.  I want to be this good.  And that’s good reading.
Thank you, Claire, for visiting and for writing such wonderful stories.

January 21, 2014

"Summer in the Light"

Today it is 43 degrees and sunny at 7,200 feet. One of those January days that reminds you of the good things in life.


"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." ~ Charles Dickens

January 20, 2014

Marketer v. Self

Well, as long as I’ve been confessing things. 

Marketing is what I do for a living, and I think I’m pretty good at it.  But if this last week has shown me anything it’s that when I turn that marketing lens onto myself, I get nigh on uncomfortable.

Marketer-self: “You know you have to do it.”

Self: “But I’m really not that interesting.”

Marketer-self: “You might not find yourself interesting, but believe it or not, being from Wyoming is kind of unusual in a global sort of way. And being raised on a ranch.”

Self: “No, really.  I’m not that interesting.”

Marketer-self: “Get over it. You’re a writer. Pretend. Not only that. You gotta.”

And so on. 

January 17, 2014

‘I Love Your Short Story Collection. What’s Next?’

Girl Reading, by Fongwei Lui

Let’s say hypothetically you saw the blurb on How to Be a Man and were somewhat intrigued. You looked up my website and thought, hmmm, and took a chance.  You downloaded a copy on your Kindle or you forked over almost $15 to be able to hold a nonvirtual copy in your hands.  And let’s just say that you liked it.  When might you get your hands on something else from me, a novel perhaps?

I’m here to answer that question.

Coming in July of 2014 is a novel set in contemporary Colorado called Deep Down Things.

Deep Down Things

Nobody talks about the dark side of creativity.  That the drive to create stems from loss.  And, whether it’s a child or a book, some creations are destined to have short lives.  From the death of her parents at sixteen, Maggie Jordan yearns for lost family.  When she 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.

Coming in January of 2015 is a historical fiction set in 1885 Iowa and Kansas City called Earth's Imagined Corners.  It’s the first in a three part series.

Earth's Imagined Corners

In 1885 Anamosa, Iowa, Sara Moore is a dutiful daughter, but when her father tries to force her to marry his younger partner, she must choose between the partner—a man who treats her like property—and James Youngblood—a kind man she hardly knows who has a secret. When she confronts her father, he beats her and turns her out of the house, breaking all ties, so she decides to elope with James to Kansas City with hardly a penny to their names.

And in the meantime, I'm working on some other really great projects too.  Stay tuned!

January 16, 2014

'How to Be a Man' Publishing Particulars


How to Be a Man was picked up by this great little publisher, Willow Words, and I would like to thank my editors for how much they just get me! 

I’m just kidding.  How to Be a Man is self-published.

I have to admit that I crave the legitimization that comes from traditional publishing, and that’s why I resisted self-publishing for so long.  It took me 11 years and almost 200 queries to get an agent.  (Read more about my journey to get an agent here.)  I’ve written and rewritten two novels that have gone out to publishers.  Though I’ve gotten some very nice notes from editors, neither was picked up.  Some might call me a slow study ~  I call myself pig-headed, and that’s a good thing.

I don’t know if you’ve been reading much about this, but the squeeze that is being put on traditional publishing by disintermediation has brought about the rise of a new type of author: the hybrid author.  (The great Chuck Wendig has been talking a lot about this.) There’s no longer just two tracks ~ traditional publishing and self-publishing.  The tracks are becoming melded and diversified, and much more of the power is back in the hands of the author.  Also much more of the responsibility for getting a book out and connecting with readers.  That’s where the hybrid author comes in.  She or he is someone who, with the help of her agent, chooses the best route for the work at hand and then has to make it so.  This is wonderful and terrifying ~ for everyone involved.  Also, traditional publishers now consider the success of a self-published title in their decision to take book on. In other words, they will take on a book that’s doing well under self-publishing (and I suspect that this will become the norm, rather than the exception). 

In sum, the stigma associated with self-publishing is a lot less.  It makes me feel better, too, that Virginia Woolf self-published (and Walt Whitman and Shakespeare and so many of the Greats as that was how it was done) if you get right down to it. As you can tell, I have residual mixed feelings about it, but this amazing thing happened too (more on this in a minute).

And 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.

Here’s some particulars.  I wrote the stories over 15 years.  I got feedback on them in workshops and writers conferences. Many of them were published in literary magazines or runners-up for contests.  I was very deliberate about which stories cohered into a unified collection, and I ordered them carefully ~ best stories first and last with groupings of similar stories together. I also wanted to start a little more upbeat, as my stories tend to be pretty dark.  Once I had them collected, I revised through them yet again, and some I changed structurally.  I always knew I wanted a young woman’s face on the cover, and I searched iStock for a long time to find the exact one I wanted.  I designed the cover with some feedback.  Using Word, I designed the collection for digital publishing and used Kindle Direct Publishing to perfect that design.  I designed the document for a 6x9 trade paperback and used Createspace to perfect that design.  I wrote cover copy and a reading group guide and the acknowledgements and added them. I had used Willow as the name of my freelance writing business, so I used that logo for Willow Words.  I uploaded it to Smashwords for wider distribution, as well as Scribd and Google Books.

I have a whole marketing plan.  I’m doing a blog tour through Bewitching BlogTours.  I’ll probably visit a few places between now and then, but the tour officially starts February 10. I’ll send out free review copies to anyone interested. (Interested?! Email me!)  I got a Kirkus review an IndieReader review and entered the book on PW Select and entered it in the Writers Digest Self-published Awards.  I updated my website, and I’ll email my friends to let them know the book is available.  I’ll be shouting about it on social media.  I’ll buy a passel of paperbacks and ask bookstores to sell them on consignment.  I’ll contact local media.  I’m printing bookmarks and t-shirts. I’m going to do a reading with my great writer friend Pembroke Sinclair. I’ll be at AWP, too! And more, but you get the idea.

Finally, the amazing thing that happened.  Last year, I had a total creative collapse.  I not only couldn’t write ~ I couldn’t even read, and that’s the first time in my life that’s ever happened.  I obsessively watched Law and Order SVU reruns for weeks. I can’t express how bad it got, a major depression. There were a lot of factors that  contributed to this, but I realize now that a big one was that I hadn’t made any headway on publishing.  Taking the power into my own hands has broken that down, and I feel creatively empowered in a way I haven’t for years.  And I’m writing again.  Let me repeat that: I’m writing!

If you’re thinking about doing this and would like to compare notes, email me at tamara (at)

Tomorrow, what's coming up next from me.  Time to start drooling in anticipation!

January 15, 2014

How 'How to Be a Man' Was Written

Today I thought I'd give a little background on how How to Be a Man was written.  This is the "Letter from the Author" that is included in the Reading Group Guide.  I myself love reading these things.

Letter from the Author

The stories in How to Be a Man were written over the course of the last fifteen years. Some came hot and fast and did not need much fiddling (“Men Are Like Plants,” “Oranges”) and some were the result of years of revision (“Nose to the Fence,” “Mouse”). The oldest story in the collection is “Snowshoeing,” and its flaws make me uncomfortable, but I love the striving to capture something inexplicable that motivated it. The youngest story is “Dammed,” and it’s a good example of my writing process now—I tend to revise extensively as I go and write a lot in my mind before I put it down on the page. Once I get started, it only takes me a session or two to get it all down.

Authors often get the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve never had a problem getting ideas, and I mourn the loss of the multitude of ideas that have come and gone, unfulfilled. I think there are lots of ideas out there—it’s just a matter of recognizing them for what they are, and when I’m writing—not blocked—the ideas come thick and fast. I may start with a voice, which happened with “Men Are Like Plants.” I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and her voice came to me so strongly I risked my husband’s displeasure—he hates it when I stay up late—and got up to write it down. I wrote most of that story in one sitting. What prompted “Revelations” was a contest a couple of years ago that had to include the year 2010. It got me thinking about the end of the world and Revelations, and so I wondered what a modern-day devil might be like. “Snowshoeing” started with the idea of conveying that feeling of separateness that sometimes comes upon a couple, that realization that you can’t always take your partner for granted. “Oranges” arose in one sitting on a plane coming back from a writer’s conference, the result of guilt over abandoning my kids for a week. “A Dangerous Shine” is based on a real incident that took place at the Buckhorn where I bartended. And on it goes.

Putting together a collection is tough. The idea of revising so many stories at one time and the nakedness that will result from other people seeing them all together is enough to stop the hardiest souls in their tracks. And what order do you put them in? Do you treat them like a mix tape—starting with an attention grabber, turning it up, taking it back, orchestrating peaks and valleys? Or do you arrange them on merit only, putting the best ones first? My protagonists are of different ages—should they be organized by age? I ended up putting what I think of as my best stories first and last, but then also taking into account the mood of the story. I tried to start with some positive stories and then place some of the darkest stories toward the end. I also tried to group them tonally, thematically, and by protagonist, so “Mouse” and “Oranges” are together because they’re about young girls dealing with their parents. “The Body Animal,” “Revelations,” and “Dammed” are together because they’re about the body and violence and alienation. “Wanting” is last because it’s a strong story but it also is historical, while all the others are contemporary.

I’ve always loved when authors tell the story of the story, and so I thought I’d choose a few and talk about how they came into being. “How to Be a Man” was written in response to “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” by Junot Diaz. I had long resisted writing a second-person story because it seemed so cliché—the young writer thinking herself so edgy, taking such an avant garde point of view. Then I read a couple of kick-ass second-person stories, and it began to work on me: Why couldn’t I write one? Then I heard Edwidge Danticat read Diaz’s story and I was hooked. The story wrote itself fairly quickly until I got to the ending—well, the first ending where she becomes a whiskery-chinned old batty. I stopped there. But I didn’t like that ending. I didn’t want her life to end that way. I wanted her to have a chance at happiness. Then I thought, why can’t I have two endings. I’m the god in this little world. I can do whatever I want. So I added the second ending. “Wanting” is another story I wrote in response to a story. Growing up in the West, I had strong Hemingway tendencies—clipped sentences, withheld emotion, huge psychic distance—and so to try to remedy that, I decided to take a great story that was a little more lush to imitate it in sentence construction, paragraphing, even down to where the dialog rests. The story I chose was Karl Iagnemma’s “Children of Hunger.” So I tried to maintain the feel of his story and mimicked it as closely as I could in my own story. It was a very helpful exercise, I think, and I really like the results. “Mouse” began as a writer’s exercise at a conference workshop presided over by Steve Almond. He had good advice about the mouse-killing scene: “A little blood and gore goes a long way.” I later expanded the scene into the story.
I will always write short stories. They are harder than novels, in a way, because they require the precision of a diamond cutter. They have to be so much more concise, clear, compact, and well-written than a novel. In a novel, you can get away with pages of loose extraneous stuff, while a short story must have no fat. And I love reading short stories. I think we’re in a renaissance of good short-story writing, and for that I’m very thankful.

Happy reading!

– Tamara Linse, Laramie, Wyoming, 2013

Print and ebook versions are available for purchase at these and other online retailers.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about how it was published, and Friday I’ll give you a teaser about what’s coming down the pike in the future.

January 14, 2014

Excerpt, 'How to Be a Man'

Today, I'm posting an excerpt from my new story collection, How to Be a Man. I could have chosen the title story, which is a quirky, funny second-person story, but I thought I'd showcase this one, which is also one of my favorites.  It's based on my days as a bartender.  Welcome to the Buckhorn Bar!

A Dangerous Shine


hen Shine told people she bartended at the Buckhorn, their eyes widened. “What’s a nice girl like you,” they said, and then their voices trailed off. “I heard somebody got shot,” they said. There was a real bullet hole in the mirror, but it was ancient history—part of the bar’s character, like the heads on the walls and the smell of stale beer. To Shine, it felt safe, like sitting on a gargantuan comfy couch with all your cousins—sunk into the softness, everyone good-naturedly elbowing everyone else.

Not only that. As the bartender, Shine was the center of everything. She entertained the loners, introduced people, facilitated everyone’s good time, and decided who stayed and who went. It was the next best thing to being on TV. Maybe someday she’d walk back through that door and everyone would whisper, “That’s Shine. She used to work here.”

Someday. Shine flipped a beer glass upside down and stuck it onto the brushes in the sink full of hot soapy water. She worked it up and down, rinsed it, then put it on the metal drain board. “Who’s the most famous person who’s come through that door?” she asked Doc, a forever regular who walked like a ship rolling on the high seas. Doc sat with his elbows resting on the edge of the bar, framing his draft of Bud.

“In the old days, this was a tent,” Doc said, “and everybody stopped here because right out there was the railroad depot.” He lifted his right elbow toward the tracks a half a block away. “Before they moved it on down.”

“Even you weren’t alive for that,” One-ball Paul said. Paul stood watching the door, leaning with his back against the bar and his thin elbows hooked over the edge. Everybody knew he was waiting for Serita, only everybody also knew Serita was over at Coppers Corners with Lee Mangus, the UPS guy.

“I don’t know,” Shine said and winked at Doc. “I heard the reason Doc got his nickname was because he doctored up at Crow Agency when Custer had his last stand.” The real reason Doc had his nickname was because he was a medic in Vietnam.

Doc’s eyes squinted a smile. “The most famous person to walk through that door is going to be Shine.”

“Yeah,” Paul said. “She’s going to replace Kathy Lee as America’s top anchor, once she gets that TV degree.”

Shine shook her head. “I’ll be lucky to bring coffee to Geha over at KGWN in Cheyenne.”

Doc shook his head and Paul turned around and looked at Shine. Paul said, “It’s going to be you, Shine. You’re beautiful and smart and … and …” He blushed and glanced at Doc. Doc was nodding his head.

“If Regis hits on you, pressures you, you let me know,” Doc said, his face serious.

“Naw,” Nance said and raised her head off the bar. Nance, who was married to Tommy Jon the trucker, was drunk on Gin Rickeys. “That’s Kelly what’s-her-name. Kathy Lee hasn’t been there for ages.”

“We’ll put your … Seven-Up can? … up there on the Wall of Fame,” Paul said. The Wall of Fame was empty cans and bottles—Coors Light and Mickey’s Big Mouth, McGillicuddy’s and Jack Daniels Green Label—resting on little shelves with names on wooden plaques underneath them. They were tributes to regulars who had died.

As they talked, Shine watched a big man with a face like a boot walk along the sidewalk outside. He walked with his shoulders back but with his head curled forward like he was trying to be bigger and smaller at the same time. The door creaked as he pushed through. He stepped in and shrugged off his coat. The big man had arm muscles that strained the seams of his green long-sleeved t-shirt, and his waste narrowed as it disappeared into a pair of tan Carhart overalls. His face was broad and leathery brown with the prominent jaw that reminded Shine of a cartoon character.


Print and ebook versions are available for purchase at these and other online retailers.
Tomorrow I'll talk about how it was written. Thursday, I’ll talk about how it was published, and Friday I’ll give you a teaser about what’s coming down the pike in the future.

January 13, 2014

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: My New Short Story Collection!

My new short story collection How to Be a Man is available!  It’s been a long time in the writing and editing and creation of it.  I’m so proud of it, and I hope you enjoy it too. Here’s what it’s about.

“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

Print and ebook versions are available for purchase at these and other online retailers. Happy reading!
Here's what's coming this week.  Tomorrow I’ll post an excerpt from the collection.  Wednesday I'll talk about how it was written.  Thursday, I’ll talk about how it was published, and Friday I’ll give you a teaser about what’s coming down the pike in the future.    

January 10, 2014

Limitless Creativity

Isn’t it great how kids’ brains are so malleable?  They have what’s known as plasticity.  Apparently, as we get older, our brains become more rigid.  So as a child you can learn new languages much more easily, a skill that turns off, and you can learn things like perfect pitch.

It was so fascinating last night listening to On Point on NPR. Apparently scientists have developed a pill that can turn that plasticity back on.  It has huge ramifications in brain science ~ not only could you learn perfect pitch as an adult, it has the potential to help heal traumatic brain injury and other brain disorders. 

Amazing, no?  You could potentially take a pill to “cure” traumatic brain injury.

But what I find fascinating are the implications in creativity.  To be a creative ~ a writer, artist, or engineer ~ you have to be tremendously creative.  That creativity comes naturally as a child due to plasticity but then we sort of turn it off as adults and have to work to turn it back on.  What if this pill could dramatically boost creativity?  Would it also have side effects?  One of the points they made on On Point was that the brain plasticity may turn on and off according to an evolutionary reason we’re not aware of ~ what if you start messing with that? (That age old question ~ are we subverting evolution, or is our influence in and of itself evolution?)

So what do you think?  Would you take a pill to boost your creativity?  Would you sometimes give anything to break writers’ block? 

This reminds me of the movie Limitless ~ the main character takes a pill that makes him much better at everything.  Would you, and damn the side effects?

January 9, 2014


I love fanfic and mashups and creative things that spin off other creative things.  My novels often have an underlying inspiration that I riff on, and often nobody would notice unless I told them. It's more about my imagination than the readers'.  And there's a difference between plagiarism and inspiration.  Plagiarism is taking long passages of something and passing it off as your own.  Creative inspiration is something totally different, and it honors the thing it samples from.  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

On that note, aren't these the greatest?  I love Calvin and Hobbes, and I love the idea of them all grown up!

The incomparable original, Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson
A beautiful rendition of them as adults by nami64. Love this person's work!

January 8, 2014

Creepypasta Settings

I love this post in Distractify about the 38 most haunting abandoned places on earth.  Beautiful but very creepypasta.  "They have such character," is what we say. More on this in a minute.



Aren't these great?!

So, "they have such character."  It got me thinking about how it is cliche to say that setting is a character in a story, but it's cliche because IT'S TRUE. 

I deliberately think of setting as another character in my stories and novels.  That allows me to think about the interactions among the other characters and the setting and how the setting influences them.  It makes me think very explicity about how I'm portraying setting and forces me to fully realize it on the page. 

Does a setting change over the course of the story?  Does it have an arc like any good character would?  Definitely, yes.  It doesn't change physically, usually, but the change is in the perceptions of the other characters, which supports the movement of the book.

I'm also thinking of any Coen brothers movie.  Setting is so rich.  I want my writing to be as rich ~ and entertaining ~ as a Coen brothers movie!

January 7, 2014

The Atavistic Farmranch Brain

I was talking the other day about creation stories.  Here's one of mine written a while ago ~ perhaps a bit precious, but origin stories are hard!

Tamara didn’t start out as Tamara.  She began merely as Tam, a skinny girl with pale straggly hair, like something out of a Depression-era Dorothea Lange, growing up on a farmranch. She was the youngest of seven—suckin’ the hind titty, as her grandmother Ma Strong used to say—and as such, she was the meekest, the smallest, the quietest.  Her voice, if she had one, was drowned out by the din. She was not made to take baths, her clothes were hand-me-downs from her brothers, and she had the habit curling her body in on itself, her gaze skittering around the edges, so people’s eyes did not catch and hold upon her. Tam believed she was invisible.

People in books weren’t invisible, though. No matter what their characters, they had been made visible, and their lives had being.  They were presence, even if they were little girls raised on farmranches.  Books were the insides of people all laid open before her, accessible, meaningful.  Meanwhile, people in the world itself were this bewildering chaos of conflicting desires, with no reason nor pattern.  She searched for patterns in people in the world.  Using the Smith Corona typewriter leftover from her father’s Army days, Tam typed up forms, little blank underlines striping the page, and then retyped the same in order to have multiple copies. Then she interviewed her father and her mother and her brothers and sisters.  It made her feel better, as if she had quantified and categorized them, pinned them like a bug to Styrofoam, though in reality she was no closer to understanding them than before.

It did not occur to her to write a story, to shape these bits into narrative, until her grade school girlfriend wrote a tale that climaxed with a head rolling in a gutter.  It had not occurred to her that writers were physical beings like her mom and dad and brothers and sisters, that these artifacts of language did not just appear whole upon the firmament, a miracle. And so she began to write stories, the most memorable called “A Magic Locket” about a girl who slips back in time to become her own great grandmother, her own progenitor. Tam’s writing expanded to other things.  Her deluge of emotions overflowed into journals. She wrote her boyfriend’s English papers. She wrote a humor piece for the small town rag about a gay couple who visited the family’s dude ranch.  She even won honorable mention at a regional conference for a poem. This so emboldened her that, when she went off to college, she made a tentative stab at self and changed her name to Tamara.

But she did not call herself nor think of herself as a writer, and no one else called her a writer.  It was something she did, unconnected with these “writers,” these quasi-numinous beings who dwelt on another plain of existence.  No one she knew was a writer.  They were farmers and teachers and waitresses and bartenders and drunks.  One thing she did know—the world was a place where, in order to have food and clothing, every waking moment had to be spent working, and all a person’s worth was tied to work. Still, when she went to college, she allowed herself to claim journalism for a semester, until working two jobs to put herself through firmed her resolve to find a high-paying occupation, namely engineering. She toiled away, trying to explain the world in numbers, but it was not her natural language, so she nearly flunked out. She quit instead.

Through it all, she read and she wrote.  She allowed herself one English course a semester—cravings outweighing, for once, the financial considerations.  She manufactured justifications addressed from her inner creative to her inner realist: there had to be some pleasure in life, and some people fished, some played pool, and some read.  And read and read and read and read.  She haunted the university library.  She bought books at times she wasn’t sure she could pay rent.  She volunteered at an archive doing research, reading other people’s papers. She helped friends with resumes, and she sent off articles to newspapers.  You see, reading and writing were not worth money, not something to be paid for.  It was something she did because she had to. But then, as luck would have it, she fell into a position as a technical editor and was paid to read.

Even so, in her imagination, her inner world, she wasn’t a writer.  How could she be?  She was just Tamara.  But then the unimaginable materialized in the words of a man, who said, “You love English.  Why don’t you get your degree in English?” It came to her as warmth on an early spring day. Is it any wonder that she married that man?  Slowly, a class at a time, she worked toward her degree, backing her way into it, in case it saw what she was up to and turned tail and ran.  It was a shy and nimble beast, this creature called self.  Even then, she did not embraced her true love, fiction.  That atavistic farmranch brain would not yet relinquish its hold.  As a working editor already, a degree in English could be justified as its natural extension, but fiction was a journey above the firmament, and she had no wings.

After thirteen years of off-again on-again university, she received her bachelor’s in English and then in two years her master’s.  No, not “received,” that passive construction, as if the thing were placed from above upon her supine form.  No, she battled for it tooth and claw.  She took her spear and her sword and she fought the Janis-faced beast and she sheared off its head and put her foot upon its heart and held up the prize in her outstretched fist.  “I am!” she yawped and began to spin a tale.

January 6, 2014



Isn’t it peculiar how one’s psychology is often a mystery to oneself?  How you may pin a mood on one thing, but it may also be due to something else.  I wonder if anyone has done any psychological research into this ~ explicit and known reasons for elation or depression vs. subconscious ones.  We are icebergs, are we not?

January 3, 2014

'Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death'

Thinking about how we transmute our lives and our pain into words on a page (a la NPR).


Died on the twenty-eighth day of the fifth month, 1740 at the age of forty-four

The running stream
is coolthe pebbles

via Japanese Death Poems

January 2, 2014

Creation Myths


Lately, my seven-year-old twins have been asking for us to tell them stories about themselves.  “Tell the one about how I danced before I even stood,” Elizabeth says. “Tell the one about when I was a kid and I checked that lady’s pants like they were diapers!” Eli says.  They especially love the funny ones.

It  reinforces for me the idea that we need stories.  It is a basic biological and psychological need and it’s how we make sense of the world and ourselves.  It’s how we form out identities. Creation myths.  “This is how I became a writer.” “This is how we met and got married.”  "This is what our family is all about.”  “This is what it means to be an American.”

So, without further ado, here are those stories.

“How Elizabeth Danced Before She Stood”

Elizabeth has always loved things that move.  She loved the baby swing and to be rocked, and she is a bit of an adrenalin-adventure type gal.  (I fear her teenage years.) She was a little baby and she couldn’t even stand yet.  Her Auntie Naomi was holding her standing up on her lap and singing “Boom chucka lucka lucka, boom chucka lucka lucka.” Elizabeth starting bouncing and bouncing.  She couldn’t keep her legs straight and support herself, but she could dance!

“How Eli Checked a Woman’s Pants”

I went to daycare to pick up the twins.  They were toddlers less than two.  They were out in the big room where parents were coming in and picking up their kids.  One mom was crouched down reaching for her child, and Eli came up and pulled out the back waistband of her pants.  As any parent knows, that’s what you do to check and see if a child’s diaper is dirty.  He was very kindly checking her pants for her.  She jumped up and went, “Wooo!” and then looked and laughed.

Both the kids find these stories hilarious, and they have me tell them over and over.  They must have reached some stage in their development where they’re becoming more conscious of themselves in relation to others and forming their identities more firmly.

But it makes me think of our writer creation stories.  “I’ve been writing my whole life.”  “I was destined to be a writer because my grandfather was a writer.”  “I suffered abuse as a child so of course I’m a writer.”  These creation myths are important to us, but because they become so pat and everything begins to seem like destiny, they can be disconcerting to others who hear them.  By that I mean, another possibly younger writer hearing a creation myth might think, “That didn’t happen to me. Maybe I’m not destined to be a writer.”  But the thing is, they’re stories like everything else, put together to give us meaning and justification and purpose. 

Maybe the best thing to do is to immediately go and put together a creation myth for yourself, if you haven’t already. Especially in this, the beginning of a new year.

January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been” ~ Ranier Maria Rilke