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Tamara Linse

“If you're white, and you're not rich or poor but somewhere in the middle, it's hard to have worse luck than to be born a girl on a ranch.” ~ Maile Meloy in “Ranch Girl” 

How do you pronounce your name?

tuh-MARE-uh LIN-zee.

Don't worry—hardly anyone gets it right the first time.

Who did you read as a child?  

I loved all things British—Pooh and The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden.  I also loved Joan Aiken and Frank L. Baum.  I was glad to go from grade school to middle school because I’d exhausted the library. In middle school, I discovered the Newberry Award books.  Later, I read a lot of westerns and loved them, particularly Louis L’Amour.  He doesn’t stand the test of time well, though.  I went through a scifi/specfic phase as a teenager and still have a fondness for it.  I haven’t read much romance or mystery, and I’m not quite sure why.  

Who are your favorite writers?  

My favorite writers.  Well, it often feels like the writer of the last book I read because I fall in love almost every time.  But I’ll take a run at it. 
  • My all-time favorites are Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf. 

  • For novels, Douglas Adams, Julian Barnes, Michael Cunningham, E. L. Doctorow, William Faulkner, Charles Frasier, James Galvin, Kent Haruf, John Irving, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Cormac McCarthy, Ann Patchett, Jodi Picoult, Terry Pratchett, Anne Rice, J. K. Rowling, Anita Shreve, and Alexander McCall Smith.

  • For short stories, Sherman Alexie, T. C. Boyle, Raymond Carver, Charles D’Ambrosio, Anthony Doerr, Aryn Kyle, Dennis Lehane, Maile Meloy, Alice Munro, Antonia Nelson, Tim O’Brien, Benjamin Percy, Donald Ray Pollock, Annie Proulx, Karen Russell, Jim Shepard, and Tobias Wolff.

  • For nonfiction, Steve Almond, Judy Blunt, Augusten Burroughs, John D’Agata, James Herriot, and Mary Roach. 

  • There are a number of writers that I really want to like and I have their books but I haven’t gotten around to reading them.  

See what I mean?  You had to ask.  

What are you reading now?  

Boy, you ask difficult questions.  The thing is, I could honestly say that I’m reading hundreds of books at one time.  That’s because I tend to “taste” books before I read them from beginning to end.  I’ll buy a new book and then read it for a half hour or hour before bed.  Then I’ll put the book aside and not pick it up again for years.  

Why do you write?  

There you go again with the hard questions.  Because it’s my passion.  Because as a child I felt I had no voice.  Because I love to read, and writing is like reading only better.  Because I have to to stay sane—just ask my husband.  Because I’m fascinated by people, and writing and reading is the closest you can get to another person’s consciousness.   

I answer this question with more depth at Kristi Petersen Schoonover's blog.

Where do you get your ideas?  

That’s the wrong question.  It should be: How do you recognize an idea when you see one?  Ideas are all around you.  Everything and anything can spark a story.  Say, someone told you to write about walls.  Thomas King, who’s Native American, was given 24 hours' notice to write about walls, and he came up with a humdinger.  (Sorry—I don’t remember the name of it!) It’s about a man wanting his walls painted white but the history of walls bleeds through, and then finally, when he has them torn out and new walls put in, the stark white walls makes him look brown.  Virginia Woolf wrote a story about a blob on her bedroom wall, which turns out to be a snail or a slug, I think, but it’s a great story.  I’m sure there are more stories about walls.  It’s about what you put into the idea, what lights you up and interests you, and it can be as specific as something that happened to you as a child or as general as wanting to write about the color green.  I also find that when my head is in my writing—in other words, I’m not blocked and avoiding—ideas come so fast and thick I can’t keep up.  Everything sparks an idea for a story.  Then it’s a problem of way too many ideas and feeling guilty about lost opportunity.  

What is your writing process?  

I avoid.  I feel awful.  I inevitably read things and feel inspired, but still I avoid.  Then I make myself sit at the computer and start.  It’s hard, really really hard.  But then something magical happens.  The real world goes away and the world I’m creating becomes more real than the real world.  It’s like the real world is in black and white, and the world I’m creating is in technicolor.  Sure, sometimes it still comes slowly and painfully, but sometimes it comes like lightening from my brain.  And then I’m in love.  When I finish a story, revised and all, I’m in love with it.  I can’t see its flaws.  I want to take it to dinner and then make out with it in the back seat.  Then, like all affairs, after a while I start to see the story’s strengths and weaknesses.  Then I either revise some more or I write a new story or both.  

Do you have an MFA?  

No—my master’s is in literary studies and my thesis was on 1852-1854 pioneer diaries.  I’ve taken a lot of workshops, however, in the classroom and online and at writers conferences.  I highly recommend them. Be it an MFA or a local writers group, any time you can get others to look at your work and give you solid feedback is helpful.  Solid feedback does not mean only “oh, you are so wonderful”—but you do need some of this for your ego or you won’t have the strength to go on. Neither does it mean brutal comments like “This isn’t working” with no further explanation or direction.  It means detailed criticism of one reader’s reaction to what’s working and what’s not working—the more detailed and specific and articulate, the better.  Still more important, volunteer to read your writer friends’ work.  You’ll learn more from commenting on theirs than you will reading comments on your own.  

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?  

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

Do you have a literary agent?

Yes.  The lovely Rachel Stout at Dystel & Goderich.

Will you read my work?  

No. Sorry.  

What do you always say when you head home for the day?  

“Well, let’s circle the wagons.”

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