It’s my extreme pleasure to chat with author Tamara Linse today. She’s penned a historical novel based on the life of her great-grandparents, which is fascinating in itself, but the woman behind the keyboard is just as interesting. I can’t wait for you to meet her. Start with the interview but please stay for the excerpt from “Earth’s Imagined Corners”. It’s the most delicious treat you’ll have all day!
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TL: I am so honored to hang out with you today! And I can’t wait to check out what you write.
Earth’s Imagined Corners was a loving project to which you devoted your time, talent and perseverance for years. Now that it is a realized dream, was it worth the effort? Anything you would change about the process?
TL: Great question! Yes, it took me 15 years from initial conception to publication, and I can say without hesitation that it was definitely worth it. I don’t even know if “worth it” is the right term. Writing, especially fiction, is just something I feel compelled to do ~ I don’t know if you feel the same. There’s nothing scarier than a writer who isn’t writing, and it makes me feel calmer and saner when I’m creating. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it. Sometimes it comes easy and sometimes hard. The hardest part is getting started after being away from it for a while, but once I’ve started it’s usually a glorious slide down a snowy hill ~ exhilarating, challenging, lovely. If there’s anything I would change, it would be how long it takes me. Seven years per novel seems a little long. I’d love to do a novel year, and I know I could do it. I’ve written a full draft in five months. But the world not only doesn’t care if you’re writing ~ it actively works against you writing, especially if you’re a woman. It would rather you be doing what it wants you to do. Working, cleaning, cooking, taking care of others, and so on. And it doesn’t just sit back and sigh. It enters the writing room and cracks jokes and suggests you do something else. So that would be the other thing I would change: my ability to block out the world and carve out time to write. I know it’s my own fault too. I’m a good girl and a people pleaser, and it’s much easier to do what the world wants me to do than face my own demons to write.
Even though Earth’s Imagined Corners is based on the lives of your great grandparents, you still brought the era to life with details you couldn’t possibly have known. How much time did you spend researching the late 1800’s to provide authenticity to the period and dialogue which was beautifully portrayed in your story?
How much of the story is fictional and how much fact? Was it challenging to apply creative license knowing you were altering the details of your family history? How did you decide which parts needed embellishment?
TL: I’ll tackle both of these questions at once.
Oh, gosh. Lots of research. And thank you so much for your kind words! You made my month! Some of the best fiction involves research, I think. And besides, I love research, and it’s much easier to wander down the alleys of history than to face the blank page. The wonderful Nebraska writer Ron Hansen said that the history is another country, and you have to treat it like that. Figure out its customs and language. I thought a lot about the story’s dialog. Who knows how people talked in 1885? Just like today, what was written was probably different than what was said. But I also wanted it to sound to the reader like real people talking. To compromise, I wrote the dialog as I would any other, and then I tweaked it and took out the words that either weren’t contemporary or don’t “feel” historical and then put in words that do feel historical. For me, communication and clarity rank above “truth” (as if there is only one truth). I read historical newspapers, and The 18th Annual Report of the U.S. Commissioner of Labor in 1900 reported prices in Chicago and I extrapolated backwards. Men worked an average of 290 days a year and made $553.52, while women worked an average of 295 days a year and made $313.42. Inventions such as electricity were making their way across the continent. Electrical infrastructure began reaching Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas in 1882. Kansas City had mule-drawn cable cars in 1881, but by 1885, they were powered by electricity. Work began on the “Additional Penitentiary” in Anamosa, Iowa, in 1873. In 1885, it held 281 inmates. Electric lights were actually at the prison when James would have been there—they were first used in December of 1882. Fictional purposes—sorry. The inmates built their own prison, first in wood and then in stone. The cookbook The Compleat Housewife by Eliza Smith is fact. First published in 1727 in London, the cookbook was republished almost verbatim in 1742 by the Virginia printer William Parks, the first cookbook published in the Colonies.
The American Memory Site of the National Archives is an amazing resource for researchers, and much of their material is online, and so I didn’t have to travel to Washington D.C. to access it. Fortunately, there are birds-eye views of downtown Kansas City from 1879 and 1895, perfectly framing my time period. I also had the tremendous good fortune—for me, not for the residents of KC West Bottoms—of having a vast photographic evidence to draw from. That’s because the Bottoms flood regularly, and people take lots of photos during these natural disasters. “The Patch” was a 4.5-acre area in the West Bottoms west of the Armour Packing Factory. If anything, I built it up a bit. Citizens of the Patch were evicted in April of 1910. I moved the flood from 1881 to 1885. There was a great flood in 1844 that came through the West Bottoms with a deafening roar and filled it bluff to bluff. It was reported that, during the night of the flood, cries were heard but the flood was too overwhelming to attempt rescue. The next day, rescuers found Louis Tromley perched in a tree, his wife in a tree a hundred yards farther on, and his son sitting on the peak of the swaying house. Later that day, onlookers saw Tromley’s house floating with the current, with Tromley’s favorite dog perched on its top. Tromley yelled out the dog’s name, and the dog let out a mournful wail. Tromley almost plunged into the water to save it. In 1881, an African American man named Levi Harrington, 23, was lynched—hung and shot—from the Bluff Bridge for killing a policeman named Jones, a crime Harrington did not commit. It got little coverage in the papers because it happened the same day that Jesse James was shot in Saint Joseph.
Little things. President Cleveland did have a mistress. Sara’s paste opal jewel exists, and in 2003, it was for sale by The Three Graces, Houston, Texas, for $1,380. The description of passengers getting cozy during a train wreck that is told by Moses is from Bill Nye’s 1882 Forty Lies and Other Liars. I based the rats at the river on an account given by a man who grew up in Kansas City in the twentieth century—the 1960s, I think. Thomas’s Tsististas are the Cheyenne, and the words from the Cheyenne language is from the Dull Knife College web site, but their spelling is my own. And so much more. I love history. My master’s thesis was on 1850 Overland Trail pioneer diaries.
As far as it being based on family history, I was lucky in that I had some bare facts but not so much information as to overwhelm me. He was in prison, and they moved to KC and had a store. That was almost all I knew. And when you write fiction, you can’t be constrained by what happened. You have to get the details right, but if you’re worried about offending someone or being “right” whatever that means it’ll strangle you. Yes, you want to be accurate, but you have to have more loyalty to the logic of the story and to good storytelling. So I would say my process was to have a rough plot and characters based on my grandparents, and then to forget they were my grandparents and go where the story took me.
You have two more books scheduled in the series. Will you write them separately or concurrently? Is it difficult to stay focused on this project or are you itching to write something different?
TL: Ha! No, I’ll write them chronologically. But as you hint, it’s hard to stay focused on one project. There are just so many great ideas, and I want to do them all and not let them get away! For example, right now before I go further on the second in the series, Numberless Infinities, I want to finish a young adult called Pride, which is Pride and Prejudice set in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s part of a YA series where I take British classics and set them in contemporary Wyoming. It’s so much fun! The hardest part is getting started, and once I start, it’s best if I don’t stop. Though it often happens.
After reading your “long” bio, I was completely charmed by this multi-faceted person called Tamara Linse. (Readers, you can learn more HERE) I also was raised with a taste of the “old” world and new, living part time on a farm without modern amenities. I know that experience enhanced my ability to maneuver life. How did it affect you and what do you think is the most valuable lesson you learned from those days? On the flip side, what did you hate about it?
*blush* Thank you! I hate those short dry bios, don’t you? I want them to read like a Dickens novel! Your life sounds fascinating. I hope you’re writing about it! There’s a lot of my upbringing in my short story collection How to Be a Man. It was and is hard to be female on a ranch. Men have the respect, and if you’re an intelligent little girl, you look around yourself and think, how do I have respect, since I’m not a guy? Many western girls come to the conclusion that they need to be men as much as they can. It’s very self-destructive when you deny something you essentially are. It’s like being black and passing as white or being homosexual and passing as heterosexual. Plus you really hate yourself. The poverty of it wasn’t very nice either. The most valuable lesson I learned was pigheadedness. I attribute pretty much any success I’ve had in life to sticking to things, even after a lot of reasonable people would have given up. Another thing I learned, which I’m sure you did too, was self-reliance. When something happens, you just need to bow your head and get after it. No use belly-aching.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you choose and why?
TL: You know, I really haven’t thought much about this. That’s another of the legacies of my upbringing ~ I had to teach myself to dream big. If you grow up thinking you can’t have anything, you don’t let yourself want things. But I did always want to travel to England and Ireland, and I was able to do that in 2002 after I graduated with my master’s. But if I were allowed to dream, it would go something like this. A sprawling house in the south of France or a bungalow on a carribean island, like Hemingway’s Finca Vigia. Write all morning, drink and laze about and socialize in the afternoon and evening. All this would involve someone else cooking and cleaning, of course! So, you know, I’d like to live in writers’ paradise!
TL: It’s been such a pleasure, Deb! Thank you! Stay in touch!
Earth’s Imagined Corners
The Round Earth Series
Genre: Historical Fictio
Publisher: Willow Words
Date of Publication: January 31, 2015
Number of pages: 472
Word Count: 130,000
In 1885 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 troubled past.
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.
In the tradition of Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Earth’s Imagined Corners is a novel that comprehends the great kindnesses and violences we do to each other.
Available at Amazon
Anamosa, Iowa, 1885
Sara Moore should have nothing to fear this week. She had been meticulous in her entering into the ledger the amounts that Minnie the cook requested she spend on groceries. She had remembered, just, to include her brother Ed’s purchase of materials to mend sister Maisie’s doll house and to subtract the pickling salt that she had purchased for sister Esther but for which Esther’s husband Gerald had reimbursed her. She stood at her father’s shoulder as he went over the weekly household accounts, and even though her father owned Moore Grocer & Sundries from which she ordered the family’s groceries, he still insisted she account for the full price in the ledger. “No daughter of mine,” he often said, though sometimes he would finish the thought and sometimes his neatly trimmed eyebrows would merely bristle.
Despite the buttressing of her corset, Sara hunched forward, somewhat reducing her tall frame. She intertwined her fingers so that she would not fiddle with the gathers of soft navy wool in her overskirt, and she tried not to breathe too loudly, so as not to bother him, nor to breathe too deeply, in order to take in little of the cigar smoke curling up from his elephant-ivory ashtray on the hulking plantation desk.
As always, the heavy brocade curtains armored Colonel Moore’s study against the Iowa day, so the coal oil lamps flickered in their brackets. Per instructions, Sipsy the maid lit them early every morning, snuffed them when he left for the grocery, lit them again in anticipation of his return at seven, and then snuffed them again after he retired. It was an expense, surely, but one that Sara knew better than to question. The walls of the study were lined with volumes of military history and maps of Virginia and Georgia covered in lines, symbols, and labels carefully inked in Colonel Moore’s hand. In its glass case on the bureau rested Colonel Moore’s 1851, an intricately engraved pistol awarded to him during the War of Northern Aggression. Sipsy dusted daily, under stern directive that not a speck should gather upon any surface in the room.
Sara’s father let out a sound between an outlet of breath and a groan. This was not good. He was not pleased. Sara straightened her shoulders and took a breath and held it but let her shoulders slump forward once more.
“My dear,” he said, his drawl at a minimum, “your figures, once again, are disproportionate top to bottom. And there is too much slant, as always, in their curvatures. I urge you to practice your penmanship.” His tone was one of indulgence.
Inaudibly, Sara let out her breath. If he was criticizing her chirography, then he had found nothing amiss in the numbers. The accounts were sound for another week. Later, when he checked the numbers against the accounts at the grocery, there was less of a chance that she had missed something.
He closed the ledger, turned his chair, and with both hands held the ledger out to her. She received it palms up and said, “I will do better, Father.”
“You would not want to disappoint to your mother.” His drawl was more pronounced.
So he had regretted his indulgence and was not satisfied to let her go unchecked. His wife, Sara’s mother, had been dead these five years, and since then Sara had grown to take her place, running the household, directing the servants, and caring for six year-old Maisie. Ed needed little looking after, as he was older than Sara, though unmarried, and Esther, the oldest, was married with two daughters and farm of her own.
Sara straightened her shoulders again and hugged the ledger to her chest. “Yes, Father,” she said and turned and left the room, trying to keep her pace tranquil and unhurried. She went to the kitchen, where Minnie had a cup of coffee doused with cream and sugar awaiting her. Minnie gave her an encouraging smile, and though Sara did not acknowledge what went unsaid between them—one must shun familiarity with the servants—she lifted her shoulders slightly and said, “Thank you, Minnie.” Minnie, with the round figure and dark eyes of a Bohemian, understood English well, though she still talked with a pronounced accent, and Sara had only heard her speak the round vowels and chipped consonants of her native tongue once, when a delivery man indigenous to her country of origin walked into the kitchen with mud on his boots. Sara tucked the ledger in its place on a high shelf and then allowed herself five minutes of sipping coffee amid the wonderful smells of Minnie’s pompion tart. Then she rose, rinsed her cup, and applied herself to her day.
The driver had Father’s horse and gig waiting, as always, at twenty minutes to nine. As Father stretched his fingers into his gloves, pulling them tight by the wrist leather, he told Sara, “When you come at noon, I have something unusual to show you.”
“Yes, Father,” she said.
It seemed odd that he would concern her with anything to do with business. He left her to the household. He had long tried to coerce Ed into the business, but Ed’s abilities trended more toward the physical. He was a skilled carpenter, though Father kept a close rein on where he took jobs and whom he worked for. All talk of renaming the business Moore & Son had been dropped when Father had recently promoted the young man who was his assistant, Chester O’Hanlin, to partner. Mr. O’Hanlin had droopy red muttonchops and a body so long and thin he looked a hand-span taller than he really was, which was actually a bit shorter than Sara. Mr. O’Hanlin didn’t talk much, either, and he seemed always to be listening. He held himself oddly, cocking his head to one side, first one way and then the other, his small dark eyes focusing off to the left or right of the speaker. His nose, long and wedge-shaped, seemed to take up half his face. “Chester, the Chinaman,” Maisie called him outside of his presence because of the way he stooped and bobbed whenever their father entered the room.
About the Author:
Tamara Linse jokes that she was raised in the 1880s, and so it was natural for her to set a book there. She is the author of the short story collection How to Be a Man and the novel Deep Down Things 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 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.