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
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.
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.
Did you always wanted to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
I would love to be able to say yes to this question, but I can’t. It’s because I didn’t know that you could BE a writer. There were these magical things called books that I worshipped. I’d read three or four or six a week on the hour-long bus rides to and from school and get in trouble for reading in class. I’d write in my diary and make things up. But I was raised on ranch and no one I knew was a writer. They were all teachers and nurses and ranchers and waitresses. Writer wasn’t a practical thing to be, anyway, because how did you make a living as a writer. Being raised poor makes you very conscious of pursuing a practical career. But that’s actually hilarious because there’s nothing more impractical than being a rancher. You just don’t make any money, especially when you live in the Great American Desert.
When did you first consider yourself a “writer”?
I didn’t actually call myself a writer until I was 30. I’d written and read throughout my life and got a degree in English and went on to get my master’s in English. It was about the time I went into my master’s that I finally let myself claim the dream. It took years to work myself up to it, and in a lot of ways I backed into it. I let myself do “practical” forms of writing that were for someone else ~ technical writing and writing for school or even some journalism. I edited professionally long before I wrote what I really loved, which is fiction ~ short stories and novels. The older I get, the more I realize that we are by far our own worst enemies, and that we get in our own ways at every turn. If we would just allow ourselves our utmost joy, we could be so happy.
How long did it take to get your first book published?
Years and years and years. It was eleven years, two novels, and countless short stories before I got my agent. Then another four years and multiple rewrites and rejections from traditional publishers before I had an emotional collapse. I not only couldn’t write ~ I couldn’t read. I would take long baths and watch Law and Order SVU reruns on my tablet. I didn’t think I would ever be able to do any of it ever again. A very dark time. And then a little glimmer of hope. I had resisted indie publishing (self-publishing) for a long time because I craved the legitimization of traditional publishing, which is especially important, I think, when you’re a literary writer. (I’m not in any way saying that genre writers are less, as literary is a genre too, but I think genre has its own challenges and perks, one of which is its wonderful rabid fan base. I think the literary establishment is more conservative, and its mechanisms are slow to change.) And so at that point, I thought, I’ll just put together my best stories into a collection, which became How to Be a Man. I was built for self-publishing in a way. All my experience has prepared me for it. I am a writer and editor, I am a document designer and artist, I am a computer geek, and I am a marketing (see promo-sapiens). Which is not to say I don’t call on outside help all the time.
Do you do another job except for writing and can you tell us more about it?
I am so lucky to work full time as an editor for a foundation. The writing and editing I do is close enough to what I do for my fiction that it feeds it but it’s far enough away that it doesn’t drain that part of me that feeds my fiction. I am able to “leave it at the office,” which is wonderful. And I work with great people and I really believe in what we’re raising money for, which is education.
What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarize it in less than 20 words what would you say?
Deep Down Things ~ the emotionally riveting story of three siblings torn apart by a charismatic bullrider-turned-writer and the love that triumphs despite tragedy.
Who is your publisher? Or do you self-publish?
I like to joke that I have this amazing publisher that really gets me, you know? That’s because I self-published. I put the publisher name Willow Words on my books. I used to actively pursue a freelance writing and editing business that I called Willow Freelance, and so when I decided to put my books out there, I adapted the name and logo and reserved a URL.
How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
I have written a draft from beginning to end in five months, but that’s only a draft. To get a final work that is even remotely good, the novels have to be written and rewritten. I’ve done at least two complete rewrites on each novel I’ve written, with many other edits besides. So I’d say maybe seven years for the first novel and five for the second. (You think that’s bad ~ it was fifteen years for the short story collection.) At this rate I’ll be down to a year in two or three more novels! Which will be, what, another ten years?
What can we expect from you in the future? More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
Oh, so many things! First, I imagine there’ll be a lot of procrastination and a few times in the depths of despair, but then there’ll be those moments of glory when the writing is flowing and characters are running across the page. That’s not what you meant? Seriously, thank you for asking. My interests are contemporary fiction, historical fiction, and young adult in the form of short stories and novels. I’ll be coming out with a historical novel in January 2015, the first book in a trilogy tentatively called the Round Earth Series. Set in 1885 Iowa and Kansas City, Earth’s Imagined Corners is about Sara, whose father tries to force her to marry his younger partner. Instead, she elopes to Kansas City with a kind man who she just met named James. Little does she know, he has a troubled past. At the moment, I’m working on a young adult series called the Wyoming Chronicles, which are re-imaginings of classics set in contemporary Wyoming. The first, called Pride, is Austen’s Pride and Prejudice set in present-day Jackson Hole.
What genre would you place your books into?
Fiction. But more specifically, novels and short stories set in contemporary times and historical times. Also young adult.
What made you decide to write that genre of book?
Fiction is where I live, whereas writing nonfiction makes me extremely uncomfortable. I can write an incident totally truthfully ~ with artful arrangement, of course ~ but if you would ask me to write the same thing in nonfiction, I’d chicken out. There’s something about the veil of plausible deniability that fiction presents that totally frees me. To me, fiction is generally more true to life than nonfiction because you have to give a coherent account of things in nonfiction, reduce the world in all its complexity ~ which to my mind can make it verge on a lie, by its very simplicity ~ whereas with fiction you’re striving to portray the world in all its complexity. At least I am when I’m writing fiction. I’m trying to show what it’s like to be alive, with all its messiness and nuances.
Do you have a favorite character from your books? And why are they your favorite?
Some of my favorite characters to write are the least like me. In Deep Down Things, CJ is such fun to write because she tells it like it is and she takes action. Maggie, however, is the most like me. Villains are also fun to write because it is very freeing to write someone who isn’t as constrained, someone who doesn’t play by the normal rules. They still have to be consistent within themselves, though. That’s one of the reasons I’m a writer: trying to figure out why people do the things they do. People aren’t just “crazy” ~ they have a logic behind everything they do. A mass murderer isn’t crazy. There’s a reason he or she does it. And that’s interesting.
How long have you been writing, and who or what inspired you to write?
I’ve always written. When I was a child, I typed up this form on my father’s typewriter that asked all these questions ~ everything from shoe size to their favorite food to what they wanted to be. And I didn’t have access to Xeroxes at that time, and so I retyped that form many times. Then I went around to all my relatives and ask them the questions and filled out the forms. It was my attempt to understand the insides of other people. And that’s what I think reading and writing is: as close as you can get to the insides of another person, their subjectivity.
Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? ie You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
Panic. Avoid. Panic some more. Avoid some more. Then once backed into a corner, force myself to get started. Once I get started, it’s almost always a toboggan ride down a steep slope, so much fun. It does help to write every day, a dictum I only sometimes follow. But specifically I don’t have rituals. I try to write on the laptop, in my notebook, at the desktop, on my tablet with its keyboard ~ everywhere. If I get stopped in one form, I try another. I like listening to music that matches the tone of what I’m writing. Or I’ll wear earplugs because mine’s a busy household. I try not to be precious about it. 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, as they say.
Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
I do. Generally I can say I have a good distance on these things. Every once in a while something will hit me hard, but up until this point people have been generous in trying to figure out what I’m aiming at and judging the work according to those standards. When they say something critical, I can often see their point, or at least where they’re coming from. In fact, I’m immensely grateful for the good will of my readers. It constantly amazes. Of course, it could simply be that I’m not a big enough bird to shoot down.
Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
I generally have to have a title fairly early on, even if I change it. Something about the title steers the work, not to mention it’s much easier to daydream about a title and research poems from the nineteenth century from which to draw a line for a title than it is to actually write the dang book.
How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books?
I often set my books in real places, and so I use their real names, but characters’ names that I do make up are very important to me. I almost never go for common names, which suits my characters since we use a lot of nicknames in the West. The name has to reflect the character in some way. Even when I use a common name, it has connotations that carry it in my mind and hopefully the readers’ minds. The names in Deep Down Things are Maggie, CJ, Tibs, and Jackdaw. Maggie, CJ, and Tibs are named for Magdalen, Cleopatra, and Tiberius, respectively, because their parents were archaeologists, but also because there is an underlying extended metaphor of history, of the life of Jesus. Plus Maggie has the connotations, in my mind, of a everywoman, a country girl; CJ has the connotations of gender ambiguity and toughness; and Tibs has connotations of upper crust, of liking refined things. Jackdaw is a concatenation of Jack and Donner, and he’s descended from the Donner party members, which suits who he is. Plus a Jackdaw is a quick dark bird, which suits Jackdaw’s charismatic but dark personality.
Are character names and place names decided after their creation? Or do you pick a character/place name and then invent them?
Place is very important. Place has to be chosen early. In Deep Down Things, I chose Loveland, Colorado, because it’s the West but it’s urban too, and originally the title of the novel was Loveland. I was interested in showing love in all its forms. I mean, Jackdaw loves his wife even as he ends up shooting her. And, as you can see, I once again chose the title early. Character names are the same ~ I have to have them almost first thing.
Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?
I’ll decide on essential characteristics at the outset, but as I write the book that person will become fleshed out because their history develops as I write. I don’t write character biographies or set them in conversation with each other until I’m actually writing the book. I’ll have a general outline of plot, which may change, but the character doesn’t get fully developed until I’m actually writing the book. This means I sometimes have to change backstory, but that’s often not on the page anyway, and so only I know it.
Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books? (Morals as in like Aesops Fables type of "The moral of this story is..")
When I was a kid, I took a personality test as part of a social studies class, one that they give to prisoners going into the Honor Farm in Wyoming. The results of the test were that I just wanted everyone to love everyone else and everyone to just get along. A roundabout way of saying, I think that’s what my books are about ~ those little moments of connection and disconnection, the small kindness and the small violences we do to each other. One thing that is hidden in my books, though, is that I often have an underlying story of metaphor that inspires me in a novel. Readers may not even know it. In Deep Down Things, one of the major stories was the story of Jesus. I’m a spiritual person, though not a religious one, but his story is so timeless and has had such an effect on our world.
Which format of book do you prefer, eBook, hardback, or paperback?
I love all books. I love hardbacks because they’re so solid and they feel timeless and they smell wonderful. I love paperbacks because they’re less expensive but they’re also like hardbacks. And I love eBooks because they’re inexpensive and it’s easy to take your whole library on a plane, so I don’t have to decide which 10 books I’m going to stuff into my carry on.
What is your favorite book and Why? Have you read it more than once?
That’s like asking who’s your favorite friend or your favorite family member or your favorite lover. They all have their pluses and minuses and it changes over time. And I love a whole raft of books. Often, I’m totally in love with the last book I read. That said, my two writer greats are Hemingway and Virginia Woolf. Specifically, I love Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.
Do you think books transfer to movies well? Which is you favorite/worst book to movie transfer?
Books and movies are totally different mediums, and often a great book if strictly translated does not make a good movie. For example, Stephen King’s The Shining. This is a great book. It’s my favorite of King’s, along with The Stand. You can tell he had a great editor on that book, someone who helped him shave off any excess, while some of his later books are a bit self-indulgent. Wonderful, though. But of the movie versions, the Kubrick is the absolute best, a work of art unto itself. But it is not the book. Kubrick took it and made it all its own thing. (But I have to say, the David Benioff and D. B. Weiss adaptations of Game of Thrones stick really closely to the books and are amazing. As is the latest True Grit.) The only times I’ve liked the movies better than the books, the movies have had a sweetness that the books didn’t and were works of art on their own: The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump.
Your favorite food is?
Food. Real food, not sweets. I’m a huge foodie and I watch cooking shows like Two Fat Ladies and The Mind of a Chef and it inspires me in the kitchen.
Your favorite singer/group is?
I like all kinds of music. There are few I don’t. I listen to rock or alt mostly, but also classical and jazz and blues and 70s country and big band and much more. African Songhai/Fula music, Brazilian bossa nova, Spanish guitar. You name it.
Your favorite color is?
You aren’t going to believe this, but I don’t have one. My kids try to insist that I pick one, but I can’t. I wear a lot of black. (I have always had a hard time picking favorite things. I see too many pluses and minuses and nuances of meaning. For example, I never have a bumper sticker on my car because I could never reduce myself to that one sentiment.)
Your favorite Author is?
Hemingway and Woolf.
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 tamaralinse.com and on her blog Writer, Cogitator, Recovering Ranch Girl at www.tamara-linse.blogspot.com
Mailing List: http://www.tamaralinse.com/contact_mail_list.html