Tamara Jones. A name many of you may not be familiar with. To be perfectly honest neither was I until Tamara contacted me to see if I would be interested in a review copy of her new book due out next week, Spore.
One thing I have taken out of this contact I have had with Tamara, and reading Spore is that I intend to rectify that and I will be looking out for anything else she writes in the future.
She is a lovely person who has been only too happy to put up with my questions/demands throughout this interview and has provided a very candid insight into her world of writing and her life in general.
We ended up with so much content that I have decided to split the interview over two nights. In Part One tonight, Tamara will be answering some general questions about her previous books and her life in general. Part Two tomorrow night will be all about Spore and of course The Ten Confessions.
Grab a beer and burger and enjoy!!
TJ - I'm a delightfully married middle-aged housewife from Iowa, with one daughter, a granddaughter, too many pets and a very patient and supportive husband. I just happen to slaughter people on paper for money. By 'slaughter' I don't mean there's a body barely visible under a bush ala a cozy mystery. Nope, I eviscerate the bastards and fling entrails about. I also make quilts. A LOT of quilts.
COAR - What is your definition of dichotomy and why does it fascinate you so much?
TJ - To me, dichotomy is the pairing of oppositional things, a yin and a yang. Without light you cannot have darkness. Without hard there can be no soft. I try to look at all sides of the topic at hand in my work and especially explore the opposites within it.
In the Dubric books, for example, there's Lars. He's by almost every measure an orphan, but he's also the symbolic and emotional son for Dien. He's principled, generous, and incredibly kind, the white knight of the series, the teenage 'hero in training', but he's also the only character on the protagonist side to kill. He kills someone in every book, and he's quite efficient and talented at it. No one else kills. Not gruff, prone to violence and anger Dien. Not cursed, cranky, old-soldier Dubric. Just the 'hero', Lars. And it plagues him. I've often described his movements, his stance, as those of a predator, which is in direct opposition to 'kind, helpful hero'. I love piling guilt on Lars and watch it weigh upon him, then see him fight the burden to stand again.
In SPORE, I love that Sean is outwardly an open, helpful, generous fellow, but inside he's caught in an endless nightmare of torture and madness collapsing upon itself. How Mare, a healer by profession, resorts quickly to violence. How Todd, the strong protector type, can be cripplingly weak.
It's not just characters, but theme as well. In Ghosts in the Snow, for example, I tried to explore sin. What is it, and what is it not? How does one commit it or atone for it? Recognize it or disregard it? Carry it around or cast it aside? Destroy it or embrace it? Seek it or shun it? Back and forth, light and dark, yin and yang.
I think approaching characters and narrative theme like this helps create a more three-dimensional whole, it makes things seem more real. We all have light and darkness within us. It's my job to bring that to the page. If I can do that by showcasing inherent dichotomies in our own reality, all the better.
COAR - Why writing? When you were supposedly a science geek and got a degree in art, why decide on writing as a career?
TJ - My family is crammed full of creative people - it's what we do! - and, frankly, a lot of substance abusers and folks on antidepressants, so a lot of it's genetic, I think. Somehow, I also have a knack for science and math. Despite the heavy influence and practice in the arts, along with writing a lot of fiction since about age seven, I grew up wanting to be a Veterinarian, in part because vets made good money. Art could be done on the side, right?
I loved Chemistry in high school, did really well with Math’s, Physics, etc., and ultimately went away to college as a Veterinary Medicine/Chemistry double major. Shit happened, money ran out, so I came back to community college where I took a lot of different things, like Business Law, Painting, Philosophy, and Microbiology, going part time while I held down a job.
I've always tried to learn new things and I really loved school, especially the variety of classes. Then I got married, had a baby, and was a stay-at-home mom for a while. We lived across the street from a small private college and I decided to take a drawing class, mostly because I always liked drawing and I wanted to take a class strictly for enjoyment.
Anyway, four years later I graduated with a degree in graphic design and illustration. After working in the field for about a decade, I wrote my seventh novel, Ghosts in the Snow. It demanded to get published, and, well, here we are.
COAR - Take us through your process for a story. How do you start it and follow through to the final product?
TJ - I get an idea - I call them 'nuggets' - which tend to be concepts, not much more, then they'll sit in the back of my head, stewing and growing slimy and stinky until they're ready to come out. By this time, they're more three dimensional, formed and breathing, if that makes sense. I start writing from the beginning and write through until the end in one long document, breaking up chapters and scenes as the story dictates. I always have the opening for sure, along with a few 'stage mark' scenes or events that are clear, and I write from wherever I am to the next stage mark, not really knowing how the story will get there, but confident it will. It's never failed.
Anyway, I write at night, usually, because that's when the house is quiet and I can focus. I try to get ten pages, but sometimes I'll get two, sometimes thirty. It just depends. The next night, I will re-read whatever I'd written the night before, fix any typos, punctuation, saggy sentences, whatever I see, then write on from there, only fixing the previous night’s work before moving forward. I rarely re-read earlier parts, I just press forward, forward, forward. After the book's done, I'll re-read and polish it as best I can, then send it to my pre-readers to be ripped apart. Once I've keyed in their changes, it goes to my agent.
COAR - What’s the most difficult part of writing for you?
TJ - Composing. It's often miserable work for me. As I get older, I find it tougher and tougher to focus enough to get much work done.
COAR - You seem to like going to the conventions. I notice you have been to ICON and the HorrorHound weekend in this past year. What draws you to them? What do you love about them? Is it a sore point to bring up not going to World Horror?
TJ - I both love and hate conventions. I love the other writers especially - there's a certain relaxed bliss with hanging out with one's 'tribe' - and I do love the fans and people working there, the energy of it all. I don't, however, like crowds. They get me overly stressed, overly tired, so I have to go hide for a while and recharge. I'm both highly social but an extreme introvert. I love people but small doses and small groups are much easier to manage. I always take my friend Michele with me if I can, because she can tell when I need to get to a quiet place for a while. She takes good care of me.
I have no sore point for World Horror. I plan on going next year, but I couldn't swing it this year, that's all.
COAR - What’s it like being part of the Samhain pack? You must be very proud of that?
TJ - I am very excited to be with Samhain! I've done the 'big publisher' thing. It was a great experience, but a smaller press is a much better fit for me, especially as I get back into writing professionally again. Everyone in the company has been wonderful and the writers are a fantastic bunch of people. We're all supportive and encouraging of each other. It's awesome!
COAR - Tell us about the Dubric Byerly Mysteries? Why are they written under a slightly different name? Does the different name mean a different style?
TJ - The different name means a lot of things. The Dubric Byerly Mysteries (Ghosts in the Snow, Threads of Malice, and Valley of the Soul) are police procedural/forensic murder mysteries in a fantasy setting. My editor called them CSI with swords, which is fairly accurate.
In Dubric's world, magic is evil, corruptive, and needs to be removed at any cost, so of course there's dark magic entwined with the murders. Dubric Byerly is an unusual main character in that he's sixty seven years old, arthritic, and visibly scarred from a fire. The fire also left him cursed by the Goddess and he sees the ghosts of people who were not meant to die until he avenges them. The ghosts plague him, leaving him opinionated, cranky, and relying heavily on his much younger staff - bearish father figure Dien, principled teenager Lars, and bookish twelve year old Otlee - to solve the gruesome crimes so he can get rid of his ghosts.
The Dubric books were written, primarily, as a way for me to deal with the decline and death of my father and my own struggles with depression. They are, in many ways, a lot darker than SPORE, more violent, and take place in a fantasy setting. SPORE, in my opinion, is a much lighter, more hopeful read. I am keeping the 'Siler' portion of Tamara Siler Jones for the Dubric world and related works only, and removing 'Siler' to just be me, Tamara Jones, for everything else.
COAR - Quilts. How on earth do you possibly go from writing violent horror to making quilts?
TJ - Um. I like to sew?
In all seriousness, I consider myself a hyper-creative in that I create in several modes and medias. Quilts are just one more thing. To me, they're relaxing, a calming Zen kind of experience as I feed fabric through my sewing machine. When the quilts are done, I give them away, which feeds into my altruistic tendencies as well. They're a win-win.
COAR - You mention on your Facebook Page you are an “altruistic libertarian”. For those of us not in the know, what exactly is that?
TJ - This is actually a really easy question, and just one more part of my bonky dichotomy. I believe that the government should not be directly involved in individual people's lives, especially via surveillance and other forms of control - that's the libertarian (small l) part. The surveillance state and our constantly being tracked by innumerable means drives me batty. The militarization of the police force and increasing regulation of citizens drives me batty. Telling people what they can and cannot do with their bodies, money, time, brain-space, or anything else along those lines drives me batty. Declaring corporations are people has me goddamn pissed off.
However, I also believe that we all should endeavor to help others, especially folks who are struggling. I believe that people are more important than profit, we only have one planet (so far) to live on and over-use of its resources is slowly killing it, and that a society needs store clerks, restaurant cooks, cleaning staff, and other menial labor/service jobs to function. That doesn't mean those folks deserve to live in poverty. No working person should live in poverty. I'm a big believer in paying it forward. We try to help out however we can and donate my short story sale profits to charity. Every little bit helps, right?
That's your lot for Part One.
Please come back tomorrow night for Part Two when you will learn all you need to know about Spore and Tamara tackles The Ten Confessions.