Monthly Archives: May 2010
I’m pleased to report that a flash fiction piece I wrote called “Shell Game” has just been accepted for inclusion in Eclectic Flash‘s September Issue.
Check out Eclectic Flash‘s April and back issues here: http://www.eclecticflash.com/
Tamara Linse’s short fiction is beautifully colored by the state of Wyoming, where she was raised on a ranch and still lives today. Her work has been a top-five finalist for the 2009 Arts & Letters Prize and has been featured or is pending in the Georgetown Review, Word Riot, Slow Trains, Talking River, and a host of others; a book of her short stories semifinaled for Black Lawrence Press’ 2008 Hudson Prize. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from the University of Wyoming, and she’s hard at work on a novel based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night but set on a Wyoming ranch. Want to know more about Tamara and read her work? Visit http://www.tamaralinse.com.
Why I Write
by Tamara Linse
In this post, Kristi suggested I might address the age-old questions: What inspires your work? What motivates a writer? How does life affect your writing. In short, why do I write?
At first I resisted this topic, for all the usual reasons. I’ve answered it before, it requires lots of deep and painful thought, it’s hard to express, and it’s been answered so skillfully by so many writers that what did I have to add?
It was precisely this last reason that prompted me to attempt it. First of all, the fact that so many people ask and answer this question points to something deep and abiding. It’s a question that haunts people. They ask other people because they don’t understand it within themselves. Not that I have any claim to understanding.
It’s the second part of that last reason that got me. Do I have anything to add? It struck me not so much because I may or may not have anything to add but because that question is one of the reasons I write. I grew up feeling like I had no voice, that my thoughts and opinions didn’t matter, that I didn’t matter. I was invisible. The feeling persisted well into my twenties.
Since then, I’ve realized that there really aren’t any new ideas, but that’s okay. The point isn’t to say something new or to add something. The point is to say something. The only thing that is unique ~ in its true sense of “only one in all the world” ~ is you and your collection of experiences and voice. That’s what you bring to the table. Therefore, if you touch just one other person the way what you’ve read has changed your life, it’s worth it. It’s not about the new; it’s about connecting with other human beings.
So let me begin ~ um, continue ~ by answering the question directly. Why do I write? Here’s the answer on my website: “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.” All of this is true, and I could go on at great length about each item, but I want to get at something deeper and more universal.
Let me start with three examples.
My dad had a coin collection. If memory serves, it was a wooden box filled with beautiful coins from across the world, and my three-year-old heart yearned to possess it. I wanted it so badly that, despite repeated warnings, I crept into the bedroom and took it and hid it. One of my first memories is of crouching on the passenger side of the car at night in terror as my dad strode by shouting my name.
My last boyfriend before I started dating my husband left me to become a cowboy. It’s not that he wanted someone else; he just didn’t want me. We had been dating for three years and had lived together for a year or two. He did not break it off with me, however, but instead just moved away. I was the one who made the ultimatum: move back or we’re through. I understand now why he did it that way ~ I was a little unstable at the time ~ but the sense of missing him and wanting him back was so strong it was physical. I felt it in my roiling stomach and in the knot in my chest and in the twanging rubberbands of shoulder muscles and in tension headaches.
There is an image fixed in my mind of my husband in the pantry looking for something to eat. It was an ordinary day, and we hadn’t planned anything for dinner. Often, before having kids, our schedules would offset and so I would feed myself and he would feed himself. And it’s not like we’re ever particularly hungry. We live very comfortably. But what is fixed in my mind is the look on his face ~ one of pure naked childlike desire. It’s hard to describe in concrete terms. Maybe his forehead was wrinkled a bit, his eyes were wide, and his lips around his downturned mouth worked just a little as he imagined what things would taste like.
What these three instances have in common is that they’re all about desire. All people everywhere live in a constant state of desire. It is truly a human condition. Whether it’s something as small as a snack or something materialistic or something as large as a mate for life, people want. People need. One reason that we are such good consumers and why advertising works so well is because we by our very nature have this endless hole within us that needs to be filled. Every religion is built on this.
So, this is my deeper answer to why I write: Because I’m human. Because I desire. It’s a way to take the world into myself and to make it part of me. It’s a way to place myself into the world. It’s a way to connect with the world and with other people and to imagine for one small moment that we are not alone and that we have the capacity to be full and content.
On Saturday I met my friend Rachel Kovaciny for our monthly writing date. When she arrived, she reached into her pocket and extracted a black silk pouch. “I saw this and I said, ‘Kristi has to have this!’”
Inside the bag was an oval pendant containing a miniature version of the Brady Portrait of Edgar Allan Poe.
“For your birthday,” she said, “I’m giving you a man who won’t break your heart.”
Interesting comment. Poe certainly had his share of romantic heartbreak—his beloved, young wife Virginia died of tuberculosis (we need only to read his two-line lament “Deep in Earth” to understand just how inconsolable he was). But most people forget that Poe had quite a failed love life both before and after his wife. He returned from the University of Virginia to find his childhood sweetheart engaged to someone else; he shared an “intensely emotional friendship” with “Fanny” Osgood, but she went off with Poe’s rival; both Marie Louise and Helen Whitman, briefly Poe’s muses, turned down his marriage proposals; he fell in love with Annie Richmond, who was married and unattainable. And there were a few more.
I admired the pendant. No matter which way I shifted my palm, Poe was looking at me—in fact, he was never going to not be gazing at me. He couldn’t look away from me any more than he could’ve looked away from his loves long after they were gone. After all, Poe’s horror stories didn’t necessarily deal with haunted houses or objects, but with haunted people. People who couldn’t escape their pasts or their broken or unrequited loves. “Ligeia,” “Berenice,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “Morella,” and “Eleonora” in particular feature men who are haunted by their lost lovers. In the scarcely-mentioned “The Oval Portrait,” it’s a woman whose love isn’t returned.
Poe wasn’t the only writer who did this. There are, perhaps, hundreds of ghost stories by others out there that deal with those haunted by lost or broken love—one of my favorites is David Huddle’s “The Day Ghost”; another is Kipling’s “The Phantom Rickshaw.” And it’s interesting to note that Sting’s song “Ghost Story,” which appears on his Brand New Day album, has nothing to do with the paranormal—it’s a lament for a broken romantic relationship.
In short, when a love-bond breaks, probably the last place we’d think to seek comfort is in a ghost story. But it’s worth considering. Ghost stories can be reminders that we aren’t alone in our intense suffering—and that if we don’t let go, we may be doomed.
A friend sent me a video of empty chairs on his back porch in the rain. He told me he’d left them sitting there in the same position for nearly a year—even through the winter—because it had been a favorite hang-out of his and someone who’d left his life, and he missed her, so he couldn’t bear to move them.
Sounds like the makings of a good ghost story.
 Since there are several well-known daguerreotypes and portraits of Poe, it took me awhile to track down which one was in the pendant. Thankfully, the Spring 2009 Issue of Richmond, Virginia’s Edgar Allan Poe Museum Newsletter, Evermore, happened to feature the perfect match in one of its articles entitled “Rare Early Poe Photos on Display”:
 “Deep in earth my love is lying/And I must weep alone.” According to a note in Poems & Tales of Edgar Allan Poe at Fordham: “‘Deep in Earth’ was presumably written after Virginia Poe’s funeral in February, 1847. It was found in the manuscript of “Eulalie,” a poem about a happy marriage. (See Mabbott).” Elizabeth Beirne, ed., Poems & Tales of Edgar Allan Poe at Fordham (New York: The Bronx County Historical Society, 1999), 3.
 Jeffrey Meyers, Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy (New York: Rowman & Littleman Publishing Group-Cooper Square Press, 2000), 29.
 Ibid., 174
 Ibid., 208
 Ibid., 224
 Ibid., 237
 “The Day Ghost” by David Huddle is available in the anthology Ghost Writing: Haunted Tales by Contemporary Writers, edited by Robert Weingarten. It’s available for purchase here: http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Writing-Haunted-Contemporary-Halloween/dp/096796833X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1274227370&sr=8-1
 A short summary of the plot of “The Phantom Rickshaw” can be found here: http://www.kipling.org.uk/rg_phantom1.htm. The full text is available here: http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/kipling/Phantom-rickshaw.pdf.
It’s also interesting to note that in an article in the October, 1999 issue of the South African magazine SA City Life, Mike Behr writes: “’Ghost Story’, one of ‘Brand New Day’s’ most poignantly beautiful tracks, is all about processing painful memories of the past. (It’s very possibly a love song to his father.) ‘That’s what ghosts are,’ says Sting. ‘They haunt you until you acknowledge them. The song is about being haunted on a nightly basis by the past that tortures you mentally until you say, OK, this is the truth now let’s move on.’” You can read the full text of that article, “Sex, Lies, and Media Tape…”, here: http://www.sting.com/news/interview.php?uid=3754
It’s back to the Norman Mailer Writers Colony for a week in August! I’m pleased to announce that I’ve been accepted to a week-long workshop—Fiction: The Protagonists—at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony from August 8 – 15, 2010. The course will be taught by Marita Golden, author of the memoir Migrations of the Heart whose most recent novel, AFTER, received the Fiction Award from the Black Caucus of the American Liberty Association.
The course description is amazing — this is sure to be an enriching experience. If you’d like to read the course description, you can find it here.
Workshop participants, as well as fellows, are chosen on merit. For more information on the Norman Mailer Writers Colony and how to apply for upcoming opportunities, visit http://www.nmwcolony.org.
My ghost story “Crossing Guards,” which first appeared in Newport Round Table’s Walls & Bridges anthology published by Millennial Concepts and edited by Mark and Melissa Martin Ellis, has just been selected for inclusion in Pill Hill Press’ Haunted anthology, which will contain stories about haunted houses and structures, specifically. It is edited by Jessy Marie Roberts and publication is tentatively slated for this fall.