Thanks for joining me for Sunday Speed Dates. This week Tam May has stopped by to chat with us.
Tam May was born in Israel but grew up in the United States. She earned her B.A in English before returning to the States. She also has a Master’s degree and worked as an English instructor and EFL teacher before she became a full-time writer. She started writing when she was 14 and writing became her voice. She writes psychological fiction that explores emotional realities informed by past experiences, dreams, feelings, fantasies, nightmares, imagination, and self-analysis. She currently lives in Texas but calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. When she’s not writing, she’s reading classic literature and watching classic films.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My past is a little funky. 🙂 I was born in Israel but I grew up in the United States and I’ve lived in both countries on and off since I was a teenager. Now I’m here in the States to stay!
I earned a B.A in English in Israel and I also have a Master’s in English. I worked as an English instructor and EFL teacher before I started writing full time. I live in Texas but I call the San Francisco Bay Area “home”. When I’m not writing, you can find me reading classic literature or watching classic films. I love classic stuff!
Wow! You’ve lived in some pretty interesting places. I bet you have some interesting stories about the various people you’ve encountered. San Francisco alone is worthy of a book or two. 🙂
Who are your favorite authors and what draws you to their work?
I write psychological fiction so I’m drawn to writers who explore characters from the inside out and whose prose means more than it says. Since I adore classic literature, some of my favorite authors are Anais Nin, Jane Bowles, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Dostoevsky and the Brontës. I recently started reading Death in Venice and Other Stories by Thomas Mann and I think I’m adding Mann to my list. The stories are amazingly subtle with complex relationships and hidden meanings.
I do love Edith Wharton and the Brontës. Death in Venice sounds interesting and dark, almost like Lolita in a way. Sounds right up my alley.
Congratulations on your new release! It’s always exciting celebrating good news with someone! Can you tell us a little about your Gnarled Bones and Other Stories?
Thank you so much! In the five stories of Gnarled Bones, strange and sometimes spooky events affect different characters in ways they can’t really grasp. In one story, a newly divorced woman goes back to school to begin a new chapter of her life but she finds herself circling back to where she started. Another story that was featured on Whimsy Gardener’s Storytime With Whimsey is about a lonely woman who ventures out of her isolated apartment one quiet Saturday afternoon to an art exhibit that leaves an eerie imprint on her psyche. The title story “Gnarled Bones” weaves journal entries and first-person narrative so that readers get a glimpse of the complicated bond between an orphaned brother and sister. For these characters, as for many characters in my work, past experiences shadow the present and sometimes the future.
Oh my, those sound so interesting! I’m trying to broaden my reading this year and will definitely have to check it out. It sounds very unique.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
If you mean in general, I love to write and I don’t really need an excuse to sit down and do it. 🙂 More specifically, it depends on what the inspiration is. Everything that goes on around me has the potential to inspire a story. I’ve always been more of an observer than a participant and I learned the power of eavesdropping when I lived in San Francisco and had to take the underground every day so I couldn’t help but listen in on people talking on their cell phones and watching what they were doing and not doing. I’m inspired by things people tell me that may not be that relevant to them but where I see something deeper and more fascinating. Anything can kick off an idea – an article I read on the internet, a comment someone makes on Facebook, a TV character, an idea in a film I see that I think I can expand into an interesting story.
I love that. I think that’s what makes a writer a good writer–the ability to look around them, listen, and create something completely unique based on the most irrelevant bits.
What book do you wish you would have written?
Honestly, there isn’t any book I really wish I had written. I believe that every writer has his or her own stories to tell. I admire many writers’ work but I never feel I wish I had written them. Those are the stories they have to tell. I have my own.
That’s a great outlook. I can’t help thinking how some books and stories are so well told that I could never do them justice. You’re correct in this–I am meant to tell my stories, the same way you are made to tell your stories.
What is the hardest thing about writing? What is the easiest thing about writing?
All of it is hard! 🙂 The first draft, revisions, incorporating critique and editor suggestions, formatting, everything. But that’s what makes it so fascinating and rewarding to me. I really don’t find one part of the writing process easier than another. It varies from story to story. Sometimes, the planning part of the story comes more naturally for me than writing the first draft, sometimes revising the draft comes more naturally than the planning did. It just depends.
Oh, I hear ya! Sometimes the easiest part is coming up with the idea of the story. Putting it on the page and making an actual story out of it…well, that’s a whole other issue!
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published?
I think the biggest challenge for me personally was changing my mindset from writer to author and publisher. I’ve been writing since my teens but no one around me took it as seriously as I did. One of the exciting things about being a self-published author is that you really become an author – you don’t need to ask anyone’s permission, you don’t need to get anyone’s approval. You have to publish responsibly, of course, like a professional. But after I finished writing and polishing the book and it was ready for the next step, I discovered how much work it takes to get a book from that Word or Scrivener document into a book format. And there’s also the part of marketing and promoting your own book, building your author platform. All of that means a mindset of a business professional, not a hobbyist.
I haven’t reached that stage yet. I am still happily in the writing portion of my journey. To be honest, the rest of it that you describe, is a little scary!
Give us an insight into some of your characters. What do they do that is so special?
It’s not so much what they do, since the nature of psychological fiction is more about what makes up their beings, their belief systems and emotions and how all that is challenged. In the story “Broken Bows”, which is part of the collection, for example, the main character is an older man who was a child protégée, a genius violinist, but is now emotionally destroyed because of grief and loss. He was raised by his father to appeal to a mass audience with his music, to be what he isn’t, and a train ride where he opens up to a shy woman releases him to being the more morose kind of musician that is in him.
It’s almost as if he’s hiding behind what the world wants to see.
Are any experiences or events in your book based on someone you know or events in your own life?
I rarely base my stories on actual experiences or events in the literal sense. But my writing incorporates elements of my psychological reality and that of people I know or have read about. I explain what psychological reality is here on my blog. Since it’s all about emotional experiences, among other things, I frequently use my own and those I know but I transpose and transform them into something different.
That’s an interesting method. I never would have thought to map the psychological reality in come up with a story idea.
Is there one character from book, movie or TV that you would love to write a story around?
The character of Giulietta Masina of the 1965 Fellini film “Juliet of the Spirits”. It’s a surprisingly feminist film and the ending shows Giulietta walking away from an oppressive situation into a new life. I would love to continue the story about the life she finds after she leaves.
That sounds like such a good follow-up story. I can only hope it ended well for her.
“When people look at me, they would never guess that I…”
… have a twin sister. She’s 5 minutes older than I am but much, much wiser. 😉
Would you rather sing in the rain or dance in the streets?
LOL. I’m not much of a dancer but I actually love to sing – in private, of course. So if it were raining in some backyard where no one would hear me, then I’d sing my heart out.
Ha! That’s such a tough one for so many people. We writers are a shy lot… Good for you for making a decision on it!
What is your favorite positive saying?
“Everything happens for a reason”. My mom always says it when something happens that I didn’t want or expect or doesn’t happen that I wanted or expected. It helps me put pain or disappointment or frustration or anger into perspective. At some point, you can’t control everything. You have to trust to some unseen feeling or power, however you envision it.
One of my favorites. I believe everything that happens to us and around us is a good teacher. It’s our job to pay attention and learn from it.
What’s next? Can you give us a sneak peak into your next book?
I can give you a sneak peak at several of my next books, as I typically work on several projects at once J. I’m working on a novella series called the Waxwood Series. It’s set in a Northern California resort town and explores the crumbling relationships among a wealthy San Francisco family. I’m revising, Book 1, The Order of Actaeon, with the help of my great critique group, and I’m working on the first draft of the second book, The Claustrophobic Heart. I’m also working on another book titled House of Masks, which I started during National Novel Writing Month last year.
Those sound so interesting! The name House of Masks is so intriguing. I can’t wait to hear more about it.