Monday, February 24, 2014

"How To Be A Man" by Tamara Linse ~ Letter to the Reader, Excerpt, & Giveaway (Presented by Bewitching Book Tours)

“Never acknowledge the fact that you’re a girl, and take pride when your guy friends say, ‘You’re one of the guys.’ Tell yourself, ‘I am one of the guys,’ even though, in the back of your mind, a little voice says, ‘But you’ve got girl parts.’”

A girl whose self-worth revolves around masculinity, a bartender who loses her sense of safety, a woman who compares men to plants, and a boy who shoots his cranked-out father.

These are a few of the hard-scrabble characters in Tamara Linse’s debut short story collection, How to Be a Man. Set in contemporary Wyoming—the myth of the West taking its toll—these stories reveal the lives of tough-minded girls and boys, self-reliant women and men, struggling to break out of their lonely lives and the emotional havoc of their families to make a connection, to build a life despite the odds. How to Be a Man falls within the tradition of Maile Meloy, Tom McGuane, and Annie Proulx.

How to Be a Man
Tamara Linse

Genre: Literary Short Story Collection

Publisher: Willow Words

Number of pages: 238
Word Count: 59,650

Purchase Links:

Amazon  How to Be a Man



Google Books
Letter to the Reader

The stories in How to Be a Man were written over the course of the last fifteen years. Some came hot and fast and did not need much fiddling (“Men Are Like Plants,” “Oranges”) and some were the result of years of revision (“Nose to the Fence,” “Mouse”). The oldest story in the collection is “Snowshoeing,” and it’s flaws make me uncomfortable, but I love the striving to capture something inexplicable that motivated it. The youngest story is “Dammed,” and it’s a good example of my writing process now—I tend to revise extensively as I go and write a lot in my mind before I put it down on the page. Once I get started, it only takes me a session or two to get it all down.

Author’s often get the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve never had a problem getting ideas, and I mourn the loss of the multitude of ideas that have come and gone, unfulfilled. I think there are lots of ideas out there—it’s just a matter of recognizing them for what they are, and when I’m writing—not blocked—the ideas come thick and fast. I may start with a voice, which happened with “Men Are Like Plants.” I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and her voice came to me so strongly I risked my husband’s displeasure—he hates it when I stay up late—and got up to write it down. I wrote most of that story in one sitting. What prompted “Revelations” was a contest a couple of years ago that had to include the year 2010. It got me thinking about the end of the world and Revelations, and so I wondered what a modern-day devil might be like. “Snowshoeing” started with the idea of conveying that feeling of separateness that sometimes comes upon a couple, that realization that you can’t always take your partner for granted. “Oranges” arose in one sitting on a plane coming back from a writer’s conference, the result of guilt over abandoning my kids for a week. “A Dangerous Shine” is based on a real incident that took place at the Buckhorn where I bartended. And on it goes.

Putting together a collection is tough. The idea of revising so many stories at one time and the nakedness that will result from other people seeing them all together is enough to stop the hardiest souls in their tracks. And what order do you put them in? Do you treat them like a mix tape—starting with an attention grabber, turning it up, taking it back, orchestrating peaks and valleys? Or do you arrange them on merit only, putting the best ones first? My protagonists are of different ages—should they be organized by age? I ended up putting what I think of as my best stories first and last, but then also taking into account the mood of the story. I tried to start with some positive stories and then place some of the darkest stories toward the end. I also tried to group them tonally, thematically, and by protagonist, so “Mouse” and “Oranges” are together because they’re about young girls dealing with their parents. “The Body Animal,” “Revelations,” and “Dammed” are together because they’re about the body and violence and alienation. “Wanting” is last because it’s a strong story but it also is historical, while all the others are contemporary.

I’ve always loved when authors tell the story of the story, and so I thought I’d choose a few and talk about how they came into being. “How to Be a Man” was written in response to “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” by Junot Diaz. I had long resisted writing a second-person story because it seemed so cliché—the young writer thinking herself so edgy, taking such an avant garde point of view. Then I read a couple of kick-ass second-person stories, and it began to work on me: Why couldn’t I write one? Then I heard Edwidge Danticat read Diaz’s story and I was hooked. The story wrote itself fairly quickly until I got to the ending—well, the first ending where she becomes a whiskery-chinned old batty. I stopped there. But I didn’t like that ending. I didn’t want her life to end that way. I wanted her to have a chance at happiness. Then I thought, why can’t I have two endings. I’m the god in this little world. I can do whatever I want. So I added the second ending. “Wanting” is another story I wrote in response to a story. Growing up in the West, I had strong Hemingway tendencies—clipped sentences, withheld emotion, huge psychic distance—and so to try to remedy that, I decided to take a great story that was a little more lush to imitate it in sentence construction, paragraphing, even down to where the dialog rests. The story I chose was Karl Iagnemma’s “Children of Hunger.” So I tried to maintain the feel of his story and mimicked it as closely as I could in my own story. It was a very helpful exercise, I think, and I really like the results. “Mouse” began as a writer’s exercise at a conference workshop presided over by Steve Almond. He had good advice about the mouse-killing scene: “A little blood and gore goes a long way.” I later expanded the scene into the story.

I will always write short stories. They are harder than novels, in a way, because they require the precision of a diamond cutter. They have to be so much more concise, clear, compact, and well-written than a novel. In a novel, you can get away with pages of loose extraneous stuff, while a short story must have no fat. And I love reading short stories. I think we’re in a renaissance of good short-story writing, and for that I’m very thankful.


A Dangerous Shine

When Shine told people she bartended at the Buckhorn, their eyes widened. “What’s a nice girl like you,” they said, and then their voices trailed off. “I heard somebody got shot,” they said. There was a real bullet hole in the mirror, but it was ancient history—part of the bar’s character, like the heads on the walls and the smell of stale beer. To Shine, it felt safe, like sitting on a gargantuan comfy couch with all your cousins—sunk into the softness, everyone good-naturedly elbowing everyone else.
Not only that. As the bartender, Shine was the center of everything. She entertained the loners, introduced people, facilitated everyone’s good time, and decided who stayed and who went. It was the next best thing to being on TV. Maybe someday she’d walk back through that door and everyone would whisper, “That’s Shine. She used to work here.”
Someday. Shine flipped a beer glass upside down and stuck it onto the brushes in the sink full of hot soapy water. She worked it up and down, rinsed it, then put it on the metal drain board. “Who’s the most famous person who’s come through that door?” she asked Doc, a forever regular who walked like a ship rolling on the high seas. Doc sat with his elbows resting on the edge of the bar, framing his draft of Bud.
“In the old days, this was a tent,” Doc said, “and everybody stopped here because right out there was the railroad depot.” He lifted his right elbow toward the tracks a half a block away. “Before they moved it on down.”
“Even you weren’t alive for that,” One-ball Paul said. Paul stood watching the door, leaning with his back against the bar and his thin elbows hooked over the edge. Everybody knew he was waiting for Serita, only everybody also knew Serita was over at Coppers Corners with Lee Mangus, the UPS guy.
“I don’t know,” Shine said and winked at Doc. “I heard the reason Doc got his nickname was because he doctored up at Crow Agency when Custer had his last stand.” The real reason Doc had his nickname was because he was a medic in Vietnam.
Doc’s eyes squinted a smile. “The most famous person to walk through that door is going to be Shine.”
“Yeah,” Paul said. “She’s going to replace Kathy Lee as America’s top anchor, once she gets that TV degree.”
Shine shook her head. “I’ll be lucky to bring coffee to Geha over at KGWN in Cheyenne.”
Doc shook his head and Paul turned around and looked at Shine. Paul said, “It’s going to be you, Shine. You’re beautiful and smart and … and …” He blushed and glanced at Doc. Doc was nodding his head.
“If Regis hits on you, pressures you, you let me know,” Doc said, his face serious.
“Naw,” Nance said and raised her head off the bar. Nance, who was married to Tommy Jon the trucker, was drunk on Gin Rickeys. “That’s Kelly what’s-her-name. Kathy Lee hasn’t been there for ages.”
“We’ll put your … Seven-Up can? … up there on the Wall of Fame,” Paul said. The Wall of Fame was empty cans and bottles—Coors Light and Mickey’s Big Mouth, McGillicuddy’s and Jack Daniels Green Label—resting on little shelves with names on wooden plaques underneath them. They were tributes to regulars who had died.

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About the Author:

Tamara Linse-writer, cogitator, recovering ranch girl-grew up on a ranch in northern Wyoming with her farmer/rancher rock-hound ex-GI father, her artistic musician mother from small-town middle America, and her four sisters and two brothers. She jokes that she was raised in the 1880s because they did things old-style—she learned how to bake bread, break horses, irrigate, change tires, and be alone, skills she’s been thankful for ever since. The ranch was a partnership between her father and her uncle, and in the 80s and 90s the two families had a Hatfields and McCoys-style feud.

Tamara broke her collarbone when she was three, her leg when she was four, a horse when she was twelve, and her heart ever since. Raised on a ranch in northern Wyoming, she 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. Find her online at and

She worked her way through the University of Wyoming as a bartender, waitress, and editor. At UW, she was officially in almost every college on campus until she settled on English and after 15 years earned her bachelor’s and master’s in English. While there, she taught writing, including a course called Literature and the Land, where students read Wordsworth and Donner Party diaries during the week and hiked in the mountains on weekends. She also worked as a technical editor for an environmental consulting firm.

She still lives in Laramie, Wyoming, with her husband Steve and their twin son and daughter. She writes fiction around her job as an editor for a foundation. She is also a photographer, and when she can she posts a photo a day for a Project 365. Please stop by Tamara’s website,, and her blog, Writer, Cogitator, Recovering Ranch Girl, at You can find an extended bio there with lots of juicy details. Also friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter, and if you see her in person, please say hi.


Tamara said...

Thank you so much, Sapphyria!! I've loved visiting, and I so much appreciate what you do! :-) Tamara

Sapphyria said...

You're very welcome :)

Have a great day!