Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.
Recently, we talked to TT Linse, a science writer and geek creative, about her recently released science fiction book, The Language of Corpses, the first in the Mechalum Space (read the review here). TT also writes litfic and YA under the name Tamara Linse.
TT Linse is the author of the Mechalum Space series. She comes from a world that is unreliable and often stranger than science fiction. She is infinitely curious with a short attention span, a great believer in second chances and the value of pigheadedness, a failed computer engineer but an aspiring computer scientist, a science writer and geek creative, and an avid futurist who believes that fiction leads the way. She’s still going through a space phase. TT also writes litfic and YA under the name Tamara Linse. Find her at ttlinse.io or follow her on Twitter at @tt_linse.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
What a great question! I felt I had not power as a child. I was the last of seven spaced over 23 years and in between generations, so my experience of language as power was passive, not active. I didn’t learn to really say no until I was a bartender in college. But back when I was a child, reading saved my life. I was so alienated—and angry, I now realize—and my circumstances were so challenging that I dove head first into books. They saved my life. So I learned the power of language concurrent with the power of imagination and the power of connection, but only connection through symbols, not the real world. And now as a writer, the power of language to connect is a passion of mine.
How often do you base your characters on real people?
I base my characters on parts of people. Like, I may think, this character is going to be like this person, but then invariably in the writing they morph into something so much more. I have to have names first—even the title of the book—but those come easily, and I usually stick with what I come up with first for names. Next, I think about how they look, and—I didn’t used to do this but ever since I began writing YA I have been—I find images online that match my idea of what the character looks like. For example, in my mind the character of ZD777 in The Language of Corpses looks like a young Dolph Lundgren, the 1980s film star and martial artist. But from there, I don’t base the character on that person I’m using the image of. I make a character from the inside out. What would a real person be like in situation with this background? They’re complex, with dominant traits. I don’t think “I’m creating a black scientist” in the case of Eala in The Language of Corpses. I think, “I’m creating a person who loves science and is nurturing.” On the inside, we’re more alike than we are different.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Hahaha! I would have to count. My half-finished books tend to eventually get finished, though. I go back to them. If I had enough excitement about them to start them, even if I take a hiatus, I come back to them, even if they get totally reworked. For example, my historical fiction Earth’s Imagined Corners and my contemporary novel Deep Down Things both had a first draft that was a mess that I totally reworked. At one time, I had four POVs that did not have a linear timeline in Deep Down Things. That needed to change—for the reader’s sake! So I guess I have a few half-finished books. The Evolution of Corpses is what I’m working on now, the sequel to The Language of Corpses. I’m almost done with the third in my YA Wyoming Chronicles series, which are British classics set in contemporary Wyoming. It’s called Solomon, based on King Solomon’s Mines. (The previous two are Moreau (The Island of Dr. Moreau) and Pride (Pride and Prejudice).) And then I’d love to write a collection of essays called Stand in Your Truth about my deepest secrets. Don’t think it’ll ever happen, though. Call it fiction and I can write it. Call it nonfiction or memoir, and I’m a chicken. Finally, I don’t have any unpublished books because I create my own publishing houses (Willow for lit fic, Salix for sci fi) and publish them myself. I’m a designer/artist and marketer and editor, and I love the control. Which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t consider traditional publishing, but they haven’t been interested in me, despite my agent’s efforts.
What does literary success look like to you?
I used to dream the traditional writer’s dream—traditionally published, write fiction full time, lavish tours, giving talks, acclaim. Now I dream more of just being able to write and the connections I make with other writers and fans. It’s the people and the writing and ideas that are most important. I still would like to write fiction full-time without the necessity of a day job, but I’m not sure that will happen.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I do research for all the books I write, even the lit fic. I tend not to do a bunch of research before beginning a book—I just plunge down rabbitholes as I go along. I have notebooks and notebooks of figuring things out. The only exception was before I began the Mechalum Space series, I had to figure out a future history, which was a blast! I did a whole bunch of research about current science and tech and took them to their logical extensions. My research is all online, but it includes technical publications. I’m a bit of a recluse, so I don’t generally contact people.
Do you find writing therapeutic?
Yes. You know how reading is the most wonderful thing in the world? Well, writing is like that only more so. Not on a bad day, but I only have bad days when I’m trying to get going on a project. Once I’m in the flow of it, I tend to have lots of really good days. The real world recedes into black and white, and the world of my novel becomes technicolor. I’m disappointed when I’m done for the day that the real world doesn’t have all this cool tech that’s in my sci fi world.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing a novel?
Two things. First, it takes a whole hell of a lot of courage. Being an artist and creating your best work involves exposing yourself to the world. It’s showing your greatest fears and weaknesses, which often turn out to be your greatest strengths. This vulnerability is hard, and people who turn away from creativity and don’t have the courage sometimes become critics and shoot down other people’s work. They’re what Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way calls crazymakers or cramped creatives. Second, it’s a marathon. It’s not something you can take a week and do. It takes stamina, sticking with it every day for five or six months. I often get stuck, and I’ll procrastinate for a month or two at a stretch. It may be because the emotions of the scene I’m avoiding on the page is something that I haven’t dealt with in my own life. For instance, I had a miscarriage scene in my historical fiction, and I’ve had multiple ones in my own life. It took me years to get back to that book. Fear of success or failure also causes writer’s block, and I’ll inevitably get stuck when I only have a weekend left to write the first draft. Plus, life just gets in the way.
How many hours a day do you write?
Ideally, I write first thing in the morning. I get up early and am at my desk at six or seven and I write before I start doing my job. I try for 1,000 words a day, with more on the weekend. In a good week, I’ll get 10,000 words. But when I was working in the office instead of at home, I would get the kids off to the bus and then I would go in to work early and write uninterrupted at my desk before the workday began. That’s two to three hours on a good day.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Totally energizes me.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Oh, gosh. There are so many. The main one, I suppose, is that to be a writer you have to write. That’s the thing. You can research all you want. You can go to conferences. You can procrastinate. But what makes you a writer is writing. And it’s really hard, especially getting started. It’s a trap to have only one idea of what a writer or writing is. It’s a trap to think it’s so easy—it is very emotionally challenging—or that it’s so hard—it really is a matter of putting the seat of the pants on the seat of the chair and turning the word crank. And so many other traps. But my number one advice is to just do it, whatever it is. Do you want to be an editor of a zine or litmag? Today, start a website and solicit entries. Do you want to write a book? Today, put some stuff down on the page. Do you want to have a vibrant writing community? Reach out to people today. Do it. Just do it. We wait for others’ permission, when what we really need is to give ourselves permission.
Does a big ego help or hurt writers?
In what sense? There are plenty of writers who use rage in their writing and in their social media. I can’t say that it doesn’t work. We have a long history of writers with big egos who continue to have their egos stroked. So, some would say it works. But I think those writers tend to be a very narrow demographic, and if you aren’t that demographic, you can’t get away with it. And I really think those big egos disguise a small scared child who’s trying to bluff his way through. In every sense, being an asshole is a bad thing. We all wish we could afford big egos—who wouldn’t want to be the center of the world?—but it’s not about you. It’s about all the people who love your work and the other writers who help you and your family who puts up with you. You can’t take all the credit because you didn’t get there on your own.
How often you read?
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
That’s a loaded question and I don’t see it as an either/or. You can only write what you can write, and you could give exactly the same prompt and even the exact same first page to ten different writers, and they’d come up with totally different stories. Everyone is an original. That’s what you as a writer offer the world—your unique and wonderful worldview and style. And as far as delivering what the readers want—first of all, which readers? Every reader wants something different. First, how do you know what they want, and second, how would you choose? As a writer, you have to consider your reader, or else your work will be unintelligible (see all of modern poetry from the likes of TS Eliot and Ezra Pound). You have to consider genre, how you’re satisfying expectation and how you’re deviating from it. These are questions that every writer answers differently. My experience is that, as you’re writing, you can’t consider what other people think, as your disapproving editor head will come out and it will stop you in your tracks. You have to bring out your inner kid and just play—within the boundaries of genre convention, if you want it to be publishable.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Do those people exist?
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
It’ll be okay. You won’t get what you’re dreaming of, but you’ll get so much more.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Well, depends on whether you’re talking about the process of trying to get traditionally published or when I finally decided, screw it, and self-published. Trying to get traditionally published is hell. Your chances are slim to none, it’s humiliating, and persistence—I call it pigheadedness—is your best quality. Also, you have to develop a thick skin because you will get rejected A LOT. Most of the time, in fact, when you’re starting out. After more than two decades of this, writing book after book, I just said screw it and put my books out there. More and more, publishers want to see authors doing this because that shows they have a track record. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have the author do all the work to create their own platform and then you come in and scoop them up. Makes great business sense. So my bottom line is, you do you. If you want to be traditionally published, give it a try. If you want to self-publish go for it. Or go ahead and do both. Build your empire in the way you want it to be, and don’t wait for others to give you permission.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Two things. One, though it’s expensive, going to conferences is so great. I’m still friends with people met decades ago at conferences. Connect with people in other ways online. It makes it all worth it. It’s not a competition, and there is enough for everyone. Second, I personally think reviews that you pay for are worth it. Prairies and BookView and Kirkus and Booklife—what they do is invaluable, and you got to think they’re reading piles contain gems but also clunkers. They do a great service, especially for those of us who self-publish.
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
All the time. Fiction is more of a way of a being or a translation of the “real” experienced world into the symbolic and imaginative than anything else.
How do you select the names of your characters?
I will have an idea of what the character is like and then I will try to find a name that suits my imagining of that character. I often look up lists of names on the internet. I want it to be unusual and memorable, and I rarely choose common names. I usually have to have the character’s name first thing, but I often go with my gut on choosing it, but then it takes on a life of its own as my subconscious works it through. Details in the story will come from the name.
Do you read your book reviews? Do they please you or annoy you? Do you think you can learn a lot from reading criticism about your work?
Absolutely. I read my book reviews. I’ve been so lucky to have amazing book reviewers who really try to see what I’m trying to do. And I understand that, for their credibility, they have to mention the things that are not working. And I take those to heart. No matter what reviewers say, I do not take for granted that they took time out of their valuable lives—time that could have been spent with family and watching The Expanse, say—and they devoted it to reading my book. Then they put their reputation on the line to endorse or critique my book. Also, I’ve been in many writers’ workshops. They’ve been tremendously helpful but also emotionally trying at times. You learn to take what is useful and leave the rest. Sometimes, the feedback or review is more about the person than it is about you. It’s not personal. Although sometimes it feels like you’re being psychoanalyzed.
Do you Google yourself?
What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Time, and I’m already doing that.
What are your favorite books?
Gosh, so many. It’s often the last book I read. So I can’t give all-time favorites because the list would be its own novel. But these are the ones I’ve adored recently: Martha Wells’s Murderbot and Raksura series, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary series, James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, Becky Chambers Wayfarers series, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time and Children of Ruin, Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous, Charlie Jane Anders The City in the Middle of the Night, Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon, Yudhanjaya Wijeratne’s The Salvage Crew, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Earthsea series, John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space series, Pippa Jay’s Keir, and Julia Huni’s Triana Moore, Space Janitor series. I’ll stop there.
What is your favorite childhood book?
All of them.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Who and what ultimately inspired you to become a writer?
My love of reading. Also the fact that I wasn’t listened to.
How did you decide which form or genre was right for you?
That has changed throughout my life. Nonfiction like journalism and marketing is fairly easy for me—though memoir, which really isn’t nonfiction, is very hard for me. I’ve done pretty much all kinds of writing in my life, poetry to resumes. But I began trying to write the nuances of my own lived experience first, which led to trying to write literary fiction, but then that failed me in a number of ways, and I returned to my love of science fiction.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
Yes and no. Many are avid readers and are thrilled when I come out with something. Some have their own problems and it’s not, er, helpful. Just like all families.
If you had to do something differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
I couldn’t have done anything differently, but if I was going to give advice to kids or teenagers or their teachers, I would say reading is the most important thing. And it doesn’t have to be “important” reading. Read whatever the hell you like, just lots of it.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Five or six months. I’ve gotten into a pattern of starting a book over Christmas break, since I have a couple of weeks off, and then working on it and getting it done in May or June.
Is writer’s block real?
Absa-fucking-lutely. But it has all kinds of causes. Sometimes it’s something that you’re not emotionally ready to deal with. Sometimes it’s fear of failure or fear of success. Sometimes it’s that you need to do more research to understand what you’re doing or you need to brainstorm more to figure it out. Sometimes you don’t have the emotional energy to put toward it—I found teaching sucks it out of me, so I don’t teach any more. Sometimes it’s your inner critic murdering your inner kid. Sometimes the world around you demands so much you have nothing left—you need good boundaries as a writer.
What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
Right now, a lot of sci fi. See answer to other questions. Before, when I was writing lit fic, Hemingway and Virginia Woolf were my writer gods.
After the writing’s finished, how do you judge the quality of your work?
It’s really hard to judge the quality of your work. What tends to happen with me is that I finish something and I’m pretty proud of it. I think it’s good. But then the longer I’m away from it, the more I begin to doubt it. I remember the bad parts. But then if I reread it, I fall in love with it again and remember that it really was good. One thing to remember is that, when you’re just beginning, you tend to have read a lot so you know what good writing is, but just because you know what it is doesn’t make you a good writer. It’s a skill. You have to practice it like building a muscle. And so in the beginning you’ll see the gap between what you’re writing and the great stuff you’ve read, and you’ll despair. Ira Glass of This American Life has a great thing on this. You just have to keep at it and get better.
How hard is it to establish and maintain a career in fiction writing?
Hard. You’re kind of on your own, except your great writer friends who understand. You can absolutely be a writer, but having a career in fiction writing in a whole other animal. Very few fiction writers can make their living doing it. So the best thing to do is to make a community.
Were your parents interested in literature? Did they read a lot? What books did you have in the house?
My whole family read a lot, and education was very important. My dad and brothers and a sister read science fiction. We all read nonfiction. We all read other things. Our houses are littered with books.
What in particular attracted you to this genre?
When I was a kid, my mom got my brother a subscription to the Science Fiction Book Club. I would wait anxiously until he received the next month’s book and wait impatiently while he read it and then I would devour it. I loved it so much. One time, he got Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials, and then we sat at the dining room table with crayons and created our own creatures. I still have those. I love so much about science fiction. The science, the fiction, the aliens, the people, the worldbuilding, the danger, the love, the ideas. I love it all. I tend toward the more hard science, space opera, character-based stuff.
How do you begin a book?
I never have a problem getting ideas, and I have hundreds more ideas than I can ever execute. So I tend to go with whatever idea is the most interesting to me at the time. I keep a notebook or three of each book, and I brainstorm on paper. I take notes on characters and worlds and the science rabbitholes I’m going down. I make drawings of various things. Then I’ve got Word files with my future history timeline and my worlds and my characters. Eventually I have to just force myself to sit down and start writing. I tend to work and rework the first couple of chapters for a while till I get up my momentum. I continue to keep the notebook as I go along to figure things out. I’ll have a bulleted scene list that I write and rewrite and refine as I go along. For me, getting the momentum going is the hardest part.
What’s more important: characters or plot?
Characters, though I have the general arc of the plot figured out at the beginning and I’ll craft characters that will fit that plot—so both, really. That’s why writing YA is good—kids don’t put up with bullshit, and you have to have great characters with a sound plot. My planning and writing go back and forth between the two, and I’m always open to what my subconscious brings up to me as I’m writing. I put it down, and often it will contribute mightily to the story.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?
If asked, what would your friends and family say about you?
My family would say that I’m usually very nice and easygoing until I’m not. My friends would say that I have a lot of enthusiasms and I’m fun to go to dinner with.
Would you rather read a book or watch television?
Depends on my mood. Movies are great escapes, but I think reading a book is more rewarding in the long term. And I don’t watch regular TV, mainly just movies—not because I’m against it, but I just like movies or series better, generally.
If you could only change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Are you a feeler or a thinker?
What is your greatest failure? What did you learn from that failure?
Good question. I seem to have long-cycle manic depression, and if you ask me when I’m depressed, I’d say myself. If you ask me when I’m up, I’d say short attention span, my inability to focus on one thing long enough to make significant progress and the fact that I use this for self-sabotage.
How different was your life one year ago?
Ha! Everyone’s life is different after 2020. I’m working from home, which I love. The adults are back in charge, which I love. I’m helping my kids do their education from home, which I love. I’ve published this book, which I love. But politics and the pandemic and climate change are destroying us. Then again, science is advancing by leaps and bounds, and we live in a science fictional universe. What’s not to love about that?
Is there anything you want to unlearn?
We are a species that don’t believe we deserve things, and so we are hell bent on destroying ourselves and each other, whether we’re starting wars or passing legislation against our neighbor or our own self interest. I wish I could unlearn that and so could humanity.
Tell us some more about your book.
The Language of Corpses is constructed of three people’s stories that come together in the end. The first is a young person who is an orphan who gets brought on by the local mob. She’s not a bad person, but she doesn’t have a lot of choices. The second is a scientist who is fascinated by these creatures called the taktak. She lives in a scientific community and goes on adventure. The third generally wouldn’t even be considered human in this world. He was a manufactured bio body that was just supposed to be used and discarded. But he was left in cryo for hundreds of years, and when he’s finally brought out of it, he’s the only one left on his asteroid city, a pseudo-moon of Neptune. That moon, Clete, is failing in orbit and breaking up. There’s also a mystery because some characters hear voices. Who are those voices? That ability is key to the plot.
What inspired the premise of your book?
I literally started it by saying, I want to write a science fiction novel. How do I do that? Well, I need a future history first, and so I figured out a future history. That was so fun! And in order to have humanity spread as far as it is—90 light years—a lot of time had to have passed, so it’s set in the 2700s. It also started with the characters. I had Eala, the scientist, first. Then I had Jazari because I had the plot point of someone gating into her friend, the taktak. Then I was going to have a ghostly third person sprinkled throughout, a voice, but then that become ZD777 and the third POV. I loved writing the beginning of his part. So I didn’t know how it would all come together for a while, just a general direction.
How many rewrites did you do for this book?
I rewrite as I go. That’s my process. Each day, I reread the chapter or two before I stopped the previous day, editing as I go, and then I start writing where I left off. I generally know where the scene is going, though not always, and I’m open to just being in the character and seeing what comes. What are they thinking and feeling and trying to do? So each scene is rewritten many times, and I rearrange as I go, so by the time I’m done, I’ve rewritten a lot but it’s integrated into each day. In previous books, I have had to start from scratch a time or two.
Tell us a little about how this story first came to be. Did it start with an image, a voice, a concept, a dilemma or something else?
It started with figuring out the future history and then making up a few characters.
How do you come up with names for your characters?
Eala’s name came because it sounds nurturing and gentle. I just mouthed a bunch of things until I found one I liked. Jazari needed to be a bit edgier, zees and jays, and I wanted a bit more of a Middle Eastern feel to the culture, though it didn’t end up being that way. ZD777 had to sound like an android or a robot. Other characters—and I have long lists of characters I describe in the book—I just start looking up names online and then describing the people. I get names from all kinds of cultures. I think, this character is going to be this, and what is some words for this in other languages.
Which character was most challenging to create? Why?
I don’t want to bias readers, but Jazari because she is the least like me. I’m the most like Eala. I find Jazari to be young and naïve and a bit thoughtless of others, plus she doesn’t like computers, and I love them. But I understand her and empathize with her. That’s important, as a writer. I love and understand all my characters, even if I don’t like them very much sometimes.
Are any of your characters based on real people you know?
See answer above.
Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?
I love creating characters, so I like the parts where I introduce the crews. I really liked writing ZD777’s part when he comes to consciousness. I’m not sure why. It was intriguing and took a lot of thought. How do you teach some to speak? The flirting in Jazari’s part was fun too.
Which scene was most difficult to write? Why?
The ending when they’re going to rescue ZD777. Pacing is really hard, and how do you make it what has been foreshadowed and is expected without making it boring? How do you have a positive ending without having it be a letdown? And I’m always afraid I ended it too early and I need more dénouement.
Which scene, character or plotline changed the most from first draft to published book?
I hesitate to admit this, being an English geek, but I totally neglected to think about languages and accents people speak as I was first writing it—especially since it’s right there in the title, language. They were all the same. I had to go back and make sure I put in accents as part of characterization after I’d finished it. But the way I write, there were not large changes in plot or character after I finished the first draft. And also a planet would not be all one environment or culture. Not sure I fixed it enough, but generally we’re only seeing one place on each world.
What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
A good read. I hope they enjoy it.
How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?
A writer’s faith and ethical outlook always invades their writing. When you read an author, you go into their wonderful weird little world. We’ve all read books where we thought, this person is a nightmare. I never want to meet this person. But most authors I fall in love with. I feel like I really got to know them on a deep and vulnerable level and I want to be their best friend. I guess my deep ethical outlook is that everyone just wants love and respect and to be heard. I used to think people were essentially good, then I thought they were essentially self-interested, and then these past four years has taught me that there is a real will for destruction and evil. Now I’m trending back up. However, I think one of the things that science fiction does and does well is to help us imagine the future. Many sci fi novels imagine a horrific future. I don’t want to live in that future. And so I think that some of us need to imagine a positive future. What would the everywoman experience in this world? I used to do gritty realism, but now I inject hope in my writing. We need it now more than ever. I also have strong feelings about gender.
What life experiences have shaped your writing most?
All of them.
What makes this book important right now?
That’s probably for someone else to decide—or each reader to decide.
Where do your ideas for this story come from?
A lifetime’s worth of experience and of writing. From my future history. From all the sci fi reading I’ve done. Specifically, in this I’m thinking a lot about computers and gender and communication and rights. And making a darn good story.
What sort of a relationship exists between you and the characters you created in this book?
I care deeply about them. I love them. Even the so-called villains. They’re just doing the best they can. I continue to live in this world and to write about them.
Has this novel changed drastically as you created it?
More in that it developed, not that it changed from something it was before. A novel doesn’t spring fully formed from the mind. It’s like a very intricate mural that is very blurry at first and the more you look at it and write it the more detailed and nuanced it becomes. When you’re in the middle of writing, it feels like there’s this huge mass of stuff whirling above your head that you have to juggle, and you take comfort in the fact that you can always go back and fix things because you’re going to have inconsistencies and repetitions.
How did you decide on this title?
Early on, I knew there were going to be voices, and so “Language” is seemed appropriate. Because it’s linked to bio bodies, “Corpses” seemed appropriate, though I did worry that people would think it was a zombie novel. I thought this title might be intriguing.
How crucial is it to have a working title before you begin a project? (answer this if you decide on your title very early in the writing process)
Yes. Absolutely. I always need my title and my characters’ names very early on. They very rarely change. I’m not sure why this is. It’s like my subconscious latches onto it and spins out from there. Which you would think would make names hard for me to decide on, but they aren’t. I just quickly decide and go with it.
What’s next for you?
The Evolution of Corpses and then The Chaos of Corpses, the next two in the series. Then I have ideas for books further on. These next novels, which I’ve started writing, take up where this leaves off and follow Ooee, ZD777, and Jazari as they try stop the genocide and also find a solution to the problem of bio bodies. I’m having a blast!
Categories: BookView Review Interview