The Writing Life of: Tam May
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Tam May. Tam will be sharing with us details of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book ‘False Fathers‘, which will be released on 28th December 2019 and answering a few fun questions too. This post contains affiliate links.
Tam May grew up in the United States and earned her B.A. and M.A in English. She worked as an English college instructor and EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher before she became a full-time writer. She started writing when she was 14, and writing became her voice. She writes fiction about characters who find their future by exploring their personal past influenced by the time in which they live.
Her first book, a collection of contemporary short stories titled Gnarled Bones And Other Stories, was nominated for a 2017 Summer Indie Book Award. She is currently working on a Gilded Age family saga. The first book, The Specter, is now available, and the second book, False Fathers, is now available for preorder. She is also working on a historical mystery series featuring a turn-of-the-century New Woman sleuth. Both series take place in Northern California.
She lives in Texas but calls San Francisco and the Bay Area “home”. When she’s not writing, she’s reading classic literature and historical fiction, watching classic films, or cooking up awesome vegetarian dishes.
1) As a child did you have a dream job in mind?
Not sure if I could say it was a dream job of mine, but I did want to be a nurse. My mom was a nurse, and it just seemed like a noble profession (and I still think it is and have a soft spot in my heart for nurses). My mom actually advised me not to go into nursing, as she thought I was too sensitive for the job. She’s probably right! Luckily, I discovered I loved writing fiction when I was 14, so from then on, being a writer was my dream job.
2) Who was your favourite childhood author (s)?
I didn’t really have a favorite author(s), but I did have books that I really loved as a kid. I loved the Harriet the Spy novels by Louise Fitzhugh. I loved that Harriet was a writer and a feminist character who wasn’t afraid to find out about things, even if they ended up putting her in sticky situations. I also loved the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor. I loved the trials and tribunes of the five sisters, and I am learning a little about turn-of-the-century New York through those books.
3) Was there a particular point in your life that you realised you wanted to be a writer?
Yes! When I was fourteen, my twin sister had a best friend in school who had been writing since she was five. I started to see my sister carrying around extra notebooks and writing in them. She wouldn’t tell me what she was doing, and of course, being the younger sister, I kept needling her. Finally, her friend said, “It’s no big deal. She’s just writing.” It intrigued me, this idea of making up a story and writing it down, as I was always a daydreamer making up stories inside my head. So I got some notebooks and started keeping a journal and writing a story. From that time on, I was hooked!
4) What is your average writing day like? Do you have any special routines, word count, etc?
I do have a routine now, mostly because I’d go crazy if I didn’t! I wake up early and brew some coffee (a writing must) and open the day with writing in whatever project I’m working on. Then I do other things during the day and, when I’m working intensely to a deadline for the first draft, rewrites, and/or edits, I get in some writing/editing time before I stop for the day.
Then, in the evening, I usually have a writing session as well. I can’t write for long stretches of time and, usually, unless I’m doing NaNoWriMo, I don’t have any word count goals. I can write for an hour, maybe an hour and a half at a time, and that’s it. But every hour counts!
I’m afraid my writing space right now is rather dismal, as I’m writing on a card table that doubles as my dining room table. So I’ll spare you the pathetic photo :-D.
5) How many books have you written? Any unpublished work?
In terms of how many books I have published, I have two books out and a third on preorder at the moment. As for books written, I have four complete novels written and two novels that are about halfway done. One of those four books is unpublished at the moment, but will be published at some point in the future.
6) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Both, sort of, although this year I’ve started to become more of a planner. That’s mainly because I’m trying to get more books out per year. I outline the story pretty closely, though the outline is flexible and often changes as I write. The first draft usually goes according to the outline, but as I revise, I really start to hear what the characters are telling me about who they are and what their deal is, so the story often changes. How much depends on the story and the characters.
Concerning your latest book:
Waxwood Series: Book Two
Pages – 312
Release Date – 28th December 2019
ISBN 13 – 978-0998197968
Format – ebook, paperback
Sometimes no father is better than a false father.
In 1898 California, Jake Alderdice comes of age as a shy and contemplative youth who is passionate about art. On vacation in Waxwood, now a fashionable resort town, he meets Harland Stevens, who takes an interest in the young man’s artistic ambitions. Stevens seizes upon the fatherless young man to counsel him toward a path to manhood inspired by Teddy Roosevelt and Thoreau. He introduces Jake to The Order of Actaeon, a secret society built upon Roosevelt’s ideals of masculine virility and virtue.
But the path to maturity is a complex thing in the Gilded Age. Will his journey free him from the Alderdice family illusions, half-truths, and lies that have kept him a child? Or will it lead him into the world of Actaeon, where the hunter becomes the hunted?
7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
I usually do some preliminary research on topics that are going to be primary in the story and small bits of research as things come up in the drafts. So, for my latest book, False Fathers (Waxwood Series: Book 2), which is a coming-of-age story set in the 1890’s with a male protagonist, I had to do some preliminary research on the meaning of masculinity in the Gilded Age.
I wanted to be familiar with the struggles my MC was going to face in his journey to manhood during that time. I also did research on the Gilded Age aristocracy (as Jake, the MC, is the grandson of a wealthy San Francisco aristocrat) and on male secret societies in the 19th century (which also figure into the story). As I went along, I did research on small items that came up (such as popular movements in art in the late 19th century, as Jake is an artist).
One of the last drafts I do for the book is a research revision. Then, I go through every chapter and tag things I want to double-check for historical accuracy. That could be anything from the type of train car the Alderdices (the family at the center of my series) would have taken to whether a word or phrase would have been spoken in the 1890’s. I’m very picky about using language and idioms that are as authentic to the era as possible.
8) How long did it take to go from ideas stage to writing the last word?
Well, I can’t really start from the ideas stage, as the book was actually a section of a novel I wrote back in 2004 that I expanded into a separate novel for this series. But I do keep track of my writing, so I can tell you how long it took me from the first draft to the last draft. That was 6 months. That includes everything – rewrites, several edits and proofreads before the book went to my editor, and edits and proofreads after the book came back from my editor.
9) How did you come up with the title of your book?
I actually wrote a blog post about that :-). The original title was different than the current one. But as I started to do rewrites and really discover who Jake was and what his struggles (especially his emotional and psychological ones) were, I realized how much the idea of fathers plays into the book. And since Jake grew up without a father and encounters several father figures, none of whom give him what he needs and wants emotionally or spiritually, the idea of false fathers just seemed right for the book. So that’s why the title is False Fathers.
10) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
I wrote a blog post about that too! Jake is an “odd duck” when it comes to the ideal of a Gilded Age young man. He’s shy, contemplative, an artist, and isn’t obsessed with financial success or sports, like many other young men of the era. He is also afraid to face the uncovered half-truths, lies, and myths surrounding his dysfunctional family, unlike his sister, Vivian, who meets them head-on. He comes to figure out who he is and do what is right for him in the novel.
11) What process did you go through to get your book published?
Since I’m self-publishing, the process is different from traditional publishing. First, obviously, I write the book. I then go through several rewrites/revisions based on what I learn about the story and characters in the first draft. Then, the book gets a final sweep-through for errors, and it goes off to my fabulous editor. When she returns it to me, I go through the edits and make changes needed and also do one last proofread to make sure everything gels. After that, it’s up to me to come up with a book cover and format the book. Then I can get it up on Amazon and other retailers for preorder, so readers can enjoy it.
12) What’s next for you writing wise?
What’s next is Book 3 of the Waxwood Series, The Claustrophobic Heart, which I’m working on right now. After that, it’s on to Book 4, the last book of the series, Dandelion Children. I’m also hoping next year to get out a second edition of my first book Gnarled Bones and Other Stories. It’s a book of contemporary short stories, but I have ideas to move the stories into the past and also expand them and give them better endings, which many readers have asked for in reader comments.
1) If you could have any super power for the day which would you choose?
Oh, wow. I think if I could be invisible for a day, it would be really cool. I’d go out and just walk into places and eavesdrop on people talking. I love eavesdropping, seeing what people are talking about, what’s important to them, and trying to build a story around who they are based on what they say and what they don’t say.
2) Do you have any pets?
I wish! Unfortunately, I don’t. I live in a tiny apartment right now, and there isn’t much room for a pet.
3) If you decided to write an autobiography of your life, what would you call it?
Great question! I think I would call it The Dandelion Child. The idea of a dandelion child is a child that can thrive in any environment and survive under any condition. I had a rough childhood, emotionally and psychologically, as I grew up in a dysfunctional family and lived in different countries when I wasn’t ready for it or really wanting it. I learned from every experience, and I think I’m stronger for it, so I can’t say I regret anything.
4) Your book has been made into a feature film and you’ve been offered a cameo role, which part would you choose, or what would you be doing?
You would have to ask this question about this book, which mostly focuses on male characters! But there is a role I would play, and that’s of a character called Marvina Moore. She’s part of the Alderdice’s social, but she’s unlike many of the women in her set. She’s a widow with no intention of remarrying, and she is a suffragist who believes women should live up to their full potential, which may not always mean devoting their entire lives to marriage and children. That was still pretty revolutionary, even for the late 1890’s, when women were starting to redefine their roles in society.
As for what I would be doing, I would be the friend of Vivian, Jake’s sister, and encouraging her to find her own way apart from the rigid social expectations that her social status and class put upon young women in the Gilded Age. I might also be trying to get her mother, Larissa, to see some of this, but Larissa is a tough nut to crack :-).
5) Where is your favourite holiday destination?
My favorite destination any time of year is the San Francisco Bay Area. I lived their first in the 1990’s, and I really found myself there. I wish I could live there now, but it’s too expensive for my budget at the moment!
6) A baseball cap wearing, talking duck casually wanders into your room, what is the first thing he says to you?
LOL. I think he would say, “Girl, you still writing??? Go watch a classic movie, you’re tired out!”
I would like to say a big thank you to Tam May for sharing with us details of her writing life and for a wonderful interview.