Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guest Post, Excerpt and Giveaway: Deep Down Things by Tamara Linse

Cover Artist: Tamara Linse


Deep Down Things, Tamara Linse’s debut novel, is the emotionally riveting story of three siblings torn apart by a charismatic bullrider-turned-writer and the love that triumphs despite tragedy. 

From the death of her parents at sixteen, Maggie Jordan yearns for lost family, while sister CJ drowns in alcohol and brother Tibs withdraws. When Maggie and an idealistic young writer named Jackdaw fall in love, she is certain that she’s found what she’s looking for. As she helps him write a novel, she gets pregnant, and they marry. But after Maggie gives birth to a darling boy, Jes, she struggles to cope with Jes’s severe birth defect, while Jackdaw struggles to overcome writer’s block brought on by memories of his abusive father. 

Ambitious, but never seeming so, Deep Down Things may remind you of Kent Haruf’s Plainsong and Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper.

My Complicated Relationship with John Wayne 

I like to get inside the heads of my villains. I don’t want to write the stereotyped Snidely Whiplash—I want to try to figure out why they do the things they do. Because even those people who do the most horrible things—serial killers, child molesters, sadists—all have reasons they do things. 

When we call them crazy, we’re liberating ourselves from thinking about why they do these things. We’re distancing ourselves. We label them and we’re off, absolved of any responsibility and washing our hands of any similar feelings we might have lurking in our own depths. 

But we all grow up surrounded by this ambiguity, these dark creatures. They may not be serial killers, but they are vortexes in the family, crazymakers, holes of evil. There was one particular person in my growing up years, a man in my family of one generation up, who wreaked havoc. His evil was insidious. He wanted to be John Wayne. He loved to listen to Johnny Cash. He love guns. He loved to tease kids and he loved to keep people guessing so he could control them. He would pit one of his kids against another, with cruel results. His morals were relative ~ what’s good for me is good for me, and who cares what’s good for you. Laws didn’t apply to him. But he was smart enough to keep out of real legal trouble. 

I keep coming back to the fact that he wanted to be John Wayne. John Wayne is a lot of people’s hero ~ or at least the characters he played ~ but you got to think the it would have been awful being in any of those characters’ families. If you were his wife or his lover or his child, you would be sacrificed on the altar of masculinity. Your self would not only not matter ~ you would have to actively give yourself onto the altar of John Wayne. 

My bad guy in Deep Down Things, Jackdaw, is a manifestation of this spirit. He is a modern John Wayne in a lot of ways, masculinity that hasn’t evolved to suit a modern world. He was raised by a hyper-masculine father ~ a military man, hard as steel and just as sharp, mean, unforgiving, violent. Jackdaw was lost before he even got started. 

And Jackdaw’s poor mother. She had to bale to save herself. And it tore her apart because she loved her son so much. We never know what happened to her, but I like to imagine she ran far away and found a safe place and a good man who treated her like gold. She had another family and lived happily ever after. My realistic streak knows better, but since I didn’t write it, I can still imagine it. 

Gender expectations are something I keep returning to, even when I don’t mean to. Masculinity, femininity, the masculine in women and the feminine in men. How they can go horribly wrong. 

There is a dark side to John Wayne. Violence. Might makes right. The ends justify the means. Suppressing the feminine. These are all things that at one time may have saved the day, but now they are so rigidly encoded that they ruin both men and women. 

That is why a modern John Wayne ~ in the form of Jackdaw ~ is my villain in Deep Down Things. 



Chapter 1


Jackdaw isn’t going to make it. I can tell by the way the first jump unseats him. The big white bull lands and then tucks and gathers underneath. Jackdaw curls forward and whips the air with his left hand, but his butt slides off-center. Thirty yards away on the metal bleachers, I involuntarily scoot sideways—as if it would do any good. The bull springs out from under Jackdaw and then arches its back, flipping its hind end. 

Jackdaw is tossed wide off the bull’s back. In the air he is all red-satin arms and shaggy-chapped legs but then somehow he grabs his black felt hat. He lands squarely on both feet, knees bent to catch his weight. Then he straightens with a grand sweep of his hat. Even from here you can see his smile burst out. There’s something about the way he opens his body to the crowd, like a dog rolling over to show its belly, that makes me feel sorry for him but drawn to him too. With him standing there, holding himself halfway between a relaxed slouch and head-high pride, I can see why my brother Tibs admires him. 

I haven’t actually met Jackdaw before, but he and Tibs hang out together a lot, and they have some English classes together. I haven’t run across him on campus.

The crowd on the bleachers goes wild. It doesn’t matter that Jackdaw didn’t stay on the full eight seconds. They holler and wolf-whistle and shake their programs. Their metallic stomping vibrates my body and brings up dust and the smell of old manure.

With Jackdaw off its back, the bull leaps into the air. It gyrates its hips and flips its head, a long ribbon of snot curling off its nostril and arcing over its back. Then it stops and turns and looks at Jackdaw. It hangs its head low. It shifts its weight onto its front hooves, butt in the air, and pauses. The clown with the black face paint and the big white circles around his eyes runs in front of the bull to distract it, but it shakes its head like it’s saying no to dessert.

The crowd hushes.

Then, I can’t believe it, Jackdaw takes a step toward the bull. The crowd yells, but not like a crowd, like a bunch of kids on a playground. Some holler encouragement. Others laugh. Some try to warn him. Some egg him on. My heart beats wild in my chest like when my sister CJ and I watch those slasher movies and Freddy’s coming after the guy and you know because he’s the best friend that he’s going to get killed and you want to warn him. “Bastard deserved it,” CJ always says, “for being stupid.” 

It’s like Jackdaw doesn’t know the bull’s right there. He starts walking, not directly to the fence but at a slant toward the loudest of the cheers, which takes him right past the bull.

I turn to Tibs. “What’s he doing?”

“He knows his stuff,” Tibs says, his voice lower than normal. The look on his face makes me want to give him a hug, but we’re not a hugging family, so I nod, even though Tibs isn’t looking at me.

Tibs is leaning forward, his eyes focused on Jackdaw, his elbows on his knees, and his shoulders hunched. Tibs is tall and thin, and he always looks a little fragile, a couple of sticks propped together. His face is our dad’s, big eyes and not much of a chin, sort of like an alien or an overgrown boy. He has the habit of playing with his fingers, which he’s doing now. It’s like he wants to reach out and grab something but he can’t quite bring himself to. It’s the same when he talks—he’ll cover his mouth with his hand like he’s holding back his words.

Tibs is the tallest of us three kids—CJ, he, and I. CJ’s the oldest. I’m the youngest and the shortest. Grandma Rose, Dad’s mom, always said I got left with the leftovers. Growing up, it seemed like CJ and Tibs got things and were told things that I was too young to have or to know. It was good though, too, because when Dad and Mom got killed when I was sixteen, I didn’t know enough to worry much about money or things. They had saved up some so we could get by. But poor CJ. She in particular had to be the parent, but she was used to babysitting us and she was older anyway—twenty-two, I think.

Like that time when we were kids when CJ was babysitting and I got so sick. Turned out to be pneumonia. I don’t know where our parents were. Most likely, they were away on business, but it could have been something else. Grandma Rose had cracked her hip—I remember that—so she couldn’t take care of us, but it was only for a couple of days and CJ was thirteen at the time. In general, CJ had started ignoring us, claiming she was a teenager now and didn’t want to play with babies any more, like kids do, which really got Tibs, though he didn’t do much besides sulk about it. But that day she was playing with us like she was a little kid too. 

We had been playing in an irrigation ditch making a dam. I pretended to be a beaver, and Tibs pretended to be an engineer on the Hoover Dam. I don’t remember CJ pretending to be anything, just helping us arrange sticks and slop mud and then flopping in the water to cool down. I started feeling pretty bad. Over the course of the day, I had a cough that got worse and then I got really hot and then really cold and my body ached. My lungs started wheezing when I breathed. I remember thinking someone had punched a hole in me, like a balloon, and all my air was leaking out. CJ felt my head and then felt it again and then grabbed my arm and dragged me to the house, Tibs trailing behind. All I wanted to do was lie down, but she bundled me in a blanket and put me in a wagon, and between them she and Tibs pulled me down the driveway and out onto the highway. We lived twelve miles from town, in the house where I live now. I don’t know why CJ didn’t just call 911. But here we were, rattling down the middle of the highway. A woman in a truck stopped and gave us a ride to the hospital here in Loveland. Can you imagine it? A skinny muddy thirteen-year-old girl in her brown bikini and her skinny nine-year-old brother, taller than her but no bigger around than a stick and wearing red, white, and blue swim trunks, hauling their six-year-old sister through the sliding doors of the emergency room in a little red wagon. What those nurses must’ve thought.

On the bleachers, I glance from Tibs back out to Jackdaw. The bull doesn’t know what’s going on either. It shakes its lowered head and snorts, blowing up dust from the ground. Jackdaw bows his head and slips on his hat. Then the bull decides and launches itself at Jackdaw. Just as the bull charges down on Jackdaw, the white-eyed clown runs between him and the bull and slaps the bull’s nose. Jackdaw turns toward them just as the bull plants its front feet, turns, and charges after the running clown.

Pure foolishness and bravery. My hands are shaking. I want to go down and take Jackdaw’s hand and lead him out of the arena. A thought like a little alarm bell—who’d want to care about somebody who’d walk a nose-length from an angry bull? But something about the awkward hang of his arms and the flip of his chaps and the way his hat sets cockeyed on his head makes me want to be with him.

The clown runs toward a padded barrel in the center of the arena, his white-stockinged calves flipping the split legs of his suspendered oversized jeans. He jumps into the barrel feet-first and ducks his head below the rim. The crowd gasps and murmurs as the charging bull hooks the barrel over onto its side and bats it this way and that for twenty yards. The bull stops and turns and faces the crowd, head high, tail cocked and twitching. He tips his snout up once, twice, and snorts.

While the bull chases the clown, Jackdaw walks to the fence and climbs the boards.

The clown pops his head out of the sideways barrel where he can see the bull from the rear. He pushes himself out and then scrambles crabwise around behind. He turns to face the bull, his hands braced on the barrel. The bull’s anger still bubbling, it turns back toward the clown and charges. As the bull hooks at the barrel and butts it forward, the clown scoots backwards, keeping the barrel between him and the bull, something I’m sure he’s done many times. He keeps scooting as the bull bats at the barrel. But then something happens—the clown trips and falls over backwards. The barrel rolls half over him as he turns sideways and tries to push himself up. The bull stops for a split second, as if to gloat, and then stomps on the clown’s franticly scrambling body and hooks the horns on its tilted head into the clown’s side, flipping the clown over onto his back.

Why do rodeo clowns do it? Put their lives on the line for other people? I don’t understand it.

The pickup men on the horses are there, but a second too late. They charge the bull, their horses shouldering into it. They yell and whip with quirts and kick with stirrupped boots. Tail still cocked, the reluctant bull is hazed away and into the gathering pen at the end of the arena. The metal gate clangs shut behind it.

Head thrown back and arms splayed, the clown isn’t moving. Men jump off the rails and run toward him, and the huge doors at the end of the arena open and an ambulance comes in. It stops beside the clown. The EMTs jump out, pull out a gurney, and then huddle around the prone body. One goes back to the vehicle and brings some equipment. There’s frantic activity, and with the help of the other men, they place him on the gurney and slide him into the ambulance. It pulls out the doors and disappears, and the siren wails and recedes.

Tibs stands up, looks at me, and jerks his head, saying come on, let’s go. I stand and follow him. 

About the author: 
Like the characters in Deep Down Things, the author Tamara Linse and her husband have lost babies. They had five miscarriages before their twins were born through the help of a wonderful woman who acted as a gestational carrier. Tamara is also the author of the short story collection How to Be a Man and 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 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:


Anonymous said...

Wow what a story and the author's thinking of John Wayne and masculinity; however I am a fan of John Wayne because of his masculinity. Thank you for the giveaway and wish the author well. Good luck.

Tamara said...

That's part of the problem ~ I'm a fan of John Wayne's too. Makes for messy complicated feelings. :-) Thank you, Read Book!

Unknown said...

That was one exciting excerpt! Thank you for letting us experience a portion of the book. ;)

steve weber said...

love the excerpt and the generous giveaway.. thanks for the chance to win!

Anonymous said...

thanks for the giveaway! :)

Unknown said...

This sounds like a great book, very emotional and exciting. thank you so much

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the giveaway & the book looks amazing!

Linda Romer said...

Deep down things sounds like a very emotional read, I will need a box of tussues for this one. Thank you

ShainaJo said...

Anything influenced by The Duke HAS too be great :D

Spg Chlomo said...


Cheryl R said...

Thank you for sharing the excerpt giving us a glimpse of what there is to offer in this book. You really outdid yourself on the giveaway! Its huge!

Bella Martinez said...

I like the cover of the book! :)

Unknown said...

Thank you so much!!! You are awesome :)

Unknown said...

Ms. Linse, I am truly sorry for your losses. I have not experienced that myself, but I have been unable to conceive. Maybe through your book, others can know that children are precious, no matter what.

nurmawati djuhawan said...

thx u for the chance, Tamara :)

Suus said...

I would love to read this book, it sounds really great!

Unknown said...

The glimps you gave me into this book gave me chills, i bet it is gonna be a great read. thank you

collenga said...

Love the excerpt, sounds like an amazing read, thanks for sharing!

Unknown said...

This book sounds interesting ... to say the least! Thank you for this VERY generous giveaway!

Unknown said...

This book looks great! Can't wait to read it :)

Unknown said...

This book looks great! Can't wait to read it :)

Elle said...

The description sounds great! Thank you for this giveaway chance.

Anonymous said...

The description of this book sounds very interesting, and I was fascinated by the author's thoughts on John Wayne!

Betul E. said...

Sounds really good! thanks for the giveaway

Judy Thomas said...

Sounds great! Thanks for the awesome giveaway :)

Unknown said...

Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the awesome giveaway!

CCAM said...

Always a "serious" book with serious/real problems is welcome; thank you

Anonymous said...

sounds awesome, thanks for the chance!