Today’s indie debuts star is Tess Rosa, a fellow Urbane author whose collection of poetry and short stories is a truly lovely thing. I’m delighted to have her along to find out more about her and her writing. Warning – if swearing offends you then stop reading now!
You can win a paperback copy of Freefall Into Us by commenting on this blog to say why you’d like one. More details at the end of the post…
Tess, you’ve been compared to Kerouac and Rollins in a battle of words – how does it feel to be likened to such (in)famous writers with your debut collection?
I remember that day vividly. When I first read the blurb that would go on the back of my book jacket, and a few other places for that matter, I went nuts. I began to panic, swore for about five minutes then proceeded to call a fellow writer friend in NYC. “Jack Kerouac and Henry Rollins?” I screamed. “What the fuck? I mean, Henry, okay, (priding myself on being compared to the likes of him) but Kerouac? Have they lost their fucking minds?” I mean, come on, those are huge ass shoes to fill. I felt the reviewers would have a field day. You may as well put me and my book out in a meadow and use us for target practice!
Well, a few writer friends talked me off the ledge and said “This is your time. This is your place. It will go down however you want it to go down. Stand tall, and take it with grace.” So, I had a huge glass of wine, smoked a pack of cigarettes and never looked back. Oddly enough, those that know me, know that I love Kerouac. But not so much for his writing, but for who he was and what he stood for as a writer. I did a lot of digging on him because I wrote a short story titled ‘Saving Jack’. I needed to know much about him if I was going to write him as a character. His awkwardness, his battle with alcoholism, his sex appeal, his writing, his hating to be in the limelight (interviews, etc.), his tragic death at a very young age.
When I finished the story, I kid you not, I found the following quote from Kerouac. “I hope that it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others, but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.” Without giving much of the story away, it is about reincarnation. I brought back my beloved Jack. When I found that quote, I swore Jack himself had shown it to me. I had never come across it in all of his work. The coincidence of that moment astounded me. I am getting off subject here, but, yea, it was a tough pill to swallow. But, as the reviews began coming in, I had also been compared to Raymond Carver, Paul Auster, John Cheever, with F.Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway sprinkled in. I guess now I take it with a grain of salt. We all have opinions and they all differ. If someone is reading my work and they think of another writer as they read me, well, I am honored and humbled. Incidentally, Rollins was changed to Anais Nin. Thank God, I needed a woman thrown in there!
For me you really seem to have captured the essence of life – moments of pure joy, despair, love, loss, grimness, romance and indifference, as well as some mind-blowing and some very mediocre sex. Did you set out to write this collection with that approach in mind or were all the pieces written at different times and these themes emerged as you brought them all together?
Tough question. Pause, ponder….Okay. The first story I wrote and finished quickly was ‘Crystal Blond Persuasion.’ My brother had just died as I had begun to write that story. I was grief stricken. Some of the scenes in that story were actually me, feeling extreme anguish and complete sadness. This will sound morbid to you, but I had thoughts of climbing into my brothers coffin and rotting right along with him. That pain propelled me forward like a rocket. After all, it was through my brother David that I had become an avid reader and writer. I kept diaries for years. Sadly, when I was 17, I burned them all. Anyway, David was always reading and I followed suit. He hooked me onto Stephen King big time. My book is dedicated to my brother. Without his love, I wouldn’t be where I am today. There is also a lot of sex in that particular story. Sometimes we syphon our pain through sex or other addictions. I began drinking more than usual and ‘acting out.’
There is much pain, sadness, and loss in my book. Much of that stemmed from my brother’s death. A year after he died, I met a man that changed my life. I fell hard in love with him. The last story in the book which bears the title, ‘Freefall Into Us’ is our story. You will have to read it. It’s pretty messed up stuff but I was given barrels of fruit with which to write after all that shit went down. I believe you have to live, to write. I mean really, really live. I have always lived hard, loved hard and taken many risks with my heart. So, yes, there is pieces and fragments of me in those stories and the only way I could heal was to put them on paper. Oh, mediocre sex? I try to keep my relationships of my characters real, not superficial. Mediocre sex has happened to each and everyone of us, and if one says no, they are full of shit.
Where do you feel happiest as a writer – in prose or poetry form? And why?
Just writing makes me happy. It is very therapeutic for me. I suffer from anxiety, panic and loneliness. Therefore, I feel the need to write. It brings me out of that funk. The poetry comes with experiences, so it is all true life. I can’t just sit down and write poetry. Poetry writes me. It moves through me and I never know when that is going to happen. When it does happen, I can’t stop it. It’s as if something is talking to me in my head and placing the words for me. When it is over, and I am finished, I usually feel extreme mental and physical exhaustion. Like I had just run a marathon or something. I am spent. I can’t think. I stare at nothing, my mind completely worn out and blank. Does that sound crazy to you? It’s hard to explain.
The short stories are always rolling around in my imagination. I will piece them together in my head for weeks, sometimes months, before I can actually start writing them. I am always throwing short story ideas at my daughters and friends. It helps to pitch it to someone. I am always looking for validation. I think a lot of writers do. Feelings of inadequacy and self doubt are always creeping around me. I try to stand strong and keep forging ahead. As long as I feel the ‘need’ the ‘want’ to write, I will continue to do so.
I get a lot of feedback regarding my poetry. I never looked at or thought of myself as a poet. In fact, when I sent my short story collection to Urbane there was poetry thrown along with it, which I told Matthew to ignore. He loved it. Said it was brilliant. After the book came out, I had people telling me when they read my poetry, they felt as if I had written it just for them. Statements like this made me cry. I write poetry to understand my pain, sadness, love, etc., and to hear someone say, that I made them cry, or that I expressed something that they never possessed the words to express, well that is beyond comprehension. We are all connected and feel the same hurts, love, etc. I feel I was given the ‘gift of poetry’ and it is simply my duty to give that gift away. I wrote a very tough poem called ‘Shush’ about molestation that will be in my next book, ‘An American Slumber.’ It is a hard piece to read, but I think many will resonate with it. I feel I have really found my voice, through being a poet, and that makes me elated.
One of things I enjoyed most about the short stories in the collection is that they cross genres, and include one of my favourites, dystopia. As a writer are you drawn to experimenting in different genres and can we expect more of this from you?
Yes!! Absolutely. For instance, I love horror but I can’t write it, try as I may. Something you may or may not know about me. I belonged to a group years ago called WSPIR – Washington State Paranormal Investigative Research. It is hands down one of the most interesting things I have ever been involved in. Just the people I worked with were incredible in themselves! Psychics, mediums, clairvoyants, even the techies in the group! As a child, I had many experiences with ghosts. As a teenager, I held seances and played with Oujia boards. Anyway, I saw something horrific and decided I couldn’t do that work anymore. Trust me, that kinda fucks with your psyche. I definitely miss the people I worked with though. (I smell a story about a clairvoyant for sure!)
Anyway, you would think I would be able to write a killer ghost story because of this, but honestly, I have no interest in doing that. I do write somewhat of a ghost story in ‘Gone Awry’ but I never looked at it as creepy (ghosts I mean) so therefore, I can’t make it scary because it’s not scary to me. Does that make sense? Although I LOVE scary stories. Go figure. You will never ever catch me writing a ‘Harlequin Romance’ type book. Let me make this perfectly clear. NEVER!!! I felt my strangest story in the book was ‘Homeless Baby’. I mean, come on, rats cart off a newborn on the streets of Seattle? Again, though, this story is about reincarnation and being given another chance to make life right.
Many artists, writers, etc. believe that we have many lives. I feel as though the bad people (murderers) don’t get to hell. They come back instead as roaches, rats, or lice on pubic hair. I mean come on, that is hell right there. I love the story ‘Homeless Baby’ because it explains the whole process of this. It seems far-fetched to some, but honestly to me it is possible. This was one of my favorite stories to write, hands down.
I can’t write spy thrillers. I don’t read them so maybe that is why. Basically, I can write anything that begins building in my head. I get a lot of feedback about the short story, ‘The Pasture/Europa, the dystopia that you mentioned. I never thought I would write a post-apocalyptic story, but boom, it happened. I think a lot about the super volcano(caldera) that runs under Yellowstone National Park (Montana/Wyoming/Idaho border). I also heard about some underground shelters that were popping up in the United States. One that I stumbled upon, called Vivos, was intriguing as hell. My intrigue with this shelter catapulted into my brain and ‘The Pasture’ was born! Here’s a snippet with my favorite line in bold. “As I said before, these shelters are popping up all over the place, but, as you can imagine, they’re very private. Heaven forbid would you want to save as many people as possible; poverty, class, social status and ethnicity being of no matter. These dwellings are only for the extremely wealthy. I think, honestly, I would rather die with the vast majority than live trapped underground with a bunch of pretentious motherfuckers with money stashed up their asses.” This sums up how I feel about being in one of those shelters should the ‘big one’ hit.
Some have thought my book was erotica. Let me be very clear here. It’s absolutely not erotica. I will never write a book of erotica, either. That’s been done, and I can’t top Anne RoqueIaure (Anne Rice) so I won’t even try. She is the goddess of erotica. Yes, there is sex in my book, but isn’t sex a basic need and a realistic part of life.? A few have ridiculed me for all the sex, so I am assuming they have either never had it, or never enjoyed it. It happens to be one of the greatest perks in life in my opinion. Hell, even mediocre sex has it’s place. 😉 Basically, I try not to put my thoughts in a box. Leaving my mind open is best. Sometimes I surprise myself with the shit that I come up with. I will just keep on keeping on and though I am originally from Montana, you won’t find me writing a Western anytime soon. xoxo
Thanks so much for this, Tess. It’s been fun and enlightening! Leave a comment below by 9pm (GMT) on 16th February for your chance to win a copy.