Welcome Tam May
Gnarled Bones and Other Stories explores five tales of loss, fear, and guilt where strange and spooky events impact people’s lives in ways that are profound and unchangeable.
In “Mother of Mischief” a newly divorced woman goes back to school to begin a new chapter of her life only to find herself circling back to where she started. In “Bracelets”, childhood nostalgia mingles with brutal fear during a circus outing for a mailroom secretary and her friends. In “A First Saturday Outing”* a lonely woman ventures out of her isolated apartment one quiet Saturday afternoon to an art exhibit that leaves an eerie impression on her psyche*. In “Broken Bows” a middle-aged violinist reveals the mystery behind his declining artistic powers to a lonely woman on a train. And the title story, “Gnarled Bones,” paints a portrait of the complex bond between an orphaned sister and brother through journal entries and first-person narrative. For these characters, the past leaves its shadow on the present and future.
* This story was featured on Whimsy Gardener’s Storytime With Whimsey and can be found here.
Gnarled Bones and Other Stories is available in paperback and ebook now on Amazon
Tam, what do you love about this book?
I love to explore characters from the inside out and in Gnarled Bones and Other Stories, I really tried to go as deep as possible into each character to discover what happened to them in the past that affected them and those around them. I see a character as a tapestry with many threads that need to be woven together to create the picture of who he or she is, always an incomplete picture, of course. I have a very long way to go with my writing, but I feel like this book helped me take those first baby steps.
~Lisa: Sounds like excellent practice!
Introduce us to your most troublesome character.
Wow, that’s a tough one because I think all of the characters in the book are troublesome to some degree J. I guess if I had to choose, it would be Blaze from “Broken Bows.” He’s a middle-aged man with the face of a boy, a man-child, a former child protégée violinist who learned the value of performance art at an early age but whose more morose and understated style was oppressed by his father’s theater-dad approach to his son’s career. He was tough for me to write about because he kept so much hidden within himself. Like most artists, much of his pain and fear and joy went into his music rather than in his behavior. I had to unearth that, alibi in an incomplete way. But maybe it paid off, as I’ve had two readers tell me that “Broken Bows” is their favorite story and they would love to see the story expanded into something longer.
Share two things you learned about yourself, your setting, or the publishing world while writing this book.
One thing I learned about myself is that I tend to have a strange way of associating words, images, and emotions. Once the stories were finished and I gave them to my critique group and a professional editor, I got a lot of feedback along the lines of “I’m not seeing this” or “I’m not sure I get this” or “this is confusing”. Then I read Sally Cline’s biography on Zelda Fitzgerald and realized my strange associations are part of my personal style and voice. At the same time, I am writing for an audience. Some things I changed, some I deleted, and some I kept, based on what was right for the story and the mood.
The second thing I learned was about my setting. I set most of my stories in the San Francisco Bay Area because it’s where I really found myself as a person and as a writer. I learned that I had absorbed much more of the area than I thought. I lived mostly in San Francisco itself, a little in the East Bay, but I made a lot of weekend trips in the area. I wasn’t looking at anything specific, but I absorbed much more than I thought, since you tend to take a place you live in for granted. I learned that the redwood trees that are so typical of the area have a lot of spiritual meaning for me.
~Lisa: I love it when I can squeeze out those little details that add zest to the story and pour something into my soul. I don't think I'll ever forget my visit to the forest out there a few years ago.
What are you reading now?
I tend to read several books at once and I love reading classic literature. Currently, I’m just finishing up the collected works of Jane Bowles called My Sister’s Hand In Mine. I’m actually rereading it because I discovered Bowles several years ago and read her work and was fascinated by it. I’m also reading one of Virginia Woolf’s earlier novels, Night and Day. And I’m reading a biography of Truman Capote.
~Lisa: I never realized how versatile Capote was until we read his Christmas story in a book club. I listened to him read it on public radio, which was fascinating.
What's next for you?
Next for me are several works. I’m just about finished with the first rounds of revisions for the first book of my Waxwood series, The Order of Actaeon, and I’m giving chapters to my wonderful critique group for feedback to help me with the next round of revisions. I’m just about to start the first draft for the second book of the series, The Claustrophobic Heart. I’m also working on another book called House of Masks, which I started during National Novel Writing Month last year.
~Lisa: best wishes--sounds fascinating and I'll be watching.
About Tam May
Tam May was born in Israel but grew up in America. She has a BA and MA in English and worked as a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. She started writing when she was 14 and writing became her voice. She writes dark psychological fiction about characters from the inside out. She currently lives in Texas but calls San Francisco and the Bay Area home. When she’s not writing, she’s reading classic literature and watching classic films.
As mentioned above, this collection of five short stories is based around the cyclic theme of the past affecting the present and future. Told with abruptness, the stories rely on faceted reflections of characters, a little piece of the soul that reaches out to influence the atmosphere around them.
May’s language is rich and nuanced. Some of the pet phrases I particularly liked include “learned to watch for the beginning of the pose” in Mother of Mischief, as the title character cared for her hoodlum little brothers; “Mickey found a list of one hundred greatest books when he was fourteen and was reading through it ever since.” That tells a fine tale of the character. Places in California like the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park came to mind when mentioned, although the lack of details would render the reference meaningless to someone who hadn’t been there. Likewise, Muir Park, the frame for Gnarled Bones. The longest and most developed story is Broken Bow, the violinist trying not to descend into dementia with his aged father. The narrator got on the train, and breathed the “steam of progress, blood, and freedom,” which helped set the scene and pace. The title piece was a bit of oddity, a sort of Poe-esque quality of people you think are probably out there, but whom you hope never to meet, about siblings so close they “stared at each other” through their separating bedroom wall after their parents died. A sister’s kiss is sure to be the cure for the brother’s illness; a kiss on his cheek would bring him back to her.
The short collection is for those who like a tiny trip through a back alley. It reminded me of watching the evening street people from the fourth floor of a downtown San Francisco Hotel, a microcosm of the lost and lonely seeking purpose and fulfillment.