Literary Artistan in the NAC Artist Corner
Tammy Marshall – I’m a longtime columnist and feature writer for the Norfolk Daily News out of Norfolk, Nebraska, and my column now runs in the Bristol Herald-Courier, out of Bristol, VA/TN, and the Columbus Telegram and the Fremont Tribune in Nebraska, too. I’ve published five books so far with more on the way. The current five, The Clearwater House, State of Georgia . . . And Other Writings, Ticker Tape, Twinges, and Trouble on Tybee are all available for purchase in the NAC Artist Corner.
I’ve received Honorable Mention writing awards from “Writer’s Digest” and the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition (2018). I have done stand-up comedy and hope to get back into it now that I’ve officially retired from teaching. I taught secondary English and Spanish for thirty years. When I’m not writing, I’m reading, traveling, riding my Harley, watercolor painting, cross-stitching, walking my dog, swimming laps, or spending time with the people I love. I have two grown children, a wonderful boyfriend, loving parents, and strong connections with the seven exchange students I’ve hosted from Mexico, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Czech Republic.
I love to read fiction, and I have a collection of all the Pulitzer Prize winners in fiction. I’m working my way through them, and I write about the books I read in my column which is called “Novel Thoughts.” When I list my favorite novels, The Count of Monte Cristo always tops the list. Additionally, I love The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, To Kill a Mockingbird, Angle of Repose, The Shadow of the Wind, The Book Thief, Water for Elephants, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Weight of Ink, and An Unfinished Life.
1. At what point did you decide to be an author and what was your path to publication?
I’ve always wanted to be an author. It’s been my dream since I was a child. I went to UNL and majored in English, but I also got a teaching certificate in English and Spanish to pay the bills while I pursued the writing dream. Over the years, I wrote whenever possible and tried to gain an agent so that I could follow the traditional route toward publication. I got a few nibbles, but I couldn’t manage to snag an agent. Meanwhile, my first novel was languishing in the figurative drawer. I’d begun writing a book column called “Novel Thoughts” for the Norfolk Daily News early in 2010 (and I’m still writing it to this day), so in 2014 I asked the editor if he’d consider serializing my first novel. He agreed to do that, and “The Clearwater House” ran one chapter a week in the online edition for an entire year. By the end of that year, so many people wanted their own copies of it that I had to find a way to get the book out there in paperback form. Thus, I ended up going the self-publication route via Amazon’s print-on-demand feature. Once I started down that path with the first book, it was easy to continue self-publishing the following books, and they are all available as eBooks, too. I have five out so far and a sixth novel is nearing completion.
2. Who is your favorite character to write, and why is that person your favorite? If picking a favorite character would be like picking a favorite child, which character seems to be the most demanding or your attention and detail as a writer?
I have two favorites. First is Lillian Chase, the protagonist of “The Clearwater House,” because I devoted so much time to that first book that I felt like I really got to know her. My other favorite is Marvin Wineski, the veteran protagonist of “Ticker Tape” because he came to me one day fully formed and demanded I write his story. I spend a lot of time with veterans through my role as an American Legion Rider and as the daughter of an Air Force veteran, so veterans have a special place in my heart.
3. Do you have any odd (writing) habits?
Some people think that it’s odd that I handwrite the first drafts of my novels. I love to handwrite things even though typing on the laptop is much faster. Handwriting brings the magic of writing to life in front of my eyes, and it slows the process so that I focus more on the story I’m telling.
4. Tell us what you enjoy most about writing?
Now that I’ve left teaching behind to focus solely on my writing career, I love everything about my writing life. I probably most enjoy the quiet solitude of working on it alone in my house, but I also really enjoy doing readings and appearances at libraries and other literary events. Meeting my readers fuels my drive to create even more stories.
5. Have you been able to incorporate your previous experience in your jobs/education in your writing?
Once a teacher, always a teacher. Georgia, the protagonist of “State of Georgia . . . and Other Writings” is a retired teacher. “Twinges” is completely about an elementary teacher and her student who grows up to be evil. The novel I’m currently writing has a high school principal who is also a motorcyclist (like I am) as the protagonist. Additionally, I write a weekly piece called “Cognate Cognizance ” in which I incorporate my 30 years of experience as a Spanish teacher to share insights that help my subscribers improve their English and Spanish vocabularies. “Cognate Cognizance” is found at cognatecognizance.substack.com.
6. What are some books or authors that you would recommend to our readers?
My column that appears twice a month in the Norfolk Daily News is all about books that I recommend, but when people ask me what my favorite book is, the answer will always be “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas. In more contemporary literature, I absolutely adore “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and “The Weight of Ink” by Rachel Kadish. There’s not enough space here for me to recommend all the books that I love.
7. If you had one text, no more than 160 characters to send to everyone on earth, what would it say?
Travel the world, read great books, learn another language, find your passion, stretch your body and your mind, and be kind to animals and to each other.