She's currently revising her third novel, Moonlight, Mugwort and Murder. Her work has appeared in Sage Woman Magazine, Tolosa Press, and Familiar as well as several online outlets. Tammie authored Writing Wild: Crafting the Pagan Memoir and The Ones Who Dance Alone: Full Moon Celebrations for the Solitary Witch under the pen name TJ Burns. After a 20-year pause in her education, Tammie returned to school and received an MFA from Goddard College in 2008.
She especially enjoys writing stories about strong, flawed female characters who foster a deep connection to their environment. Tammie lives in California with her husband of 32 years. When not writing, Tammie enjoys creating mixed media art from her hoard of ephemera and making her four-legged friends happy. Connect with Tammie on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Tammie-J-Burnsed, on Twitter @writertjburns and www.writertjburns.com.
WOW: Congratulations on your first place win for your story, “The Deer Tender”! What was your inspiration for the story?
Tammie: The neighborhood described in "The Deer Tender" is very much based on my own. Living on the edge of a small town with greenbelt all around, we’re fortunate to have many types of wildlife wandering down the street and stopping in the yard for a munch of something. Deer are masters at destroying the garden, of course, but the trade-off of living with them is you get to have wild animals sleeping in your front yard. Between loss of habitat and the long drought we’re experiencing here in California, finding resources has become more difficult for our neighborhood deer. A few summers ago, some of us who were already in the habit of tossing fruit and vegetable scraps in the orchard, where they like to bed down, also began putting out buckets of water. When the creek beds are dry as old bones, and the temperature is over 100 degrees for weeks in a row, you worry how the wild critters manage to survive. The reality we’re all living right now with climate change made me wonder just how far I’d go to help the animals in my neighborhood if worse ever came to worst.
WOW: This is so true. I live in a suburb in St. Louis, but I wonder the same about the squirrels and birds--you don't see as many bird baths as you used to. Your description in this story is very well done and paints a very scary picture of the future! You also managed to do this in very few words. What is your secret for word choice that you can share with our readers?
Tammie: Thank you! I consider that a huge compliment. I have a habit of repeating myself, in live conversation and in writing. The challenge of flash fiction forces me to weed out everything that’s unnecessary and do my best to choose words for their greatest impact. The version of "Deer Tender" I sent WOW had something like 740 words, but the first draft had just over 900, and at one point I had it down to fewer than 600 words. My secret, if there is one, is time. Patience. Leave the story to sit for a few days or weeks, pare it down. Pare it down again. In this case, because the theme was so personal to me, I think I was able to be more in love with the story than with my own writing. If I could manage that consistently, I’d be a much better writer. Also, and I should have said this first because it really is the most important thing, I listen to the feedback of other writers.
WOW: Great advice on both counts. We all talk about having a great critique group or writing partners you can trust! Why did you decide to enter our contest?
Tammie: My friend and critique/workshop partner Rod Pound suggested it and sent me the information on WOW. I’ve just recently increased my efforts to get published. From a practical point of view, I’m hoping to be querying agents for my novel soon, and I know having a few credits to my name can’t hurt. Need to get the blog going, need to get the social media platform, need to get some readers. You know, all that extra work we have to do to support our writing in the world. But from a less mercenary place, I was—am—really proud of this story. I felt it was good and deserved to be published somewhere. When I read about WOW and all the ways they support women writers, I wanted Anya and her deer to find a home there.
WOW: We are so glad you did! (smiles) Your bio says that you are working on your 3rd novel. Can you tell us a little about your novels?
Tammie: My first novel is pretty awful, one of those bottom-drawer manuscripts. It was my MFA project and, looking back, I can see I was more focused on replicating the techniques of my favorite writers than on writing a good story. I wanted multiple perspectives, magical realism, voices from the afterlife, murder, sex, betrayal, addiction, talking cats. Oh, and let’s throw in some bad poetry just to get weird. I mean sure, Margaret Atwood could make that a best seller. Louise Erdrich would write the hell out of that. Tammie Burnsed, recent MFA, graduate could not.
The second novel, Meeting Ganesh at the Silver Lake Mall, is something I hope to return to one day. It also includes magical realism and time travel and other strangeness. You’re sensing a theme here, right? I In real life and in fiction, I’m drawn to the weird and the wounded, women and men who are generously flawed, but still willing to reach back and give someone else a hand.
I had an embarrassing moment—or maybe I should say “eye-opening”—at a writing conference several years ago when I had a spontaneous opportunity to give an agent my elevator pitch on Meeting Ganesh. After listening to about 30 seconds of my red-faced rambling—during which the agent’s soul-crushing stare did not waver-- she said, “You don’t know what that novel’s about yet.” In fairness, she was right. But I do now.
Like the first two books, my current WIP features a strong female protagonist who lives an unconventional life. Do you want the pitch, because you better believe I have one ready this time:
Runa Bishop is a single 30-something, living in the small California coastal town of Vista Bay. She's the proud owner of the Strange Brew coffee shop and the doubly proud granddaughter of the late Alice Bishop. Oh yes, and Runa is a witch! But not the Hollywood type who flies and defies other laws of physics. Runa is a real- life, candle-lighting, full-moon-worshipping, nature-loving witch who has recently discovered the historically friendly attitude of her beloved hometown is changing. And not for the better.
When her best friend becomes the victim of a violent crime, Runa's protective spirit--along with her long-denied intuitive power--ignites. Runa's determination to follow in the courageous footsteps of her grandmother leads her on a journey of discovery where she learns some mysteries may be better left unsolved.
Moonlight, Mugwort and Murder combines the sleuthing fun of a cozy mystery with important topics such as inclusion, religious freedom and the value of supportive friendships among women.
WOW: That sounds amazing! And I think we also got a tutorial on how to write a pitch! Tell us about your decision to get an MFA. How do you think it has positively impacted your writing career?
Tammie: Getting an MFA was a huge decision for me. I grew up in a blue-collar family. There wasn’t a big focus on college education, especially for me as a girl. Neither my mother nor grandmother finished high school, so a master’s degree! That was something. Taking on educational debt at midlife, giving up a thriving massage therapy practice to devote myself to full-time studies. Big stuff. I didn’t know what an MFA would bring professionally, if it would lead to any sort of lucrative career. But a job wasn’t my end goal. After delaying my education for motherhood, for marriage, for all those things we let get in the way of our dreams, what I really wanted out of my MFA program was the chance to be the best writer I could possibly be. For me, a degree was the path to taking myself seriously as a writer in the world. Writing a best seller would obviously be awesome, but it’s not the yardstick of my success, and I don’t think it should be any writer’s yardstick. I write almost every day. I’m active in my local writing community. I help other writers, I learn from other writers. I know my strengths and my weaknesses, and I’m serious about improving. An MFA led me to all of that.
WOW: Tammie, thank you for this very inspiring, informative, and generous interview. It has been a delight to get to know you through the cyber world. And when you have that novel published, come back and let us know! I'm sure many of us would like to get our hands on it.