Q: Today I’m joined by TammyJo Eckhart who writes in quite a variety of different genres! TammyJo, if you can, please share a bit about yourself and what types of stories you enjoy writing as well as which genres you write in?
A: Hi, S.C. Nice to meet you. A lot of folks like to say that I’m an erotica writer, but I’ve never been comfortable with that because erotica isn’t a genre, it is more of moral judgment, for good or bad, depending on the person’s viewpoint. I write speculative fiction, using which ever or as many genres as required to tell the story I’m working on. That story may be one that has been bugging me in my dreams for a while, one that has been sitting in my idea journal for some time, or one that is pulled from my mind because of a call out from a publisher. In terms of my published fiction, it is fairly evenly split between contemporary, fantasy, and science fiction. I’ve had pieces ranging from micro-fiction to 80,000 plus word novels with a 100,000 plus novel probably out in 2022. I like to write stories that push my reader to think as well as to entertain. By “think” I mean about their lives and about the world around them, not that they should have to piece together what is happening in the story or why the characters are behaving as they are. I don’t watch detective fiction or try to obscure the events from readers.
Q: Last year you released ‘True You 101’. What can you share about your first Urban Fantasy Young Adult release?
A: ‘True You 101’ started off as a short story for an anthology that Circlet Press was publishing that was going to use the magic school subgenre of urban fantasy but with LGBTQUIA students, faculty, setting. I had finished reading a book about an intersex individual and their life and so I did more research and wanted to explore how gender identity and the body creates complications for the self and society but how a magic society might offer freedom from our mortal expectations. The editor loved that story but said it was the only positive story he got and therefore it wouldn’t fit in the anthology. I thought that was crazy on two levels. Crazy that here was this anthology offering writers the chance to imagine something that wasn’t this narrow cisgender reality and yet most of us couldn’t see beyond that except in negative ways. The Circlet editor encouraged me to try and find another publisher for it.
Tor had an open call for novellas. To write my short story, I had a lot of background details already in my mind and in my notes. I put those into the story and made it an appropriate length for a novella and submitted it. The Tor editor liked it but again it just didn’t fit the standard model of LGBTQUIA tone in much-published work which is often sad, depressing, and dark. That makes me a bit angry. Yes, it reflects the reality that many people have experienced, but it isn’t necessarily our 247 lives. Shouldn’t fiction be a place where we can offer some hope?
I asked my former literary agent if she knew of any publishers out there who might be open to such a work and she suggested the publisher that I ended up signing with one of their imprints. They were open to not only the idea of the novella but my expanding it to a novella length. The book is told through the eyes of Blake Trudeau as they navigate their sophomore year of magic school. The focus almost to a fault is through Blake’s eyes. They are in no way a perfect character; they are quite self-centered and exceedingly concerned that they will be terrorized for simply being intersex. Some of that makes perfect sense because of their past, some of it makes perfect sense because they are a teenager, and some of it makes perfect sense because until they go to magic school, they have lived much of their life in the mortal world.
I hope that in the future I will be able to return to Blake and their world to show the school in their first, third, and senior years so that I can expand the mage community and offer readers a way to see their own identity struggles through Blake’s eyes as well as those around them. Honestly, that will depend on how well the book sales, because I have other books already contracted to be published.
Q: What is your most recent short story to be published and where can we find it?
A: My last professionally published short story was “Daily Denial” in ‘Erotic Teaser” edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, Cleis Press/Viva Editions, January 2019. I write and publish new work for my subscribers on my Patreon page every other week as well.
Q: Speaking of short stories, do you have a favorite or one that you are most proud of?
A: I like most of my short stories, but I think my favorite is one from 2003 called “The Captain’s Gaze” which was in a special edition anthology called ‘dreaming in color’ put out by Greenery Press. We often think of power as something that is clear-cut in our society. In fact, a lot of the time, power is held on to in large part because we teach people powerlessness, we teach them that they do not matter, that they cannot matter, that what they want and need is wrong or impossible. That story shows how what we are taught conflicts with other things we are taught to create conflicts that interfere with our lives and our happiness.
Q: Have any of the characters you’ve previously written been on your mind to return to with another story? If so, who and why?
A: Yes, on several occasions. The characters of “Punishment for the Crime” returned in “Justice” in my first and third collections of short stories. My science fiction trilogy, ‘Beyond the Softness of His Fur’ was about the same two characters, Emily and Wynn. This year for some of my subscribers and for anyone who wants to buy it when I return to the convention circuit, I self-published my first zine that continues the story of Coral and Hamal from “Eternal Pain” in ‘Eroscapes’ which came out in 2004. There are two reasons I returned to each of these stories and characters. First, because their tales were not yet finished in my mind. Second, because they were popular, and when readers came to see me at fandom and kink conventions they told me they enjoyed them and wanted to know what happened next to them if anything.
Q: You release some of your creative process on Patreon. Can you share a link and what fans can look forward to seeing there?
A: I call my Patreon page “TammyJo Eckhart is creating fiction and nonfiction about edgy subjects” because the set-up there is weird and requires that you to make a sentence for your title. You can find it here: https://www.patreon.com/tammyjoeckhart?fan_landing=true. I recently culled two tiers of subscription to make less work for myself and for safety concerns that my family had.
I share more real-life stories about myself than what I even share with all by my closest friends, I share deeper reviews of what I’m watching or reading, especially where it connects to alternative lifestyles, ancient history, or my geekdoms of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and chocolate. I do not repeat what I post on other social media, you get new content that I often do not repeat on other social media such as a serialized novel with a new chapter every two weeks. I also do a 31 Days of Halloween weekly round-up of horror movies with mini-reviews where I talk about new-to-me shows I’ll be watching. Depending on the tier of subscription, I have two newsletters, treats I send to folks’ homes, surveys I ask folks to take, puzzles I create, and even a chance to influence what I’m writing. I’m a complex person, so I do a lot of different things. On average I post twice a week.
Q: Where were you born (and/or are you from) and how has that affected your writing?
A: I grew up in a small semi-rural town in mid-eastern Iowa in the 1970s and 1980s. Education was very important. Have you heard of the Iowa Basic Skills test or Iowa Assessment as they are now called? That was somewhat on par with SAT, ACT, and AP tests for many decades, and they were a wonderful predictor of how well you’d score on those other tests, even though in when I was in primary and secondary school, they cover far more topics for every student. Our teachers were amazing, they pushed boundaries in ways that would have people of all political and social leanings up in arms today, but they required us to think and to back up what we thought with evidence. That is one reason I went on to earn three degrees in history.
It was a very white heteroromantic school. I was a bit oblivious to that because of being white. I knew I didn’t fit into the stereotype of a white girl for several reasons; I tried but it didn’t really work well without making me ill and causing physical problems for the rest of my life. I didn’t learn until later that some of my friends were gay and were being picked on or that others were being bullied. I didn’t know that some of the friends I made in school were because they were being bullied and because of my own situation at home, I had a defense mechanism set up that made me protective of others, so I offered some safety to others at least when they were with me or shared a locker with me, for example. I challenged a lot of those experiences, later information, tons of therapy, and a lot of research into several of my stories.
More than where I grew up, my family, particularly my mother’s own mental health issues, influenced my writing. She was also a writer and encouraged me to write; it was the one area where she had a positive influence on me.
Q: I’m a fan that you are clearly a woman who embraces education! You’ve received a Bachelor of the Arts degree from Drake University, a Master’s degree from Columbia University, and a doctorate from Indiana University. How have these degrees helped out so far from teaching classes to your own writing?
A: I’ve had readers come to me and ask: “Are you a sociologist or a historian?” because of my world and character building. I base a lot of my world-building on the fact that humans around the world and across time share far more than we have differences. Higher processing animals who can exist beyond mere survival level, have certain things in common, so I can apply those to the societies and individuals I create when I’m writing. None of that would connect to a reader if I didn’t go beyond the academic.
I observe, question, and listen a lot, and I always have, since I was a child. When I was a kid, it was part survival technique, but it was also part of my normal wanting to be in charge personality. If you want someone to follow you, you need to understand what they want and need both. Charisma or brute force only gets one so far. Pay attention, ask questions, listen, push gently, and then compare to others. What are the commonalities? Why are there differences? Put that into your characters and your stories. My hope is that as my readers are working through my stories, they are connecting with one or more of the characters, discovering what they have in common or not, and deepening their understanding of the nature of life or the possibilities of life, for better or worse. Hopefully better.
The same is true for teaching. While I’m not in formal academia, I volunteer teach as a docent at a museum and I do teach at convention and conferences from time to times, usually for some payment because my time, training, and knowledge is valuable. I revise that and how I teach based on what worked and what didn’t. I ask questions, during the class or I make room for questions. I try to have a part that is interactive if there is time. My formal college students were always thrown that first two weeks of classes when they realized that they had to read their textbooks because I was not going over that information in class. Class time was for evaluation of other evidence, using evidence to figure what was going on, and to see new connections. I would say to them, “If you want facts about ancient Rome/Athens/Egypt/whatever, get an encyclopedia. I’m going to help you think like a historian.”
Q: Outside of your own work, who is an author you always recommend who is on your own must-read list for when they pen something new?
A: Sadly, my favorite author isn’t putting out anything new because she is Octavia Butler. She was doing what I can only aspire to do – thinking about life and all the harsh realities with the full range of possibilities without glossing over anything just for the comfort of the reader. Otherwise, I’m so picky about what I read because I’m constantly getting books to review that I have little time to read for pleasure. The upside is that reading to review means I read a lot I would not choose to read, good, bad, and in between, mostly in between.
Q: You’ve done quite a few public appearances. What do you love about them and do you have any coming up for fans to look forward to?
A: I feel like I do so few public appearances compared to what I used to do and what so many other authors do. I used to do one convention or conference a month, but it came down to cost and benefit. For small authors, breaking even is often what you can hope for. Until three years ago, after the 2008 recession changed academia for the worse, I hadn’t had a steady paying job, so unless I could be fairly guaranteed a profit, my family and I made the decision I had to stop going to events unless it was a massive one where I was a featured and invited guest. I only do one to three now a year. I’ve done more events now that so much moved online, five in 2020 and two already in 2021 with another huge one on Labor Day weekend. (https://mscworldwide.org/)
I miss meeting fans and potential fans. I miss reading in front of a live audience. There is a power rush when you are reading, and you see people lean in toward you or you hear them suck in their breath when you are reading. You can’t get that online.
I do not miss getting con crud so I will be continuing to use hand sanitizer, refusing to hug random people, and possibly wearing masks to conventions and conferences if I’m behind my author table or out in the hallways in the future. I hope folks understand that going forward. I also don’t miss the judgy hypocrites at some fandom conventions I’ve been invited to or the creepy fans who hang out at author tables; the first just need to keep their eyes in their heads and their mouths closed while the second need to keep their hands to themselves and move it along or buy one of everything at my table then move it along.
Q: Finally, if there is anything else you would love to share with our readers, please do so here!
A: Please check out my social media, particularly my Patreon where my subscribers learn more about my personal life, have access to a serialized new work of fiction (and future works of fiction, and will get information about upcoming books and short stories as well as non-fiction work before anyone else.
Main Website: https://www.tammyjoeckhart.com/ (has links to everything)