BOD Spotlight with Tamara Jones

Interview by Angie Taylor

Welcome, Tamara Jones, I’m so excited to feature you on the BOD blog and share with all our Bod members a little bit about yourself and your awesome writing.

I’m excited to be here. Thanks for having me!

For starters, will you please tell us a little bit about yourself? 

The short answer is I’m a wife, mom, writer, and quilter from small town Iowa. The more complicated answer is I’m a delightfully married insomniac night owl who’s compelled to create, either by throwing bright fabric at a quilt project or slaughtering people on paper.

When did you join BOD, and what do you most like about it?

About a year ago, I think. I like that everyone’s crazy helpful and friendly, and we all like different types of stories. Whether it’s zombies, plagues, murderers, government collapses, or anything else, BOD’s there to help you get your book or movie fix!

From what I understand, you have a diverse artistic background. You studied art, so how did you become a writer? Have you always written or was it something that kind of just happened?

I’ve been writing fiction since I was about seven years old and wrote my first full-length novel when I was fourteen. So, yeah, it’s been a constant in my life, other than the ebbs and flows that seem to come with it. I’ll write like crazy for a while, then won’t write at all for a while, then write like crazy… I wish I was more consistently productive, but my brain works how it works.

As for Art, I’ve also been ‘artistic’ and ‘crafty’ for my whole life as well. People are often surprised that I actually can draw. I don’t draw much these days, I tend to dump my visual art expression into quilting, but I still sketch out characters, maps, and locations from time to time. When I went back to college after our daughter was born, I took some drawing classes for fun. Drawing class led to me getting a BA in graphic design with an emphasis in illustration. I worked as a graphic designer for about a decade before my first novel, Ghosts in the Snow, sold to Bantam.

How has your artistic background translated into your many writings?

I’m a very visual person, and I think that quality, more than the art, translates into being able to not only create visual things—like drawings, paintings, and quilts—but being able to set setting and character efficiently. I can identify the ‘telling details’ without spending a great deal of word count and can, hopefully, leave enough room for the reader to fill in the rest with their minds.

I have so enjoyed reading Spore. What a fun, freaky concept. Can you give us an overview of what Spore is about?

Spore’s about people who used to be dead, and the comic artist who tries to save them.
It’s also a story told from three distinct perspectives. First, we have Sean, the tortured comic artist who tries to help the spores despite his own crippling nightmares and family issues. Next, we have Mindy, one of the spores who just wants her life back, but her ex isn’t willing to let her have it without a fight. Last, we have Todd, a deputy trying to get to the truth of what happened to Mindy as well as why Sean’s nightmares are matching a murderer who’s snatching and killing children. All the while, the three stories interconnect and twirl together while the fungus spreads, causing more and more panic, fear, death… and more spores.

ABOUT SPORE: The dead are coming back. Ten naked people walk from a cemetery into artist Sean Casey’s backyard: ten Spore People who used to be dead. One, Mindy, stays with Sean while trying to reclaim her life, but her ex would rather she return to her grave. Sean struggles to protect Mindy and other Spores while battling his recurring-and worsening-nightmares. Meanwhile, the media feeds a panicked frenzy that leads both the hopeful and hateful to Sean’s front door. As the Spore fungus spreads, so does the fear. When mutilated children match Sean’s nightmares, he realizes his own worst terror may be closer than he thinks.

I have read a lot of zombie type books, and most of the time the zombie characters are so unbelievable. But that wasn’t the case at all in Spore. In fact you’ve created zombie characters with whom I sympathized and felt sorry for. Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to create your specific reanimated zombie-like characters in Spore?

I’m a bit of a science geek and I read a LOT. Several years ago, I read about a fungus that can spread for miles underground like a mesh. It sat in my head, stewing like those things tend to do, and one day I got an image in my head of a bunch of naked people walking into some guy’s back yard. I knew his name was Sean and he was an artist, but I didn’t know who the people were, only they were lost and he wanted to help them. As I twirled the idea around in my head a while, the fungal-mesh factoid in the recesses of my brain bubbled up and I decided the people used to be dead but weren’t anymore because the fungus replicated them. After that, I just followed along while Sean’s life went to hell and Mindy tried to get hers back.

Sean is such a fantastic focal character. I loved how he didn’t hesitate at all to help the naked people that just showed up on his lawn. He’s the kind of character that a reader wants to cheer along. Was Sean based off of a real person? And can you tell us about Sean’s role in Spore?

Thank you! No, Sean isn’t based on anyone, he’s just who he is. He’s complicated and troubled in some ways, a bright shining light of principle and justice in others, but mostly he’s his own flawed self. A good, if kind of screwed up, guy. He’s the main protagonist in the story, and I tried to have him face the things anyone would when a miracle (or plague) like the spores walk into their life. He was a great mirror (and window) to show both the good and bad in people, the hope and the fear, the desperation, the elation… I literally dumped it all on his doorstep.

I love strong female characters, so Mare and Mindy are two of my favorite characters in Spore. Do you feel a strong female character can influence readers, and if so how? 

I think any strong character, regardless of gender, can influence readers, but it’s especially fun to write strong women who are vastly different, yet still rounded and relatable. There’s a definite movement to give female characters agency in stories instead of making them little more than window dressing or arm candy for the men. While it’s very important for storytellers to do, in all honesty I didn’t really think about it until readers started pointing it out. Both Mare (Sean’s live-in girlfriend) and Mindy (one of the Spores) stepped onto the page as themselves – fully actualized people. While SPORE’s definitely Sean’s story at its core, he couldn’t have told it without the support (and no-bullshit-tolerance) of Mare. He, alone, isn’t strong enough.

Mindy, however, has the most growth, I think, as she moves from victim to independence. She, too, couldn’t have done it without Mare, so maybe Mare’s the glue that holds each of the two main protagonists together?

Spore is just one of many books you have written, which makes me excited to discover your other works. But from what I was able to research you have a special love for writing horror. Can you tell us about your other books and what draws you to writing horror stories? Do you have a favorite author that has influenced your love for horror?

I read a lot of mass-market-paperback horror as a teenager, from VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic to The Amityville Horror, to pretty much everything by Stephen King. I read it all, the good stuff and utter crap, but I suppose King is my favorite, especially The StandCarrie was the first horror novel I’d read, back in 1975 or so, so maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of Stephen King.

As for my other books, I have three forensic fantasy novels (serial killer in a castle stories, sort of, but they’re actually post-apocalyptic dystopian) titled Ghosts in the SnowThreads of Malice, and Valley of the Soul. In each, the main character, Castellan Dubric Byerly, is faced with a string of murders and is plagued by the ghosts of the victims until he avenges their deaths. They’re all violent and gory, especially Threads of Malice. I also have three short stories available as ebooks – FireEndorphins, and Sid – all violent as well.

I’m not precisely sure why I enjoy ‘slaughtering people on paper’, but it is fascinating to research why people do such awful things to each other, and what turns a regular person into a psychopath, as well as what turns a regular person into a hero. With horror and similar fiction, I get to explore both extremes and it can be really fun.

Your bio says that you like to quilt. I’m a sewer myself and have made several quilts. How long have you been quilting/sewing, and what do you like most about making quilts/creating a work of art?

I started sewing when our daughter – now 26 – was about 6 months old. We were flat out broke and it was much cheaper to buy fabric at the dime store and make her clothes than it was to purchase them already made, so I taught myself how to sew. I made a lot of her clothes until she was about ten or so because I grew to love sewing, but it didn’t take long, maybe three or four months, before the leftover scraps started to become a problem. She was less than a year old when I made my first quilt from those scraps, a small Bargello wall hanging which she still has. The quilts rapidly became larger and more complicated, and I don’t sew clothes anymore, only quilts.

As for what I like best about it, I think it’s a combination of the high I get from creative expression as well as my favorite part of the process: the planning and cutting. It’s embarrassing how many quilts I have cut up and ready to go but haven’t sewn yet. I enjoy piecing quite a lot, but don’t really enjoy quilting the layers together. I can do it – and do it – but I generally send out larger quilts. I will quilt smaller ones myself, though. Also, I sew almost 100% by machine. I’ll do some embellishments by hand, and I hand finish binding, but that’s it. If my sewing machine won’t do it, I won’t do it.

Are there any last crazy or fun facts you’d like all of us at BOD to know about?

I was a role playing finalist in the 90’s at the RPGA invitational at GenCon, but I don’t game any more. My husband does, though, and we regularly have gamers in the basement playing Pathfinder or AD&D.

Oh, how fun. I’ve never really been in to gaming, but I know people who love it. 
Well, thank you, Tamara, for spending time with us at BOD and for sharing your time and talents with us.

Thank you, Angie, for having me! {{hugs}}


Tamara started her academic career as a science geek, earned a degree in art, and, when she’s not making quilts or herding cats, writes tense thrillers as Tamara Jones and the award-winning Dubric Byerly Mysteries series (Bantam Spectra), as Tamara Siler Jones. Despite the violent nature of her work, Tam’s easygoing and friendly. Not sick or twisted at all. Honest.

Tamara is represented by Laura Bradford at Bradford Literary Agency.

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