Q and A with Ann Tinkham About Her New Collection: Stories I Can't Show My Mother
1. Did this collection come together gradually, after you'd written a few stories that you...couldn't show your mother? Or did you think of the theme for the collection first?
It came together gradually. I had written fifty short stories over a ten-year period and decided I wanted to publish a story collection or two, even though writer friends, agents, and editors advised against it. “Story collections don’t sell. Write a novel instead,” was the common refrain. After my traditional publishing deal for Climbing Mountains in Stilettos, a humorous pop-feminist book, didn’t lead to fame and fortune, I made a conscious choice to uncouple the goals of publishing and money-making and self-publish my story collections. It freed me up to pursue my creative goals instead of trying to break the secret code of what sells in the publishing world.
As I looked for emergent themes in my stories, I noticed many I would never show my mother. And a title was born. When I eventually shared the title with my mom, she tried to dissuade me, not wanting to draw attention to herself or to the notion that she might be prudish—which she isn’t. Sex-infused writing just isn’t her thing.
2. Many of the stories in this collection are tonally playful and subversive, for example, an artist in NYC who thinks she can judge a man's sexual prowess based on his eyeglass frames; another who agrees to a self-proclaimed horse whisperer's dubious suggestion that she ride a horse naked in an attempt to get over an ex—do you consider yourself a social satirist?
I suppose I do. I think it comes from being an idealistic truth-seeker in an imperfect and bizarro world. I like to poke fun at and delve into the things people hold sacred, because it often leads to a Wizard of Oz experience—discovering a flawed mortal behind a curtain who’s projecting a false persona to attract followers. Especially in the absence of science, people tend toward magical thinking when making sense of the world and put their faith in psychics, gurus, cults, horse-whisperers, men on mounts, and men walking on water. I mean if someone can turn water into wine, let’s see it, for god’s sake!
Satire is preferable to straight-up criticism in that it delivers social commentary with a spoonful of sugar. When people are laughing, their hearts and minds are more receptive to other ways of seeing and living. I don’t know why throughout human history leaders have used coercion and force as methods for persuasion when humor is so much more effective.
3. This is your second published story collection; your first, The Era of Lanterns and Bells, came out in 2017. How would you say the two collections differ from each other?
My first collection was described by Publishers Weekly as melancholy yet uplifting, also rich and contemplative, which I think is spot on. Stories I Can’t Show My Mother is funnier, lighter, and sexier, but equally quirky. This book is at times seductive, such as when a female protagonist stages a quickie at her art opening. It treats sex as a means to an end, such as when a woman convinces a sperm donor to do a direct deposit. The vocabulary of eroticism becomes commonplace for a woman writing “romantica” in her day job and for an escort to high-powered politicos. When a woman turns to acupuncture to cure her apathy, and she suspects the treatment she's receiving is love voodoo, she comes on to her practitioner in a reverse MeToo moment.
4. You've lived in Boulder, CO for many years, and I'm guessing some of the New Age-related humor and references that pop in your stories are drawn from experiences you've had in that town. Can you comment on this?
If I do, I might get kicked out of Boulder. I’m already on the short list because I hate yoga. But I’ll do it anyway.
New Agers are the first to criticize traditional religion for its magical thinking and groupthink tendencies. What they fail to acknowledge is that their worldview falls prey to the same influences. New Ageism in Boulder is inextricably linked with privilege and is thus shaped by people believing they manifest and attract abundance through meditation, yoga, and clean living, when the truth is: they’ve often inherited or married into money. This town is teeming with yoga gods and goddesses with swanky homes and Teslas—enlightenment through trust funds.
5. Who would you say are your primary artistic and literary influences?
When it comes to writing, funny and profound is my favorite combination. If I can’t have both, I must have one or the other. It’s even better if some hardship is thrown into the mix. If life’s going to be difficult—which it often is—you might as well laugh your way through it. Crying also works but laughing is way more fun.
Thus, Cannery Row is one of my all-time faves. I love anything by Steinbeck. Also, the humor in hardship as seen in The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. Man versus nature themes in Into The Wild and Into Thin Air by John Krakauer. The gorgeous writing and engaging storytelling in The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. Other standout books include The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen for the hard truth about families; Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and American Pastoral by Philip Roth.
I’m not a big TV/movie person, but I loved the classic movies, My Dinner with Andre—conversation as conversion experience, and Harold and Maude—death doesn’t have to be so serious and maybe we can take it into our own hands when we’re ready. Another favorite is Little Miss Sunshine with its low-concept story, quirky characters, and unpredictable ending. I found The King’s Speech to be an incredibly moving account of the transformative effect of a therapeutic relationship. And because I share the king’s fear of public speaking, it hits close to home.
My favorite TV series was Northern Exposure—beautiful writing, rich diversity of characters and because I’d like to live in that idyllic Alaskan community.
6. Of course, I can't resist asking, has your mother read any of these stories?
If she has, she hasn’t admitted it. I’m thinking about installing a Mom-cam to catch her in the act!
7. What are you working on now?
I’m slammed with ghostwriting and editing projects, so I have very little time for my own creative writing. My life is a cautionary tale for aspiring writers without a funding source. I’d recommend doing a stint as a drug lord, becoming a vodka bro with Russian oligarchs, or blackmailing someone famous and threatening to pen a tell-all.
I’m preparing to release my third collection, Afraid of the Rain. This collection is closer in tone and style to my first, The Era of Lanterns and Bells. In these stories, the characters are driven to peril by their passions. Some are exalted, yet others succumb to their obsessions. For example, in The Moon in Her Veins, a woman trades in her high-tech existence for a life as a heroin addict with no interest in rehab or redemption; an impulsive choice forever changes her and directly conflicts with her junkie lifestyle.