Interview with Samuel Jaye Tanner, author of Determined Weeds

12:30 AM

Doodles, doodles everywhere congratulates author Samuel Jaye Tanner on the release of his latest book, Determined Weeds! Let's welcome him on the blog for an interview with DDE today. Read on!

1. How did you decide to write Determined Weeds?

I started writing about my best friend's suicide in 2011. Nick killed himself when he was twenty-two. Ten years later, I was in a creative writing class in graduate school. I started writing about Nick. At the time, I was a full time high school English and drama teacher in Minneapolis. I was also a full time doctoral student at The University of Minnesota. Still, I found myself writing about Nick early each morning. The writing was emotional and intense. During this time, my stepfather committed suicide. As my friend Nick had done, Jim shot himself in the head. Startled by Jim's act, I found that the book I had been writing about Nick started to blur. This was true in terms of genre and content. I began writing about my relationship with my alcoholic mother. I started exploring my strange experiences as a high school teacher. Soon, I realized that I was writing a trilogy. The first book, Shot Across The River Styx was everything literary agents don't want. It was too short, it didn't have a clear genre, and the content was extremely dark. After trying to pitch the book unsuccessfully, a friend and I created an independent publishing house. The Daily Publishing became a way to share these three books. Really, I never imagined writing memoir. I just wanted to write bad science fiction. Apparently, I had to get these weepy memoirs out of my system first. 

2. Can you give the readers an idea about what they should expect in the book or in the trilogy as a whole?

The trilogy is really about learning to make peace with an enormous, complicated universe. My experiences with my friend Nick, my mother, and teaching high school are pretty bizarre. Still, the energies underneath them, to me, seem quite universal. Things do not go the way that we want them to. The universe is far too complicated for us to understand or control. We need to learn to exist anyway. I suppose these books are about choosing life instead of suicide. As somebody who has spent 15 years learning how to be an educator, I guess that is a lesson I want to teach. I wish I could have taught it to Nick or to Jim. Instead, I'm trying to share it with whoever reads these strange books.

3. Did you decide it early on or did the memoir develop into a trilogy as you wrote?

As I mentioned, this trilogy just emerged. In the past, my creative writing has been wacky, science-fictiony, sarcastic, and a little odd. Not very readable stuff. Those things were with me as this trilogy came out, but, for the first time, I started writing honest about who I was. Now, as I am finishing drafting the final book in the series, I think I've learned a great deal about sharing my writing with a reader. 

4. How did you celebrate the first sale of the book?

A cigar. A cheap one. A fat one. I had to put it out before I was finished. My wife and I have two small boys. I don't get much time to celebrate anything with a temper-tantrum throwing toddler, and a drooling infant.

5. Tell us about some of the biggest challenges or learning experiences you faced throughout the writing and publishing process.

Literary agents are not interested in short, genre-confused memoir. I worked with Mary Logue - a writer in the Twin Cities - to draft Shot Across The River Styx. After finishing the manuscript, she told me that the real work was beginning. Sharing a book is difficult work. Ultimately, after failing to find any agents interested in the book, I agreed to create The Daily Publishing with my friend, Ben Ptacek. He was excited about the three books I was trying to write. He believed in the stories, and so we went to work. Mostly, I wanted a venue to complete these three projects, regardless of if anybody ever read them. Challenging? Yes. Did I learn anything? I don't know. I still haven't gathered much of an audience. But I am getting these books out there. So that is good. 

6. Do you get creative blocks or burnouts? How do you get out of those, if and when you do?

In the past, yes. I had a creative writing block for thirty years. Now? No. I like being creative. I am a college professor now. I spend most of my time writing and thinking. Whether it is academic, creative, or personal, writing has become a part of my routine. In fact, I left my job as a high school teacher because I wanted to devote more time in my day to writing. I think I've taught myself to adhere to a routine that allows me to access and express my creativity. I tried to facilitate that sort of thing with resistant high school students for years. I guess the lessons wore off on me. Creativity is work. So is accessing your psyche, your imagination, and your consciousness. There is nothing pretty or flowery or magical about it. Just get to work, I guess. Kurt Vonnegut, my spirit animal, wrote that every time you create something, your soul grows. So I guess that is what I challenge myself to do now. Make stuff. Even bad stuff. It is good for the soul. 

7. Tell us something personal about you that your readers may be surprised to know.

Well, if you read my two books (and upcoming third), or the blog on my author's website, you'll know everything there ever is to know about me. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually--it is all out there now. Suddenly, I'm an open book. But here are some personal bits: I'm 5'3, terrible at basketball, and recently, a tick climbed out of the forests of central Pennsylvania and lodged itself in my side. Luckily, I caught it early and didn't get Lyme's disease. I still like walking in the woods, but ticks are gross.

8. What do you do when you are not writing or reading?

I play too much John Madden Football, I like to go for walks in the woods with my toddler, and I love teaching. Aside from that -- at this point in my life -- I am fortunate to spend a great deal of time writing and reading. Being a college professor is pretty sweet. 

9. What's next?

As I mentioned, I am finishing the third book in my trilogy of memoirs. I'm also working with some friend to write some sketch comedy, some science fiction, and whatever else seems fun and worth my time. As I'm responding to this question, it is May. So my summer vacation started. Mostly, I am trying to survive parenting two small boys. It's more work than anything else I've ever done. And I was a high school teacher.

10. Lastly, any special thoughts for the readers?

I just hope people will check out the books I've written. I've put an enormous amount of energy and work into sharing these stories. Shot Across The River Styx is a sloppy, emotional mess. But it is absolutely sincere. Determined Weeds is a much more coherent telling of my history with my family. I think there are lessons in both. Finally, my upcoming book (working title is Playing With Sharp Objects) is a great deal of fun. I have some wild stories about being a non-traditional, creative high school teacher. I just hope people will check the work out, pass it along, whatever. Ultimately, I am hoping for the human race's peaceful interaction agains the backdrop (and with) this enormous, complicate universe. But, for now, I'll just settle for some readers. 

Determined Weeds

by Samuel Jaye Tanner

Published: May 1st 2016
Publisher: The Daily Publishing
Genre: Non-Fiction, Dark Memoir

My mother lost her first three babies. The first was never named. The second, Jayson, was stillborn. Christa was four months premature. She lived one week before passing away in Mom’s arms. My sister Christie was born next. She was also four months premature. Despite assurances that she would not live, Christie left the hospital after an extended stay in an incubator. Christie was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but she survived. Doctors told my mother that she should not try and have any more children. Despite their objections, Mom gave birth to me four years later. 

I was healthy. My father, a Jew for Jesus freak, named me Samuel. My Hebrew name was Sh’muel—this means “God Listens.” I was the answer to my parent’s prayers. 

Mom started drinking after I turned four. She was an alcoholic by the time I was seven. This was when my parents got a divorce. My father was awarded custody of my sister and me because Mom was destroying herself. 

Over twenty years after Mom left me, her second husband—my stepfather Jim—shot himself in the head. I tried to insert myself back into my mother’s life. I wanted to help this woman who had lived through so much trauma. Mom refused my help, choosing alcohol and pain pills instead of a relationship with her son. 

A mother’s love is a powerful force. Despite Mom’s determination, I loved her. In fact, Mom’s obstinacy was responsible for my birth. She was determined to have her own way. This was true when it came to creating life as well as destroying it. 

This book is a eulogy for my mother. It is the story of how I learned to take the good that was in her, separate it from the bad, and cope with her absence. This is a story of moving forward in an enormous, complicated universe.

Buy the book

About the author

Samuel Jaye Tanner is a thirty-five year old person. Currently, he is an assistant professor of literacy education in the Penn State University system. He lives with wife and two young sons in State College, PA. Originally from the Twin Cities in Minnesota, Sam spends his time playing video games, coping with reality, and trying to be a quality human being. Sam's first novel - Shot Across the River Styx - details his best friend's suicide. His second book, Determined Weeds, is about his alcoholic mother. A third book in this trilogy of memoirs, currently in process, is about his career as a high school teacher. After Sam finishes his memoirs, he plans on writing what he wants -- bad science fiction.

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