Tassy Morgan's Bluff
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San Andreas, California is a tiny crabbing port on the Redwood Coast, an hour south of Oregon. Though the country around it is spectacular, the town itself is unremarkable, except for its wonderfully quirky citizens. Ex-Hollywood lawyer Linc Ellis moved here to help his wife open a posh B and B; but when she died very suddenly, she left him to mourn in a mansion full of empty rooms. Painter Tassy Morgan got only a shack above the beach when her ex-husband discarded her. Linc and Tassy live just across the road but between his numbed isolation and her fierce concentration on her art, they haven't even metyet.
But real estate hustler Margaret Nam wants to turn this modest town into a quaint seaside resort, and step one is dealing with Tassy's disreputable shack. Her campaign brings Linc and Tassy together and to their mutual surprise, they strike sparks. The more local opposition Tassy faces, the closer she and Linc edge toward unexpected love.
Tassy Morgan's Bluff is a book about falling in love, but on your own stubborn terms this time. It's a story of self-actualization, despite the obstacles of life and the opinions of the community. Before they meet, both Linc and Tassy think their lives are in their last act. But the hopeful gift of their story is the discovery that maybe their real lives are just beginning. For any reader who yearns for renewal and a shot of much-needed wit, this story is the perfect remedy.
Jim Stinson has had a peripatetic career writing, teaching, and producing videos. Today, he works pro bono on website and podcast media for progressive legislators and causes. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife.
Q. The town of San Andreas and its citizens are major characters in this book. What was the inspiration for this town? How do you go about building the setting for a book and what elements of a book's setting do you feel are most important?
Purely imaginary San Andreas was synthesized from several different towns on the California Redwood Coast. (I try to be scrupulous about avoiding the least hint of references to real people and places.) Since readers grow impatient with self-indulgent description, I try to select just the most telling details and then introduce them at plausible points in the story. Here, I think the most important descriptive element is the environmentthe brooding redwoods, the aching-green fields, the fickle weather, the stunning sunsets, the ancient, indifferent sea.
Q. This book features a large and distinct cast of characters. How do you approach constructing your characters? What elements of character do you feel are most important? How do you develop dialogue for your characters?
I start with a general idea, then individualize the person progressively as the needs of each scene suggest. Notice, for example, how, over the course of the narrative, Linc deals with the mega-kitchen in the B and B. I also characterize from inside by narrating each scene in the distinctive voice of one character in it (that's why some of the prose shows some dodgy grammar!) The book includes the voices of eight quite different personalitiesmaybe more; I lose track. The author's voice intrudes mainly to introduce a scene and to segue way into the next one. As for developing dialogue, I'm a good amateur mimic (my old radio background) so I just "do" the characters as I write. And re-write; and re-write…
Q. The book involves several interweaving storylines (Margaret Nam's beautification crusade, Grandmother Halvorsen's land grab, and the love story between Linc and Tassy). How do you go about developing multiple stories? What challenges did you face writing this book?
I have no idea how I interweave story lines. Often, a scene will feel out of place, so I fuss with scene order until I'm satisfied. I maintain a strict timeline, so that different events don't get out of sync on my imaginary calendar. For me, Grandmother Halvorsen's campaign is important as a key element in the local milieu and as a symbolic force (See her reaction, at the end, on the beach). The trick was to keep her story engaging although it doesn't join the mainstream action until near the close of the book.
Q. Tassy Morgan is a strong female character. What drew you to writing about Tassy? What was the inspiration for the character? What message did you want to convey to your audience through Tassy?
People have asked how a male can write a story with a woman protagonist and a strong female sensibility overall. I have always been around strong womenmy grandmother, mother, maternal aunt, sister, sister's daughters, my wife, my own daughterand I've always felt comfortable in their company. Beyond what I've naturally absorbed from my boisterous family, I've found that the trick is not to write "female" but to provide just the right cues to let the reader create the character's female-ness, if you will. As for "message," I simply tried to write a story about life as I'd like it to be: full of imperfect people and frustrating events, but funny despite itself and, in the end, worth it. I hope readers can share my values.
- With Tassy's honking laugh and extravagant actions (e.g. painting "F.U." on her house and shattering Linc's window with a well-pitched bottle) what kind of person is she? Is she just plain eccentric, or a deeper, more complex person than she might seem? Why?
- Who is Linc Ellis (after Tassy brings him back to life)? How can a man who loved his wife because she was as compact and efficient as "a Swiss army knife" succumb to a big, boisterous person like Tassy? Has she changed himor will she have to if they're to come together? And what would she have to do to succeed?
- The town of San Andreas and its people play a major role in this story. How many different types of people live here, and how does each type relate to Tassy? Which characters do you like? Are there any whom you can't help liking, despite yourself. Why?
- The conflict in Tassy Morgan's Bluff arises from Margaret Nam's intense dislike of Tassy's shack. Or is it just the shack she disapproves of? Is Margaret justified? How far should a community go to enforce conformity on neighborhood appearance? How does Tassy handle matters and what does her approach say about her?
- When Tassy flatly rejects Norman Stihl's romantic come-ons, she speaks of a lack of chemistry between them. What creates the right chemistry for Tassy and how does Linc do it?
- Linc's attempts to help Tassy are often made without her knowledge, and this ignites numerous arguments throughout the book. How do you feel about Linc's strategy for helping/wooing Tassy? What does it say about Linc when, for ethical reasons, he initially refuses to help Tassy with her legal documents?
- Linc says he became a lawyer instead of a pianist because "that's where the money was." How much do we learn of Linc's finances? Of Tassy's? How do their financial situations affect their lives and aspirations?
- During her meeting with Tassy, Grandmother Halvorsen observes, "Some human motives are explainable and others not." What are Grandmother's motives in this book? How do her motives relate to those of the town? Do you agree with either side? Whose side and why?
- Tassy concludes that her relationship with her far-away daughter is essentially "finished business." How does Tassy's attitude toward her grown daughter evolve during the story and what future might mother and daughter haveif any?
- By the end of the story, Margaret Nam's local popularity has dwindled markedly. What did her political aspirations have to do with this? In general, how does the town's civic business figure in the book's events?
- Orson Wellesley plays a small part in events, but what is his true role in this story? How does he fulfill it? The mysterious aristocrat, Beowulf, does not affect the action directly. What is his true role in the book?
- Why does Tassy refuse to marry Linc? Will they ever marry? One way or the other, how do you see these quite mature people as parents?