Name TammyJo Eckhart, PhD
Where are you from?
I’m an Iowa girl but I’ve lived in Italy, New York, and Indiana, too. Didn’t think we’d be here but at least we are in a fairly liberal part of Indiana… yes, that does exist.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Depends on what you mean by news? My last book contract finished out in the summer of 2015 when the omnibus version of Beyond the Softness of His Fur was released. It had been three ebooks before and to be blunt, I don’t know how to really push or market ebooks because I’m not personally a fan of them. I like to hold a book in hands, turn over pages, make notes, live with it.
But the last book I was paid for is a chapter in Stories from the Polycule which is a collection of essays, stories, and other pieces from folks who live in poly relationships or households. Yes, I am poly. My husband and I didn’t take the traditional monogamy vows when we got married. We’ll celebrate 24 years of marriage come May 2016; my other partner has been in our family for nearly 17 years now. We are open to others but not actively looking.
I’m also preparing to go back to MARCON, a convention in Columbus, Ohio, after a five year hiatus, as well as returning to Inconjunction in Indianapolis. I couldn’t do a couple other conventions for financial reasons — either they are simply too expensive or they haven’t fulfilled their potential and I don’t have the emotional energy or money to keep trying.
I should (fingers crossed) have a chapter out in a kinky history book some time in the fall of 206. I’ve written about masters and slaves in Greco-Roman societies, one of my former academic fields.
I’m also working on my second collaborate book, my first fiction collaborate project but I don’t want to say much more about that. My other collaborate book was written with my slave, Fox, and it is called At Her Feet and has been recommend by a few different sex experts over the years since it was published. It has ebook, traditional paperback, and even an audio version… no, that is not our voices, but Suzy Bright produced the audio version and got too good voices to read it.
Of course, I keep hoping that my literary agent will come to me with a couple of contracts for the books she is shopping since I’m currently working on book 3 of a new series. I think if I don’t have a contract by the time book three is done, I’ll go back and do a small, kinky book and hope that Circlet will publish it.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
My earliest short story was in kindergarten. It was about a ghost… I didn’t have a normal childhood.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In 1995, when I was paid for two pieces in anthologies; it was my first submissions, too, so that made me feel good about my abilities. “Be Careful” was a non-fiction essay about issues of consent in BDSM that Laura Antoniou put into her Some Women book. One Day in the Life of the Landfords” was bought by Circlet Press for their S/M Futures book then republished by Blue Moon Books in 2014 in their double anthology entitled Color of Pain, Shade of Pleasure. Sure, I’d had other pieces published in small magazines but not for pay. Being paid is what made me feel like a writer, being published by an actually publishing house made me feel like a writer.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
At first I was just writing short stories as a way to bet my creative energy out but also to deal with some feeling about my sexuality and my childhood abuse. BDSM isn’t abuse, but there are abusers hiding in that world and a lot of what turns on kinky folks, isn’t nice romantic consensual things. I didn’t think I could do more than just read them myself until my husband and therapist said I should look into submitting them somewhere. When Circlet Press had an anthology, I decided to try but instead of the things I was writing, I challenged myself to do something new which apparently worked.
But I wasn’t writing a book. Cecilia Tan, from Circlet, asked if I had any more short stories and when I said I did, she suggested I contact Richard Kasak Books. I lived in NYC at the time and after I sent him a few stories, he invited me to his office. We talked and I signed contracts for my first two books right then. Neither of those are in print but you can find the books and one other book republished by a small press in a book called Mistress Loves Me, This I Know.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
I probably do but I don’t think I’m good at defining it. I use the genre, the voice, and the tense that makes the best sense for the story I want to tell. I don’t like being flowery or overly descriptive because I want each reader to connect to the characters and situations. I also don’t pull my punches when I describe violence or sex but I do not simply include such scenes for the sake of doing so. If I’m taking the time to write it and your time to read it, it is important to what is happening to the story and the characters.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Beyond the Softness of His Fur reflects the central question in the book: What does it mean to be human? I also thought it made it fairly clear that this was a book with a non-human creature of the furry type.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Probably not a single message but several messages in the trilogy.
First, that playing “god” will have consequences for not just the creatures we make but for our entire world. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it but that we really need to think about it and prepare for those anything that might happen.
Second, that what turns you on in fantasy may not turn you on in reality.
Third, nothing worth having is easy.
Finally, sometimes heroes are not fighting the grand global fight but the smaller ones that help their family, help themselves. Those are still worthy fights to have.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
It is science fiction so it isn’t realistic as in in the middle of the 22nd century we’ll see these things have happened. But based on my research into various trends and predictions, these things are possibilities. The emotions, the relationships, I try to make those 100% realistic. My heroes are not perfect, Emily had flaws, Wynn has flaws, but I hope that readers will think “I could see myself in that situation” or “I hope I could do as well as that if I were in that situation.”
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I have an odd answer for this. This book grew from the fact that my slave, my secondary partner, is a furry. He identifies with have an anthropomorphic animal nature. In his attempts to help me understand what that meant to him, we did some roleplaying. Over time we came up with a scenario that appealed to us both. Then when I decided to leave academia, I decided to write this story for him. It grew into this three book adventure that goes from the very personal to the global.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
I guess the most influential writer I’ve read would be Octavia Butler. I think I’m too explicit to be considered her caliber but I think my ideas are as edgy if not more so. My mother was my biggest mentor as a writer; she was also my biggest hurdle to overcome.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Horrible time to ask because I need to finish a book to review it and I really don’t like it. But I can’t read for pleasure until I’ve finished it. I’d rather not embarrass the author by listing it here.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
New authors… it is rare but I recently enjoyed books from historian Judith Flanders, historical fiction author Emily Holleman, and horror author Sophie Jaff.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I have the book I’m co-writing and then book three of a new series. The new series is a science fiction series set about 1100 years from now in the matriarchal world of what was once called Earth. The series examines how much any society of inequality must work to maintain and justify itself. It has a lot hot sex, sure, but also a lot of very intense subjects. I see this series as a 10 book series with books 3-10 dealing with specific parts of society that our main character, an investigative journalist is examining for a documentary.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Most of my teachers, not just English teachers either or history professors, but school was were I found comfort and the ability to shine and feel positively challenged.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
I gave up on academia so it is my career. However, I also know that without my husband and slave to support us, I couldn’t do this. It isn’t common to make a good living as a fiction author particularly when you write literary versus genre pop fiction like I do.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
If we are talking about Beyond the Softness of His Fur, I’m sure there are things I could go back and improve or edit. But I’m actually really happy with it. I just wish more people were reading it and leaving reviews. I have readers, they talk to me, send me emails, see me at conventions, but they seem afraid to write reviews. SIGH
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
My mother was a writer, rarely published, mostly religious or children’s work. But I’ve always been creative so it was
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Beyond the Softness of His Fur Omnibus Edition
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I have dyslexia so just getting things out of my head in a coherent form could be a problem but I work very hard and have for years. My husband is my first line editor and he helps me clean up any issues. So far, editors and publishers have said my work is very clean; I wish they pushed me more to make the stories a bit better. I think anything could be improved with a very good professional editor.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Octavia Butler was honest about how things were in terms of gender, sex, race, religion, economics, etc. She was brave. I pray I can be that brave. Now I just need a big publishing house to be brave enough, too.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I don’t have to but I do like to try out conventions that we can get to within four hours or so driving. If I have to fly, I need that covered, sorry, conventions but it is true. When I go to a convention I don’t just sit around and try to sell books. I’ll moderator or sit on panels, I’ll run workshops, do readings, even run RPGs. You get the full package when you ask me to a convention. I’m worth it.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
That would be a question for my publishers and it would depend on the book and the publisher.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Actually the hardest part of writing for me is physical and emotional. If I’m stressed, I can’t be creative. I’ve had several big stressors the past five years yet I’ve had four books out and contributed to two more so I think I’d done okay just not as well as I’d like.
I also was injured by a medical clinic several years ago and that injury has made me unable to type beyond a certain amount of time each day. Just doing these questions ate up about 80% of my time one day so you can see how limiting that can be.
Luckily I write fast, so within that time limit I can normally do at least 5 new pages. Sometimes I’m on a roll and I push things and can get 6-10 pages out but then I might need more stretching or even pain medication later.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
During my research for BSHF, I learned about a lot of global and technological trends that futurists think might be part of 22nd century life, assuming we don’t poison or war ourselves back into the dark ages.
I also learned that when I challenge myself, not matter how difficult it is, I’m stubborn and stick to it. In this case, I decided to tell the story from two first-person viewpoints — Emily, the human, and Wynn, the genetically engineered slave she is forced to purchase by her employers. Wynn has been raised in a lab and then in a very restricted environment, he’s been designed to have limited intelligence, and that required a very different vocabulary and way of looking at the world. When I was in Emily’s viewpoint, could write normally, but for Wynn I had to go slowly, go back and edit, think “Would he really have the words to say this?”
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
If you can write whatever the market wants, and you can crank out something that anyone wants, if you can stick to a formulaic genre, then you are more likely to have a decent paying career as a writer than someone who believes in the craft of writing or in writing their passions or a message. I know, most other authors won’t tell you that, but look at what tops the profits lists. It isn’t literature, it often isn’t even proper English (or whatever your language) but just pulpy fun. I wish I could write like that at times… other times I’m glad that I seem unable or unwilling to do that.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Please do write reviews. I know that what I write is edgy, that is pushes a lot of boundaries, and maybe you feel embarrassed that you really liked that book or related to the characters. But if you want me or any other author to keep putting out books, we have to sale books, and your reviews honestly help that.
To readers who are not my readers — stop being comfortable with what you read all the time. Push yourself, explore, and expand what and whom you’ll read. Your brain, your groin, our life will be better for it.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I do not, but I’m sure the first book I was read was a collection of children’s Bible stories since my mother was “religious.” However she also encouraged me to research questions and read a wide range of materials so she wasn’t a fundamentalist or anything like that.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
That’s complicated. I don’t find most purposeful humor funny, I don’t find stupidity or willful ignorance funny, yet I also am not that attracted to highbrow humor either. I think the honest, silly everyday and unexpected make me laugh most.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
Hypatia, the Greek scholar who was killed by Christians primarily because she was a woman who was very smart and had a position of authority at the Alexandrian academy in the early 5th century. While I am a Christian, it is actions and attitudes like that which give the religion a bad name.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
I’ve never thought about it… probably because I won’t have one, I’m being cremated or buried to be reabsorbed into the earth.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I love listening to and singing with music even if I inherited some of my father’s difficulty in hearing tones correctly, I have to work at it to do well. I also love TV, I grew up on TV, and can barely imagine not having it as a choice. I love board games and RPGs, we have gaming groups for both in our house with friends. I do love reading but since I review books and I’m writing, I often don’t have as much time to read as I’d like. Oh, yeah, and some computer or video games but not first person shooters ones.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I’m a picky fan of science fiction, fantasy, horror, but I also like what I consider smart crime dramas or thrillers as well as very few situation comedies. I’ll even watch porn from time to time though mostly to make fun of it.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Chocolate, Green, Eclectic
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Writing was supposed to be a side career. I was going to be a college history professor, actually I was both while finishing my PhD and then for a brief period afterwards. But I got my degree just as the economy went south and in the American grand “wisdom” we cut higher education and education in general so tenure track jobs became rarer and rarer. I’m not moving my family, having my family change their careers for a year that is year to year. That’s BS. I miss teaching but I do volunteer work at a museum where I get some of my teaching energy out. Sometimes at conventions I also get to lead workshops which are sort of like teaching.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
http://www.tammyjoeckhart.com/ lists all of my main social media on it as well as links to my books and upcoming conventions.