Cooper-and-Packrat-coverGet to know Tamra…

I’m a Children’s Book Author, a Campground Owner and a Middle School Teaching Assistant.   It makes for a very busy, very interesting year!

My first middle-grade eco-adventure was published by Islandport Press in August of 2013; Cooper and Packrat: Mystery on Pine Lake.  Book 2 in this series, Mystery of the Eagle’s Nest, will be released in August 2014.

Be sure to check out the Random Writing Blog, where I post about my writing, books I’ve read, nature walks I’ve taken and wildlife pictures I’ve snapped. For more info, visit my website.

Quirky Questions 

What company advertisements could you model for? 

As I head outside with my camera attached to its monpod, wearing hiking boots, baseball cap, wool socks, and a many-pocketed vest filled with camera gear, I imagine I’m a  walking advertisement for L.L. Bean.

What is your greatest phobia?             

Of being alone in life. I’m such a social person. I didn’t realize how much so, until this winter.  My husband, daughter and son left ahead of me to Florida to visit my in-laws. I was supposed to follow three days later when school let out. The first couple of days were fine, I had Cookie, my yellow lab, and I actually enjoyed the alone time to get some things done. I boarded Cookie at the kennel on Thursday in prep for my flight out on Friday. But when I showed up at the airport, they had canceled my flight due to a  snowstorm!  I couldn’t leave for another three days! On the day before my flight, I caught myself talking out loud just to hear another voice.  I was never so glad to see my family as when I stepped on that plane in Fort Meyers. I think I talked for an hour straight. 

What is the messiest place in your home?

My closet!  As a matter of fact, I’m supposed to be cleaning it out as I write this. I have stuff in the back of it that’s at least twenty years old. I get all sentimental and attached to the strangest things sometimes.

What random act of kindness have you done in the past year? 

A teaching friend read Cooper and Packrat to her class last month.  Her adorable first grade students sent me letters asking well thought out questions like, “How much of the story is real?” and “How long was Molly grounded for?” and “Why did you choose loons for the first book?”.  

I was so impressed, I answered each student individually on one of my wildlife photo postcards, and sent Linda a class letter answering all the other lingering questions. 

What is the last thing you paid money for? 

I just, just ordered a fitbit! A device that tracks your steps, distance and calories burned, then wirelessly sends the info to your phone or computer.  At night, it tracks your sleep.  I’ve been watching two of my cousins (sisters) challenge each other all winter  by posting the number of steps they’ve taken daily.  I want to join in on the fun too!  Aaaaand, I’m just a wee bit curious how many steps I take each day between teaching, running the campground and doing my power walk. 

What current product do you think will baffle people in 100 years? 

Probably the Fitbit.  Just to look at it, you’d have no idea what it does!  It almost looks like a tracking device. So if I got lost on one of my wildlife stalking adventures, my husband could find me. 

What do you often make fun of? 

Myself.  The students in school are always trying to guess my age. I give them clues, like telling them I had to talk to my friends while standing in the kitchen, tied to the wall by something called a ‘phone cord’, and with my parents sitting right there listening.  They’ll guess something silly like 30, and I’ll tell them their my new favorite student. You should see their faces when they find out my real age! I guess 50 to them is pretty old.

What is one thing you do with determination every day? 

Even if I’m not physically sitting down and writing, I’m moving forward in some way with the next project.  For instance, I’m very busy at school right now, and also trying to get the campground ready to open May 1st, so these next six weeks don’t allow for a lot of words to be written.  But I’m researching fox kits by checking on their den once a week and retrieving and watching the SD card from the trail cam I set up nearby.  This third Cooper and Packrat adventure will also be set during April vacation so I make notes every day on the weather, the plant life, wildlife, the kits and what we’re doing in the campground to get it ready to open.  These notes will be invaluable to me when I find time in my schedule to write . . . . probably when school lets out.  

If you could have your mailbox shaped like an object, what would it be? 

 A loon! 

What topic would you like to know more about? 

I really can get lost in any nature type research. Right now it’s fox; their kits and den, owning and trapping them. 

Knowing what you know now, what would you change about your high school experience?  

I wish I had a clue of what I’d wanted to be after high school.  Waaaay back then, there were no classes or quizzes to help decide your future job based on interests and skills, like they have now.  I know my son and daughter grumbled and groaned at the process, but at least they were thinking about it.  In my case, I was pulled aside mid-senior year by the guidance counselor and asked, “Are you going to college?”  I replied, “I guess~”, yet I had no idea what to major in.    

I did finally decide to go to college for Travel and Tourism, then got a job as a file clerk and worked my way up to a department manager in an insurance company.  While I loved the people and mostly liked the paper-pushing desk job, I knew on some level it wasn’t what I was meant to do.  

In hindsight, I wish I’d paid more attention to the things I loved; English, books, and reading.  And if I knew myself as well in high school as I do now, I’d look into the careers of writing, editing, librarian and teacher.   

What is the first thing you notice when you meet someone? 

Their smile!

DSC_4270Writing Questions 

When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?

I’ve always had a huge interest in writing and reading for my personal satisfaction. One Christmas when I was about ten, I was given a gray, metal desk with a folding metal chair. It was my pride and joy. I sat for hours writing and typing, playing secretary and teacher, writing in my diary. 

I also read voraciously, climbing a big, old maple tree or hiking into the woods to find a quiet place. 

It wasn’t until my daughter was born and I began to revisit the children’s books I loved as a child that I decided I wanted to write for that age group. 

Have you ever felt that your personal expectations have limited your creativity? If so, how have you dealt with this? 

Oh, yes! I’m way too hard on myself. I second-guess every word and writing decision, especially when it comes to plot. When I’m stuck I tend over-think it. When I over-think it, I get confused and make excuses not to write. 

I deal with it by taking a long walk, and reminding myself I can fix everything and anything in the next revision. 

Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?

I put on my sneakers, grab my 500mm lens camera, and head for the woods!  We have a trail along the edge of the lake where I can watch eagles, loons, mallards, geese, muskrats, osprey, heron and more.  Just being in the woods and hearing nothing but nature’s noise helps calm my soul so I can hear myself think. And of course, it helps me feel closer to Cooper and Packrat. 

How do you know when a book is finished?

Oh, that’s easy!  When instead of making changes that improve the plot, character or cadence of the language, I’m just taking a word out here and putting a comma in over there.  Then it’s time to pass it onto my critique group. 

What are your words of wisdom for someone starting out in the field of writing?

I know it sounds cliché, but read everything you can get your hands on. Write often. Attend conferences and find local or on-line writers to create a critique group. These are all things that helped me find my way to being published.  

What life experiences have inspired your work?

Deciding to run a campground took me from a cubicle job twenty three years ago, and plunked me down in the middle of the woods on a 290 acre lake. I’ve been in love with nature ever since. I’m always asked, is Cooper based on your son? He’s not. If I’m to be totally honest, Cooper is me! 

What obstacles have you had to deal with in your career?

Time. Being a campground owner is a 14 hour-a-day, seven day-a-week job from May through October and then maybe a 3 hour-a-day job the rest of the year. During the school year, I’m a teaching assistant in a Special Education, inclusive classroom. As you can imagine, finding quality time to write, research, and now market Cooper and Packrat, can be challenging.  

BUT all three of these loves of mine are so intertwined. I find so much inspiration from the campground and the wildlife within.  The community I teach in is amazingly supportive, from the students up through administration. In return I bring my knowledge of writing and critiquing into the classroom. I talk books with my kid customers at the campground. I can’t imagine doing one without the others. 

How did you pick your writing genre?

I didn’t really pick it, it chose me!  More than twelve years ago I was writing picture books. I loved them! (Still do!)  I published The Three Grumpies (illustrated by Ross Collins) in 2003, but was unable to sell another. Cooper and Packrat was first written as a picture book about a baby loon’s journey through the summer season. When it received several rejections, my critique group suggested, “This story is bigger than a picture book format.” So I wrote it as an early reader about a kid who wanted to help the loons on his lake. Again, my critique group said, “Think bigger!”  One even said, “Think Hoot!”  

My first thought was “What?  Me?  Write middle grade?”  But then I decided, why not?  What did I have to lose?  So I expanded it to a middle grade novel, did tons and tons of first hand-on-the-lake loon research, gave it the unique setting of a campground and a mystery.  The more I dug into it, the more I loved it. 

The lesson here is to keep learning and growing as a writer. Experiment. You never know where it might lead you.