It's PI day - what's your favorite?
Me, I like Lemon Meringue. Or Key Lime. Or...
Let's dive into some fun science fiction with O.E. Tearmann, creator of the Aces High, Joker's Wild series! Their books include strong themes of diversity and found family, providing a surprisingly hopeful take on a dystopian future. Bringing their own experiences as a marginalized author together with flawed but genuine characters, Tearmann’s work has been described as “Firefly for the dystopian genre.” Publisher’s Weekly called it “a lovely paean to the healing power of respectful personal connections among comrades, friends, and lovers.”
Psst. Here’s a secret for you
O.E. Tearman is a front for two writers. One cis woman and one genderfluid person. So you’re going to see two sets of answers below.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
O. I sort of fell into writing, honestly. I grew up in a household where oral storytelling was prized, but we moved away from the town where most of my family is based in my teen years. That storytelling instinct was still in my blood, so I started looking for an outlet, bumped into E.S., and ended up moving my storytelling over to the written form through that connection.
E.S.: I started writing for fun in eighth grade, but I don’t think I seriously considered writing as more
than an entertaining hobby for myself until late high school.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
O. In my case, I read so much that the ideas overflow in the forms of stories. Most of my ideas come out of history reimagined, science playing fast and loose, and things in the news that either make me light up or shiver all over.
E.S.: I get ideas in a lot of really random places. From dreams, weird headlines, overheard snippets of conversation, consuming other media like books or movies–you name it, I’ve probably gotten an idea from it. I’ve realized over the years that finding ideas and inspiration is really just a matter of paying attention and keeping an open mind and experiencing things in life, and then letting your unconscious translate it into story.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
O. My schedule changes seasonally, since I own a small landscaping company. In the winter (November-March) I get up at 6, read for an hour, make tea, and look over emails/social media and the administrative side of the writing work with my breakfast. I then settle down to write until 3pm. In my season (March-November) I get up around 4am, write for an hour or two, then head to work, and respond to emails after I finish work for the day.
E.S.: What’s a schedule? I’m one of those people who writes in fits and bursts, so sometimes I wind up starting first thing in the morning and going for a few hours, but other times I get half an hour in right before bed. As far as working on the Aces High project in particular, I tend to work around or with Olivia’s schedule to make sure we’re working together and ensuring the best blend of the both of us in the work.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
O. Deciding when to hit the enter key is hard. Formatting rivals taxes for the levels of frustration. And there’s no em dash key on the keyboard! In all seriousness though, I’ve been really surprised by how much you end up falling in love with a work. A piece of writing really does end up holding a piece of your soul.
E.S.: I don’t know if this really counts, but I always find myself surprised by how enthusiastic and supportive readers and community can be, especially with such a niche and intimate work as the Aces High series. It’s really amazing to see and humbling to experience!
Do you have any suggestions to help someone become a better writer? If so, what are they?
O. Read constantly. Read widely. Read the good and the bad. And when adversity smacks you down (and it will) just keep working. The bad times come and go. The work will be there through it all.
E.S.: Definitely seconding Olivia on reading a lot. I’m also a huge advocate for critique groups with other writers, especially if you can find one with writers you respect or admire, who might be a little further on in their writing journey. Go into critique groups with an open mind and trust that the goal is to improve each other’s work, not to make you feel terrible about it. Take feedback with a grain of salt, but don’t automatically dismiss any of it, especially if more than one person gives you similar notes. But, really, the big thing is to just keep practicing and don’t get discouraged.
Do you like to create books for adults?
O. I do, because I’m essentially writing for other people like me. I enjoy YA, but you get a lot more freedom writing for other adults. And of course, you don’t run the risk of talking down to your audience when they’re your peers. My one gripe is that too many people use the title ‘mature audiences’ as a title for gratuitous blood, gore, and nastiness without a lot of consequences. That’s not mature. Writing for adults, to me, is asking my audience to think and act with maturity and compassion.
E.S.: I like writing for adults and for Y.A. audiences, but I’ve recently been writing for adults more because I’m dipping my toe into the spicier side of romance. For me, really, it’s about the story, and I worry about age group demographic once I have a draft finished and am looking more at marketing and where to put it on the digital shelves.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
O. Oh boy is this a can of worms. These are the traps I’ve seen:
Too Much Worldbuilding: it’s easy to get so into details that you don’t do the main thing: writing.
Too Much Fear: seriously. What’s the worst that happens, you get told you’re not good? Fine. Write until you are. You can’t edit a blank page.
Too Much Pride: when someone tells you something isn’t good, so what? Write until it is. Don’t shoot the messenger. It isn’t a good look on you, and it isn’t impressing anybody.
Too Much Shame: giving up when things doesn’t work won’t save you from bad feelings; it’ll just mean you don’t get to the good feelings that come later. Put your head down and keep working. Don’t give up.
E.S.: On the page, some common traps are starting with a protagonist waking up or looking in the mirror and describing themself, writing in passive voice, switching up points of view or tenses throughout a scene, or starting the story in the wrong place. The good news is that all of these are pretty easy to fix with practice, patience, and good feedback!
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
O. We did and we do today. It started as a way to avoid hate mail in our personal boxes, and it continued as a convenient approach.
E.S.: Yep! In addition to O.E. Tearmann, I write under E.S. Argentum (so I can keep my explicit stuff separate from anything else I decide to write some day).
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book?
O. Both! Each book should be accessible, but sometimes you’re telling a long story over multiple books. When you are, enjoy it and let it be what it needs to be.
E.S.: I think every book in a series should be able to more or less stand on its own as well as hold a place within the series. You want to be able to have a reader jump in wherever they find the series and get hooked enough to want to read the rest. In my personal work, I’m hoping to build a collection kind of like Discworld where each book is more or less entirely standalone but connected by character and setting.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
O. Be brave. little one. Good things are coming. People will listen to the stories. Just wait.
E.S.: My dude, don’t be afraid to write queer stuff. It’s not nearly as taboo or frowned upon as you think it is. Also, write more fanfic for practice.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
O. Hmm, that’s a tough one! I think it’d have to be War For The Oaks by Emma Bull. Think RENT meets Robin Goodfellow.
How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?
O. We always include a reader advisement at the beginning of each book, letting people know what to brace themselves for. And we try to ground difficult topics in compassion for the situations and histories that have led them to think the way they do. But understanding someone’s bad behavior doesn’t give them a pass in life, and we don’t let it do that in stories either. We ask our characters to work on themselves , and we hope this helps our readers think about doing the same.
E.S.: A lot of editing and sensitivity/beta readers, really. Each set of eyes on our work before publication helps us make sure we’re balancing making our readers think and holding their hands through the rough parts.
What does literary success look like to you?
O. I mean, money’s always nice. Getting short stories onto the podcasts Escape Pod and Podcastle are my personal goals. But when readers reach out to let us know that they were moved, helped, or encouraged by the work, that’s when I know I’m doing some good in the world.
E.S.: I’m always arguing with myself about this, honestly. Sometimes, it’s seeing my books on shelves in stores. Sometimes it’s just getting a heartfelt review. Sometimes it’s a big signing, or being invited to a convention as a guest of honor. It really depends on how I’m feeling and where I’m at in the process of writing and publishing any particular piece.
What do you have coming next?
O. In July, we’re releasing the sixth book in the Aces High Jokers Wild series, and it’s going to rock! The title will be Aces High Jokers Wild Book 6: Deuces are Wild. Current readers know that a main character goes by the code name Deuce of Diamonds, and in this book this character who’s come a long way is really going to shine.
E.S.: Yeah, what Olivia said!