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Molly Best Tinsley
Molly Best Tinsley

Art imitates life in the case of Molly Best Tinsley, who, after a career as a college English professor, retired to the woods of Oregon to pursue her second career: writing. For, in her latest novel, Things Too Big to Name, Tinsley tells the story of a retired English professor living in the woods of Oregon. I sure hope that art hasn't imitated life too closely since Tinsley's protagonist, Professor Margaret Torrens, is fighting for her life and freedom after having been accused of a shocking crime. As Torrens narrates her story in a variety of ways, readers will have to figure out for themselves just what did happen and whether Torrens is guilty of the crime. 


Today, Silver Screen Videos is excited to be hosting the blog tour for Molly Best Tinsley's new book. You can read our review of Things Too Big to Name here. In addition, I had the opportunity to talk with the author about the book and its unique structure, which makes it a real page-turner, as readers try to figure out just what did happen in an isolated cabin in Oregon that has resulted in a respected professor being on trial for her life. Tinsley also talks about her real world teaching career at the United States Naval Academy (an experience that would make for a good memoir in and of itself). 


Things Too Big to Name is published by Fuze Publishing. You can buy Things Too Big to Name on Amazon in paperback or Kindle versions. My thanks to Molly Best Tinsley and to Teddy Rose of Premier Virtual Author Book Tours, who invided me to participate in this blog tour.   


Medellin Acapulco Cold
Molly Best Tinsley - Things Too Big to Name

SILVER SCREEN VIDEOS: Like the main character in your book, Things Too Big to Name, you were a college English professor, in your case at the U.S. Naval Academy, and then you became a full-time writer. What made you decide to become a writer at such an advanced stage in your career?


MOLLY BEST TINSLEY: Actually I began writing soon after I finished my Ph. D. and started teaching. Although my field was Modern British Fiction, the Naval Academy was surprisingly willing to accept published short stories as credits toward tenure.  So for a while, I engaged in both academic writing and creative writing, and then finally broke off into creative stuff exclusively.


Most people don't realize that Midshipmen can major in English at USNA (it's more like what a minor would be at a civilian college), and they're surprised to hear that Creative Writing is offered every semester as an elective. The course is more popular with the Mids than it is with professors, who aren't too comfortable letting go of structure in order to tap into creativity. I loved teaching the course, saw it as a rare opportunity for Mids, who are flooded with left-brain technical challenges to develop their imaginative right-brain thinking.  I could go on and on about the general value of the imagination in shaping a human being in a healthy, vibrant society, but I'll stop here.


SILVER SCREEN VIDEOS: Speaking of the U.S. Naval Academy, I imagine that it’s quite different teaching there as opposed to a typical public college. Do you have any interesting anecdotes about your experiences at the Academy that you could share?


MOLLY BEST TINSLEY: You're right about how different the teaching experience is--the Naval Academy has its own culture, and its undeclared mission is to take teenagers and strip them of their identities rooted in American culture and rebuild their identities as Naval officers, loyal to the chain of command and the Navy/Marine Corps team. The place enforces its own rules and priorities; it exhibits its own dress code and speaks its own language.


Midshipmen were required to stand at attention when I entered the classroom. A Mid who arrived later than I would customarily ask, "Request permission to come aboard, sir... oops, I mean ma'am." I couldn't pretend I enjoyed these rituals. I told my students not to bother with them with me, but reminded them that they'd better hop to their feet and act military if a military officer should walk in the room.


One advantage of teaching at USNA over a civilian school was that class attendance was required. But there was a drawback: Midshipmen were always tired. Their days were long and filled beyond academics with marching and mandatory P.E. Plebes (freshmen) particularly were exhausted, because their "indoctrination" involved all sorts of extra pressure from the upper class--much of it foolish and unnecessarily mean in my eyes.


Anyway, no matter how dynamic our class discussions were, a couple of Mids would drift off to sleep. To give them some responsibility and control over this, I'd allow in-class sleep days (2 per semester for upperclass; 3 for plebes) as long as the sleepers told me ahead of time that was their plan, took seats in the back row, and didn't snore. One Mid even smuggled in a small pillow.


If someone started to doze without pre-alerting me, I'd suggest he stand up against the wall or be charged a sleep day. Often Mids used sleep days when they were preparing for an exam in another course, and since they were all taking the same courses, a third of the class might be snoozing on those days. I can only add: Thank god no one above the rank of Lieutenant ever walked in on that scene.


SILVER SCREEN VIDEOS: Let’s talk about Things Too Big to Name for a bit. We know from the start of the novel that your main character, Margaret Torrens, has been accused of a crime, but the book isn’t a traditional mystery. How would you describe it?


MOLLY BEST TINSLEY: Good question. I've heard it referred to as a Literary Mystery, a Literary Thriller, and Psychological Drama. All are fine by me because they appreciate the artful language of the book. I think the key is that the narrative is totally character-driven, and I mean totally. When I was drafting the novel, Margaret was in control.


Early in the book, she is the one who saw the ghost of her long-dead husband and began conversing with him. I didn't believe in ghosts, but Margaret changed my mind. After that, she's locked up following violence at her mountain cabin and is required to meet with a Qualified Mental Health Practitioner to determine her sanity. Her whole future depends on her ability to control her narrative. She feels safest in the indeterminate space between sane and insane, which means avoiding a straightforward account of events, instead introducing detours and distractions.


Unreliable narrators are not unusual, but this Margaret kept me, the author, in the dark much of the time. I wasn't even sure whether she was a good guy or a bad guy until I was working on a third draft, and I won't say now.  


SILVER SCREEN VIDEOS: Considering that you have similar backgrounds to a certain extent, do you see anything of yourself in Margaret Torrens?


MOLLY BEST TINSLEY: The first incident that Margaret chooses to share with the QMHP is her recent collision with a large deer when driving home at dusk. That really happened to me, and I was pretty shaken up ... I thought writing about it would relieve some of the shock of killing a creature twice my size. Three years later, here we are. But besides her career as an English scholar and teacher, I've also come to share Margaret's dismay over the state of our culture and her desire to retreat from the world--I can't really act on the latter wish, but I understand it. And like Margaret, I've also been hiding a social anxiety phobia all my life.  OK, one last thing--I based her first experience of sex on my own.


SILVER SCREEN VIDEOS: Who are some of your own favorite authors? Are there any that you think have influenced your writing?


MOLLY BEST TINSLEY: It's hard to single out a few authors whose influence I'm conscious of -- I've had so many favorites, from the nineteenth century novelists, through the stars of modern American and British fiction (a period that officially ended, by the way, in the 1960's), and into the following "contemporary" years. They've all had an impact on my style and attentive deployment of language.


In the last couple years, I've read novels by Gillian Flynn, Colum McCann, and Kate Atkinson which took the form of "broken narratives," and I really admired their technical skill. They are certainly part of the reason I wanted to try broken narrative myself. Margaret winds up braiding three different stories in Things Too Big to Name: three different timelines, three different voices, each with a different purpose.


SILVER SCREEN VIDEOS: Now, in addition to your novels and memoirs, you’re also a playwright. Since my site is primarily a film review site, I have to ask, have you given any thought to turning Things Too Big to Name or any of your other works into films? Perhaps penning the screenplay yourself?


MOLLY BEST TINSLEY: Yes, I think this novel would make a great film -- as would my two cinematic spy thrillers featuring Victoria Pierce--Satan's Chamber, co-authored with Karetta Hubbard, and Broken Angels. I think broken narrative translates into really effective film. That said, though I've considered adapting the novel to the stage, for the screen, I'd rather turn it over to someone experienced in writing screenplays--I have a lot of respect for the detailed expertise it takes, and I just don't have it. (I'm thinking of a friend of mine who was told his first screenplay would take about 7 1/2 hours as a film.) Of course, I would happily consult with the writer.


SILVER SCREEN VIDEOS: If someone were to make Things Too Big to Name into a film, who do you picture playing Margaret Torrens?


MOLLY BEST TINSLEY: Tough question, and as a film scholar-critic, I'd like to turn the answer over to you.  It's Margaret's age (late sixties) that's the problem. I don't think of Hollywood as having a big field of women who look that age. Assuming that make-up can do anything, the actor must be small, fit, attractive but not a bit glamorous (she's a self-described substance-over-style, function-over-form person).  Whom do you think?


SILVER SCREEN VIDEOS: I’m going to take the fifth on that question, but Meryl Streep is always a handy go-to answer for questions like that. Now, before we go, we’ll let you put on your marketing hat for a minute. Give us your best one-paragraph blurb for Things Too Big to Name.


MOLLY BEST TINSLEY: Retired English professor Margaret Torrens is locked in a psychiatric ward after a home invasion disrupted the carefully organized solitude of her mountain cabin. First a former student and her child showed up unannounced; then came a male stranger bent on taking them away; then came violence.  Now a Qualified Mental Health Professional questions Margaret's sanity. She's determined to control the narrative of recent events, but the defenses that guarded her inner world have begun to crumble, and secrets from her distant past surge back in detail. Margaret's story will have you surfing the shock waves, its twists and turns revealing how The Truth itself may be a thing too big to name.

SILVER SCREEN VIDEOS: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today, and the best of luck to you on Things Too Big to Name and your future writing career.


    Molly Best Tinsley taught on the civilian faculty at the United States Naval Academy for twenty years and is the institution’s first professor emerita. Her fiction has earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, the Sandstone Prize, and the Oregon Book Award.  Her plays have been read and produced nationwide from Seattle, to Houston, New York City, and Washington DC. She lives in Oregon, where she divides her time between Ashland and Portland.


    Follow her on Twitter @mbtinsley / Facebook: @molly.b.tinsley / Instagram: @mollytinsleyy / Amazon author page:



    Things Too Big to Name Blog Tour