O.E. Tearmann - Futuristic Dystopian Stories Where the Oppressed Fight Back
O.E. Tearmann is the author of the Aces High, Jokers 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.” Tearmann lives in Colorado with two cats, their partner, and the belief that individuals can make humanity better through small actions. They are a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and the Queer Scifi group. In their spare time, they teach workshops about writing GLTBQ characters, speak and plant gardens to encourage sustainable agricultural practices, and play too many video games. As our Author of the Day, they tell us all about their book, The Hands We're Given.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Hands We're Given is about.
It's 2155, and seven corporations run the City Grids for a profit on the land that was the United States of America. You are indentured to your Corporation the day you’re born, and your life is dictated by the hand that holds your Corporate Citizen Contract. Freedom is just a word in the news vids.
But off the Grids, there are people fighting for a change.
This series revolves around one unit in the fight to return representative democracy to America. Officially Democratic State Force Base 1407, they are known as the Wildcards. They are dreamers and fighters. They are a family. They fight for one another, and a future worth living in.
What inspired you to write this story?
For E.S. and Olivia, the two authors using the O.E. Tearmann pen name as their trench coat, 2016 hit like a hammer. The political and social changes were a bit of a nightmare. We wanted to help our communities as they went through a cycle of despair, anger and spiralled towards nihilism, but neither of us knew what to do. We're not built to be out in the streets protesting, but Olivia was sure that there had to be something for quiet activists like us. There had to be. Because we needed to do something.
So we decided to do this: we’d write our deepest fears for our culture out, and turn that writing into a story that would keep the hopes of people like us alive. And we would fill these stories with wit, and irreverence, punk rock and pranks. We'd write found family and the resolve to whistle in the dark and fight for a world worth living in. We would write in coping strategies for anxiety and depression, both good and bad, and show them working or failing. In the backs of the books, we’d include a bunch of resources for LGBT and neurodiverse folks; when one of our readers turned to the last page of a book telling them that they had the right to ask for help, we wanted there to be ways to get it right there, in front of them.
Why Cyberpunk? What drew you to this setting?
We've been writing together for entertainment since 2010, but in 2016 we worked out our fears on the page by going full cyberpunk: a corporate dystopian setting. Authoritarian power constructs. Rigid conformity enforced by economic and corporal punishment. A materialistic culture that crushed souls and ruined mental health. Not to mention, climate change.
Into that world we wrote a resistance force. In that resistance were characters like ourselves: gender-nonconforming, multiracial, non-traditional characters from all walks of life. Scrappy community builders who fight for each other. Our characters break the rules, take apart the system, and take care of each other. We gave them the power we didn’t have in our daily lives. Our characters support each other mentally and physically, the way we wish people would do in our world. Writing these stories of support set against the backdrop of the darkest iteration of American culture we could imagine was our way of showing that, even in the darkest days, people could lift one another up and get one another through.
Tell us more about Aidan Headly. What makes him so special?
Aidan is a guy who's taken his rough history and decided that, instead of continuing the suffering, it was his duty to break the cycle. He works to make things better for future generations, as best he can. He copes with anxiety and depression, with the feeling of being an eternal outsider, but he hasn't let any of it stop him. A trans guy, he knows how it feels to doubt everything about yourself. And he works to give the fearful and the hurting around him the confidence they need to grow. He cares deeply about his family, both born and found, and will do anything for them--even to the point of putting himself in danger. He doesn't always realize it, but his quiet resolve and his caring give people around him the chance to reach their fullest potential.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Olivia's a horticulturist with a small landscaping business, a real love for ethnobotany and a taste for turning garden veggies into good food (pardon the pun.) E.S. knows more about both Final Fantasy and Norse mythology than you can imagine, and a truly on point nonbinary fashion sense. Both Olivia and E.S. speak the Irish language.
Interesting cover. Please tell us more about how it came about.
The unit in the story is nicknamed the Wildcards, and each member of the unit has a playing card for a call sign. We’ve played heavily on the nickname and the identity: each book title references a poker term, each character has a playing card code-name, and the book art is heavy on playing card themes.
When Amphibian Press took us on, they decided to emphasize the playing card theme as part of the branding, with the eighties-retro look that plays into a leitmotif of the story; one character's love of eighties rock music.
Relationships play an important role in this book. Why?
We wanted to show characters who created healthy relationships of all types--and all the rocky issues that come with it. We're strong believers of community and found family, and that extends to the stories and characters we write.
Which of your characters was the most challenging to create?
Some of the antagonists in Book 4 were particularly challenging; we actually needed to take writing breaks. They were the antithesis of everything we stand for, which makes them great villains, but terrible company in our headspace.
Do any of your characters ever go off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
Oh gods, do they ever. Kevin is particularly guilty of this, but Tweak, Sarah and Yvonne have all pulled things on us that made us say 'okay then...I guess we're doing this' in some bewilderment.
You co-wrote this book. How did you pull this off?
E.S. and Olivia have a system: we wrote the first draft for the whole series in a play-by-post setup in a Google doc. One person would set a scene or write some dialogue, and the other would respond.
Now that we're in production, we each have tasks: Olivia works up Draft Two, adding in the kind of research and detail that often gets missed during collaborative writing. E.S. takes Draft Two and polishes it up into Draft Three. Then we send it out to beta readers, followed by a round with the sensitivity readers and the expert readers. Then it goes to our press for a final polish and prepping for publication.
With all that, you'd think we'd get all the typos. But oh, no, there's always one of the little beasts in there somewhere.
This is book one of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
The Hands We're Given works very well as a stand-alone, as it's the very beginning of the series and ends on a high note. It also acts as the foundation for everything that comes in the rest of the series, grounding the reader in the setting and introducing them to the characters.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Olivia has a tendency to get up at 4am and write for several hours while sipping tea and listening to Gaslight Anthem, Bon Jovi and The Interrupters. This is great, until she tries to bug Nonir with a question. They prefer to get up at a less ungodly hour than Olivia.
E.S. starts their day with a half-hour of longhand on a personal rough draft, then checks in with Olivia and edits on and off throughout the day. They normally put on coffee shop ambiance sounds and Broadway tunes while working, and have to wrestle the cat off their lap to focus.
What are you working on right now?
Currently, Olivia is drafting Book 6 of the Aces High Jokers Wild series, titled Deuces Are Wild, and tentatively slated for February 2022. She is also preparing to release a book on the history of invasive weeds in America under her own name. Nonir is working on a short story for an anthology. They work on LGBT-positive short stories in their own right over at https://argentumbooks.weebly.com.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
To check out everything we get up to for the Wildcards, head over to https://www.oetearmann.com/
or hook up with us at https://www.facebook.com/wildcards1407 or https://twitter.com/ETearmann.
And of course, you can always grab our books at some awesome indie stores or through Amphibian Press. All those links are at https://www.oetearmann.com/store. We're on the Zon too. https://www.amazon.com/Hands-Were-Given-Aces-Jokers-ebook/dp/B07W5HMMQP
To check out Nonir's work, hit up https://argentumbooks.weebly.com
To check out Olivia's work, head over to https://www.etsy.com/shop/LeafingOutArt