The Interview — Part IV

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Nicole, you recently finished a nonfiction book about Terry. That must have been a fascinating experience for the two of you. Nicole, what led you to writing that book?
NICOLE: I’ve always been fascinated with the relationship a fiction writer has to his or her characters. Writers use personal experiences all the time in order to bring life to their characters, but I wondered what parts of our lives we use unintentionally. How are the common themes in our books related to our lives? What is the connection? Of course, the obvious answer is: it depends on the writer. But still I wanted to explore this idea with more depth.
TERRY: I remember when Nicole came to me with this idea, and at first I wasn’t sure how to respond. It was flattering, but would also open up things that I might not want to talk about. Then, I reminded myself how important it is to be honest with ourselves and our kids, and agreed. We’ve always had an open relationship, so I just wanted to reiterate that whatever she asked I’d answer her as honestly as I could. And, whatever she took from the conversation, like always, was her own. It opened us to some very deep and rewarding conversations. 
NICOLE: I didn’t want to look at myself because I didn’t think I had the body of work necessary for such a large scoped question. I also wasn’t interested in the self-reflection that would require, especially because I feared I wouldn’t have enough distance from the work to think logically. So, I looked outward.
TERRY: I am ultimately glad she did this. It was an opportunity for me to see what others might see in my work, and to revisit my own life to possibly uncover some of my deeper life concerns.
NICOLE: In short, I figured Dad would be a good writer to focus on for a number of reasons: 1) he’s prolific and therefore had a large enough body of work for me to look for parallels in, 2) he was readily available to me for interviews, 3) as my father, I already knew a lot of information, which allowed me to delve deeper at a faster pace than, say, with an author I’d never met, 4) it gave me an excuse to read more of his work, something I’d been wanting to do for a while and never had the time.
TERRY: Yes, how cool it was to have Nicole read so many of my novels in such a short amount of time. I know, because of the writer and reader and thinker she was, that she’d bring more to the work than I could have done. Especially since she was reading them one after another—and since I write in multiple genres, I was eager to see if there were parallels in theme or story. I was poised to learn more about my own work, which is great.
NICOLE: Starting the project was the kicker. I’d never written a work of nonfiction to this scale before—let alone one that was a blend of literary criticism, biography, interview, writing-how-to, and childhood memoir (memoir because how could I not have my own experiences coming into play? He is my dad, after all). I struggled a lot at the beginning, especially with trying to figure out a smooth structure for the thing. So, for a while I somewhat blindly conducted interviews and read as many of Dad’s books as I could—which wasn’t easy, as he’s had a pretty crazy life and has written a lot of books. Once I did figure out how to structure the book, things moved pretty smoothly from there: writing the narrative itself, conducting more directed interviews, re-reading key bits and pieces of Dad’s work, etc.
TERRY: I was not disappointed in what Nicole was able to do. The way she pieced all of it together was just short of genius. And I say that as a writer,
not as a father, something she and I have had in common from the beginning—we can be very objective. As with her other writing, I did nothing in way of helping her decide on a structure. Here instructors from college helped, but I didn’t. It was her project and I stood back and watched.
NICOLE: It’s funny, a lot of people expect that there would be lots of surprises to me, but there really wasn’t. Dad and I talk about everything and have a very honest relationship with each other, so most of the information wasn’t new—just new details and a better sense of chronology. I’d say the biggest surprise—and the most important part of this whole process I put us through—happened while I was interviewing Grammy, my dad’s mom. Dad never had a great relationship with his father, but something Grammy said I think really changed how Dad now views him, which was pretty cool.
TERRY: Yes, two things happened during this process: my understanding of my relationship with my dad did change, and my relationship with my mom changed. What’s more important to me, though, is that Nicole had a chance to talk with my mom on a deeper, more personal level. Mom died soon after Nicole interviewed her, and for lack of a better way of saying it, I think that interview and our subsequent conversations changed all our lives. What more could anyone ask?   
What are you working on now?
NICOLE: I’m currently working on a literary novel. It’s already putting me way outside my comfort zone—the new genre and nonlinear story structure are re-inventing my whole writing process—but I’m really excited about it! I’d say more, but you’ll just have to read it. J
TERRY: You’ve probably figured out by now that I’ve usually got several projects going at once. Technical articles are a regular for sure. That’s how I make the bulk of my income at the moment. But I’m also working on a short story, a few poems (or more than a few, I keep them around when I’m wanting to work on something short), and writing a new novel. I just finished one a month ago, and wrote a few short stories in between.
I guess I can be a bit more explicit here concerning what these pieces are about, or what genre they’re in. So, the short stories (three of them) are all science fiction in nature. Two of them are about characters that appear in my novel Hear No Evil. I enjoyed those characters and wanted to explore them more. Short stories provides a way to get to know them better through more back story.
The poems I’m presently working on are all over the place. I allow my creativity to be a bit more scattered when it comes to poems. I believe this allows my creativity to stay open and fresh when I turn to something else to write. I can say that I’ve written a few more poems in my sentences format, as well as some free verse. And I’ve made adjustments to poems I’ve written over the past few months.
Lastly, I’m working on a new novel at the moment. I’m about eight- or ten-thousand words into it so far. It’s a sequel to TheNSA Files. My shaman detective/agent and his son have gotten themselves into another caper, you might say. I love writing, so every time I start a new book, I’m excited to see what happens. That’s what keeps me going.
Final words of wisdom.
NICOLE: Wisdom? Oh, jeez. Talking to a new writer, I always say this: Write every day, read every day. That’s how you become an expert. As far as anything else goes, I’ll say what I like to live by, and it’s really quite simple: do what makes you happy. Every. Single. Day.
TERRY: My Final Words of Wisdom
I don’t think of myself as wise, by any means, but I do have opinions. They are all my own, no matter if someone else has said them sometime in the past or not. My grandmother always said to listen to everyone’s opinion and then make up your own mind. I live by that rule.
The first thing I might say to a new writer is: only do it if you love it. Lets face it, money, fame, girls, or anything else won’t last if you hate what you’re doing. Also, odds are that if you don’t like what you’re doing, you won’t do it well. There was a line from a movie recently that I remember (although, I don’t remember the movie), and it went like this: “Learn to distinguish between your skills and your interests.” I’m not saying to quit writing if you don’t have the skills, you can always learn the skills. But if you are “only” interested and not passionate about writing, why write? A novel takes a lot of time and energy to write the first time, then to edit or revise it. And if a large publisher wants it, they can edit the shit out of it, take two more years to do it, and you still don’t know if it’s going to sell or not. You better love doing the job in the first place.
Another thing I tell writers is to write what you want to write. I know, I know, everyone and their uncle says this. But it’s true. If you’re writing things you don’t want to write, even if you make a living at it, you’ll not be happy. You’ll pay the bills, feed your family, maybe even buy a vacation home, but you won’t be happy. I want you to be happy. So, write what turns you on.
I don’t know if I have any more wisdom than this, so I’m going to call it a day.

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.