Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Author Interview with TERRY L. WHITE

Terry L. White is an author, songwriter, and former journalist. She was born in the Mohawk Valley of New York, grew up in the Appalachian Mountains, and currently lives in Maryland. Her novel, Last Priestess, was nominated for an EPPIE award.


Who is the one person who most encouraged or influenced you to be a writer—and why?

My grandfather. I found a high school essay in his wallet when he passed. That was twenty years after I wrote the description of our pasture as part of some English test. It seemed like a message from beyond the grave. My grandfather always liked to talk about books and wrote a couple of novels while I was a teen. I can still see him with that manual typewriter, his hands all crippled up from arthritis, pecking away.

That impressed me. Who would have thought that a person one knew could write a book! I don’t think he was published, but I remember seeing him working and I read the manuscripts.

I could read when I was a little kid, maybe three years old. My grandmother set type at a book factory and she found a book club for kids back in the 50s and bought a subscription for me. I looked forward to those books in the mail, but I read all the books the adults brought into the house as well. I read all the books I could find everywhere I went. All the magic in the world was in books.

How long have you been writing? In what genres do you write?

Gosh, I have been writing a long time, probably since my first husband took my books to the dump in 1969. I about died of grief, and eventually left that relationship. I didn’t mind being poor, but that was like putting out my eyes. Writing my feelings down helped me get through that awful time.

I didn’t quite get it that the villains I read about in books were going to pop up in real life!

I have tried writing a lot of genres, but my favorite is historical fiction. I have the notion that people have always acted like people, but I find the logistics of living in other times fascinating. I have cooked over a campfire, but that was for fun. Trying to describe the process of cooking in a fireplace is a whole other thing. I earned a degree in American Studies from Skidmore College in my mid-40s and worked for an antique dealer, sometimes handling the very props that I later used in my stories. Old things talk to me, so when I pick up a Dutch oven and see it weighs over 20 pounds with the lid on, I can’t help but think how much more fit our grandmothers had to be than we are today with all the technology at our fingertips.

Women have always had to really toil to take care of their families. There have always been hard times and evil people who take advantage of others. Sometimes I think I channel the historicals I write. They come in a great rush and I have all I can do to get them down in a file--you notice I wanted to say ‘get them down on paper ‘. I’m showing my age with that one! When I read my novels later, I am often surprised at all the detail. “Who wrote this?” is my favorite question. So historical fiction is my favorite.

If I had to choose another favorite genre, the second would be poetry. I have published a book of long poetry called Runaway Hearts, also set on the Eastern Shore. The book is in three sections, one of which chronicles the life of the slave Harriet Tubman who worked the Underground Railroad, stealing as many as 300 enslaved workers and family members from plantations on the Eastern Shore. Born near Cambridge, Harriet, a contemporary of the African American statesman Frederick Douglass, is a larger than life character who surely deserves mention in the history of the area.

Runaway Hearts was recently read on Radio For the Blind. I am really excited about this particular recognition and am truly grateful for Don Banning of New Orleans for all of his efforts to see my work read on the air.

Who is your favorite author and why do you like his/her work?

Stephen King, followed closely by Robert McCammon. I know. I like to read books that deal with the deepest of human emotions at odds with quirky circumstance. Stephen King lets you look at the monster in the closet and live! McCammon writes in a similar vein, but his work came before King’s. Both craft wonderful characters. I don’t often read historicals. It is so easy to pick up another writer’s tone and turn of phrase and think it is your own. My ‘musician’s ear’ is just as active with written language as it ever was when I was a working musician. I just don’t want to be seen in the position of ‘borrowing’ something from another writer’s work.

I admire Dickens; he did a lot to bring the plight of common man into the mass consciousness. People followed his serialized stories with bated breath and wanted to see the poor kid live and prosper. His was a pure genius that influences us even today. (Have you seen the recent movie August Rush? Robin Williams made the perfect Fagin in the story of an orphan who is really a musical genius.) Dickens rocks!

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

The biggest challenge I have faced as a writer is to be noticed. One can write. I have 15 books and several others in various stages of completion, but I have not figured out how to break out of the pack. Everyone is literate these days. Everyone has a computer. Most anyone can self-publish, and some people put out truly awful stuff. There are millions of writers and wannabes in the field.

I have been writing a long time and once burned a three-inch stack of rejection letters. Those letters represented a lot of lunch money back in the day when you had to send return postage with your manuscript. I did the apprenticeship, took the classes, and paid the dues, but I feel like I am still in writer’s limbo. There are days when I feel really disappointed that I have not been noticed as a writer, and other days when I am very proud of all I have accomplished.

P.S. I am so grateful to the web hosts and sites that will post interviews or reviews of my books. Thank you, Linda!

What is the title of your most recently published book? Briefly tell us what it’s about and let us know where we can buy it.

My most recently published book was Chesapeake Legacy, second in a series of four historical set on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. (Chesapeake Destiny will soon be in print and Chesapeake Visions is finished.) The series starts with the life of an indentured servant, and all the stories in the series revolve around a mythical plantation known as Baron’s Hope here on the Eastern Shore. The series follows the women of the family through the Civil War. Each woman has a problem to solve.

In Chesapeake Legacy, the heroine is banished from the colony because she has native blood. Chesapeake Destiny follows a woman who survives a brutal husband’s vicious attacks, and Chesapeake Visions is the story of a blind woman who must learn to live without slaves at the end of the Civil War.

My Chesapeake series is available at Barnes and Noble,, Kindle, All Romance Ebooks, Mobipocket, Fictionwise and other online sites as print and ebooks. If you are on the Eastern Shore, try the Bay Country Shop on US 50 in Cambridge on the way to Ocean City. Our bookstore closed recently, but my books are available at a number of galleries in the area.

Of special note: all the covers for the Chesapeake Series are by Snow Hill artist Dawn M. Tarr. See more of her work at

What are you working on now and when/where do you expect it to be available?

I am working on a novel, but don’t usually talk about those books during the construction phase.

I am just editing a book of short stories called Random Apples, and am well along in a new book of poetry called Legends and Lies. I would say I can expect these to be in e-book form in the next year or so. Sometimes I feel like the old lady in the shoe. I can’t remember all the book names, but they all represent a year or more of work. I expect to keep writing as long as I am able. It is my calling and a lifetime commitment.

Writers, especially new writers, are always looking for tips and helpful information. What is the single most important “tip” you can give to a new writer?

Do the work. Read a lot. Write a lot. Keep trying.

Honestly, this is a hard one. I had the opportunity to work at what was probably one of the last daily newspapers on the peninsula. Newspaper reporting is great to keep one focused and to get over the notion one is blocked. As a reporter, one learns the rules of writing--or else. One also learns that a deadline is fixed. You can’t fiddle with it. I think the discipline of being a reporter in any media is probably a most valuable experience a writer can get. I recommend it highly.

What writers organizations claim you as a member? How has membership helped you grow as a writer?

I am not much of a joiner, but I do belong to the International Women’s Writing Guild. I think the most valuable thing I got from the experience of attending and teaching at their summer conference was to keep trying and to believe I could go the distance.

I really think it is more about writing than joining. If your work is really good, it sells. If not, rejection letters tell the tale.

Tell us about your songwriting.

I was involved with string bands for about 20 years. Mostly I played string bass and sang harmony. For myself, it just seemed natural to play my guitar and to write songs that expressed what I was feeling at the time. Isn’t that what music is all about?

One of my friends once said that we all just write just one poem. I think that about sums it up.

Here’s your opportunity to tell us anything else you care to share.

Oh gosh. I think a real writer will write and won’t be able to stop. The publishing industry is in disarray due to the Internet and technological changes. How and what we write is going to change. The dream of being discovered will still stand, but it looks like writers will have to do more and more to publicize their work. Otherwise readers won’t even know we are out here.

However, if just being out there is the objective, there are lots of places to post one’s work. I guess it depends on the person’s priority. You are not likely to get paid for the things you post. If you are meant to do it, just don’t ever stop. So--don’t quit your day job--yet!

What are the addresses of your website(s) and blog(s):

1 comment:

  1. Great interview!

    I love that your grandfather was a big influence for you. It's amazing how important the connection with that older generation is.

    Mystery Writing is Murder