Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name.
Terry H. Watkins
Fiona: Where are you from?
That is the most difficult question I ever get asked. I was born in Indiana, but I grew up all over. My family wasn’t military; my father worked in pipelining which is a nomadic existence. We lived all over the southern U.S. as well as in apartheid South Africa and in Australia. Unlike many of the traveling families we met, mine didn’t have a home place to which we returned. We were always moving somewhere new.
Fiona: A little about yourself
I was a middle school teacher for over twenty years and was involved in early efforts to get girls involved in STEM fields. I taught social studies and English including English as a Second Language and coached other English teachers in both. I have a Masters in Adolescent Literacy. I have one stepson, a daughter-in-law, and two grandsons – all of whom I adore. I share a home with my husband of thirty-eight years – Mr. Wonderful, two cats, and a great deal of clutter.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news
My debut novel, Darling Girl, has just been accepted for publication by Green Writers Press in Brattleboro, Vermont. It should be out in the Fall of 2018, just in time to make the perfect holiday gift.
I’m also working on my second novel – historical fiction set in Ireland at the turn of the last century. I’m eagerly anticipating a research trip since I’ve never been to Ireland.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I’ve always been a writer in the various jobs I’ve held, but it was always very dry, business writing. I really started writing as a middle school teacher tasked with teaching students to write the personal essay required by standardized testing. I wrote with the students and then modeled revision and editing for them to teach them the writing process. Middle schoolers never think you need to revise anything! I used my writing to show them you could. Some of those personal essays formed the core of Darling Girl.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
After I retired from teaching, I looked around for things to do. I volunteered as an ESL teacher. I took art classes. Then, about two years ago, I joined a writing workshop, Write with Spike, held by a local author, Spike Gillespie, whom I have always admired. I plugged along in workshop for a year before gaining the confidence and courage to call myself a writer. I’m not sure I’d have ever gotten that far without the support of Spike and the other workshop participants. We’ve been together for a while now and are a very close-knit group. I encourage everyone who writes to find their tribe. It makes a huge difference.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
It was my workshop group. I kept writing these vignettes, and they kept saying I had a book and after a while I believed them. I also went on a writing retreat and read excerpts for strangers who liked what I read. I was invited to enter a national contest, finished second, and here I am.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
I didn’t! Another wonderful writer that I met on that first writing retreat did. Three of writers were snowbound at this wonderful inn in Vermont over Valentine’s Day. Roaring fires, beautiful views out of every window, Hemmingway’s typewriter on the desk. We’d all read several of our pieces and the retreat leader kept pressing me to come up with a title. I froze under pressure. Amy just popped out with “Darling Girl” and it seemed perfect, so it has been Darling Girl ever since.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
Everyone tells me I write Literary Fiction whatever that means. I never thought about style or genre when I started writing because I didn’t know enough to know I was supposed to! I just wrote what came naturally to me. My second book is more challenging because I’m writing a great deal more outside my personal experience. There are a lot more things to consider in terms of style and, since it is set over a hundred years ago, in getting the voices of the characters just right – not sounding anachronistic.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know or on events in your own life?
Darling Girl is totally grounded in reality. It takes place during the fifties and sixties in the American South and in more exotic places like South Africa and Australia. Some of the events are lifted from my life while others are borrowed from the lives of other people. I always say that authors cannibalize the lives of everyone they ever meet, even when they don’t realize that they are doing it. As an introvert, I was always a keen observer of other people. Writing gave me an outlet to use all that information I’d been storing in my head.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I suppose the answer for both books is yes. I certainly couldn’t have written Darling Girl without having grown up in a peripatetic family. I’ll need to travel some to research the next book. It is important to me as an author to have a very grounded sense of place when I write.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
A wonderful artist whom I met through the contest in which I was involved, Asha Hossein. We did everything online. I sent her some ideas. She created three gorgeous designs that each reflected a different aspect of the novel and I polled the heck out of my friends to see which one they liked best. Then all three covers were presented to the judges as part of the contest. They chose an entirely different cover than the poll winner. I am very happy with the design chosen.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I don’t think I’m writing messages; I’m telling stories. Readers are free to draw messages from what I’ve written.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is yourfavorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I grew up on the books of Jane Austen and the Bronte Sisters. I always tell people that my favorite book is the one I’m reading now. I’ve just finished reading Jesmyn Ward’s novels Sing, Unburied, Sing andSalvage the Bones. Her sense of place and time and the weight of history is breathtaking. Now I’m reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I find it a challenging read and I had to research to find out what the bardo is. I love the way it is written in all these different voices. A friend suggested that I try the audio version and I might do that. I can almost see this book as a performance piece – a play or a chorale. I am also working on Sherman Alexie’s latest memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, which is so painful that I can only read it in short bursts. I would like to be as brutally honest a writer as he is.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported yourcommitment to become a published author.
I would have to say Spike Gillespie and the writers of Write with Spike. I would never even have dreamed I’d become a published writer without their support. Spike is a fantastic writing coach and she was so encouraging that I began to believe I was a writer. Without the love and support of Mr. Wonderful, I could never have made this journey.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes, most definitely! I feel as if I am always at work, even if it is only in my head. Taking in the sounds, smells, and sights of daily life is part of my job. Then I have to process all that information, sort it, and store it until I need it later. It’s an exhausting job!
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latestbook?
Of course! I don’t think any author is ever entirely satisfied or finished with a book. You just reach a point where someone is standing over you, literally or figuratively, demanding your manuscript and you must hand it over.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learned somethings about myself writing the first book. I’m learning a lot about politics and folklore and the church in Ireland as I research for the second book.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
That’s a tough one. My main character ages from about five to eighteen over the course of the story so she’d have to be played by several actors depending on how they chose to tell the story. She must be red-headed is the only criteria.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Find your tribe, your people. Writing is such a solitary pursuit that it is important to have people with whom you can talk, share your work, get feedback… Finding a coach and a group of writers to work with makes a huge difference. If you can’t find a group, start one. Try MeetUp, check your local library branch, post a flyer…
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
I know it seems like forever until next Fall when Darling Girlcomes out, but don’t give up on me. I’ve already posted one bonus chapter online and you can expect more treats as we get closer to publication. I’ll be doing some other promotional things as well. You’ll be able to find a calendar that will tell you when I’ll be in your area.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
I read a lot of Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew. The first adult book I read was when I was about ten. I asked my mother about sex and she gave me Jane Eyre. I don’t think I’ve since read any book so carefully as I did Jane Eyre. I’m not sure what she intended or if my question wasn’t clear. I never asked her about sex again and she must have felt she covered it because she never brought it up again either.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
My family is known for its off-beat sense of humor. I’m not sure it translates easily into written description. Happy children can make me laugh. Unkindness or cruelty makes me cry.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I’d love to talk to some of the women writers of the past about the challenges they faced. Gandhi, Mandela, Malala all fascinate me because of their altruism.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
I read a lot! I love SciFi, Fantasy, and Time Travel stories and I’m always looking for recommendations.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Again, I’m a science fiction nut going all the way back to the original Star Trek. Lately, I’ve been bingeing on Stranger Things and Mind Hunter.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
I love Mexican and Chinese food. I don’t like brown very much, but all the other colors are fine with me. Each of the nine window frames in my living room is painted a different color. I grew up on folk music and what is now called “classic rock”. It was just “rock” when I fell in love with it. I’m also a Broadway musical fanatic. Stephen Sondheim may, in fact, be my favorite writer.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I would teach, less formally than I did before, and travel and read.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
No headstone; I’ll be cremated and scattered somewhere.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events andspecial offers?
You can find me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/terryhwatkinsand www.facebook.com/nervousnovelist. My blog is at www.terryhwatkins.blogspot.com. I will soon have websites up and running at www.terryhwatkins.com and at www.darlinggirlnovel.com.