Our person of the week: Terry Sue Harms

Back in 2008, I had the good fortune to be introduced to Cary Tennis.  I was trying to make sense of a novel length story I had been working on for two years.  I was self-conscious and insecure about what I had produced, and those insecurities were all but squeezing the life out of my creativity.  I didn’t believe I qualified as a writer, but a story came to me with such compelling force that I couldn’t not write it.  Without having any grand plan for what I was doing, I followed the story that played out in my mind like a movie; I wrote down what I saw, what the characters were saying, and how they felt.  The words just kept coming until I had the working draft that I gave to Cary for editorial assistance.

While he was reading my novel, he suggested that I acquaint myself with Pat Schneider and The Amherst Writers and Artist Method.  As soon as I read Schneider’s “Five Essential Affirmations,” I knew Cary could be trusted with my writing.  The Amherst Method’s philosophy affirms that all writers have a creative voice that cannot be silenced by social standing or academic status, and mentoring can be done without stifling the writer’s unique voice or creative inclinations.  It boldly proclaims that if one writes, then that one is a writer!  Hallelujah!  The writer in me broke out in a happy dance.  I didn’t have to somehow prove that I was worthy of the title; my thoughts on the printed page proved I was a writer.

PearlsCover_smallWith Cary’s trained eye, ear, and supportive input, I began to hear and validate my own creative impulses; I stopped doubting my right to say what I needed to say, and I was able to move forward and write the novel, Pearls My Mother Wore, to a satisfying conclusion.  It was during the first Creative Getaway at Marconi Center that I was able to go off by myself and complete a critical chapter in the novel.  The experience of writing by myself while among such a strong and supportive writing community and in such a relaxing and gorgeous setting was magical.

With assistance from Cary and Norma Tennis, I self-published Pearls My Mother Wore at the end of 2009.  Once the manuscript was as polished as I could make it, I hired Norma to put a professional touch on the book’s layout.  My husband and I designed the cover.  I got to set the selling price and pick the publication date.  It was such an all-around positive experience that I’m now working on a second book.  This next one is a memoir about my absent father, a man I’ve never met or spoken to, how I found him, and how I let him go.

Four good books about writing

Four good books about writing that I have checked out of the library and read and enjoyed over the past year:
AUTHOR       Cron, Lisa.
TITLE        Wired for story : the writer’s guide to using brain science to
hook readers from the very first sentence / Lisa Cron.
PUB INFO     Berkeley : Ten Speed Press, c2012.
CALL #       808.036 C8811w.

AUTHOR       Gornick, Vivian.
TITLE        The situation and the story : the art of personal narrative /
Vivian Gornick.
PUB INFO     New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
CALL #       820.9492 G681s.

AUTHOR       Butler, Robert Olen.
TITLE        From where you dream : the process of writing fiction / Robert
Olen Butler ; edited, with an introduction by Janet Burroway,
PUB INFO     New York : Grove Press, c2005.
CALL #       808.3 B9783f.

AUTHOR       Highsmith, Patricia, 1921-1995.
TITLE        Plotting and writing suspense fiction / Patricia Highsmith.
PUB INFO     New York : St. Martin’s Griffin, [1990], c1983.
CALL #       808.3872 H537p 1990b.


This was also a book I enjoyed but it wasn’t about writing.

Photo on 11-5-13 at 2.48 PM

Writing a novel without knowing how: Notes from my voluminous Burning the Rain Girl files

To begin without knowing how to do it: That has been my approach, and I have agonized like a man sitting in a field with many ingredients of a house laid out before him and a panicked feeling that he has begun before he is ready. He has begun without a plan. He has no blueprint. He simply got it into his head that he could dredge up many interesting things from the well and the lake and the river and the field and the attic and basement and from people’s pockets and scraps of paper and things copied out of other books and hauled these things in a wheelbarrow out to a field with enough room to stretch them out and lay them where they could go, and worked on each piece with passion, making each piece as interesting and colorful as he could, lavishing attention on each piece and then moving on, having some dim notion of a pattern that links them all but spending much time out there in that field of disconnected reveries and chimneys and rocking chairs and kitchen utensils just walking around until something strikes him and he goes off again to retrieve another piece thinking This! This is it! This piece completes it! but when he comes out to the field he sees again that none of these pieces are really connected, and some of them seem kind of stupid and dull, now that he takes another look, and realizes that he has this problem of becoming overly enthusiastic, which partly just fuels his enthusiasm to bring these pieces out, because physical strength is needed, too, not just whatever you think of as inspiration or intelligence but sheer energy to drag this stuff out here, and sheer curiosity to find it and not to judge it as worthless but simply to drag it out.

Thus it began.