As the Writers of the Future workshop draws near, Californian and 1st quarter winner, Terry Madden drops in on our interview series.
Stuart: Welcome, Terry, and once again, congratulations! To start of, what’s something that those who know you might find surprising?
Terry: I teach high school chemistry, and most of my students are surprised that I have Metallica listed on my Pandora channels right next to Anuna. I would say my taste in music crosses all kinds of lines.
Stuart: Eclectic is good. I lean toward Louis Armstrong, but I stick to acoustic when I’m writing. How about you? How’d you get started?
Terry: When I quit my job as a research tech in a genetics lab to stay home with my two small children, I had characters talking and acting out scenes in my head. My sister-in-law was into writing and had taken some workshops. She encouraged me to start writing scenes as they came to me and worry about figuring out the story later. I had never even read a book on writing, so I just started stringing things together. After ten years and a few writing workshops and conferences, I had a historical novel set in 12th century Ireland. Of course, as a first novel, it was a training ground and remains in a box in the basement.
Stuart: How’ve you evolved since?
Terry: I like this question a lot. I feel that writing is a means of exploring your own soul, at least, that’s how it’s felt for me. I started writing historical fiction because it was what I was reading at the time; it was what interested me (and still does.) But as you grow as a writer, new experiences and insights open new inroads into who you are and what your place in the world might be. A writing instructor encouraged me to try my hand at screenwriting, which I did and placed very well in some script competitions. I optioned a script to producer, Michael Phillips, who did “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Taxi Driver”, “The Sting.” I learned immeasurable skills from story meetings with him and his junior producers, but the story never got off the ground because I had not yet found the key to it. Now that story, in a very different incarnation, will be in volume 30 of the Writers of the Future Anthology.
Terry: However, at the turn of the century (it’s kind of fun to say that), I had some challenges in my personal life which included the death of my brother and my house burning down.
Stuart: Oh no!
Terry: All of my writing (including the backup disks which sat next to the computer) burned. Whatever I had in hard copy in the basement survived, which was one piece–my first novel. I gave up writing and went back to work teaching; it was a redefining time for me. I didn’t write for 13 years until one of my students started pestering me about a story idea he and I had cooked up in a discussion during an astronomy class. I started sketching an outline, and ultimately writing a fantasy novel, Three Wells of the Sea, which should be coming out this summer.
Stuart: Awesome! Well better late than never, right?
Terry: Were those 13 years wasted? I would like to say no, because without the relationships and experiences I had during those years, I wouldn’t be writing the things I’m writing now.
Stuart: Sure. Some things you just can’t plan. Which leads me to my next question. Are you a pantser or plotter?
Terry: I would have to say pantser, though I try desperately to impose some kind of order to my notes and outlines. I agree with Stephen King who said, “I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible…” Excessive plotting can kill the realism and the growth of characters; it can come off as mechanistic rather than organic. Some people handle that very well. Just not me.
Stuart: I agree, but a writer also has to produce, right?
Terry: That’s not to say I don’t sketch my acts and turning points. I have used three act structure for so long, it enables me to impose over-arching goals. Since I am now primarily a novelist, I set the turning points as targets and allow characters to find a way to get there. I’ve always been in awe of people who color code their scenes and create intense time lines with every story beat incorporated. I just can’t do it. I have a vague idea of where I want my characters to be at the end of a story, but I don’t really know until I get them there.
Stuart: That sounds about right. So where do you do your writing?
Terry: I write in a spare bedroom on a big oak desk that looks out over a beautiful valley. It can be distracting because there’s always something to watch out there. My desk is about 8 inches deep in notes in the form of notebooks, receipts, scraps of paper and random newspaper clippings. It’s a pile. Like my brain.
Stuart: Ha ha. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Terry: I would have to say Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. Sorry. Star Trek and Star Wars are about equal on my Scifi meter.
Stuart: I agree. If you had a superpower, what would it be?
Terry: Whatever it is, flying would have to be involved. I think transforming into a badass dragon would work for me.
Stuart: Good answer. Do you dream about writing?
Terry: The idea for my winning story for Writers of the Future came to me in that fog just before you fall sound asleep. Dreams often give me some deeper understanding of my work, and great imagery.
Stuart: When you were a kid, what was your favorite toy?
Terry: Breyer horses and matchbox cars, often interacting in vast melodramas. I used to build roads and little stick houses and the matchbox cars would drive all over.
Stuart: Jordie had his visor, Sherlock his deerstalker. If you adopted a wardrobe tag, what would it be?
Terry: I think I would want a leather vest with wings on the back like Darrel in The Walking Dead.
Stuart: Ha ha! Did you bring along a favorite quotation?
Terry: Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks’ character) in “A League of their Own” says, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Stuart: Truer words, never spoken. Well thanks Terry. See you in LA!
Learn more about Terry at www.threewellsofthesea.com