Today we are continuing a series of interviews with published authors who are also instructors. They write in a variety of fields, and each approaches the craft from a slightly different point of view. Because they come from such varied backgrounds, I have gained a great deal of knowledge of writing craft from attending their seminars.
As it’s Friday and I often post poetry and flash fiction on Fridays, we are talking with Terry Persun, a poet and novelist who resides in the Northwest.
CJJ: You write in three areas, poetry, nonfiction, and fiction. Your fiction work ranges through three sub-genres, Sci-fi/fantasy, mystery/thriller, and mainstream/historical. As are many poets, you’re well-known for questioning the political, spiritual, and cultural status quo.
How does your poetic bent shape your non-fiction and genre novel work?
TP: What an amazing question. I often think about how my poetry helps to shape my novels, but seldom my nonfiction. So let’s start with novels: much of the best poetry is about image, and the same goes for the novel. An image (showing not telling) can create an emotion that will stick with the reader. Poetry allows me to practice that. Even when you’re discussing cultural elements, an image is more important than abstract words like horrific or painful. A poet must know how to show those abstractions. Think about the last time you saw an image of a child in a war zone, it’s much more impactful than being told that there were several women and children killed in the attack. Even which image is important—movie directors know which angle to take. As for nonfiction: I think pacing and word choice stand out the most. In a poem, I can create a line break or a stanza break, similarly with nonfiction I might create a new paragraph or move the article from prose to bulleted copy. Again, an image might be best in nonfiction as well. For example, instead of saying, “Make sure your enclosure is leak proof.” I said, “Using the proper sealing approach will eliminate the concern of having grease oozing out of your enclosure.” Seeing the grease oozing out of something is much more impactual than telling someone to provide better sealing. There are probably many more things that poetry brings to my writing that I may not be completely aware of.
CJJ: You have published five poetry collections. I own one of them, And Now This. These poems resonated with me, as my father was also a WWII vet. These poems deal with the effects of your father’s wartime experiences on your family during the 1960s. Battle related PTSD is also a theme in my forthcoming novel. Reading your poetry made me feel less alone in that experience, and helped me develop my protagonist in the initial stages.
You seem to have an instinctive gift for meter in your free verse. One of my favorite opening passages of all time is from one of the poems in this collection, from the opening poem,
I’m standing in the corner,
My hands are not my own,
This passage drops the reader straight into your young reality, unapologetically showing the life you had then. Because they are free verse, the lines don’t rhyme, yet they are poetic and speak to me on a level that the prose in a novel rarely does. I also love the opening passage from another poem in this collection, In the Story of My Father.
What advice would give budding poets in regard to meter and phrasing their free verse?
TP: Language has its own music. Even prose has music to it. It’s my assertion that the best prose can often be broken into poems. In classes I sometimes will take a Hemingway paragraph and create a poem from it. Having said that, the number of beats, the number of syllables, where you place commas or choose to create a complex sentence, all have an effect on the final work. What I advise new poets is to first of all read a lot of poetry—especially the kind you’re trying to write. Notice how much of a breath you need to take, where natural and unnatural breaks might occur (use both), and where can you end a line that leads a reader in a false direction. Poetry infused prose can only make it better.
CJJ: One of my favorite fantasy novels is Doublesight, in which you created a world populated by shapeshifters. Zimp is a wonderful character, and I like how you portrayed her growing into her responsibilities.
You have opened your Doublesight world to fans to create fanfiction in, via Kindle Worlds.
How has the work offered by others in your world affected your view of Zimp’s world, and has it changed your direction in anyway?
TP: That’s a tough question to answer, because anything written in that world changes the way I see it. Once it’s opened to other interpretations, each character becomes deeper and more mysterious. I start to see the character differently and wonder more about him or her. It also lets me see how others view the story, the time period, the characters. I become more interested in the world as others work in it. My hope is that it’s fun and expansive for the authors as well, offering them another viewpoint to explore, another idea to examine. Plus, every Doublesight story uploaded into Kindle Worlds helps to market all the other books in the world. This cross-marketing will eventually help each author gain a new audience for their own books.
CJJ: Your video course is quite extensive, and I’d like you tell the readers what the course entails, and how they can take it.
TP: I believe you’re talking about the “Make Money Writing” course. You can access it through my website or through Youtube. I have taught that class quite a bit and is often standing room only. I’ve been freelancing for 20 years and working with freelancers on the magazine side for another 20 prior to that. I know how magazine editors think, what they need, and how to reach them. I also know how to help a writer find their way into freelancing. In the course, I run through how to decide what to write, the parts of the magazine, the editorial calendar, how to touch base with editors, and the main types of articles they need for their publications. I’ve consulted with several major magazine groups about their editorial packages, as well as how to move copy through their company so that they don’t waist time and end up with the best possible pieces to publish.
CJJ: I’ve attended several of your seminars at the annual PNWA conference and enjoyed them immensely. You’re based in the Pacific Northwest and have taught many classes all over the region. Will you be offering any seminars over the next year?
TP: I will be at the PNWA Cottage in September teaching a course on working with Amazon’s 12+ platforms for writers (go to PNWA.org for the list of classes), then at Rivers of Ink in October where I’ll be one of their Keynote speakers and also teach a class called Use Your Writing as Marketing. In November, I’ll be in Kauai for their annual Writers’ Conference where I’m teaching Self and Independent Publishing, and will be working one-on-one with attendees interested in a variety of methods of publication. I was involved in three other groups/conferences earlier this year. I am always willing to come up with a program if there is enough interest. Just let me know.
Terry, thank you so much for your insights and advice, both here and at the annual PNWA conference.
I highly recommend Terry’s works. His poetry is deep and thought provoking, and his novels are fun and fantastic. His books can be found on Amazon at:
Terry Persun on Amazon Author Central
For any of you who are interested in attending his seminars, or looking into his video course, you can find him at any of these places.
On Monday, Scott Driscoll has agreed to join us here.