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Contact: Elena Hartwell - elenahartwell@gmail.com and visit me on the web at www.elenahartwell.com

Spotlight on Nicole J. and Terry Persun

October sees Part III and IV of my extended spotlight, highlighting two exceptional writers, Terry Persun and his daughter Nicole. I had the pleasure of meeting them both at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference in July, when I attended one of Terry's workshops. Both excellent writers and teachers, I'm pleased to include them together for this interview. Scroll down for earlier installments.

Nicole J. Persun started her professional writing career at the age of sixteen with her young adult novel, A Kingdom’s Possession, which later became an Amazon Bestseller. Her second novel, Dead of Knight, was recently awarded Gold in Foreword Magazine’s 2013 Indiefab Book of the Year Award competition, and has also seen Amazon’s Bestseller rankings. 

Aside from novels, Nicole has had short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and essays published in a handful of literary journals. She often speaks at libraries, writer’s groups, and writer’s conferences across the country. Nicole has a degree in Creative Writing from Goddard College. For more information, visit Nicole’s website at www.nicolejpersun.com or visit her publisher’s website at www.booktrope.com.

  Nicole J Persun         
Terry Persun     

Terry Persun holds a Bachelor’s of Science as well as an MA in Creative Writing. He has worked as an engineer, has been the Editor-in-Chief of several technology journals, and is now marketing consultant for technical and manufacturing companies. Over a dozen of his novels, four of his poetry collections, and six of his poetry chapbooks have been published by small, independent publishers.

His novels Wolf’sRite and Cathedral of Dreams won ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist Awards, his historical novel, Sweet Song won a Silver IPPY Award, his fantasy novel Doublesight won a POW Best Unpublished Manuscript Award (it is now published). His latest science fiction space opera is Hear No Evil, which was a finalist for the International Book Awards (in science fiction), and novel Ten Months in Wonderland was also a finalist for the International Book Awards (in historical fiction). His poems and short stories have been published widely in both independent and university journals including Kansas Quarterly, Wisconsin Review, Hiram Poetry Review, and many others.

The Interview -- Part IV

Scroll Down for Parts I-III
Nicole, you recently finished a nonfiction book about Terry. That must have been a fascinating experience for the two of you. Nicole, what led you to writing that book?
NICOLE: I’ve always been fascinated with the relationship a fiction writer has to his or her characters. Writers use personal experiences all the time in order to bring life to their characters, but I wondered what parts of our lives we use unintentionally. How are the common themes in our books related to our lives? What is the connection? Of course, the obvious answer is: it depends on the writer. But still I wanted to explore this idea with more depth.
TERRY: I remember when Nicole came to me with this idea, and at first I wasn’t sure how to respond. It was flattering, but would also open up things that I might not want to talk about. Then, I reminded myself how important it is to be honest with ourselves and our kids, and agreed. We’ve always had an open relationship, so I just wanted to reiterate that whatever she asked I’d answer her as honestly as I could. And, whatever she took from the conversation, like always, was her own. It opened us to some very deep and rewarding conversations. 
NICOLE: I didn’t want to look at myself because I didn’t think I had the body of work necessary for such a large scoped question. I also wasn’t interested in the self-reflection that would require, especially because I feared I wouldn’t have enough distance from the work to think logically. So, I looked outward.
TERRY: I am ultimately glad she did this. It was an opportunity for me to see what others might see in my work, and to revisit my own life to possibly uncover some of my deeper life concerns.
NICOLE: In short, I figured Dad would be a good writer to focus on for a number of reasons: 1) he’s prolific and therefore had a large enough body of work for me to look for parallels in, 2) he was readily available to me for interviews, 3) as my father, I already knew a lot of information, which allowed me to delve deeper at a faster pace than, say, with an author I’d never met, 4) it gave me an excuse to read more of his work, something I’d been wanting to do for a while and never had the time.
TERRY: Yes, how cool it was to have Nicole read so many of my novels in such a short amount of time. I know, because of the writer and reader and thinker she was, that she’d bring more to the work than I could have done. Especially since she was reading them one after another—and since I write in multiple genres, I was eager to see if there were parallels in theme or story. I was poised to learn more about my own work, which is great.
NICOLE: Starting the project was the kicker. I’d never written a work of nonfiction to this scale before—let alone one that was a blend of literary criticism, biography, interview, writing-how-to, and childhood memoir (memoir because how could I not have my own experiences coming into play? He is my dad, after all). I struggled a lot at the beginning, especially with trying to figure out a smooth structure for the thing. So, for a while I somewhat blindly conducted interviews and read as many of Dad’s books as I could—which wasn’t easy, as he’s had a pretty crazy life and has written a lot of books. Once I did figure out how to structure the book, things moved pretty smoothly from there: writing the narrative itself, conducting more directed interviews, re-reading key bits and pieces of Dad’s work, etc.
TERRY: I was not disappointed in what Nicole was able to do. The way she pieced all of it together was just short of genius. And I say that as a writer, not as a father, something she and I have had in common from the beginning—we can be very objective. As with her other writing, I did nothing in way of helping her decide on a structure. Here instructors from college helped, but I didn’t. It was her project and I stood back and watched.
NICOLE: It’s funny, a lot of people expect that there would be lots of surprises to me, but there really wasn’t. Dad and I talk about everything and have a very honest relationship with each other, so most of the information wasn’t new—just new details and a better sense of chronology. I’d say the biggest surprise—and the most important part of this whole process I put us through—happened while I was interviewing Grammy, my dad’s mom. Dad never had a great relationship with his father, but something Grammy said I think really changed how Dad now views him, which was pretty cool.
TERRY: Yes, two things happened during this process: my understanding of my relationship with my dad did change, and my relationship with my mom changed. What’s more important to me, though, is that Nicole had a chance to talk with my mom on a deeper, more personal level. Mom died soon after Nicole interviewed her, and for lack of a better way of saying it, I think that interview and our subsequent conversations changed all our lives. What more could anyone ask?   
What are you working on now?
NICOLE: I’m currently working on a literary novel. It’s already putting me way outside my comfort zone—the new genre and nonlinear story structure are re-inventing my whole writing process—but I’m really excited about it! I’d say more, but you’ll just have to read it. J

TERRY: You’ve probably figured out by now that I’ve usually got several projects going at once. Technical articles are a regular for sure. That’s how I make the bulk of my income at the moment. But I’m also working on a short story, a few poems (or more than a few, I keep them around when I’m wanting to work on something short), and writing a new novel. I just finished one a month ago, and wrote a few short stories in between.

I guess I can be a bit more explicit here concerning what these pieces are about, or what genre they’re in. So, the short stories (three of them) are all science fiction in nature. Two of them are about characters that appear in my novel Hear No Evil. I enjoyed those characters and wanted to explore them more. Short stories provides a way to get to know them better through more back story.

The poems I’m presently working on are all over the place. I allow my creativity to be a bit more scattered when it comes to poems. I believe this allows my creativity to stay open and fresh when I turn to something else to write. I can say that I’ve written a few more poems in my sentences format, as well as some free verse. And I’ve made adjustments to poems I’ve written over the past few months.

Lastly, I’m working on a new novel at the moment. I’m about eight- or ten-thousand words into it so far. It’s a sequel to TheNSA Files. My shaman detective/agent and his son have gotten themselves into another caper, you might say. I love writing, so every time I start a new book, I’m excited to see what happens. That’s what keeps me going.

Final words of wisdom.

NICOLE: Wisdom? Oh, jeez. Talking to a new writer, I always say this: Write every day, read every day. That’s how you become an expert. As far as anything else goes, I’ll say what I like to live by, and it’s really quite simple: do what makes you happy. Every. Single. Day.

TERRY: My Final Words of Wisdom
I don’t think of myself as wise, by any means, but I do have opinions. They are all my own, no matter if someone else has said them sometime in the past or not. My grandmother always said to listen to everyone’s opinion and then make up your own mind. I live by that rule.

The first thing I might say to a new writer is: only do it if you love it. Lets face it, money, fame, girls, or anything else won’t last if you hate what you’re doing. Also, odds are that if you don’t like what you’re doing, you won’t do it well. There was a line from a movie recently that I remember (although, I don’t remember the movie), and it went like this: “Learn to distinguish between your skills and your interests.” I’m not saying to quit writing if you don’t have the skills, you can always learn the skills. But if you are “only” interested and not passionate about writing, why write? A novel takes a lot of time and energy to write the first time, then to edit or revise it. And if a large publisher wants it, they can edit the shit out of it, take two more years to do it, and you still don’t know if it’s going to sell or not. You better love doing the job in the first place.

Another thing I tell writers is to write what you want to write. I know, I know, everyone and their uncle says this. But it’s true. If you’re writing things you don’t want to write, even if you make a living at it, you’ll not be happy. You’ll pay the bills, feed your family, maybe even buy a vacation home, but you won’t be happy. I want you to be happy. So, write what turns you on.

I don’t know if I have any more wisdom than this, so I’m going to call it a day.

The Interviews -- Part III

Scroll down for Parts I & II

What are the pros and cons of working in multiple genres?
TERRY: I’ll start with the bad news, the cons. I’ve been told by agents, editors, and other writers and friends that having too broad a collection of work means that it’s difficult to gain an audience. Some publishers are shy about someone who works in several genres (by the way, some people will read genre as the differences between nonfiction, fiction, short story, and poetry; while others will read genre as differences between science fiction, fantasy, romance, western, etc.). I’m talking about both, here, because I write in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, as well as shift fiction genres. I suppose I shift nonfiction genres, too, in that I have written nonfiction books about spirituality as well as guidebooks for working with small presses and, of course, there are the technical articles I write, too. Oh, and can I suspect that by writing in traditional and non-traditional verse that my poetry crosses genres, too? Personally, I think it all gets ridiculous, to tell the truth. After all, I can enjoy a super hero movie, a romance movie, and a serious documentary, and no one every bats and eye. How about my food intake: vegetables, fruits, meats, dairy. In fact, in college I have to take a variety of subjects, so why can’t I write in them.

Okay, I’m done ranting.

NICOLE: I agree with everything above, and I think Dad touches on a very important point: it’s not realistic for writers to be expected to stay in one fiction genre. When it comes to books, I’d argue that most people have a fairly eclectic taste. I enjoy literary just as much as I enjoy fantasy novels—not to say that I don’t have genres I dislike, just that I don’t hold fast to one or another. Writers are expected to stick in a fiction genre for the sake of consistency and clarity for our readers, however I think the book business underestimates a reader’s loyalty to their favorite authors. Personally, if I really like an author, I’ll read whatever they put out, regardless of the genre. I realize the risk in losing some readership by putting out books in another genre, but you also run a good chance of gaining new readers by doing so.

I’d like to make a point about the other definition of genre Dad mentioned—what I like to call form: novel, novella, short story, essay, flash fiction, poetry in both fiction and nonfictional contexts. I have encountered agents, editors, and publishers who are interested in authors crossing this kind of genre—crossing form—in certain cases. This is due to exposure. I’ll give you an example: say you’re a science fiction novelist, but you also write a lot of science fiction short stories. This can be great marketing exposure—the more short stories you get published in magazines, the better the chance a reader will find your novels. I realize this can be complicated by, say, a scifi novelist with short stories in romance, but, as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, if a reader likes your work, they’ll at least check out your other stuff.

TERRY: Basically, the cons are all about marketing and sales and building an audience for a particular type of book. If you like my fantasy, you may not like my romance, and visa versa. Let’s face it though, if you like my first fantasy, you may not like my second one. I think we all forget that we don’t just pump out one bestseller after another—most of us don’t anyway. Finally, though, I’d like to bring to your attention Joyce Carol Oats, Ray Bradbury, Wayne Dyer, and there are hundreds more who have crossed genres and done quite well for themselves. Which leads us to the pros.

My technical writing has helped me learn how to be clear. When writing hard science fiction, it’s best if my reader understands the technology I’m talking about. There may be slight mysteries, but my writing has to be very clear in order for it to be believed. Poetry teaches me how to use simile and metaphor in a way that I wouldn’t normally do with general fiction. I learn how important sentence structure and line endings can be. So when I’m writing anything else, I understand that the way a sentence or paragraph ends may be important to my story. And the brevity of poetry, how it uses strong images to create specific emotion or wonder—it all comes in handy. Even nonfiction helps to deliver a story in a linear manner, helps me understand how to coax people to try something new. Every thing I write helps with the other things I write.

NICOLE: Seconded. Poetry, too, helps with the balance of concrete image and abstract emotion. This has done wonders for my fiction writing when it comes to portraying a character’s emotional state in a way that feels graspable to the reader. Nonfiction—especially personal essays—are great for tapping into your own feelings and articulating them, something that can be helpful when you’re stuck on a character’s feelings and need to use some personal experience to stoke the realism.

TERRY: Moving to the other definition of genre, my romance stories and novels help me understand the nuances of romance for when I need to add that to a non-romance novel. For example, in my series that includes (so far) Revision 7: DNA and Backyard Aliens, the main characters are man and wife. Writing romance helps me better understand their relationship, helps me better write about their relationship. Knowing the difference between fantasy and science fiction alerts me to when I’ve gone too far with one or the other. Thrillers and crime fiction help with puzzle creation and solution, with tension and conflict. And literary or mainstream novels teach me about life and people so that my characters become real on the page.

NICOLE: Literary, I think, is also an exercise in language—by this I mean word choice, syntax, etc—and how it can be used intentionally to move story or shape character. Poetry touches on this, but practicing literary writing helps you apply these poetic devices to more conventional stories. I think literary also encourages exploration into less-conventional points of view, tenses, and so on, stretching your writing abilities even further. This is a nuance that can be helpful no matter what you’re writing.

TERRY: I think I’ve gone on long enough. Most people can see what I’m talking about. Each type of writing feeds all the others, just like life feeds my writing, and love feeds my writing. I think that touches on the most important thing about writing in multiple genres. Passion. I write what I feel passionate about at the time. I love writing, and many subjects get me to thinking and wanting to explore a subject, a character, a setting. My novel Ten Months in Wonderland is about the setting as much as the characters. Without the unusual setting, I would have no novel, the storyline would be ridiculous. These explorations are what’s important to me, this passion, this love of writing. May it be the same for everyone.

NICOLE: Another good point Dad touches on: who are you writing for? Everyone knows it’s hard to make a living writing, which means that to be a long-time writer, you have to really love it. Dad writes for himself. I write for myself. Which means, frankly, that I can do whatever I damn well please when it comes to exploring genres of all kinds. Yes, I keep in mind the cons when sending work out—because, even though I write for me, I still would like my work to be read, would like my passion to financially sustain itself—but I don’t allow the cons to limit my work. Because if I want to write a romantic literary space opera in verse, I will.

                                       Check back Oct 15 for Part IV!