Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Pen Pal Posts - Terrie Todd



I first got to know Terrie after I had an article published in the Portage Herald Leader some years ago. She kindly wrote me an email telling me how much she enjoyed it. (Probably one of my first pieces of fan mail.) She also encouraged me to start me to start a blog. The piece that appeared in the Herald Leader back then, is now also published in Hutterite Diaries; chapter 4 and titled A Circle Not Unbroken.  

Over the next few years we'd run into each other ever so often, or visit each others' blog. Her blog, Out of My Mind is one of the favourite blogs I follow. As I mentioned in a previous post, Terrie is a columnist for a local newspaper and has had eight stories published in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

When my book, Hutterite Diaries was released in May 2015, Terrie wrote a beautiful column on it, and posted a heart-warming review on Amazon as well. Needless to say, I was humbled and so grateful that she would dedicate a whole column to my book. She also came to my book launch at the Portage library, and I intend to return the favour on January the 26th. I'm almost as excited about the pie and ice-cream, and the door-prices she's planning for this event, as I am about the book.

Congratulations on the publication of your brand new book, The Silver Suitcase, Terrie. But before we go into that, I’d like to talk about your newspaper column. I love your column and read everyone, either on your blog or in the Herald Leader. How long have you had it and how did you get into it? 


Sometimes it pays to ask for what you want. In September, 2010, the Herald Leader was advertising for freelance writers. I had previously written a monthly slice-of-life column for my church newsletter and wondered if I could do something similar for our local paper. I made an appointment with the editor (Elisha Dacey at the time) and asked for a regular column. I gave her my resume and three sample columns. She hired me and I started with the very next issue. Shortly after, the paper stopped paying freelancers, so it was a fortunate window of opportunity for me.



I remember those days when they still accepted article from freelancers, as I was one of them. I always think it would be fun to have your own column, not to mention that it would motivate you to keep writing. What is it that you appreciate most about being a columnist?


Being approached by readers in the community who tell me they read my column is pretty sweet. That’s one of the perks of living in a smaller town. Having that regular deadline is indeed motivating, and the regular pay cheque is sure nice. At $40 per column, it’s far from a living wage. But I’ve been able to save up and use the money for writing courses, books, and writers conferences, which eventually led to signing with an agent who landed the book contract for me.


It's amazing how things work out sometimes. I know you’ve been writing for a long time, and have often wondered if you’ve ever consider putting all your columns in a book. Was that ever a dream, or was your dream always along the line of publishing a novel?


It’s only been recently, with five years of columns under my belt, that I’ve thought of putting them in a book or been asked that question. I suppose I might consider it as a ten year anniversary project or something if I’m still at it in 2020. The market would be quite limited, so I would have to self-publish, which means coming up with the money up front. Not a huge priority, especially since my columns are also on my blog where anyone can read them.


Good point, but still, it would be special to have them all in one volume. Lisa Stahl, a Hutterite in Montana used to have a column in a Montana newspaper. When she married and moved to Saskatchewan, she gave up her column. Then  the newspaper published a book, titled My Hutterite Life, of all her pieces including some pictures provided by Lisa.

You’re also part of a local group who presents a number of plays throughout the year. Can you tell me about that? Has being involved in drama, helped in any way with writing your book?


I learned to write short drama sketches during my 20 years as the drama director at Portage Alliance Church, and I learned to write dialogue that sounds real. Some of those scripts were later published, as well as two longer plays with a royalty publisher, so it’s been fun to know groups around the continent are performing them. After writing my novel and receiving numerous critiques in contests or from potential editors, one reoccurring comment was that dialogue was my strong suit. I credit this to my practice with play scripts.

Our local community theater troupe, The Prairie Players, has performed two of my plays: The First Church of Gynecology and Obstetrics, and Sleeping with a One-Armed Man. This past February, Sarasvati Productions of Winnipeg produced my play, Irony: A Tragic Comedy about Life and Death at their 2015 Fem-fest. This was my first professionally produced piece and a great learning experience.


Wow! That must be so rewarding to have some of your plays performed professionally. Your brand new book, The Silver Suitcase, a debut novel will be released on January 26. I know how exciting that must be for you. What inspired you to write this book? How did you come up with the title?


In 2009, I was struggling with wanting to do more writing but being short on time and energy. I’d discovered that if I wanted to write for publication, I needed to spend at least as much time marketing and submitting as I did writing, but I had a full time job plus other responsibilities. I was turning 50 years old and felt that if I was going to give this a go, I needed to get on it. I couldn’t afford to quit my job and I decided to spend an evening fasting and praying about it all. I asked my friend, Julianne, to pray for me. She is a prayer warrior to whom God sometimes gives “pictures” when she prays for people. That night as she prayed for me, she received a picture of me, sitting on top of an old-fashioned silver suitcase. It was stuffed with papers and spilling over, like they were trying to get out.

Meanwhile, I had committed to writing 500 words a day toward a novel, not knowing if I could write a book or not. I picked up on the idea of a silver suitcase and asked “where can I go with that?” This book is the result. I also ended up changing my full-time job for a part-time one, which has freed up time and my writing has taken off since then.


I love the cover of your book; it’s very striking and creates intrigue. Share briefly what this book is about and where it’s available.


It’s the story of two women, separated by three generations but connected by the secrets stored within an old silver suitcase…and one healing, powerful God who pursues them both. In addition to my launch at the Portage library on January 26, it’s available locally from Heritage Book and Gift Shop (or ask for it at any book store. If they don’t have it, they can order it.) It’s also available online in paperback, ebook, or audio-book format from Amazon. Click here.


For the most part, I write non-fiction, so I don’t have to create characters. And I know this is just your first book, but when dreaming up characters, do you ever have a person you know, in mind, or are your characters strictly fictional?


I’ve done that with plays, especially when I have a certain actor in mind as I write a script. But for novel writing, it seems the characters reveal themselves to me as I write. Hard to explain. I did borrow some names from my personal history which friends and family will recognize.


A while back, I wrote one fiction piece for fun, and also to try that genre, so I know what you mean when you say, 'the characters reveal themselves'. Strange as it seems, it really happens. What I was also surprised with, were the unexpected twists and turns the story took as I was writing. Honestly, sometimes it felt like I was just typing.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?


My prayer with any of my writing is always that my words will draw readers just one baby step closer to their Creator than they were before. That will look different for everyone.


As a writer who has recently published a book, I know working on a project is a wonderful experience. Are there any special experiences on this publishing journey, which you’d like to share?



It’s good I didn’t know how discouraging a journey it can be when I began, or I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to start. But I’m so glad I hung in there! When I finally signed with an agent in 2013, she told me to get going on a second novel because often a publisher will want a series of two or more books. So I did. A year later, when the first book had still not sold, I pretty much abandoned the second one, feeling there was no point. When The Silver Suitcase finally did sell in 2015, I got back to my second book and it is now approaching the finish line. It’s called Maggie’s War. Whether or not Waterfall Press will want it will depend largely on how The Silver Suitcase does in its first three months.


One thing that makes me so happy is that, although the publisher is American, my story takes place right here in Manitoba and includes interesting bits of Canadian history during World War II. I had been told by “those who know” that if I wanted my book to sell in the States, I would have to move the setting to the U.S.  I’m so glad those naysayers were wrong!


Twice, The Silver Suitcase made the final five in the Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel Contest. It didn’t win, but I formed a very close-knit bond with the other finalists the first year and we remain long distance friends. Although spread around the continent (I’m the only Canadian), we have encouraged and supported each other and now all five of us are published authors. I was the last. These friendships are priceless.

I can say the same about my publishing journey. I've gotten to know some amazing people and treasure their friendship, even though I've never actually met some of them in person.  

I'm reading a review copy of your book right now and am really enjoying it. One of the elements I like about it, is that it's set in Manitoba!


Thanks so much for being part of my Pen Pal Posts, Terrie and best of luck as you promote your book.



(To read the other posts in this series, click on Pen Pal Posts under Tabs.)

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