Aug 24, 2009

Interview with Terra McVoy

I met Terra at West Regional Library during a book discussion she was having about her debut novel Pure. On a whim (and because the subject matter was intriguing to me) I had purchased the book a few weeks earlier and devoured it! I then passed it on to my little sister and her friends who also got a kick out of the book. Terra was kind enough when I informed her of my new-found love of blogging my book reviews, to offer an interview. Without further adieu, meet Terra McVoy!

1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

It’s hard for me to think of a time in my life when I wasn’t fascinated with books and stories and writing. When I was, like, three or four my mom would sit in front of her typewriter and type out little things I dictated to her, and I like to think of that as the beginning of my writing career. I’ve always studied writing and I’ve always been doing it—through middle school and college and even grad school. I’ve constantly kept diaries and written poems and all that. But the funny thing is that grad school totally turned me off to trying to “Be A Writer,” because I had so many colleagues who spent their evenings submitting stuff. It was like a separate job they had: typing up SASEs, finding journals, filing rejections, sending things out again. And I was like, “No way am I going to do that. I will write for my own sake and do something like teach or get into publishing.” I wanted to be like T.S. Eliot who wrote all this genius stuff but was a banker by day. I had no idea I was even capable of writing a novel. But then this idea came to me and I couldn’t stop; I was just into it. And I had to see it through. It is still weird to consider myself a novelist!

2. What would you say is your interesting writing quirk? Well, like all writers (I hope all writers), I do talk about my characters as though they are real. I also have this really funny relationship with writing. I love it –I truly do—but it is also this terrible thing that keeps you from doing other fun stuff like going to play trivia with your friends or working on your garden or learning French, so it is this kind of love-hate obsession. You cannot stop, but you also think (often), “Why the heck am I sitting here doing this? I should go outside and rollerblade or something!”

3. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say? I am so lucky because I actually work in a bookstore, so I get to interact with people who are either buying my book or have read my book and want to come in and tell me about it, and that is really enormously cool. Also of course I get emails sometimes and have been very fortunate to have been included on the Pulse It website where I can talk to readers and see reviews of Pure there ( But the things people say go all over the place. One of the best things someone said was that it helped her understand that not all Christians were crazy, and that the book illuminated for her some prejudices that she had against them. (She is Jewish.) And lots and lots of people really love it. One reader (who is in high school) said she wished she’d had it to read when she was in middle school. Which is totally awesome. I’ve posted all my favorite reviews on my website. But then there are other comments and reviews out there like THIS BOOK WAS TOTALLY BORING; I COULDN’T GET PAST THE FIRST 10 PAGES. So it isn’t exactly for everyone.

4. Are there any particular authors or writing styles that influence your work? I think probably everything you read influences your writing in some way or another. Either you read a piece and think, “This is how I wish I could write,” or you think, “I could totally write better than that.” If you are hungry for words, you will just eat them, whether they are good for you or not. Hopefully you will eat enough different things so that it all balances out. I can say though that I am mainly a fan of realistic writing. The more realistic the better, even if it’s sad or grim. I like a touch of magic, but it has to be grounded in realism (like The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger, or Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin). I have a hard time getting into fantasy because I am more interested, as a writer, in articulating the human experience in the most honest way. That’s what I love about writing: when done well, it allows us to communicate entire experiences to one another that otherwise we wouldn’t have. And I still haven’t found it to be commonly human to fly around on a dragon or fall into a vampire coven. A small example of writers whom I like and admire include Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Jean Thompson, Raymond Carver, Blake Nelson, Laurie Halse Anderson and Ezra Pound. But those are just a few. My list is humongous. I am trying to learn something from everyone I read.

5. When you write, do you know where you are going to end up or is it a mystery that unfolds as you write? Kind of both? I have to say that before I became “a novelist,” I thought that outlines were oppressive. I wanted the Creative Spirit to flow purely out of me, uninhibited. But it is really extremely hard to write a novel. There is a lot going on, and a lot to keep track of. So for Pure I wrote an outline, and it totally changed my life. It is a completely hard thing to do but it really helped to have that in place and know where I was trying to head. I did the same thing for my second book (which has been even harder to write), and again it was totally helpful. I knew where to steer my horse, you know? It was like, “Well, I don’t know how we’re going to get from here to there, but I said we were going to get there, and we need to in order for the next thing to happen after that, so we better figure it out.” Of course writing the outline takes almost as long as writing the book, so that’s another challenge. But it helps to have a loose idea of where you’re going, and then let the how of it kind of be a little bit of a surprise. Like taking a cross-country road trip where you end up in San Francisco, but allowing yourself to stop at unexpected places along the way.

6. Any hints about your upcoming 2nd novel? It is not a sequel to Pure, I can tell you that! And it is radically different in tone and style. This one is a novel in poems, which was a really interesting challenge and I’m not sure I’ve managed to do completely well yet. My editor still has it, actually, so we will have to see!

Anything else you would like to let us know about you and/or your work? Just that you can learn more about me and writing and stuff at my website,

Be sure to keep an eye out for her next book and if you want to know what I thought about Pure, go ahead and scroll down!

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