Terri Stoor, member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance and winner of the 2011 short story gold medal in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom writing competition, will be reading from her work at the Yeah, You Write literary concert at Tipitina’s on October 13th. Fellow Peauxdunquian Tad Bartlett took some time out this week with Terri to chat with her about her writing:
TB: Terri, much of your work, including Bellyful of Sparrow, for which you won the gold medal for short stories in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom competition, seems to involve the intersection between humor and death, or between everyday tragedy and some sort of quiet transcendence. First, do you think that’s fair? But second, do you find these intersections to be rich veins for stories?
TS: I think that’s a fair assessment of my work, though it wasn’t until you pointed it out that I realized that 90% of my stories involve death, either just passed or on the way. Death distills everything down to its essence, it cuts the crap, it brings issues into focus. Whether you know you’re dying (and aren’t we all) or you’re dealing with what’s left after someone is gone, it’s a good way to get to the core of the story. As for humor, well, some of the most horrific things that happen in life are also very funny. Humor is what makes the pain bearable.
TB: Speaking of rich veins, do you find it easier to write stories about the small towns you experienced growing up, or do you see yourself gravitating toward setting stories in larger cities such as New Orleans?
TS: I love writing about small towns. There are few places as loving or as hateful as a very small town, often at the same time. They choose whom to include or exclude, seemingly at random. I don’t know that it’s easier to write stories about the towns I was raised in, but I am drawn to the sanctity of what others might consider small lives. No one has a small life from their own perspective, and I like to explore that. New Orleans is really a collection of small towns, with her neighborhoods, and I could easily see setting stories here.
TB: Tell me about your writing process. Where do you start with a story? Where do your stories first come from?
TS: Someone wrote (and I wish I could give appropriate credit), “I don’t know where the ideas come from, but I know if I’m not there to write them down, they go away again.” Anything can inspire a story for me: a turn of phrase, a face glimpsed in a passing car, a dream. Once in awhile I start with a title. I write my stories whole, from the beginning to the end, and most often in one long sitting. The story I end up with, once I knead it and roll it out may be nothing like what I began with, but the initial outpouring goes down on the page as one piece.
TB: Do you feel there’s a particularly oral quality to your storytelling that translates to the page? Might this come from your past experience as an actor and in stand-up comedy?
TS: Sure. I often read passages aloud, to get the mouthfeel of them, to see how they come off my tongue. It’s the quickest way for me to discover when something is too cute, or just not working. If it’s not flowing on the page, when you read it aloud, it’s really obvious. As a writer, I don’t think I’m trying to enlighten you or educate you; all I want to do is tell stories.
TB: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received (or given, if you’ve given advice better than any you received)?
The best advice I’ve received is probably from Memphis native and current New Orleans writer Jamey Hatley
: “Be fierce.” It applies to so much of writing, being fierce about getting your butt in the chair, being fierce about the work itself. Great advice. The best advice I’ve ever given is definitely, “It’s as easy to love a rich man as a poor one,” to my daughters. I consider it an investment in the quality of my eventual retirement home.
TB: Thanks, Terri! Looking forward to your reading at Tip’s!
TS: Thank you! I’m looking forward to it as well. Should be a great event.