Terry Tierney Takes His Readers on a Lucky Ride
Our long-standing tradition of giving a member the mic before our keynote speaker helps us get to know what our colleagues are working on. Our 5+5+5 guidelines (5 minutes of backstory, 5 minutes to read, and 5 minutes of Q&A) help emerging writers polish their professional skills.
I met Terry Tierney when I first participated in the Wednesday night Berkeley Writers’ Circle, a critique group. I came home from that first meeting in awe of the range and depth of imagination evident in the writing we reviewed that night. In particular, I was utterly charmed when I met Terry’s protagonist: an eight-year-old boy’s imaginary friend. Terry’s prose is at once lyrical and straight forward, and I was drawn into his story as if I were hypnotized. In the ensuing years, as Terry pursued other projects, I missed the little guy.
I’m delighted that Terry is this month’s Featured Member at the California Writers Club-Berkeley Branch’s meeting, on Sunday, January 16th at 1:00 pm. His responses to my questions below are lightly edited, but mostly, I tried to keep my grubby little editing paws off his wonderful writing.
Lucky Ride followed the traditional road trip model—until I realized Flash’s story was more than merely a road trip.Terry Tierney
Sandy Bliss: What is your usual writing schedule or rhythm? Describe a day in the writing life of Terry Tierney.
Terry Tierney: First of all, thank you for taking the time to interview me!
I’m not a morning person but my brain seems to think it is, especially after I arouse it with coffee.
Each morning I write in a journal, but these days my journal is a long and untidy word file. If I’m lucky, I might kick-off a brainstorm by recalling an image or a subject from a dream or from my morning walk, or I might scan some prompts or poems I’ve been wanting to read. Earlier this week, for example, I woke up thinking about zeroes. How can nothing represent something?
After my creative juice ebbs (or fails to surface), I edit potential poems or stories from previous days, which might include filling in new lines or scenes. Later, as time allows, I focus on correspondence, submissions, and social media. Then I play my guitar until our dog decides it’s time for her evening walk. She’s a gentle but persistent task master.
SB: Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter” or a combination of both? How do you determine the structures of your novels?
TT: My stories and novels all start with a rough outline. My novel outlines tend to be layered, meaning they have an overall scheme and more detailed outlines for each scene or chapter. Although I keep copious notes, I’m really more of a “pantser,” in that characters and scenes often evolve outside the structure I envisioned. So, my outlines are in constant flux.
I’m also a rabid rewriter. My stories and chapters often go through dozens of rewrites before I show them to my writing groups or anyone else. Then more rewrites until the final structure emerges, but it has to feel organic. The thread of Lucky Ride, for example, was straightforward when I began to write, since it followed the traditional road trip model—until I realized Flash’s story was more than merely a road trip.
SB: What kinds of research (if any) did you do to write Lucky Ride?
TT: Although Lucky Ride is purely fiction with invented scenes and characters, many of the details are based on my personal experience. I did not have to research how to roll a joint, for example. But memory can be deceptive, so I reviewed background details of the time period, including the timeline of the Vietnam War, cross country roadmaps, and even the soundtrack, which was the part I most enjoyed. I wanted Lucky Ride to be a fun read, but also an artifact of the Vietnam era.
SB: From your publicist’s description, it appears that Lucky Ride is a contemplative, reflective novel. Given this, how did you approach the novel’s momentum, or pacing? How did you keep it moving? Did you use the characters’ movement across the country to establish action, and/or did you use that only on a metaphoric level?
TT: Since Lucky Ride is a road novel tinged with humor, I wanted the pace of the novel to fit the tone and action. Like any hitchhiking trip, each ride is an adventure, but there are periods of waiting for a ride or zoning out when the driver drones on about his job or religion. Flash reflects on his dilemmas and his friendships during those otherwise mundane moments, and his contemplations and flashbacks are often told as little stories in themselves.
Just as Flash maintains his momentum toward his destination, I try to do the same for the reader. So, the road trip is both a structure and a metaphor. The reflective breaks in action are dramatic pauses, but in the context of the road trip they are like scenes viewed through your car window. You briefly look and enjoy and then return your eyes to the road.
SB: I love that metaphor! Shifting gears, one thing I love about your writing is your characters. What do you admire about Flash? Is he someone you’d be friends with, or steer clear of, or…?
TT: Flash has an irrepressible optimism despite his unraveling marriage and the years he lost in the military. You might attribute some of his attitude to the weed he inhales, but one wonders if his legendary good luck is based on his intelligence and attitude. As a person who struggles to find his way, Flash would be a difficult friend to have, but dreamers can also be interesting and inspiring.
SB: Both you and Flash served in the Navy’s Seabees. How are you and Flash similar in other ways? To what extent is Lucky Ride autobiographical?
TT: Flash and I share some experiences, but he is drawn to support the story. Many of the characters are composites of people I met and some scenes are based on actual events, but they are all reimagined. More characters and scenes are invented in their entirety.
Although I began writing Lucky Ride as a humorous memoir of a hitchhiking trip, I realized there was a larger story in Flash’s personal history and the era it depicts. His friends from Adak and his separations from his wife give his dilemma dramatic and comedic depth, and, of course, his friends provide the interim destinations and moral support for his journey.
Like Flash, I served as a Seabee on Adak, met some lifelong friends, and smoked my share of weed, but this is his story, not mine.
SB: You have another novel, The Bridge on Beer River, being published in 2023—congratulations! What are you working on now?
TT: Like all writers, I tend to have several projects on my hard drive. In addition to writing new poems and stories, I’m hoping to pull together another poetry manuscript this year and rewrite my draft novel, tentatively titled, The Secret History of Dirt, about an environmental visionary and his imaginary friend. After that, the road is wide open.
SB: That’s the story about the little boy who is obsessed with soil, narrated by his imaginary friend. I love that premise, and I’ve missed him! He alone is worth my time at the Berkeley Writers Circle each week.
TT: Thank you, Sandy, and the California Writer’s Club, for giving me the opportunity to tell my story about Lucky Ride. Your questions are well thought out and provocative, and I enjoyed answering them. I thrive on the support and goodwill of my friends, including, of course, the CWC. Having a community of excellent writers is a continual source of camaraderie and inspiration.
SB: Thank you, Terry! We look forward to learning more about you as a writer and your own journey in Lucky Ride!
Meet Terry and hear a bit of his writing where he will be featured member at our Sunday Speaker Series.
Originally from Philadelphia and now based in Berkeley, CA, I’m retired from a career in environmental education, community building, and nonprofit administration. I’m writing a memoir in which I view my life experiences through the lens of my relationship with my brother, who was living with my son and me when he died suddenly in 2007. Despite a standard-issue dysfunctional family of origin, my two brothers and I forged bonds that allowed us to build meaningful lives. That’s the story I want my memoir to tell.