Thursday, October 27, 2011

Another Friendly Conversation: Teralyn Rose Pilgrim

This week I have the honor to introduce Teralyn Rose Pilgrim to all of you! I got to critique the first chapter of her most recent book a little while ago and I loved it! She has a real talent for writing and bringing her world to life. So, here we go!

How did you get started as a writer?
When I was eight years old, my teacher assigned us to “write a book.” We typed them up on the computer, we illustrated them, we made covers, and the teacher even bound them. She put our books on the shelf for us to look at during reading time. Kids would come up to me and say, “I love your book.” I had so much fun, I decided I wanted to do that for the rest of my life.

THAT. IS. AWESOME! What a fun thing to do in school!

What was your first complete story?
It was called The Hair Cut. Twin girls get in a fight because one is jealous of the other’s rabbit. She threatens to cut her hair (their long hair is symbolic of their relationship, so this is a betrayal). They eventually make up. In the sequel, robbers steal the rabbit and attempt to kill the twins. Their friend has to solve the mystery of who-dunit; we find out in the third book he wanted the rabbit because it was actually an alien.

Alien-rabbit abductor who-dunit! It actually sounds kind of fun.

What made you decide to write it?
Heck if I know.

Blunt honesty is so refreshing sometimes!

Do you free-write or outline?
I’m experimenting with different structures, actually. I’ve winged it with one book, outlined as I wrote with another, and this time around, I’ve meticulously outlined every scene. I like outlining as I write the best; it keeps things organic.

Ooh, please let me know how that turns out! I've never heard of someone doing it one piece at a time like that.

What do you do to counteract writer’s block?
You’ll have to be more specific. Some people have a day or two where they can’t think of anything to say and they call it “block.” That just means you need to do something else and try again tomorrow.
I went through a real writer’s block for two years. I believe when you can’t write for that long, it’s a sign that something’s wrong in your life and you need to fix it before you worry about writing.

I'm glad you finally got through it. Thankfully, I've never had a slump that long. (the longest I've ever been stuck is about 6 weeks.)

How do you keep your characters original? (i.e. what do you do to make sure your characters don’t turn out the same in every story?)
I ask myself, “This character is different because…” Example: she’s loud and obnoxious, she’s nervous and bites her nails all the time, she’s grumpy and constantly scowls at people. Once I have a starting point to work from, they flesh themselves out.
Free writes are essential to me and developing characters. I write three or four pages about each character as quickly as I can, and when I’m done, the character is usually pretty solid in my mind.

I agree with you about free writes. Mostly mine are little scenes that I thought were really fun but don't fit into the book anywhere. Even though I can't use them, I hang on to them because they're still experience for the character.

How do you build a believable world within your stories?
I write historical fiction about ancient Rome. Readers have already seen everything I’m trying to describe. Instead of describing the entire scene, I use triggers. Marble columns, togas, mosaic floors. Then I add in something unique to make the scene interesting. When you trust your readers enough to fill in the blanks, painting a scene is easier.

To quote Howard Tayler, "Luxury!" That's one of the hardest parts about writing Sci Fi and fantasy.

 How does your own life inform your writing?
I’ve noticed my religion has a great influence on my ideas (I’m LDS); for example, I identify heavily with Vestal Virgins because they had to remain chaste and modest, just like me when I was a teenager. I’m a somewhat emotional and intense person, so there’s a lot of variety in the pacing of my books. The more I grow to love my husband, the sappier my writing gets.

Surprisingly, my marriage doesn't really have much influence on my writing. However, my values and world view have a very distinct impact on my writing. I'm also LDS, by the way!

Have you ever attended a writing convention or conference?
I did! I went to the Historical Novel Society in San Diego last summer. I learned a ton; I wrote a month-long series of articles about that conference on my blog. Probably the most important thing I learned was to understand your genre. Read everything you can in your genre, make friends with writers in your genre, and be familiar with new books coming out. I also learned how to make and keep writer friends, which has been invaluable!

I remember when you were trying to figure out a way to get to that conference. I was so happy you got to go!

Who is your favorite author?
Toni Morrison. She can get away with anything. I need to stop reading her books though, because the last thing I need is encouragement to break rules.

Confession time: I've heard of Toni Morrison, but I have no idea what she's written. Also, I'm still learning what the rules are. Getting away with breaking them is a LONG way down the road.

 Favorite book?
The Phantom of the Opera. It’s a million times better than the movie.

So I've heard.

Favorite genre to read?
Historical fiction, literary fiction, and the classics.

I think it's safe to say the chances of us ever running into each other at a book group or writing conference are slim to none. I make it a point to read classic literature (at least a couple of books each year), but the vast majority of my reading material falls into the science fiction and fantasy categories.

 Favorite genre to write?
Historical fiction.

'Nough said.

 When you’re not writing, what do you do in your spare time?
I’m on a roller derby team where I am known as Cleofracture. I own a blog which I adore and spent way too much time on: (see the link above). Besides that, I spend most of my time with my husband.

Roller derby? Like for real? That's so cool! You're the only person I know who's even been to a roller derby, much less participated. 

So, since you write historical fiction, I have a new question for you: how do you do your research?
When I wrote my first book, I made one big document where I kept all my research. Whenever I found a fact, quote, or a paragraph of information, I pasted it in the document along with the source (web page, book title, whatever). Then I made a table of contents so everything would be easy to find. I regret this more than I regret any other mistake I made with that book.
Now I save every web page in its entirety, print it out, highlight it, and organize it into a notebook. I also have to own all my books. This might seem tedious, but if you’re going to spend years on this project, you’ll want to have the complete info readily available.

Not going to lie, I'm imagining what you're home library must look like, and I am MAJORLY jealous!

A big thank-you to Teralyn for being my guest today! I hope you all enjoyed getting to know her as much as I did. I'm still waiting to get Dan Well's responses back, but you'll know when I do. Seriously, expect multiple elated posts on the subject ;)


  1. I love Teralyn! And I love her point about using "triggers" to paint a scene and let the reader fill in the blanks. Thanks for hosting, Reece.

  2. Such a wonderful interview. I adore the book idea in school. Such a wonderful way to learn through action and not just memorizing things.

  3. Great interview! :)

    I've tried outlining while writing; I agree, there is something natural about it.

  4. You're quickly becoming a master at this, Reece. You're finding people I've yet to see their blogs yet. Well. I'm going to have to fix that right now.

    Thanks for hosting Teralyn (awesome name)! :)

  5. Thanks guys, and thanks for interviewing me, Reece! This was my first interview, and it was exciting!

  6. Congrats Teralyn. This is quite a feather in your cap. It's great to be in on the beginning of your career.