Spotlight Interview: Terry Centrone

terry-centroneWhere are you from and what is your background? I am a retired schoolteacher. I taught for thirty-four years in the elementary grades in upstate NY. I worked mostly K-5 but also was lucky enough to teach language skills the last four years of my career. I taught internationally in the Shanghai American School for a short time. When I returned, I worked with remedial students helping them improve their reading, writing, and language skills.

When and why did you begin writing? When I retired, I began to write because I finally had the time. The gift of retirement also motivated me to go for it.

What is your genre? I like writing for children because they are so appreciative and so sensitive to others’ feelings. I always loved when my students shared their work or expressed joy over something they had just read. My classroom was always filled with books, which also inspired me. The first book I wrote was published in 2007. How Not to be a Bully Target took me a year and a half to put together. It was written for elementary and middle school classrooms but individuals also have found it informative. It is part story and part workbook. It empowers children to stand up to bullies and encourages those who are not bullied, to refuse it. It can be found on my website www.stopthosebullies.com, and it can be ordered from www.youthlightbooks.com. Writers can reach me at tc@stopthosebullies.com. I’d like to hear other bully stories especially from kids.

What inspires you to write? Bullying—because it is a huge problem in our schools and our society. I have chosen to deal with through writing. I think society is unknowingly teaching children to be bullies. It is a major message in a lot of video games, it is shown as humor in comedy shows and cartoons, and becomes front-page news when kids go wild.

How has geographic travel played a role in your writing life? When teaching in China, I had students from all over the world. They seemed to get along well and in fact, were very mature and self-disciplined. It inspired me to bring that awareness here, through my writing.

Do you consider yourself a serious author? If you mean, do I write every day at a specific time, the answer is—no. But if you mean, do I write almost every day for several hours and do I love it, the answer is—yes. Really, the answer is in the hands of the readers.

Who or what has been your most significant influence? The authors of the books I read to my primary and elementary students everyday. I could name many but some favorites are Patricia Reilly Giff, Cynthia DeFelice, Roald Dahl, Patricia Polacco, Kate DiCamillo, and Sandra Cisneros.

Would you describe your writing as a career?Maybe second career.

Who is your favorite author and what do you enjoy about their work? Those I already listed impress me. They take me to places I never would have gone if I hadn’t read their works. They write like I want to write.

Who are you reading now? Sylvia Boorstein, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Donna Eden, Kate DiCamillo and Thich Nhat Hanh. I want to draw more happiness into my life.

How have your life experiences affected your writing? I am still dealing with bullies in my life.

Does your writing relate to your community? I used the school playground (where I taught) as the scene for the first bully attack in my book. The setting of the story is a small town in upstate NY.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you began writing? Be different, be clever, be spontaneous, and be very persistent.

Do you have a specific writing process? No, I love a blank page but I am addicted to revision. I can’t stop.

Describe your writing space. I call it “The Office” but it is a combination room. On one side there is a huge mirror behind my computer so I can see the world outside as I write. Then beneath the window, I have my table and my tools where I make wire wrapped jewelry.

What advice do you have for other writers? Be clever, be bold, be different, but mostly be really good at your craft.

Give us your thoughts about the benefits and challenges of being a writer in the Southern Finger Lakes Region? The peace and tranquility of living in this gorgeous region of NYS is such a benefit. The challenge is that everything is a long drive away and making connections with others in the same field can be difficult.

From your point of view, what is the best-kept literary (or arts) related secret in the Southern Finger Lakes Region? There is a wonderful treasure of authors in our area. There are so many types of writing being done locally but rarely are authors brought together. Seldom are we given exposure as a group. We do not exhibit our works, as do visual artists, in a show. To get our writing known we often promote it ourselves or on the Internet. I recommend we have an Annual Southern Finger Lakes Region Writers’ Exhibition where authors can offer signings and sales to local readers. That way, writers can link up and form new and meaningful writers’ groups and connect and learn from those who have been more successful.

  1. Spotlight Interview: Tina Field Howe

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    Tina will host a book release party at The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes, 32 West Market Street, Corning, NY, on Friday, February 6, 2009, 5-7 pm. She will give readings, sign your books and distribute free bookmarks and a new color companion map. She invites all to accompany Alysa and companions on their next great adventure! www.eARTS.org

    Where are you from and what is your background? I grew up in Waverly, NY, a village on the border of Northern Pennsylvania. I grew up in the center of town but was lucky enough to have several acres of neighboring woods to play in while growing up. There were a lot of children in the neighborhood back then, due to the post-WWII boom, so there was almost always someone to play with. I spent lots of time by myself in the woods, however, particularly in the winter when nobody else wanted to go out and play. I became friends with the birds and rabbits who lived in the woods. During high school, I took business and secretarial classes (not a single art class). I then attended Corning Community College for two years, continuing in the business area.

    During the next two years, I discovered anthropology and decided to enter a four-year program. At the last minute, I was able to get into SUNY Brockport, where I earned a B.A. in Anthroplogy & Art. At Brockport, I started taking studio art and art history classes in addition to anthropology, and by the time I graduated, I had nearly a double major. I lacked two art theory classes for a major in art as well as anthropology. At the time, I thought about staying one more semester to complete the two courses, but I was completely out of money. While I was deciding which program to get my Master’s Degree in – anthropology or fine art – I got an office job back in Corning. It was only going to be one year before I’d decide where to go to school and which field I was going to concentrate on. I couldn’t make up my mind; now it’s many years later and I haven’t earned my Masters, I married, was blessed with a son who is now 21, and have concentrated on my fields of interest in a non-degree program called “life”. I now combine art and anthropolgy in my writing and book cover illustratation. I’ve been back in Corning for 30 yrs.

    When and why did you begin writing? I was an avid reader when I was young and was intrigued by how writers could make me see pictures in my head. I dreamed about doing that one day and tried to write stories a few times; but I’d get too frustrated because all the images would try to get out onto the paper at once. Plus I didn’t type back then. I wasn’t disciplined enough to know that writing is a process. It wasn’t until many years later, when I was in college, that I got into creative writing. I’ve written several sci-fi short stories, one of which made it into the Writers of the Future Contest as a finalist.

    What is your genre? Sci-fi has always been my favorite genre to read (LeGuin, McCaffrey, Heinlein, Bradbury, etc.). I also love the “what if” factor that sci-fi offers – anything can happen. I guess that’s why I tend to write in a sci-fi/fantasy blend. Plus, having studied Anthropology and learning how to identify nuances in cultures, religions, economics and even physical attributes of creatures, this level of creativity appeals to me. I do have a couple of historical novels to write, topics about real people that intrigue me.

    What inspires you to write? That’s a good question! Where does inspiration come from? Usually, an idea will just descend on me. A character with a challenge to overcome, the beginning, middle and end all at once. I get many ideas that fade. But if it’s a story that must come out, it won’t leave me alone and I must write it. That’s how “Alysa of the Fields” came to me; same with “Snailsworth, a slow little story”, the children’s picture book I wrote and illustrated. The ideas tumbled into my head and haunted me until they were finished.

    How has geographic travel played a role in your writing life? I love living in the Corning area. I know that certain features about this area play into my novels, and I think that readers that live around here see that. In “The TrailFolk of Xunar-kun”, there’s a lake on the story’s map called “Finger Lake”. It’s shaped like a hand with four fingers. I have done some traveling – to the West Coast, Arizona and the Grand Canyon, Canada, the Caribbean. Some of these locations do play into my stories. I’ve also done a lot of web research and use video and still shots of New Zealand’s mountains in my book trailers. It would be tough to come up with scenery that doesn’t actually exist in our Earth experience; I suppose a writer could come up with dimensions made up of mist, water, mirror-like skies, etc. I haven’t tried anything like that yet, but perhaps I will, now that I think of it!

    Do you consider yourself a serious author? I definitely think of myself as serious in the way I dedicate myself to writing and promotion. I also want people to get something out of my stories and have an adventure alongside Alysa. The whole point of writing stories is to engage the reader, make them feel like the time they spent was worthwhile.

    Who or what has been your most significant influence? My biggest influence was the author Ursula K. LeGuin. I started reading her in college. Her stories totally engrossed me, and when I found out (when I was an anthropology student) that her father was Alfred Kroeber, the father of anthropology, this totally blew me away! LeGuin creates planets and their people and gives them cultures, religions, social structures, economies. She also creates some of the most fascinating creatures. That anthropological connection is why I was so taken by her writing.

    Would you describe your writing as a career? It’s gotten off to a rather late start, what with publishing my first novel just two years ago; although I believe there’s a reason for everything. Living life these last many years has given me a lot of material to work with. I started writing screenplays long before the novels and have written several over the last several years. I like the screenplay format, but you can really get into a novel. Screenplays don’t require or allow the same depth of writing.

    Who is your favorite author and what do you enjoy about their work? I mentioned Ursula K. LeGuin above in “most significant influence”; I can’t say enough about what an impact she had on me, particularly “Word for World is Forest”, “The Left Hand of Darkness”, “The EarthSea Trilogy”, “The Disposessed”, “Buffalo Gals”, and so many others. I used to have every one of her books and lost them to a moldy basement. What a shame!

    Who are some other favorite authors? The “classics” – Anne McCaffrey: The Dragonriders of Pern Series. Frank Herbert: “Dune”. Robert Heinlein: “Stranger in aStrange Land”, “Starship Troopers”. Arthur Clarke: “Rendezvous with Rama”, “Childhood’s End”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”. And of course, Tolkein. A couple of my favorite non-fiction authors are Don Miguel Ruiz’s Toltec Wisdom Books; Gary Zoukav: “Seat of the Soul”.

    Who are you reading now? “Essential Reiki Teaching Manual” by Diane Stein. I’ve been big into this natural form of energy healing for a few years. Am also reading a collection of fantasy stories that my son gave me.

    How have your life experiences affected your writing? I think that my varied experiences add tremendously. You just can’t make up a lot of things that happen!

    Does your writing relate to your community? My sci-fil series takes place on a fictional planet, so no, the stories don’t relate to this community. My stories have quite a few characters who are involved in lifelike relationships. They come together to solve problems. The theme of Book Two is “we are a part of something greater than ourselves”. People are definitely individuals, but they encounter situations that demand community effort. Many of the characters’ relationships are right out of my own life; including antagonists (but I won’t mention any names)!

    What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you began writing?I’ve learned that everybody has a story to tell. Everyone has struggles. The human experience demands that we rise to our challenges (or suffer and shun growth for not rising). Everyone has some kind of experience that forces them out of their comfort zone. I conduct creative writing workshops, and this is the premise I use in helping students find topics to write about. My young students have come up with some amazing material through a process I use to help them recognize it. All experiences contain elements worthy of writing about. I’m one of those people who, when visiting someone in their home, will spot a photo album and insist on looking at it. People usually laugh that off, but once they start explaining the situations in which the photos were taken, who the people are, they recall all kinds of stories. I love hearing people’s life stories!

    Do you have a specific writing process? I have a couple of part-time day jobs, so I write whenever I can. I usually take my laptop with me when I’m away from home. It’s such a valuable tool and I feel lost without it. When I get an idea, I scribble down all the ideas that come to me. I capture character ideas, setting, scenes, action, etc., in long-hand. Sometimes I’ll get snippets of dialog and write them down. When an idea is first coming to me, it’s pretty intense. It feels like this download dump, and if I don’t get it all down, it’s going to be gone. I may or may not use all the info I write down. Once I have enough of this type of information, then I do an outline of sorts. For Book One, I didn’t have a process worked out very well. I jumped around a lot more, had to add chapters in the middle of the first draft, and this made the writing difficult, even what I would call painful. Book Two was a lot different. Before I started the “real” writing, I wrote chapter-by-chapter, one-page summaries in which I worked out kinks, got the flow right, decided which characters to include in scenes, etc. This made it much easier to write the book. I’m going to use this process for subsequent books. However, I did a lot of changes as I worked through the first draft. I listen very carefully to what the story tells me, and this often means changing which character is saying or doing what; listening means adding scenes, deleting scenes, changing action. Lots of times, the action plays out for me when it is needed, and not before. These surprises are nice. Plus, you can’t fit every item that goes into a chapter onto one-page! I discovered that beginning with one-page summaries also allows room for discovery on my part. If I knew everything that was going to happen and exactly how it was going to unfold as I’m writing the first draft, I might very well become bored and possibly abandon the project. I don’t do any heavy editing right away. I get the story out, then rewrite sections later, sometimes hundreds of times (it seems) before it sounds right. I also read everything back out loud to see how it sounds to my own ears. Once it feels ready, I give it to others to read, comment, proof, see if the story makes sense, is satisfactory to them, is “true”.

    Every writer has to discover the best way for them to work, and the only way to find out is to start writing and try some different techniques. There are lots of good books on writing out there. One is “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” by Steven Pressfield, and John Gardner’s “On Becoming a Novelist”.

    Describe your writing space? I write wherever I am. I’m often gone on the weekends, and wherever I am, I set up my laptop. Or bring notebooks to write long-hand in. It depends on which stage the story is in. In the early stages, I’m writing longhand. Later, once the ideas start filling my brain, I go to the laptop to get them out. I’m a fast typist. One of the very best things every writer should do is hone their typing and grammatical skills. I also have a computer cabinet that I can close when I’m not working. I have a couple of other favorite writing spots: on an ottoman in the corner of my livingroom and the porch or deck when the weather is warm.

    What advice do you have for other writers? I think one of the most important things to keep in mind is that if you get an idea and it sticks with you, it’s probably one worthy of being written. Once you begin writing, the passion you originally felt for the idea may begin to fade and won’t seem as important or as impactful. It will stop feeling as exciting to you. Of course it will! The more exposure you get to something, the less it will excite you. What you MUST keep in mind is that someone reading it for the first time will feel the same level of excitement that you did when you first got the idea! So keep going, don’t stop – it’s natural for your excitement to cool down. Saying that, once the excitement for a particular part fades, this will allow you to continue to add new, interesting parts, thus heightening your original idea. This is part of the process. Plus rewriting, rewriting, rewriting!

    Do you follow or are you inspired by any blogs or websites? I subscribe to a few electronic newsletters. One of my favorites is WritersWeekly (free) at www.writersweekly.com; another is Book Promotion Newsletter at www.bookpromotionnewsletter.com. There are lots of sites for writers out there. Just be sure to read their privacy statements to be sure you’re not going to end up with a lot of e-crap.
    Another great site for book reviews and information is www.readerviews.com. I also use them for my promo. They provide everything from reader reviews to television interviews, for a fee. They did an awesome book trailer for Book One www.readerviews.com/zResources/Trailers/TrailerHoweAlysa.wmv and the trailer for Book Two will be out next week. I just did a radio interview through Reader Views which is now posted at www.insidescooplive.com/author-pages/Howe-Tina-TrailFolk-reading-interview.html. On February 2, “The TrailFolk of Xuar-kun” will be featured on Reader View’s site. I’ll be posting all these new items on my website www.AlysaBooks.com.

    I’m also an illustrator and have a free art gallery on ImageKind www.imagekind.com/GalleryProfile.aspx?. Artists can put up quite a few images for free, or purchase a premium plan if they need more space. Then they can order prints of various sizes for their own use, or put a markup on them to sell. The artist doesn’t have to do anything other than upload their images and price them. All printing and billing to purchasers is done by ImageKind

    Give us your thoughts about the benefits and challenges of being a writer in the Southern Finger Lakes Region? The fact that this is a rural area could be a hindrance; but if you establish yourself with organizations, both local and on the web, then the challenge is minimized. Doing book signings is also a necessity, but that’s also a necessity if you live in a city. I love the web and am a member of several artist and writer’s sites. A great benefit of living in this area is that it’s beautiful, isn’t congested, is friendly, and is a clean, healthy environment. Plus, I grew up here, so it’s home to me.

    From your point of view, what is the best-kept literary (or arts) related secret in the Southern Finger Lakes Region? I’m not sure it’s a secret, but I’ve been very impressed with The ARTS Council’s involvement in this area. The opportunities to exhibit and learn about all of the other artist’s achievements is invaluable. It’s fun to meet other artists, as we spend so much time doing our thing. When you’re a creative person, you spend a lot of time alone. The ARTS provides a hub of sorts, where artists can come together for many special events. They also list artists’ websites on their site, grant opportunities, partner information. Visiting other artists’ sites is a great way to find out what everybody else is doing, in between attending exhibits.