canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Terence M. Green

Terence M. Green, a former high-school English teacher, is the author of six books. Green's tales blur the lines between science fiction and magic realism. At the time of this interview, he was working on his next novel and preparing to have a baby. Green's web site is The interview was conducted by email in June 2000. Interview by Michael Bryson.


TDR: Who is Terence M. Green? That is, summarize your history and interests, particularly your non-writing background.

GREEN: I'm a 53-year-old retired high school English teacher who is now writing full-time. I live in downtown Toronto. I was born here. My parents were born here. It's home. I'm married, with 2 sons aged 22 and 19. In an interesting new wrinkle, as I write this (June, 2000), my wife is in her 4th month of pregnancy, so we're going to get a late dividend in our lives, and all will be changed utterly, again. The term might be geriatric parenthood. Having been a father twice, I can say that nothing compares to it. Nothing. We're thrilled. Everyone is excited.

I graduated with a BA in English from the University of Toronto back in 1967. In 1968, at age 21, I began teaching English at East York Collegiate Institute in Toronto. I taught 2 years, realized I was probably too young, quit, went back to school, ended up with an MA in Anglo-Irish Studies and Literature from University College, Dublin (1972). Completely broke, I crawled back home on my hands and knees, applied for my job back, was re-hired, taught English again at EYCI from 1972-74. At that point I tried relocating (with a pastoral gleam in my eye) and accepted a job teaching at Bayside Secondary School, just outside Belleville, Ontario. I lasted 2 years there, discovered I was a big city boy, and in 1976 let the folks at EYCI in Toronto know that I was going to return to Toronto and look for a job. They hired me for a 3rd incredible time. But I knew I'd run my line all the way out, so I never actually quit them again. One must eat.

I was on staff there from 1976 to 1999, when I finally packed it in. I sort of settled down, but during those years I found other ways of going in and out of the job. From 1983-85, I taught half-time. I took unpaid leave 1986-87, was awarded a paid sabbatical 1991-92 (got down to Harvard for a bit), and took another unpaid leave in 1996-97. From 1997-99, the Harris government in Ontario made teaching an incredibly tough job. I'm out now, but all my sympathies are for those I left behind -- students and teachers. I began writing in the mid-70s. Over the last 25 years, I've managed to hold down a regular job, raise a family, and publish 5 novels and a collection of short stories. I've just completed a 6th novel ("St. Patrick's Bed"), which will be out mid-2001.

I think of myself as a middle-class guy who made the compromise with reality, so I could write and make a living at the same time. Writing alone doesn't usually equal making a living. I love books. I love everything about them. I loved teaching them, reading them, and now writing them. Books are a good thing. They don't need any other justification. Beyond that, I'm pretty average. I enjoy my family, movies, (very) select TV shows, baseball and hockey. How Canadian...

TDR: What was your path to becoming a published writer? Have you always written? Was their a moment you decided you were a writer? That is, summarize your writing background.

GREEN: Being a reader, you are always a writer in your head. As a pre-schooler, I reveled in the bedtime story. I could read by the time I started school. In grade school, I wanted to write Hardy Boy books. In high school, I liked English, found writing relatively easy, read almost every science fiction book available. In university, I majored in English, the world of books opening wider. I knew I would write, somehow, someday. You are what you are. It was inevitable.

Teaching English was an incredible education. It made me hungrier for more books. I put off writing until my mid-20s -- the chances of failure were high, the odds against success daunting. Between (roughly) 1975 and 1985, I wrote short stories, and had modest success getting them published individually. I collected them into a book-length manuscript, began submitting it around. The large presses passed on it -- told me they couldn't launch an unknown with a book of short stories. Pottersfield Press published them in 1987 under the title "The Woman Who is the Midnight Wind."

By the early 80s, I had begun to take time from my job (unpaid leaves) to write, and wrote my first novel, "Barking Dogs," a cop thriller with what I regarded as a serious theme, set in a near-future Toronto. I sold it to a big-time American publisher: St. Martin's Press in New York published it in hardcover (1988) and mass market paperback (1989). Then they turned around and abandoned the line of books that included mine and I was without a publisher. In 1992, McClelland & Stewart published "Children of the Rainbow", but they passed on my next novel (couldn't find the market), leaving me without a publisher again. Another gap.

Finally, I hooked up with Tom Doherty Associates (New York) as a publisher (they publish under the Tor and Forge imprints, and are -- ironically -- owned by St. Martin's Press, operating out of the same building on Fifth Avenue...) when I submitted the manuscript for "Shadow of Ashland". They loved it, gave it serious promotion, and Got It Out There. It did very well, has been under option for feature film since its 1996 publication, appeared in a beautiful hardcover, and subsequently a mass market paperback (1997), and just recently (2000) in trade paperback. It's being taught on an English course at U of T (my old alma mater), which gives me great pleasure. I've ben invited down to speak to the class...

Tom Doherty Associates has stayed the course with me. In 1997 they published "Blue Limbo", and in 1999 "A Witness to Life" (my incredibly Toronto novel, published in New York). They've just agreed to publish my new one, (working title: "St. Patrick's Bed"). Right now, things are going fine. But the publishing business is a roller coaster of a business, and fickle. I take each book in stride, work on it as best I can, try to get it published, then, slowly, begin another...

TDR: Shadow of Ashland reminded me of work by W.P. Kinsella and Leon Rooke. Who do you consider your major influences? Have your influences changed over time?

GREEN: Influences? The book that was your favorite in your teens will unlikely be your favorite in your 20s, and will change again in your 30s, again in your 40s... It will change as you change. W.P. Kinsella definitely had an impact. I first encountered him through the short story "Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa," which appeared originally in "Aurora: New Canadian Writing 1979" (Doubleday Canada), in which I had a story published ("Of Children in the Foliage"). His story knocked me out. His sense of fantasy is a kind of magic realism that I enjoy.

I enjoy John Updike, Guy Vanderhaeghe, John Irving, Carol Shields, Anne Tyler. I think Frank McCourt's 2 books are wonderful. I recall being overwhelmed by Malamud's "Dubin's Lives." There's a science fiction writer called Philip K. Dick (who died in 1982) who has a body of work that is fascinating -- exploring the nature of reality. I love Raymond Carver's stories. I wish there were more of them. Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" -- wonderful... "The Grapes of Wrath" -- awesome. There's an Irish writer named John McGahern...

One can also learn lots from Joyce, from Arthur Miller, from Beckett... The world hammers us and influences us, and in turn, we try to influence it. I love the world of stories. I love the magic of them.

A friend of mine whom I met in Ireland back in 1971-72 -- an American from Chicago who now lives and teaches English in Bardstown, Kentucky -- introduced me to the writings of Thomas Merton during a visit back in the mid-80s. Merton is a fascinating figure -- a Trappist monk who wrote volumes of reflections and journals, and who spent most of his life at the Abbey of Gethsemani, just outside Bardstown. Merton died unexpectedly in 1968 at age 53 (my age). I've visited the monastery there twice. The whole place has an aura that gives pause.

Merton is arguably the spiritual guru of the latter half of the 20th century. He transcended his Catholicism and became a figure for folk of all faiths or of no faith. He was not a saint. He never will be. He was a man -- questing, flawed. I've been influenced by his sense of the mystery of life, combined with his poet's eye and his humane intellect. He plays a major part in my novel "A Witness to Life." The narrator actually meets him and talks with him at Gethsemani in 1948.

TDR: Are there patterns, issues or themes which join your work? If so, what are they? Do these happen consciously, unconsciously, or a little bit of both?

GREEN: There are definitely patterns, issues and themes in my work. I'm sure they're clearer to others than they are to me. I write about family, about relationships, about loss. I like to write about where I live. At my age, I want to explore my past, my family's past, our place in the scheme of things. I think my readers can identify with the middle-class people in my novels, and be moved along with them. All my work is beginning to echo back and forth. Maybe it's all one large work.

I think of a comment I read in a review of one of Mordecai Richler's novels. The reviewer said something like, "I love this book. I love it every time he writes it." We like to listen to certain readers' voices. They speak to us. We understand them.

TDR: What are you working on right now? Does it extend your earlier work? How?

GREEN: As I stated earlier, I've just finished polishing up a new novel I'm calling "St. Patrick's Bed." It's a sequel to "Shadow of Ashland" -- takes place 11 years later with the same central characters.

My next novel will be set in Ireland in 1847 ( the Great Famine, emigration to Canada) and deal with the roots of the same family from "Shadow of Ashland," "A Witness to Life," and "St. Patrick's Bed" -- extending the saga, as it were, in reverse order. After that, I've a couple of ideas... But I'm getting too far ahead of myself.

TDR: What is your favorite story *about* a famous writer?

GREEN: I don't know that I have a favorite story about a famous writer. I'm interested in anything I can find out about Raymond Carver's life. Now to me, that's a fascinating writer's life. I'm always intrigued (and comforted) by stories about how many times some Big Books were rejected that eventually became tremendously successful and admired. You can start with "Moby Dick." Their number are legion. It shows you nobody really knows what's going on or what has value or what will stand the test of time.

Once a work reaches a minimum level of what we could call "professionalism," everything after that is subjective. I usually learn more about my reviewers and critics than I do about my books after I read their evaluations. Books are like Rorschach tests. Put the same one in front of ten different people, let them spend some time with it, then listen to the curious comments. But I admit to finding the comments fascinating. Reaction. Maybe that's what it's all about.







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