Meet the Members: Henry D. Terrell

“I’m hoping to develop a sustainable routine where I’m writing one book, editing another, and talking to people about the older ones. I plan to keep doing it for as long as it feels worth doing.”

-Henry D. Terrell

A member with the Writers’ League since January, Henry lives in Houston.

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

Henry D. Terrell: Now that I’ve retired from the world of business journalism, I write about crime and adventure, with some coming-of-age thrown in. And, of course, Texas fiction, particularly West Texas. I like to focus on stories from 40 or 50 years ago, the ’60s through the ’80s, pre-computing, when the country was mutating at a furious rate, and the norms of things were changing. My favorite characters are flawed people with relatively minor ambitions, caught up in moral ambiguity and controlled by events.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them?

HDT: I’ve always admired the writer Jim Harrison, who was a polymath—screenwriter, novelist, food critic, poet. If he were still alive, I’d love to ask him about something I heard him say in an interview once, something like “You cook down your life until the sauce is just right, then you can let go.” Harrison got more productive as he got older, which fills me with awe. His writing never grew stale—if anything, he got better with each book and each new poem. One of his best (and most famous) novels, Legends of the Fall, is barely 80 pages, and yet packs in more coherent themes and ideas than most writers manage in a thousand-page trilogy. If there’s a trick to becoming more prolific and more efficient with age, I want to know what it is.

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

HDT: This is All a Dream We Dreamed by Blair Jackson and David Gans. It’s a comprehensive history of the Grateful Dead on tour. I can see eyes rolling—okay, I’m not an obsessive deadhead, but most of the band’s live shows are available to hear streaming, so with this book you can read about a particular live show, all the human dynamics and everything that was going on at the time, and then listen to it. I’m assuming my deserted island has wifi.

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

HDT: It’s becoming clear that we have as much going for us on this coast as the literary world has in California or New York.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

HDT: I’m extraordinarily lucky, because I don’t have to make a living as an author. However, with no real deadlines—I could just fritter away my retirement playing golf or whatever—sustaining discipline in writing, while keeping it fun, is a huge challenge. I’m hoping to develop a sustainable routine where I’m writing one book, editing another, and talking to people about the older ones. I plan to keep doing it for as long as it feels worth doing.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down? 

HDT: Keep in mind that I generally don’t read fiction while I’m trying to write it (I don’t want to adopt anyone else’s style, even unconsciously), but I love history and biographies. The Austin-based historian H. W. Brands’ newest book, The General vs. the President, is the best and most compelling account of cold war political struggles I have ever read. That’s almost too easy, since everything Brands writes is good. In the fiction realm, the writer Antoinette van Heugten is one of my favorite Texas novelists. She’s a Houston native of Dutch descent, living in Fredericksburg. She published a fine, gripping and personal story called Saving Max a few years ago, and is writing a sequel to that, which we may see in the near future.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

HDT: I don’t expect to make a lot of money as a writer, though it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if I did. But I would like my books to be read more widely. I was talking with an author friend (who shall remain unnamed) about sales and promotion and whatnot. At the time, my first book Headfirst Off the Caprock had sales figures in the dozens. My friend said “I had high hopes for my book, but even with great reviews and really hard work, it only sold 300,000. Very disappointing.” Three. Hundred. Thousand. If I ever manage those kinds of numbers, I promise not to complain about anything ever again. Self-promotion however is not my forte (that’s what non-shy people are for) but with my latest book, Desert Discord: Marijuana, Music and Murder in a West Texas Town, I’ve started paying more attention to the marketing end. I’m not so excited about public speaking, but I like talking about my books one-on-one with people. Talking to book clubs in person or by Skype is a good option that doesn’t involve too much stress or travel time. Otherwise, I’m just sending out review copies and trying to get noticed by a large-circulation magazine or newspaper.

Thanks, Henry!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on!

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