Tori Haring-Smith taught English and Theatre at Brown University for 16 years before moving with her husband and son to Cairo, Egypt, for a three-year stint as Artistic Director of the Wallace Theatre there. Returning to the United States, she led a foundation and then served thirteen years as president of Washington & Jefferson College. She has published books on writing, stage history, and teaching as well as editing several collections of monologues for women by women. Her play translations have been produced in the U.S. and abroad. Now retired, she lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire with her husband and 12 cats (all rescues). She loves writing flash fiction because every word counts!
WOW: First, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today and congratulations on your story! I was so amazed to find out this was the first piece of fiction you have written in nearly 50 years! What inspired you to write fiction again?
Terry: I guess it was literally more like 47 years, although sometimes it feels like 50! The last piece of fiction I wrote was for a class in college. I was inspired to write again by the exciting, supportive community of writers here in New Hampshire and by the possibility of competing in a 3-minute fiction contest run by the New Hampshire Writers Project. I have a competitive spirit, and so the contest was a real motivator.
WOW: It's incredible how motivating contests can be! What was the inspiration behind your story "Baby Steps"?
Terry: I have been married for 44 years. During that marriage, I have been pregnant nine times and suffered eight miscarriages (all very early). After each miscarriage, I grieved; at times I was outright crazy with grief. I am so thankful for my husband and my son for putting up with me during that period, for never losing faith that I would come back to myself, and for forgiving me. So, I began to wonder what it would be like to try to heal after giving birth to a child who lived only a few minutes.
WOW: First, I'm so sorry for your loss. It is incredible and so moving that you used your own personal experience with grief to write this story. So, you have such a fascinating background, I have to say. What did teaching English and theater teach you about writing and telling stories?
Terry: Although I have had several different careers in my life, all of them called upon my skills as a story-teller. As a professor, I told stories ever day--whether they were about the power of mathematical modeling, the wonders of nature, or the ways in which poetry crystallizes human emotion. Directing or translating a play is also about finding a compelling way to tell a story—with words, people, lights, costumes—all of it. The cast, the designers, the publicists—everyone has to be telling the same story. Even being a college president is about telling stories—bringing a community of students, faculty, and alumni together around touchstone parables that define the college’s character, mission, values, and aspirations. Stories define us and inspire us, no matter what our profession.
WOW: Excellent point! I love that - "stories define us and inspire us, no matter what our profession." Since this is your first piece of fiction in quite some time, how is writing fiction different for you than writing non-fiction?
Terry: There really isn’t much difference between writing fiction and writing nonfiction. Nonfiction takes lots of research, of course, but you still have to try to understand what people’s lives were like, why they did what they did, why they said what they said. Writing nonfiction draws upon your imagination just as writing fiction does—the difference is simply that the world you are bringing to life is grounded in research rather than in the characters and events that you create.
WOW: That is absolutely true! So, I love that you have rescued 12 cats! I'm definitely a cat person myself. Do your cats help you with your writing at all?
Terry: The cats do their best to prevent me from writing—scattering my note cards, sitting on my keyboard, dipping their paws into my tea, and distracting me with requests for pats. But, then, they also curl up in my lap and purr, assuring me that they, at least, approve of what I am writing. There’s nothing like unconditional love.
What charming motivators those cats are! Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Terry and best of luck to you in your writing journey!
Interview by Nicole Pyles