Interview with Terry Tiller-Mize: Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Third Place Winner

Sunday, February 12, 2023
Terry’s Bio:
Terry Tiller-Mize is a misplaced Okie currently living in Arkansas with her husband of 32 years and far, far too many animals, in a tiny home they are building themselves. Terry has been writing since the 2nd grade, when she first realized that letters make words and words make stories. After a career as a college professor, helping students find their voices, she has, for the past year, begun writing for herself. Much of her work is focused on surviving and healing from childhood trauma. Terry is currently working on her first book-length project. 

 If you haven't done so already, check out Terry's award-winning essay "7 Reasons to be a Feminazi" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

 WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing processes evolve as you wrote? 

 Terry: I started writing “7 Reasons to be a Feminazi” in June of 2022, just a few days after the Supreme Court issued its decision returning abortion rights to the states. Like a lot of other women, I was angry: I felt betrayed, let down by my government, and at a very basic level, shocked a right I had taken for granted almost my entire life could be stripped away so easily. I thought about all the ways the world shows women, even as children, how vulnerable we are, how hard it tries to diminish us, and how women learn to be feminists from those experiences. The individual events may differ from woman to woman, but we all seem to come to the same understanding from them. At first, the piece was just an angry rant, but the process of writing it let me see my own progression into feminism. By the end, although it is still angry, it turned out to be an exploration of all the lessons we learn that make us feminists. 

 WOW: I love that you were able to craft your “rant” into an award-winning piece of literature. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

 Terry: About myself, I learned through writing this piece that, while anger is a powerful motivation, I still have to do the work to make sense out of that anger, and from there, find the commonalities women share, which is the essence of personal essay. I often use writing to explore how I feel about various topics and to gain a better understanding of them. As a writer, I learned more about creating strong images with the fewest words possible. That particular lesson is going to make me a better writer in future works, I believe. 

 WOW: Writing is such a powerful form of discovery. And I agree that creating strong images in fewer words is helpful for writing in any genre, flash or longer. Please tell us more about your first book-length project. 

 Terry: My book-length project is somewhere between a memoir and a collection of essays that all revolve around my personal experiences with childhood trauma as the adult child of alcoholic parents. I’ve written a couple dozen independent essays on the topic; now, I’m trying to link those separate pieces together into a coherent story. I’m excited and more than a little apprehensive about it. I’ve never written anything beyond a few dozen pages before. 

 WOW: Good luck with it and I hope you continue to enjoy the process! Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you? 

 Terry: Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird was the first creative nonfiction I read as a college student, many years ago. I love her collection, Almost Everything. She has such an openness in her writing. I’m a longtime Stephen King fan, one of the few that thinks he’s really at his best when he isn’t being scary. Scott Russell Sanders’ Under the Influence still brings me to tears more than 20 years after reading it for the first time. His imagery is so stark and the story he’s telling resonates with me as a child of alcoholics. 

 WOW: If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be? 

 Terry: I would love to go back on time — to myself as a high school or college writer — and tell myself to stop getting hung up on what other people are going to think about my stories. My grandmother used to say, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what other people think of you if you realized how little they do,” and it’s advice I wish I’d listened to when I was much, much younger. 

 WOW: Excellent advice. Anything else you’d like to add? 

 Terry: Just that I’m grateful for everything entering the WOW creative nonfiction contest has taught me; I’m a much more confident writer because of it. And I’d tell anyone who asked about entering to just go for it! 

 WOW: Thank you for sharing your writing with us and for your thoughtful responses. Happy writing! 

 Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which publishes sports books by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes and offers developmental editing and ghostwriting services to partially fund the press. Engage on Twitter or Instagram @GreenMachine459.


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