Heights-based author Henry Terrell’s third novel, Desert Discord ($15, Greenleaf Book Group), hits stands this spring, painting a vivid coming-of-age tale set in the rough-and-tumble West Texas of the 1970s. Though the book may not be a true memoir, the Odessa-born writer admits that his life, and those of his three grown kids, played a central role in inspiring the characters and their trajectories. Here, his daughter, Abby Terrell Henson, dives into the creative process and attempts to find out just how much of the tale is true to life.
Why did you choose to set the series in West Texas during this particular time period?
The place where we spend our formative years will always be our primary setting. West Texas back then was in the throes of enormous cultural change, from rural to urban, from cowboy to cosmopolitan. It was, and still is, an exciting place.
Your novel deals with several social issues, and early on the protagonist, Andy, is mistaken for gay and beaten in a hate crime. How has West Texas changed since your childhoood?
Well, anybody will recognize what a community goes through when it’s being coerced into modernity. Now, the issues may have changed, but the sense of tribalism has not. The changes in technology are huge, but not so much with how people understand, tolerate and communicate with each other.
I feel connected to Andy because of my own injury. How much of his experience in a coma is based on my own traumatic brain injury and rehab at TIRR a few years ago?
I was just starting to plan the novel when you had your biking accident. Observing your therapy and recovery shifted my emphasis more to that character’s point of view and how he slowly emerges from semiconsciousness.
Your characters come from so many social backgrounds. Are they based on people we know?
The short answer is yes. The thing about smaller communities is that both high and low society interact regularly. Andy is especially interesting because he straddles both worlds. He wears a tuxedo and plays classical music, yet his roommates are ruffians and grow marijuana. He is nonjudgmental and a quiet observer, especially after his injury.
How do you balance humor and absurdity of characters with the deeper theme in your writing?
My stories try to be lighthearted, despite the dark themes. The world is full of evil, tragedy, misunderstanding and people who take themselves too seriously. It behooves us to step back frequently and remember how silly so much of it is, and how absurd we can sometimes be too.
You and mom read to us each night, but you also encouraged us to write. I am currently working on my first book, and as I prepare to have kids of my own, what’s the best advice you can give for encouraging them?
You are the example, my love. Read to them, like we did with you. Don’t be afraid to try hard books that might be over their heads. Being a writer flows from being a reader. When your children see you writing, they will think this form of expression is something one just does. Making a living as a writer is difficult, but learning to explain yourself clearly and intelligently is the most valuable skill there is.