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Author Interview: Terry Lee Caruthers

Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Terry Lee Caruthers, author of Vivie's Secret.

FQ: Having completed this remarkable history-based novel, do you have plans for writing another work of a similar nature?

CARUTHERS: Yes. In fact I’ve just finished writing one. The book is titled The Faithful Dog and is set during the Civil War. It required a great deal more research as evidenced by its ten-page bibliography. I have just begun shopping it around to publishers.

FQ: How much of Vivie is really you?

CARUTHERS: Vivie is Vivie, but if you mean my part within Vivie’s Secret, then it’s about 3%. I am the character Lea Ruthers and the exchange between Vivie and Lea at the vet clinic in the book was the exact exchange that occurred between the real Vivie and me that night. The same is true of Lea’s (my) pursuit of the black kitten.

FQ: What writer influenced you most in the creation of Vivie’s Secret?

CARUTHERS: None. It was Vivie Babb herself that inspired me to write this book. I was so in awe of her secret when it was finally revealed to me upon her death that I felt her story needed to be told, had to be told, must be told.

FQ: What is your favorite episode in this fact-based but also highly imaginative tale?

CARUTHERS: For whatever reason, it is Vivie’s encounter and interaction with Sister Agnes and her cat Tobias at the church in Sopron.

FQ: Did you ever, or do you plan to, visit the locale of the book?

CARUTHERS: While I have no plans to visit Hungary, I do live in South Knoxville where the latter portion of the book occurs. And where I often pass Vivie’s house on Moody Avenue.

FQ: How long did it take to write this work, considering all the fact gathering that must have been involved?

CARUTHERS: Unbelievably sixteen years from start to finish, but that’s because it began its existence and spent ten years as a picture book manuscript. When I finally gave into the encouragement from my writing peers to explore Vivie’s story in a YA format, it took the additional six years to research and enhance her story.

FQ: What advice would you offer to other women who might wish to undertake works in the historical novel genre?

CARUTHERS: Research, research, research. Make sure you’re using reliable and verifiable sources. Double-check and cross-reference them. As a librarian, I’ve come across many works where an author did not put in the research. A source I discovered while working on The Faithful Dog comes to mind, and I address it in my author’s note.

The other thing I highly recommend is having an in-person critique group. I’ve been participating in one for eleven years and am a stronger writer because of it. Additional eyes and opinions are beneficial in not only making sure you’re communicating the point you’re trying to get across but for spotting that error you’ve overlooked twenty times.

FQ: Whom do you envision as the ideal reader for this book, the kind of person you hope most to reach and influence with Vivie’s story?

CARUTHERS: As a former cat rescuer, I initially envisioned all the cat lovers out there but over time I have realized that Vivie’s story is the mirror of all those refugees out there struggling to survive and find a new place—a safe place—to belong.

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