An inspiring lady, Beverly Tiernan, is answering my questions today. Her book Standing on a Whale, deals with overcoming your fears and finding inner strength to stay true to yourself. There is no staying cool and detached when you talk to this kind, emotional and observant lady. She says my questions made her think. Well, Beverly, your answers made ME think. Thank you for that.
> 1. The title of your book ‘Standing on a Whale’ is a metaphor. Could you please explain it to our readers?
The Polynesians have a beautiful saying, “Standing On A Whale Fishing For Minnows.” According to this philosophy, most people look in the wrong direction in their search for truth and wholeness. For the Polynesians, the whale represents the inner ground of our being or the deep unconscious mind. They believe this is where we live and where we need to look to find answers to our deepest questions about life. Most of us are constantly looking in the outer world—for diversions, hobbies, pastimes, relationships and entertainment. These are the distractions or the minnows. Many believe that happiness, prosperity, hope and love rest in the outer world. According to the Polynesians, it is the inner, the center of our being that makes life worth living and the sooner we find our center and ground ourselves in it, the happier we become. When we fish for the minnows and forget to check out the whale right beneath our feet, we are not at peace. When I was searching for a title for my novel, I chose this metaphor because it clearly represents the life and transformation of my protagonist, Lance Stavros.
> 2. How and when did you learn to love your character Lance?
I have loved my character, Lance Stavros, for a very long time. Lance’s character is based on a real person who has struggled with his dark side for many years. In my novel, Lance has my complete compassion and love because at his darkest moment, when he is trying to take his own life, he follows an inner urge to answer his call and he follows it. At that last minute, when he knows it would be easier to die than to live, he overcomes the pull to suicide and finds his true courage to give life one more chance. I admire that kind of a comeback.
> 3. Was it difficult to pull yourself out of his emotional struggle and turmoil and go back to your day-job?
I get intimately involved with the characters I write about, so when I’m working on a novel there is an ongoing tape playing in my head as I move through my day. Different scenarios and outcomes play out in my mind. I would have to say yes to this question. It is difficult to pull myself out of my character’s emotional struggles and return to my day job. It is also difficult to listen attentively to others on days when the tape is running in my head and I am involved in my characters’ lives.
> 4. How does teaching affect your writing? What are the benefits and the disadvantages?
Teaching is my calling, so it affects everything that I do. Whether I am in my classroom or writing a novel, there is a teacher present somewhere. I often use fiction as a back door to teach ideas that I love. Hadden is an exemplary teacher in Standing On A Whale. He represents all of the qualities of a good teacher for me and I strive to follow his lead.
> 5. You also teach an adult course at Community School. What makes you happy and proud about your students?
I am most proud of my writing students when they reach their ‘edge’ and run with it. The ‘edge’ is that ‘breakthrough point’ when the individual comes face-to-face with a painful event or a flaw in their character that they don’t want to face. The ‘edge’ is where the gold nugget lies. At the ‘edge,’ the individual has to decide whether to write or not write about whatever it is they are facing. Writing about our pain is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves. Our pain is the source of our best writing because the writing is raw and carries with it an energy that jumps off the page. I encourage my writing students to use fictional characters to help them deliver their pain to the page. Once our pain is in black and white, we can look at it and perhaps face it for the first time. This is the freeing part. One of my students faced his pain in his relationship with his wife and shared it in class one night. He got such a positive response from his peers that he submitted his work and his short story was published in Chicken Soup For the Soul—Family Matters. Now that was a proud moment!
> 6. Do you ever read your texts to students and why?
I have shared a few excerpts of my novel with my students. These were excerpts related to Greece and Greek mythology. I am a World History teacher and since we study Greece, I wanted to show them how I used the history and geography of Greece to make my story’s setting more authentic and real. The setting for my novel is Patra, Greece and I had never been there, but Shakespeare had never been to Rome either when he wrote about Julius Caesar. I did a lot of research on Patra, Greece—the geography, the weather, the flora, the fauna, even the local taverns and people. I explain to my students that a writer needs to know the locations they write about. We owe it to our readers. I also answer questions that my students ask about my book. Mostly, they want to know what the book is about. I tell them it is about a doctor who is about to commit suicide, but at the last minute he receives a curious phone call that is going to change his life forever and I leave it at that. My students are eleven years old. Some of them have lost friends to suicide, so the topic is not so strange to them. A few of my student’s have read my book, but I don’t push the sale of my book in the classroom.
> 7. You promote self-growth. How has writing helped your own self-development?
Self-help books saved me—literally. For that reason, I like to use fiction as a vehicle to carry self-help ideas, philosophical inspiration and psychological theories throughout my stories. It is sneaky perhaps, but it works. People get caught up in the plot and characters of my novel and suddenly find themselves pondering the deeper questions of life, wondering what hit them. Writing has freed me from my tortuous past. My characters have been gracious and kind enough to help me rid my self of some of the darkest memories and events in my personal life. After I write them down, I feel unburdened and clean. The self-help exercise is done.
> 8. What were your favourite books as a child?
I was an avid reader as a child. I read most of the kids’ classics, the entire Wizard of Oz series, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Little House On The Prarie series, the Diary of Anne Frank and many more. These were definitely some of my favorites.
> 9. Could you compare silent reading to live storytelling? Which do you think benefits what?
Silent reading and live storytelling serve different purposes for me. When I am reading a self-help book or a book on philosophy, I like to read silently so I can ponder and reflect. When I am writing a novel, I find myself reading it out loud in storytelling fashion to establish fluency and rhythm. Silent reading benefits my contemplative side. Live stoytelling nurtures my exhibitionist. I love to tell stories. I have a four year old grandson who indulges me daily. He doesn’t care if I tell him about the events in my day or what I had for dinner, as long as I tell it in storytelling form, he is attentive to every word.
> 10. If you could live in any book-fantasy world, where would you live and as which character?
I would live in the book entitled The Thorn Birds. This epic tome captivated me when I read it and I can still recall it today. I would be Meggie Cleary, even knowing I could never possess Ralph de Bricassart, the man I love more than life itself. I loved the setting of the Australian countryside and every aspect of the dreams and struggles of the characters that lived there. I was thrilled when they made this story into a movie. I watched it three times.
> 11. Would you like to add anything about your current work or send a message to the readers?
The novel I am currently writing is a complicated love story with a punch of history. The story takes place in central Florida during the sixties and the Vietnam War, a turbulent time indeed. After I finished Standing On A Whale, I thought my well was dry. I had nothing left in me. About three months later, an unexpected well of inspiration rose up in me and a new story was born. I knew the beginning, the middle and the end before the writing even began. Now, my characters are taking me on the wildest ride filling in all the juicy details. I can’t wait to see where it goes.