SFWRITER.COM > Canadian SF > Books in Canada: Terence M. Green
Interview: Terence M. Green
by Robert J. Sawyer
First published in Books in Canada's April
Copyright © 1988 by
Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved
Terence M. Green is quietly becoming Canada's
best science fiction writer. His first book,
The Woman Who is the Midnight Wind
(Pottersfield Press, 1987) collected his angst-filled
short stories from Aurora: New Canadian Writings,
Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and The
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. St. Martin's Press
has just released his first novel in hardcover. Barking
Dogs is a police thriller set in a near-future Toronto where
infallible lie detectors Barking Dogs are everywhere. He
recently completed another novel, Children of the Rainbow,
a time-travel tale juxtaposing an Incan religious revival,
Mutiny on the Bounty, and the anti-nuclear efforts of
Terry Green was born in Toronto in 1947. He has a B.A. and
a B.Ed. from the University of Toronto and an M.A. in Anglo-Irish
Studies from University College, Dublin. He teaches high-school
English at East York Collegiate Institute in Toronto and is the
father of two boys. Green spoke about his life and work with
journalist Robert J. Sawyer:
Robert J. Sawyer: Your first novel, Barking Dogs, is a
violent work in the popular-fiction mold. Your second,
Children of the Rainbow, is a more cerebral, literary
book. It's almost as if they were written by two different
Terence M. Green: For Barking Dogs, I studied what makes
popular commercial fiction work and I consciously set out to
include those elements. Since it was a first novel, I wanted to
be sure it would sell. I wrote the second novel without those
constraints. Each book satisfies different things in me, and I
think they will satisfy different audiences. Am I two different
people? I think everybody is many people. When I do my third
novel, you will meet yet another Terry Green.
Sawyer: The main character of Barking Dogs, Police
Officer Helwig, takes the law into his own hands. Is this book a
call for urban vigilantism?
Green: No, but unfortunately a lot of people will read it that
way and I'll take a lot of criticism for it. If people read the
book the way I intended it, they will see that it's not a call
for anything. Rather, it presents a new situation a world in
which the cop on the beat can know beyond a shadow of a doubt
whether the person he is arresting is guilty. All I'm asking is
for people to think about that.
Sawyer: So the theme of Barking Dogs is truth?
Green: Yes. I've always been intrigued by the degree to which
we need to or should tell the truth. The job of the fiction
writer is to tell the truth, but the job of so many people in the
world politicians, for instance is not to. As a writer,
I've always been interested in how you find the truth, how you
deal with it. Truth is the crux of personal relationships; it's
what we all want to discover.
Sawyer: How did you go from that abstract philosophy to the
concrete vision of a world full of hand-held lie detectors?
Green: I realized that legal truth as distinct from moral or
personal truth is what our society revolves around. I read an
article in the newspaper several years ago about the voice-stress
detectors that are used to see if a job applicant is lying. I
was astonished that such things existed and are used. I got some
sales literature and read more articles about them. I just
pushed the idea of absolute truth to its bitter end, to the point
where it became a personal tragedy.
Sawyer: How did you develop your vision of Toronto at the turn
of the next century?
Green: I looked backward 15 years. The world of 1973 had minor
but significant differences from our world of today. Back then,
I bought an electric typewriter which was regarded as the
ultimate achievement in writer's tools. Today, we have a
computerized world. The video tape has revolutionized home
entertainment. Now there's an outlet for them every six blocks.
A person from 15 years ago reading today's Toronto Star
would be astonished at the things that are for sale. And yet,
our lives haven't significantly changed. We still worry about
and care about our children, our careers. It's the peripherals
to our lives that change. Fifteen years hence there will be
similar changes. The Barking Dog might be one such: a sensing
device that can correlate information about body functions, voice
inflection, and so on and come up with an absolutely correct
determination of whether a person is lying or telling the truth.
And yet, despite such devices, people will still be worrying
about the same things, having the same anxieties, trying to build
the same kinds of personal relationships.
Sawyer: Science Fiction gives you a huge canvass: all of
space, all of time, all forms of life. Yet you limit your
stories almost exclusively to Earth, to human characters, and to
the present, the recent past, or the near future. Why choose
science fiction as your field and yet not take advantage of its
Green: There hasn't been a lot of good science fiction. Most of
it is just outrageous fairy tales for adults. But I've always
thought the genre could produce literature. This may sound
presumptuous, but I like to think one of the reasons I set myself
the task of using this field is so that I can help elevate it to
the level of literature. To do that, you can't divorce it from
all the literature around it. So I move very slowly from
standard literature, rather than taking a quantum leap and
writing about the year 1,000,000. I'm not aiming my fiction at a
hard-core science-fiction audience. I'm aiming at a wider
audience and to get that wider audience you have to welcome them
into the world of the fantastic a little bit more slowly. I
don't regard myself as a science-fiction writer; I regard myself
as a writer who gives a fantastic twist to his stories.
Sawyer: You're a full-time English teacher. Is writing going
to replace that as your career?
Green: I don't see writing as a career, nor as an avocation. I
see it as a passion and as a life. I see it as something I have
to do because I can do it. I have no idea where it will
lead. It's like being able to play the piano and not playing it.
There's a sense of waste. I have to write these books. It's not
easy to keep both teaching and writing going. I've put in many
years teaching. I have commitments and a future in it, so I'm
not prepared to toss that aside for the wild fantasy of being a
writer. But I do try to make time for writing. I have taken
four years' salary spread over five so that I could have a year
off to write. If, by wild happenstance, the writing takes off, I
may be able to more evenly balance my time between writing and
teaching. Teaching, like writing, is a great thing, but to
ignore the writing would make me one-dimensional.
Sawyer: You've got a short story collection in print as well as
your first novel. Which form do you prefer?
Green: The short story is a home I'm comfortable with. If you
had read only my short stories, I think you'd probably call me a
sensitive writer. A novel has to be more dramatic. You have to
take at least three plots and weave them. It's very much a
plotting job. I think one form is a break from the other. You
have to do novels, you have to stretch your wings, try to reach a
large audience. But I will go back to short stories.
Sawyer: Barking Dogs started out as a short story in the
May 1984 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science
Fiction. Why did you decide to expand it into a novel?
Green: I wanted to write a novel. It's the greatest commitment
a writer can make, representing the greatest amount of pain, the
greatest fear. But I needed a place to start. Somebody said to
me, `I put down your short story and I was just getting into it.
I wanted more.' I realized I had more to say. Doing a novel
version is a completely different experience, both esthetically
and from a marketing point of view. Both the short story and the
book have lives of their own and may find wholly different
Sawyer: Your short story collection was published in Canada.
Your novels are published in the United States. What are the
differences between the two marketplaces?
Green: If you want to sell in this genre, you have to go for the
U.S. market it's ten times the size. To be published means to
be read, to be appreciated, to be considered. You need numbers
to do that. Something that's just published in Canada never
seems to make it. My short story collection is a case in point.
Pottersfield Press produced a book that was lovely in conception,
in achievement, in physical product. It's getting excellent
reviews [see Books in Canada, June-July 1987, p. 18]. But
that book is history already. The publisher doesn't have the
money to promote it and there's just not enough readership here
to keep it alive. If The Woman Who Is the Midnight Wind
had been published as a mass-market paperback south of the
border, I'd have 60,000 readers instead of 1,000.
Sawyer: Barking Dogs is set entirely in Toronto; the
main character in Children of the Rainbow is Canadian;
there are no American characters in either book. Despite your
interest in the numbers of readers in the States, aren't you
rebelling against that country?
Green: Rebellion is a strong word, but it is a conscious
decision. I may lose as a result of it. I'd like to think
there's a place for Canadians on the world stage. I've been
pleasantly surprised to find no negative reaction to the Canadian
settings and characters from my U.S. publishers. Canada is an
interesting place. The rest of the world thinks so, even if
Canadians themselves don't.
Toronto writer Robert J. Sawyer is The Canadian
Encyclopedia's authority on Science Fiction.
More Good Reading
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Another interview by Rob with Terry
Green, done four years later
Rob's entry on Terry from the
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