Born in Athens, Greece, as an Air Force brat, Teri M. Brown now calls the North Carolina coast home. In 2020, she and her husband, Bruce, rode a tandem bicycle across the United States from Astoria, Oregon, to Washington, D.C., successfully raising money for Toys for Tots. Teri’s debut novel, Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, is a historical fiction set in Ukraine, and her second novel, An Enemy Like Me, is set in WWII. Learn more at www.terimbrown.com.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
Coming up with the title Sunflowers Beneath the Snow was really difficult. I originally named it after the first character you meet, Lyaksandro. This title is wrong for a number of reasons—no one can pronounce it, spell it, or remember it. Plus, the book is about the women you meet due to Lyaksandro’s decision rather than about Lyaksandro himself.
I had a few ideas that I was told would not make a good title. I was then given a few suggestions that I did not care for. This went back and forth several times until I was sure the book was going to come out into the world as You Give It a Title by Teri M Brown.
Finally, we really looked at the themes in the book, especially that these women could grow despite the harsh circumstances. The harsh circumstances were often depicted with the winter weather, so we began to play around with titles with Winter, Ice, Snow, Cold.
I have always loved the daffodil because it blooms despite winter weather and reminds me that spring is on the way. But Daffodils in the Winter just wasn’t a title. And sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine, was not an early-blooming species. Finally, the idea of the sunflowers waiting beneath the ice and cold, ready to bloom when the conditions were right came to mind, and Sunflowers Beneath the Snow became the title.
An Enemy Like Me was so much easier. I had a few working titles that I knew were not right, but by the time I sent in the manuscript, I already knew An Enemy Like Me was the correct title.
How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?
Sunflowers Beneath the Snow is my debut novel. When the first author copy came in the mail, I held it against my chest and cried. Then, I opened the pages and saw my name at the top—and cried. Then, I saw my bio at the end—and cried. (In case you didn’t know it, I am a crier!) There is something amazing about holding a book that is filled with words that came out of your head and onto the page.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
I wanted to be an author as a little girl, probably because I loved to read. However, being an author was not considered a real profession by my parents, so when it was time to go to school, I never considered it. Instead, I got two majors and two minors that I have never used! Then, I got married and had children and eventually divorced. My second marriage was emotionally abusive, but I stuck with it for 14 years, not wanting to be divorced a second time. Upon leaving that marriage in 2017, all the words and characters that had been building up in my head finally insisted on being let out. However, it wasn’t until I remarried a wonderful man and took an epic cross-country tandem bicycle ride across the United States during the summer of 2020 (3,102 miles) that I realized I could do anything I set my mind to do, and thus got my manuscript for Sunflowers Beneath the Snow into the hands of Atmosphere Press.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
I worked as an assistant to an accountant for a small airport, a bank teller, a proof operator, a leasing agent, a filing clerk in an insurance agency, a tutor, a daycare provider, a homemaker and homeschool mom, and a freelance content writer for small businesses.
Something that most people wouldn’t know about me is I spent many years feeling completely incapable. At one point, I told my adult son that I couldn’t leave the emotionally abusive relationship because I would not be able to get a job and would end up living in a cardboard box at the side of the road. I still find it difficult to believe the woman who said—and believed—that was me.
What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?
For me, the most rewarding part of writing is having the opportunity to chat with those who have felt moved by something I’ve written. I think it would be amazing to be famous, don’t get me wrong, but nothing really beats touching someone or helping them see the world differently.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
I love music and have very eclectic tastes. Without a doubt, there would be at least 5 minutes of ocean waves rolling in and out with seabirds and wind making a bit of noise as well. Then, you’d have some 1980s Billy Joel, a bit of Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell album—in particular, the song Paradise by the Dashboard Light—the entire Abbey Road album by the Beatles, lots of what I call 1950s Juke Box music, a good dose of Big Band Swing-style music, and anything jazzy saxophone.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
For Sunflowers Beneath the Snow, I want readers to come away knowing someone from Ukraine so that the war going on there means something more than a news blurb. The only cure for hatred is compassion, and I feel that literature is one vehicle for allowing people to experience situations and cultures they might not otherwise be exposed to.
For An Enemy Like Me, I want readers to think about how war changes people—not just the soldiers who fight, but anyone who knows someone fighting. And that this change doesn’t just last the duration of the war but often for generations. Additionally, I hope people will think about what constitutes an enemy and whether we really need them in our day-to-day lives.
What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?
My third novel has been accepted by Atmosphere and is about an 1890s healer woman in the Appalachian Mountains. It looks at herbal medicine, mountain superstitions and folklore, Cherokee traditions, and what happens when something modern bumps up against something that has been the tradition for years.
How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?
I have loved working with Atmosphere Press. Being a hybrid press, they have given me the best of both worlds. I have everything I love about being self-published or indie—the rights to my work, final say on edits, complete control over the cover, the ability to sell my book when and where I like, and so much more—while also giving me the professionalism of having a publisher—editors, proofreaders, cover designers, technical help getting the book ready for print and ebook, getting the books onto Amazon, and more. I’m so thankful I have had them with me throughout the process!