Westmont Magazine A Master Storyteller
Once he decided to become a writer, Todd Pierce ’86 was determined to publish something. He kept submitting his work only to receive rejection slips, which he taped to the walls of his office. The wallpaper allowed him to laugh with his friends — and increased his determination.
Not only did Todd finally publish stories, poetry and nonfiction in numerous journals, books and magazines, but he has written two novels, “The Australia Stories” (2003) and “The Sky Like Tamara Blue” (2004).
At Westmont, Todd took an unlikely combination of religious studies and business courses and graduated with a degree in liberal studies. “I just wanted to get out,” he recalls. He worked in youth ministry for awhile, not sure what to do.
Then he focused on something he always liked: reading. He decided to get a master’s degree in literature and teach at a community college. Meanwhile, he started writing.
By the time he finished the literature program at Oregon State University, he realized he wanted to write. So he shifted gears to get an M.F.A. in creative writing from UC Irvine.
The next step was a doctoral program in creative writing at Florida State University. He completed his degree in 2002 and began teaching creative writing at Clemson University this fall.
“I love what I do and want to keep doing it,” he says. “I love to teach, and I love to write. When lights go on in students’ heads and they get excited about reading and writing and taking it seriously, those are exciting moments for me. And there is nothing better than a day in which all the writing goes well.”
His novels center on family and relationships. “The Sky Like Tamara Blue,” which is somewhat autobiographical, tells the story of a young man growing up in Santa Barbara, which is Todd’s hometown. Originally scheduled to appear in 2001, the British publisher delayed its appearance after Sept. 11.
Intrigued by stories, Todd has crafted a collection of tales with common characters in “The Australia Stories.” In the end, the book tells a bigger story of love and loss in the life of the narrator and his family. Moving backward and forward in time, the stories echo a longing for place, both in a country and in a family. Todd spent several years living in Australia and visits when he can.
Winning the IAP Award for Fiction, a Kingsbury Fellowship, and the Charles Angoff Award provided funding so Todd could focus his time on writing during his years in graduate school.
An upcoming book features a different theme: the combination of news and entertainment in American culture. Todd set the title stories, “Newsworld” and “Newsworld II,” in an amusement park featuring rides based on current events. Other chapters include: “Columbine: The Musical,” “Wrestling Al Gore,” “Arise & Walk, Christopher Reeve.”
“I wondered what happens when the lines between reality and entertainment get blurred, when people see all types of news as entertainment,” he explains.
His next novel, inspired by his grandmother who worked for Disney most of her life, will tell the story of the rise of the animation studios in the 1930s and 1940s.