Trueman, Terry 1947–

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Trueman, Terry 1947–


Born December 15, 1947, in Birmingham, AL; married four times; children: Henry Sheehan, Jesse. Education: University of Washington, B.A., 1971; Eastern Washington State University, M.S., 1975, M.F.A., 1985; attended Washington State University Ph.D. program, 1980. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: "My Sea Ray boat and 1976 Corvette Stingray."


E-mail—[email protected]


Novelist, poet, and writer. White Hills Technical Schools, Bendigo, Victoria, Australia, English and social studies teacher, 1972-74; Spokane Community Mental Health Center, Spokane, WA, therapist, 1975-80; Escuela International Sanpedrana, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, secondary school counselor, 1981-82; Eastern Washington University, teaching fellow in English, 1983-85; Spokane Falls Community College, Spokane, WA, instructor in communications department, 1985-

91; Spokane Public Schools, Dist. 81, Spokane, WA, substance abuse intervention specialist, 1991-93. KPBX-FM, Spokane, WA, film, video, and media critic.

Awards, Honors

Louisa Kern Fund grants in support of writing poetry, 1970 and 1971; Summer Seminar for College Teachers, National Endowment for the Humanities, 1989; Exceptional Faculty Award for teaching excellence, Spokane Falls Community College, 1996; Ten Best First Novels and Editors Choice awards inclusion, Booklist, 2000, Best Books for the Teen Age designation, New York Public Library, 2001, Best Books for Young Adults designation and Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers designation, American Library Association, 2001, Children's Book Council's Not Just for Children Anymore listee, 2001, National Association for Special Education Needs Highly Recommended Award, Publishers Association (England), and Michael L. Printz Honor Award, Young Adult Library Services Association, all 2001, and numerous local and state awards, all for Stuck in Neutral.



The Chinese Painting Poems, Rednblack Press (Spokane, WA), 1990.

Black Lipstick, Rednblack Press (Spokane, WA), 1991.

Sheehan, Siobhan Press (Spokane, WA), 1992.

Love on the Rack, Rednblack Press (Spokane, WA), 1995.


Stuck in Neutral, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2000.

Swallowing the Sun, Hodder (London, England), 2003.

Inside Out, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2003.

Cruise Control, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2004.

No Right Turn, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2006.

7 Days at the Hot Corner, HarperTempest (New York, NY), 2007.


(With Michael Gurian) What Stories Does My Son Need?: A Guide to Books and Movies That Build Character in Boys, Putnam (New York, NY), 2000.

(With Michael Gurian and Patricia Henley) Boys and Girls Learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents, Jossey-Bass (San Francisco, CA), 2001.

Contributor to periodicals, including Poetry Australia, Parachute, Wisconsin Review, Choice, Idiom, Poetry Newsletter, Inscape, Amphora, Issue, and Nuclear Affair.


Stuck in Neutral was adapted for film by Craig T. Nelson and Family Tree Productions; Cruise Control was adapted for audiobook, Recorded Books, 2005.


Terry Trueman is a poet-turned-novelist who hit the ground running with his debut young-adult novel, Stuck in Neutral, an inside view of a teen suffering from cerebral palsy. The winner of the 2001 Michael L. Printz Honor Award, the novel secured for its author overnight success in the world of young-adult fiction. Trueman, whose own son has severe cerebral palsy, enjoys writing about things close to his own life. "I'm not one of these writers who's interested or necessarily capable of great flights of the imagination," he admitted to an interview er for "I'm not interested in a story about an earthworm on the third moon of Neptune. I don't know how guys do that, and I don't enjoy reading them. My models as a writer are Charles Bukowski and Raymond Carver, who both wrote truthful prose. Their line is straight and direct."

Writing on his home page, Trueman noted: "In the early 1970s, I sent out lots of poems, most of which embarrass me now, to lots of ‘little’ magazines with circulations of about twenty ‘readers.’ Most of these little magazines ended up in the hands of the grandmothers and great-aunties of precious little genius[es] like myself, who were published in them." Describing the several chapbooks he published during the 1990s, Trueman wrote: "One is rather holy, one is rather profane, one is just flat out crazy, in other words they are ‘language snapshots’ of my slow and painful growth as an artist and writer."

In 1979, when Trueman became a father for the first time, his life changed. His firstborn son, Henry Sheehan, suffered complications at birth and was born with cerebral palsy. Trueman would first mine this experience for literary material in his long narrative poem, Sheehan, told from the point of view of a father of a child who suffers from cerebral palsy. In the poem the reader shares the father's wonder and joy at the birth, then the pain of the realization that he may likely never be able to truly know his disabled son.

"I really started the Sheehan poem at the time we were finally getting into court over our litigation on behalf of Sheehan and ourselves for what we felt was medical malpractice at his birth," Trueman told Patrick Michael Murphy in an interview for the Spokane, Washington, Inlander. "Going back into court and being forced to look at the medical records and all the huge, blown-up photographs of the birthing brought all of it back to me in a rush, and at that time, twelve years after Sheehan had been born, I had enough perspective to step in and write the poem from that revisiting of those memories of that experience."

In addition to writing poetry, Trueman also did book and movie reviews for the public radio station in Spokane as well as the local newspaper. Having little luck in making a living from writing, he made a resolution. "At the age of forty-eight, I decided it's now or never if I'm ever going to write anything that has any possibility of success," he noted in his interview. Treating writing as a job, Trueman got up every day at six in the morning and wrote as much as he could on what he saw as a commercially viable vehicle, the story of a young boy who suffers from cerebral palsy, told this time from the sufferer's point of view rather than the parent's. "A miracle happened while I was doing it," Trueman recalled. "I found I loved writing more than any other human activity." The result was Trueman's first novel, Stuck in Neutral.

Initially, Trueman viewed Stuck in Neutral as a horror story, the tragic entrapment of an intelligent young man in the body of someone for whom the world feels pity. Yet when he began writing the book, "this Holden Caufield-esque sort of smart-ass voice came popping out of this kid," the author told Murphy in the Inlander, "and the next thing I knew he was writing the story and I was just jotting down the notes." Trueman's horror story turned itself into a book with comic, ironic bite to it.

Stuck in Neutral centers on the interior musings of fourteen-year-old Shawn McDaniel, who lives in Seattle, loves the rain, thinks his siblings are "pretty cool," and has the gift of total recall—he can remember everything that has happened to him since he was five years old. However, nobody knows this about him. The victim of cerebral palsy, Shawn has no muscle control and is therefore unable to communicate with others. Although everyone believes Shawn to have the mental age of an infant, the teen is an optimist, upbeat, wise-cracking character. "Shawn longs to make contact with others," wrote a contributor to Horn Book, "and the remote possibility that some day someone might know ‘the real Shawn’ only increases his will to live." However, Shawn's father is another matter. Self-absorbed, he is the author of a poem about Shawn, for which he has won the Pulitzer Prize. Shawn begins to fear that his father is planning to kill him in order to stop his imagined suffering. Things come to a dramatic head when Shawn is left alone at home with his dad.

"Readers spend the whole book inside Shawn's head, a place that is so vivid, so unique they will be hard pressed to forget its mix of heaven and hell," noted Booklist contributor Ilene Cooper, the critic further commenting that Trueman's "short novel packs a punch that transcends its length." A writer for Kirkus Reviews also noted the power of the novel's narrator, commenting that "Shawn will stay with readers, not for what he does, but for what he is and has made of himself." A Publishers Weekly contributor found that Trueman's book "raises ethical issues about euthanasia through the relationship between … Shawn … and his father." The "strength of the novel lies in [this] father-son dynamic," the critic added; "the delicate scenes between them carefully illustrate their mutual quest to understand each other." Also reviewing the novel in Booklist, Stephanie Zvirin called Trueman's work "riveting," and a "powerful, thought-provoking book about life, death, hope, and love." A Horn Book contributor wrote that Stuck in Neutral evokes "one of our darkest fears and deepest hopes—that a fully conscious and intelligent being may be hidden within such a broken body, as yet unable to declare his existence." Kate McDowell, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, noted that Trueman's characterization of Shawn is "fascinating, portraying [him] as a believable philosophical young man." With reviewers and prize committees on both sides of the Atlantic honoring Trueman for Stuck in Neutral, his desperate last chance at writing paid off. His publisher, HarperCollins, negotiated a three-book contract with a healthy advance, enough to allow Trueman to write full time.

Written as a companion to Stuck in Neutral, Cruise Control features Paul, the older brother of Shawn. Paul is talented in both academics and athletics, but he has difficulty dealing with his emotions about his younger brother and his father, who is no longer part of the family's life. Built around Paul's leadership of the basketball team as it heads for a championship game, Cruise Control reveals Paul's coming of age. "This powerful tale is extremely well written," wrote Marlyn K. Beebe in a review for School Library Journal. Booklist contributor Michael Cart noted of the novel that Trueman "does a passionately convincing job portraying" Paul and his difficulties.

In his young-adult novel, Inside Out, Trueman tells the tale of Zach Wahhsted, a sixteen year old who suffers from schizophrenia and constantly must deal with the imaginary Rat and Dirtbag, who talk inside Zach's head and taunt him to commit suicide. Eventually, Zach is hospitalized and placed on a medication that his psychiatrist warns is necessary for Zach to not only keep sane but also keep living. All seems to go well until Zach finds himself in a coffee shop during a robbery by two teenage boys. The robbery turns into a hostage situation. While everyone else is terrified, Zach carries on an inner dialogue as he tries to determine whether or not what he is witnessing is "real." Eventually, it is Zach that the terrified young robbers turn to for help. Writing in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Wendy Kelleher commented that the "tensely constructed tale … provides more information about how this disease affects people than could several textbooks on the topic." Kelleher added that "the reader feels an enormous affinity for Zach," also noting that the author provides "a much less simple view of why teenagers commit crimes, challenging adults' oftentimes bitter bias against teens." Gillian Engberg, writing in Booklist, commented that Trueman "sometimes captures moments of heartbreaking truth."

No Right Turn tells of Jordan, whose father committed suicide when his son was only thirteen. Now sixteen, Jordan begins taking the 1976 Corvette Stingray belonging to his mother's boyfriend for joy rides, which leads him to meet the pretty and popular Becka. Convinced that the Stingray is what has garnered Becka's attention, Jordan soon learns that she is really interested in him. Jordan keeps sneaking off with the Corvette, however, and tempts death as he seeks thrills in the sleek and fast sports car. Writing in Booklist, Gillian Engberg commented that the author "creates an affecting portrait of a teen confronting submerged pain." A Kirkus Reviews contributor predicted that "readers will be taken with Jordan's matter-of-factness about his sorrow and isolation."

In addition to fiction, Trueman has also published nonfiction, including titles coauthored with long-time friend Michael Gurian. In What Stories Does My Son Need?: A Guide to Books and Movies That Build Character in Boys, he and Gurian present a guide for parents listing two hundred movies and books that could help to build character in young men. Starting from the premise that boys in particular are highly influenced by what they read and view, Trueman and Gurian—the therapist/educator author of the best-selling The Wonder of Boys: What Parents, Mentors, and Educators Can Do to Shape Boys into Exceptional Men—annotate a list of movies including High Noon and Glory, and books such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Giving Tree, supplying summaries and discussion questions. The book also provides readers with an overview of both the dangers and the promise of such media intake. Reviewing the book in Library Journal, Kay Brodie commented that "parents and others who work with children can use this as a selection tool and as a model for choosing other titles not included."

Trueman also teamed with Gurian and Patricia Henley to write Boys and Girls Learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents, a book which argues that brain differences between the sexes call for different teaching strategies in grade school. "The authors present a detailed picture of boys' and girls' neurological, chemical and hormonal disparities," according to a reviewer for the London Sunday Times. Using this model, Trueman, Gurian, and Henley explain why different teaching methods need to be employed for boys and girls. The book posits that girls have a learning advantage over boys because their brains are more complex and active. Boys, the authors contend, have more difficulties in the learning process and therefore present more discipline problems. The book also provides a teaching model, drawn from a pilot teaching program. "Throughout, the authors stress the importance of teacher training," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor, because "regrettably few teachers are knowledgeable about this issue."

Despite these forays into nonfiction, Trueman sees his real literary work as a fiction writer. "As for future books," he commented on, "I think … that there are real issues in the life of our country and our culture that I have strong feelings about. Any time an adult writer is trying to lecture or preach to kids he's screwed. You can't do it. You can however tell really good stories that have at the core of them issues that kids are concerned and care about too—capital punishment, the way we treat the weakest members of our society."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Booklist, July, 2000, Ilene Cooper, review of Stuck in Neutral; November 15, 2000, p. 631; December 1, 2000, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Stuck in Neutral, p. 693; December 15, 2001, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Stuck in Neutral, p. 728; September 1, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of Inside Out, p. 116; March 15, 2005, Michael Cart, review of Cruise Control, p. 1285; February 1, 2006, Gillian Engberg, review of No Right Turn, p. 46.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, June, 2000, Kate McDowell, review of Stuck in Neutral.

Horn Book, May-June, 2000, review of Stuck in Neutral, p. 322.

Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, March, 2004, Wendy Kelleher, review of Inside Out, p. 517.

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2000, review of Stuck in Neutral; January 1, 2006, review of No Right Turn, p. 46.

Kliatt, January, 2005, Paula Rohrlick, review of Inside Out, p. 17.

Library Journal, July, 2000, Kay Brodie, review of What Stories Does My Son Need?: A Guide to Books and Movies That Build Character in Boys, p. 121.

Publishers Weekly, July 10, 2000, review of Stuck in Neutral, p. 64; March 12, 2001, review of Boys and Girls Learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents, p. 83.

School Library Journal, January, 2005, Marlyn K. Beebe, review of Cruise Control, p. 138.

Sunday Times (London, England), May 27, 2001, review of Boys and Girls Learn Differently.

Times Educational Supplement, May 25, 2001, Nicola Robinson, review of Stuck in Neutral, pp. SS20-SS22.

ONLINE, (April 4, 2006), interview with Trueman.

Inlander Online (Spokane, WA), (April 4, 2006), Patrick Michael Murphy, "Incomprehensible Gift."

Jubilee Books Web site, (April 4, 2006).

Terry Trueman Home Page, (May 1, 2007).