Herb Terns grew up in the small town of Tannersville in the Northern Catskills. He was raised on the notion that neighbors and friends continually help each other whenever they need it.
That concept now serves as a theme in his debut novel, “Iron Sharpens Iron,” which follows the journey of a Lake Placid man as he hopes to accomplish a pretty large feat: Winning the Lake Placid Ironman, a triathlon that’s typically won by out-of-towners in the book.
“[There’s] this idea of pronoia, and it’s not a super popular term, but people are probably familiar with paranoia, which is that there’s this silent conspiracy of people out to get you. Pronoia is pretty much the exact opposite,” Terns said. “It’s the idea that there’s a conspiracy of people out to help you. And I think we tend to remember the scars that we get in life, but I don’t know that we always remember the times that people helped us out. I tried to manifest that in the book. That’s what people do in small towns.”
The Schenectady-based author, whose outdoors columns appear in the Times Union, has spent the last eight years, on-and-off, writing the book. During his first two years, as he was running through concepts and in the preliminary stages, he thought the idea may have been a bit ridiculous. But he soon realized that the story of his main character, Colden MacIntyre, and his quest to alter his own legacy was something that, if he didn’t write it, somebody else could have.
“In a lot of ways, the race is a metaphor for what happens in small towns like that,” Terns said. “Every year, he sees people come in and win this race from outside of Lake Placid. And one of the things that motivates him especially is he wants someone from his town to be the one who actually wins it. And it’s a little symbolic, about the nicest houses in the lake [belonging] to people from out of town or vacation homes. So there’s a whole thing about money and power in there, and the fact that things like triathlons, you have to earn them and they aren’t something that you can buy.”
So far, the story of local chef MacIntyre in Terns’ first book – which is available online and at various local book shops including Schenectady’s Open Door on Jay Street – has seen a positive reaction from early readers. The author doesn’t consider himself a triathlon-caliber athlete, so he made sure to test the book out on peers who are.
“I wrote a book about triathlon, but it doesn’t mean that I’m good at it at all,” Terns said. “I could write a book about golf, but it wouldn’t mean that I was necessarily good at golf. I gave the book to a couple people who are really good at triathlons, because I’m writing about someone trying to win the Lake Placid Ironman, and I am in no way qualified for that. And for the most part, I got those facts right.”
Unlike writing articles, Terns said Irons Sharpens Iron came together as he was in the process of writing it, with little planned out in advance. And unlike the Ironman, there wasn’t a set path for him to take, but he still found his way to the finish line.
“I didn’t really have a map,” Terns said. “I figured out a lot about what I was thinking about while I was writing it. Hopefully, that’s a journey that people want to come along with me.”
Iron Sharpens Iron is available at various local bookstores and online at HerbTerns.com.