Interview: Sue Harrison

October 13, 2012
My Sister the Moon
October 6, 2012
The Ghost Brush
October 22, 2012

A big welcome this week to Sue Harrison, who I've come to know online and through her novels about prehistoric Alaska -- a real find. There was so much I wanted to ask her after writing a review of My Sister the Moon, but I've restrained myself to three questions!

JC: What are you working on right now?

SH: In the past few years, I've shifted my focus from writing books set in prehistoric times to writing contemporary romantic suspense. I found it very difficult to leave my “first love,” but today's publishers aren't much interested in novels set in prehistoric times.

I experimented with a number of genres and finally realized that suspense was actually quite similar to what I had been writing – the same gritty, clawing need to survive, plus the opportunity to write about very strong women who surmount life-threatening situations.

I’m currently adding my agent’s suggested corrections to a manuscript with the working title, Prodigy. It’s a story about a woman who builds violins – a luthier – and a child prodigy who is kidnapped. It’s been great fun to write, and, as I do with all my books, I've fallen in love with the characters.

I’m also in the middle of writing the first draft of a novel I've named Warp. It deals with modern day slavery. With both books, my FaceBook friends have helped me with the plots and with other things like setting, characterization, and small everyday fun stuff, like what kind of muffin the protagonist buys at a Starbucks.

I've had a short story accepted for publication in an anthology of literature to be released by Wayne State University Press in 2013, and I write a bi-weekly column faith and spiritual growth for an online women’s magazine – “Her View From Home.”

JC: Upon first reading your Ivory Carver series, the voice seems simple, direct, and lyrical in an unusual way. Yet it’s strong enough to carry both the harsh landscape and strong emotional content of the novel. How did you achieve this?

SH: Thank you so much for describing my voice in such a complimentary way, Janie! My process with the voice was very deliberate. I began by studying six Native American languages over a period of several years – I was doing this while researching the novels, before I began to write anything except research notes.

My particular emphasis during this study was on the Aleut, Ojibway, and Inuit (Yu’pik) languages, which generally accent the penault syllable, very different from English, which tends to place the accent on the first syllable. When I finally had that rhythm in my head, I spent a month writing, rewriting - pulling out my hair - and rewriting again until I had the rhythm on my page (yes, it was only one page!).

Throughout my novels I tried to be very careful and not use words that might pop my reader out of the aura of the ancient and into modern times. My characters didn't have “steely” eyes. They didn't have minutes or hours or weeks, although they had moments, days, and months and years. I tried to avoid English words that are Latinate in derivation (like 'derivation', for example) I was trying for a harsh, yet poetic, simple, yet not simplistic, voice. I think I ALMOST got it right!

JC: What’s the one piece of advice you wish someone had given you when you first started writing novels?

SH: That’s a tough question, because I was so young and so inexperienced that I’m not sure I would have had enough common sense to take the advice I really needed to hear. And what I really, really needed to hear was that no matter how deep my research, how carefully developed my voice, or how lyrical my words, most readers come to a novel to escape. If the story doesn't pull them away from everyday life into the lives of my characters, then my novel is not – will not be – a success. It’s all about writing a story that absolutely makes the reader feel like they are living in the world created by the words I write and by the story I tell.

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