I’m pleased to introduce to you Sue Harrison, author of Mother Earth Father Sky which I reviewed HERE. Please read the review if you haven’t already.Sue Harrison was born and brought up in Michigan, USA, and graduated summa cum laude from Lake Superior State University. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. Sue is a Distinguished Service Award Honoree of the Michigan Delta Kappa Gamma Educator’s Sorority. She is a member of the Society of Midland Authors, The Authors Guild, the American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. Her novels have been published in more than twenty countries and in thirteen languages.
Sue, I’m honoured to welcome you to my blog! You have been a faithful follower and commenter for some time here, but now we have a better chance to get to know Sue Harrison, the author of bestselling novels, in a more personal way. Please begin by telling us a little about yourself.
Just a rough sketch here, Lynn. I’ve been a Christian since I was five years old when a neighbor girl, about 8 years old, led me to the Lord. How’s that for “child evangelism?” When I was 9, I fell for the boy I’d grow up to marry. We were married when we were 19. We worked our way through college and our children were born when we were in our early 20s. Most of our married life, we have lived in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We have two daughters and a son. Our firstborn, a daughter, died in infancy. Our son is married and we have two granddaughters. Our daughter has just returned from 10 years of missionary service in Europe. I love books, reading them and writing them, and I love the outdoors. I’m a certified scuba diver, enjoy gardening, needlework and weaving, and travel. I play 7 musical instruments, although none of them impressively. I was raised in a very musical family. My mother was a professional musician from age 13, and her brother one of the conductors of the ABC symphony and also a composer best known for his Alaskan Symphony. I have four siblings.
Wow! At 9 you found your life partner? Astonishing! You live a very full life; when did you first know you wanted to be a writer? Who or what inspired you?
I decided I would be a novelist after falling in love with words at age 10. That was when my paternal grandmother introduced me to the work of Laura
Another surprising fact! As a writer, do you do much reading? Who were/are your favourite authors or books?
I’m very eclectic reader, am usually reading four or five books at the same time, and read about 100 books a year. I have too many favorites to give them all space here, but at the top of my list is, of course, Laura Ingalls Wilder and also Dorothy Dunnett, particularly her Lymond Chronicles.
Have you ever felt like giving up? When did you finally believe in
yourself so you can say “I am a writer”?
There were times when I wondered if God wanted me to stop writing. That has
been a battle for me particularly in the last ten years, which have been very intensive parent care years for me. I don’t have to explain that to you, Lynn. You know exactly how that impacts your life and your career. For the first four and half years I was the primary caregiver for my mom-in-law who had Alzheimer’s. During that time, my writing was often limited to less than an hour a week. You just can’t write novels during an hour a week. It doesn’t happen. After she passed away, I was still caring for my father-in-law but able to reserve two to three hours a day a few days a week to write. Now I’m also caring for my parents, but that is less intensive. They are by nature more independent and also understand how important my writing is to me, so we’ve been able to bring in other caregivers and preserve much of my writing time.
As to the second part of that question. I first felt like a real writer when my first short story was published in a small college magazine. It happened again for me with the publication of each of my novels. In between and since then, I seem to have to prove to myself all over again – every day – that I’m a real writer.
Strange how even the most accomplished doubt themselves at times. Do you have a motto or Bible verse or quote that you try to live by and that helps to keep you going?
I have a Bible verse taped to my computer screen. It is from Zephaniah 3:17.”The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy, he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.”
I also have two other quotes taped on my screen: Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Never
lose an opportunity for seeing anything that is beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting, a wayward sacrament.”
The last is a business-like quote that my husband gave me by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. “As an artist in today’s society, you are responsible for your own successes and failures. Do your best to capitalize on the former and survive the latter. You won’t always make the right choices, but now, at least, you have choices. And that’s a very, very good thing.”
Excellent quotes, and that Bible verse is one of my favourites! What do you remember about your first book being published, how did that happen?
I probably remember every second of it, so I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow description. I’d been trying to find an agent for my first novel MOTHER EARTH FATHER SKY. In those days there was no internet so I was
limited to finding agent names and addresses in books. I had one little book that I’d purchased. It listed agents in alphabetical order. I started at the A’s and went on through. Almost 5 years (and a complete rewrite) later, I was in the W’s and getting desperate. In November I sent a query to Rhoda Weyr of the Rhoda Weyr Literary Agency. A couple weeks later, she asked for a complete manuscript. In January she called and asked me to be her client. She also asked for some minor changes. I completed those in 3 days and sent the ms back to her. At the end of March she called and said some editors would like to talk to me. The first “editor” was the president of Random House. The second was a VP of Doubleday. My husband was sitting across the kitchen table from me when I took the call from Doubleday and he realized by my side of the conversation that she (Loretta Barrett) was trying to sell ME on choosing Doubleday. I looked at him and he had tears running down his cheeks. His crazy wife was actually going to sell that dang novel she’d been working on for 10 years. MEFS went to auction with 5 bidders. After 3 days, we still had 3 bidders and we chose to go with Doubleday.
How sweet to have such a supportive husband. What are the novels you have had published thus far, and of those, which did you most enjoy writing?
Mother Earth Father Sky, My Sister the Moon, Brother Wind, Song of the River, Cry of the Wind, Call Down the Stars and Sisu. I can’t choose any one of them as my favorite to write. I loved writing them all.
What process do you go through when writing and perfecting a book or article?
With novels and articles, I basically go through the same process. I spend a
certain period of time getting it all in my head. I don’t write an extensive outline, just jot down ideas. I let my characters ride around in my head for
about a year before I begin writing the book, and then I sit down and write,
usually about 5 to 10 typewritten pages a day. At the halfway point, I stop, go back and read what I’ve written. Then I continue on and finish my first draft. With my novels, I rewrite at least 6 full drafts. My research comes before, during and after.
What method do you use to keep track of your writing ideas?
I have an idea folder.
What inspired you to write your trilogies? and stand-alone novels?
A number of factors influenced my decision to write the two Alaska
trilogies: my experience growing up in a woodsy, almost wilderness
environment; my father’s and my husband’s love of the outdoors; my
fascination with Native American cultures; my interest in Native languages;
the research of Dr. William Laughlin. My one stand-alone published novel is
for middle readers. My children’s lives influenced that book and my
experiences as a mom and wife. The novels I’m writing now – romantic
suspense for the inspirational market – are an expression of my faith and of
my love of reading mystery and suspense novels.
How long did it take you to write each book or set? What research
did you have to do? And how did you come up with the titles?
I began the research for all my Alaska books in 1978. I finished writing the
last book in 1999, and I estimate that I spent 9 of those years researching
to write the novels. The rest was writing time. My research included learning about the cultures, lifestyles, art, and languages of Alaskan Native peoples. I also studied influencing cultures, including many of the Native cultures of what is now Canada, the Native peoples in the northern and western parts of what are now the lower 48 states of the USA, and the traditions and some of the legends of Native peoples in eastern Siberia and SE Asia. I also studied geography, geology, the archeological digs in Alaska, and Native survival skills and artwork.
The title Mother Earth Father Sky is from a very well-known Tewa poem. The
other two Ivory Carver Trilogy titles – My Sister The Moon and Brother Wind,
just seemed to fit in with the family theme of that first title. My second trilogy was titled by one of my editors, Ellen Edwards. My titles for that trilogy were cumbersome, and she was afraid buyers might shy away from purchasing the novels. Her titles are Song of the River, Call of the Wind, and Call Down The Stars.
Did you write a little of yourself into any of the characters? Do
you have any favourites?
My favourite characters are both from my first trilogy, both lead charactersand both women: Chagak and Kiin. I think writers can’t help but put a bit of themselves into every character. My main characters are much more courageous and much stronger than I am. They are what I wish I were. My villains are what I hope I’m not!
Did you find any part of the stories difficult to pull together? Was any individual book more difficult to write? If so, how did you
stick with it?
I had the most trouble writing the third book of the first trilogy, Brother Wind. I was working with a new publisher with that book, and they preferred that I first write an extensive outline, which I’d not done with my first two novels. I wrote a 60-page outline, and by the time I’d completed the first half of the novel, I realized that I might as well throw that outline away. My characters had hijacked the story and sent it on a new course. I was a bit discouraged and set the novel aside for about a week. During that time I wrote the first half of SISU, a middle reader’s book, set in Michigan in current time. That seemed to break the gridlock for me, and I was able to finish Brother Wind. Later, my husband suggested that I finish SISU. I did, and, although my publisher William Morrow made an offer for the novel, we decided to go with a small Michigan publisher, Thunder Bay Press, to prolong the life of the book. Now more than ten years later, it’s still in print.
Tell us about the honours/recognition your books received.
The Alaska trilogies were very well received. Several of them have been chosen in top ten “reader’s choice” situations. Mother Earth Father Sky was selected as one of 1991’s Best Books for Young Adults as a crossover from the adult market by the American Library Association. It was also a national and international bestseller and received a boxed review in the New York Times Book Review. The Ivory Carver Trilogy was re-released in an omnibus edition in Sweden. Mother Earth Father Sky was performed as a radio drama in Japan and Norway. Brother Wind was selected as a Book of the Month by my German publisher. Mother Earth Father Sky and My Sister the Moon were both main selections of the Literary Guild. My Sister the Moon was a Baker & Taylor national bestseller and a bestseller to libraries. Sisu has been selected as Accelerated Readers Book in the US.
That is so amazing! How do you find time to write when you are busy with life?
Sometimes I can’t. That’s a great and distressing time for me when that occurs, but I believe it happens with all writers. When I had a fulltime job, I woke up at 5 in the morning, Monday through Friday, without exception other than Christmas and Thanksgiving. Then I wrote for an hour and a half until my family got up. Now I often put in 14- or 15-hour days in order to find time to write despite the care and housekeeping I do for our parents.
That’s commitment! What other interests do you have for a change from writing?
I’ve mentioned some of these above. I love to read, knit, sew, weave,garden, and I walk for exercise. I play 7 musical instruments: piano, flute, baglama, viola, double-bowed psaltery, mandolin, and mountain dulcimer. I have a hammered dulcimer, but make no claims yet to be able to play it. I participate weekly with a jam group. Lots of fun, and I’m also a vocal performer. I love to travel, and my husband and I try to get away for a week at least once a year. Prior to our parent care responsibilities we traveled extensively in Europe, the Caribbean and, of course, Alaska.
How do you consistently write? Do you have writing goals – daily?
Weekly? Monthly? Long range?
My writing goals are more along the line of trying to write at least 3 and preferably 5 days a week for 2 or 3 hours in the morning. I also spend quite
a few evenings writing blog posts. I try to finish at least one of my romantic suspense novels each year.
Do you have another project in the works? Any hints you can share with our readers about that?
I have two novels – BILLIONS and PRODIGY – with my agent, Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary Agency right now. I’m hoping she can find publishers for them in the inspirational market. BILLIONS is about a billionaire and a waitress who are both hostages in a con game for millions. PRODIGY features a young woman who is a luthier known for her exquisite handmade violins. Here’s PRODIGY’s “hook” – A kidnapped child. A violin. A closet.
The novel I’m working on at the moment is in the first-draft-half-finished stage. The working title is WARP. It’s about a young widow who has two young children. She weaves tapestry copies of masterpieces, but against her will has been drawn into criminal activity by her dead husband’s family. It’s all about survival, and I’m having a ball writing it.
Intriguing! I’ll have to watch for your new titles. Finally, do you have any advice for hopefuls?
Three simple things: 1. Read, read, read. 2. Write, write, write. 3. Learn
to believe in yourself by reaching out to the One who made you.
Oh, what excellent advice; thank you, Sue! And thank you for this wonderful interview.
Check out Sue Harrison’s website: www.sueharrison.com and click on “Appearances 2013” to find out where she is speaking. Perhaps she will soon be somewhere near you, or you can book her for a speaking engagement or writers’ workshop.
Now for our first giveaway of 2013. Are you interested in winning a copy of one of Sue’s books? Please leave a comment about this interview and also mention which of her books you would like to win if your name is drawn. At 6 PM EST on Tuesday, January 22, one name will be pulled from the basket and I will contact the winner for a mailing address so Sue can send the chosen book! How great is that! 🙂
Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings! 🙂