“Lynn Harris, Intriguing Young Adult and Adult Fiction Writer” by Joan Y. Edwards
Thank you for being a guest on my blog, Lynn. My readers will benefit greatly from your Writing Tips.
I am excited to be here. Let’s get started.
Okay. Here we go with my questions:
- Where were you born? Greensboro, NC where I now live. I took a timeout from Greensboro for almost nine years while I worked for the Department of Defense in Washington, DC.
- Where was your favorite place to live as a child? Why? I lived in the same house from the time I was three until I left for college, so I guess that house was my favorite place to live.
- Did you have a favorite place to read a book as a child? Where and why? I loved to read so much I would do it anywhere. My mother used to punish me by sending me to my room. Please don’t throw me in that briar patch—that’s where my books were.
- How do you keep yourself physically fit? Writing is a sedentary process—butt in chair, fingers on keyboard. I have to make an effort to get exercise. I work out six days a week first thing in the morning. I walk on three and do yoga on three. I’ve reached an age where if I don’t keep moving, stuff starts to hurt, so I keep moving.
- What do you do when you think about giving up? If you’re referring to writing, I’ve only had that happen once. I had a hard drive crash (the dreaded “blue screen of death”) and, of course, did not have my most recent work backed up. Writing the first draft of my first novel was so hard that losing any of it, much less a lot of it, was devastating. I cried for a week. But at the risk of sounding crazy, my two main characters would not leave me alone. Talked at me the whole week. Begged me to tell their story. I finally gave in just to get some peace.
- Do you set goals for yourself as a writer? I absolutely have goals. I have a Monday morning writing class where we can read up to ten pages of our work for critique. My goal is ten new pages every week. Sometimes, if I bomb a week (my pages don’t fare so well in critique), I’ll revise them and take them back. But mostly it’s ten new pages.
- Do you reward yourself when you reach them? I go to class and hopefully people like them. That’s my reward—and the best feeling ever.
- Do you set new goals when you reach the first goals? I’m writing a trilogy—to finish it will take goal after goal after goal.
- Do you consider yourself a risk taker? Why? An interesting question. Yes and no. Do I bungee jump, jump out of airplanes, or drive 200 miles an hour? No. Do I take ten pages of my heart and soul and read it aloud every Monday? Yes. My life falls somewhere in the “ordinary level of risk” category.
- If you go to an amusement park, what is your favorite ride? Roller coaster, as long as it doesn’t have curlicue twists in it. Then I pass. Motion sick is never a good look.
- What is your favorite genre? Why? I read across genres—YA and adult; contemporary and historical; fantasy, sci fi, romance, adventure, paranormal, dystopian (although those last two I’ve had enough of for now). I like to mix it up.
- What’s your favorite book? Why? Hands down and forever: Gone with the Wind. I read it when I was twelve and fell in love. I don’t question “why” when it comes to love.
- Where is your favorite place to visit? Why? I’ve traveled many places in my life. I love it. But my favorite places tend to have water near them. If I had to choose one, it would be Inverness, Scotland (near Loch Ness). Magically beautiful. I watched the Outlander series on TV recently, and it reminded me of just how beautiful. I hope to return in two years.
- How did you do in English in high school? I did well in English and hated every minute. I was truly insulted that someone would tell me what to read (which is my favorite pastime, don’t mess it up), and then add insult to injury by telling me what it meant. Sorry, all you English grads out there, but that ruins a book for me.
- When did you decide to become an author? About six years ago, I had a lull in my life. A timeout, if you will. It gave me a chance to listen to what my inspiration was—to tell a story. I decided I’d give it a try. I had no idea how difficult it would be. Learning to write is hard. Learning to write well is taking me a long time, but I’m pretty determined and focused.
- Who or what has been the most help and inspiration to you as a writer? I have to separate those two things – help and inspiration. Inspiration for me is a spiritual experience. To me, to be inspired is a gift from the Universe, so I meditate and do yoga. Help, that’s another story and one easy to answer. On Monday mornings I attend a writing class with Nancy Peacock. Nancy has been a godsend. She, along with the women in the class who critique my work, has done more to enhance my writing than I ever imagined possible. They have my eternal thanks.
- Where do you get your ideas for your stories? I am a cross-pollinator. I watch TV, read books (fiction and non-fiction), see movies, watch the world around me. I have notepads everywhere to write down the ideas when they comes. Sadly, I don’t get anything from dreams (like Stephenie Meyer did with Twilight). I dream about stupid things, like cleaning my garage.
- What are you writing now? My first novel is a YA fantasy (the old fashioned, sword-and-sorcery kind). It has all of the things I love most about the genre—castles, witches, and pixies.
- What has been the most exhilarating moment as a writer, so far? It may sound silly, but it was in writing class. We read our pages aloud, and I was getting to a particular tense moment one Monday, only lines away from revealing who was arrested by the castle guard, and I heard my writing teacher gasp. I smiled because I knew she was reading ahead (a sign of interest), and her gasp let me know I surprised her. What a great moment! Another time in class, I had been given lots of “constructive criticism” on a scene I had read, so I revised and brought it back. Um, several times. The exhilarating moment was when, after the third or fourth re-write, at the end of my read, I got a small cheer. I’d finally nailed it. Hard won, that one.
- Do you outline and plan your plot first or do you just write and let the characters develop their own plot as you write? I plot. I outline. I plot some more. My outlines come in the form of long discourses of dialog (because I think in dialog) or a single sentence like “He ruminates by the lake.” I go scene by scene and put down what I have. Sometimes a whole chapter might be “They cross the desert.” Other times, it’s down to each intake of a character’s breath.
- Does research help you write? How? Absolutely. If I’m researching details, say castle defenses, then I probably already have the plot and scene in my head. But I’m plotting the second of my trilogy, and it takes place in the desert. When I’m reading about the desert, I start to see scenes in my mind—what the buildings look like, how the characters dress, but mostly, what happens to them. I already know the major plots points of the story (I took Rebecca Petruck’s plotting class and recommend it), but the research helps me figure out how to move from one scene to the next.
- What is your website? Blog? I don’t have either. A website is on my to-do list, but at the lower end. A published author at last year’s Charlotte conference said that, realistically, I have two years after I sell my story before it’s released, so there’s time to create an internet presence. For me, social media is just not natural. I’m a private person and don’t share my life on Facebook. And, frankly, I don’t have time to blog. I have too much to learn about craft and so much writing to do. If I don’t focus on that, all the social media in the world won’t sell a crappy book.
- What are writing tips you’ve found helpful for writing? All rules can be broken and are on a regular basis, so nothing I say is sacrosanct. But I’ll start with all of the things I did wrong in the beginning:
Ten Tips from Lynn Harris
1) Don’t start with a dream (ditto)
2) Don’t start with a prologue (been there, done that)
3) Don’t start with getting out of bed and dressing (heavens, did that too)
4) Write every day. I don’t but come close. I write five days a week and have class a sixth day. On the seventh I feed my spirit.
5) Read your genre. I do that a lot. I love YA and I love fantasy, so it’s not difficult.
6) Read a lot. I do that too. I read outside my genre (historicals, romance, sci fi, contemporary) for the fun of it. I also find that they bleed into my work in ways I don’t expect.
7) Read like a writer. That’s tough for me because I get caught up in a good book. Sometimes I’ll read a particularly good one twice so I can focus on craft the second time through.
8) Build a writing community. Writing is an introverted experience – we do it alone. And that can lead to an insular experience that hurts the writing in the end. Join a critique group, a writing class, a writing organization like SCBWI. It was through SCBWI-C that I found my writing class (thank you, Monica!). Go to conferences if you can afford to if for no other reason than to have an excuse to talk about writing. People who aren’t writers will never understand what it’s like. Those who are get your feelings in a flash.
9)Don’t be afraid to cut things from your manuscript, even if the passages are your favorites, but NEVER delete them permanently. In this digital age, it’s easy to save something in a file. You may never put them back, but they’re there for another story one day.
10)And this last one is the most difficult. Stay in the present moment and pay attention to everything. You never know when something in everyday life will inspire exactly what you need to complete a scene, create a new character, or launch a completely new story. The only place of power is right now.
- What are 5 things a writer should check in revising a manuscript? I’m in that process now. I won’t mention the obvious ones, like grammar and format. That goes without saying. These are the ones I look at the hardest:
1) POV – I write in first person, so it’s a narrow POV. I have to make sure that everything I write about, my character can actually experience firsthand.
2) Physical world – by this I mean grounding the reader in my world. Am I giving enough detail so that the reader knows where I’m taking them without so much that it bogs the writing down? But I also make sure I don’t lose characters (which I often do). Is every character that’s present in the scene actually seen by the reader?
3) That I don’t let my POV character become a camera. What I mean by that is they observe stuff happening but don’t interact with anything or have an emotional reaction to what they’re seeing . I’m bad about that in a first draft. It usually gets rooted out by my writing class, but I try to be mindful in my revision process as well.
4) Using all of the senses – I’m a visual person, so my first instinct is to describe how things look. But life is much richer than that and my writing needs to be as well.
5) Tracking the details – as my story unfolds in books 2 and 3, I’m finding that certain details, like items that are symbolic or important later, need to be focused on more intensely earlier in the story so the reader will remember them. One of my symbols is a necklace a main character wears. It’s placed around his neck in the first scene, mentioned once later, then I drop it till an important moment in the last scene. Oops. I’ve got to go back and weave in subtle reminders about this necklace so the reader doesn’t forget it in the 300 and some pages in between.
- How will you know your manuscript is ready for submission to an editor or agent? It’s not yet, but how will I know when it is? By putting it out with beta readers, critique groups, my writing class, agents/editors at writing conferences. Feedback is key. I don’t know what “yes, it’s ready” looks like yet, but I have lots of experience with “no, it’s not.” I no longer take that personally (that’s another Writing Tip 11—take nothing personally when it comes to feedback on your writing. Get ego out of the way—your are not your writing. When ego gets involved, one gets defensive. When defensive, one can no longer hear.)
- How do you plan to find a publisher or agent for your manuscript? Copious amounts of research and hopefully some synchronicity. I see querying as similar to going on tons of first dates. The chemistry has to be there or you/the agent moves on. On my part, I need to query agents who are open to repping YA fantasy. Not everyone is. I need to be prepared with a great hook, compelling query, and know my story inside and out. I can’t be stopped by a rejection (or ten, or twenty, or…).
Lynn Harris grew up in Jamestown, NC, barely a breath from Greensboro where she now resides. After a Bachelor’s in Economics from UNC-CH and a Masters in International Business from the University of South Carolina, she left her beloved southland for Washington, DC. There, Harris was an Intelligence Analyst with the Department of Defense for eight years where she wrote non-fiction. She married an Air Force officer (who has since retired), and convinced him that North Carolina was a great place to raise a family. Returning home was like putting on her most comfortable pair of bedroom shoes after a long day in heels.
Today, Harris is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, animal lover, vegetarian, world traveler, spiritual seeker, and writer, not necessarily in that order. Priority depends on the day.
Thank you, Lynn Harris, for giving us these great tips for writing and sharing your life and writing experience with us. It was fun. You have a great sense of humor. Good luck with the publication of your young adult and adult fiction manuscripts.
Readers, thank you for reading my blog. Please leave a question or comment for Lynn or for me. We’d love to hear from you.
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards
Copyright © 2015 Joan Y. Edwards