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The Muse Book Reviews

Interview with Annie Harmon by Lea Schizas
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"Thank you, Lea, for inviting me onto your site.
 
"I have been dreaming of published novels since I was eight.  Everyday I would wake up with a new story idea in my head and I would write it down.  The ideas were childish at first, but soon I came up with an idea that my mother said she wanted to read more about.  By ten I had written my first "book".  By eleven I had lost it.  And so it went over the years of learning to manage my writing. 
 
"Now, having figured out the concept of a filing cabinet, I have stories dated as far back as 1992.  Whew! In this filing cabinet I have almost all (I still tend to lose some things) of my humor columns which I wrote for a newspaper here in New Mexico (Sun News), two of which are available for reading on my site. 
 
"I have over a dozen children's picture book manuscripts, some with my attempts at art to help me detect any weaknesses in the storyline, and I have several children's chapter book manuscripts.  I also have many, many short stories I've added over the years and two novels in process. 
 
"Since upgrading to a computer seven years ago, I have become ever more grateful to my filing cabinet.  I have had four computers crash on me in this duration and all the stories not backed up are forever lost.  Now, on to the questions..."
 
As you can see, Annie demonstrates a very strong personality, straight to the chase, as her book For Sarah will cut right through your emotional core.
 
 
 
LEA: Many writers have an 'idol' who has helped them along in their writing career, by studying their genre, their style. Do you have a favorite writer? 
 
ANNIE:  My absolute favorite author is Douglas Adams.  But although I idolized him(and still idolize his work), I can't write that kind of "accidentally intelligent" wit.  I think it's best that we realize the type of writing we are most capable of producing and work to create the finest manuscript of that style.  (That's not to say we can't branch out, but that we should most definitely learn our strengths and weaknesses in writing.  The author I love and hope to write like is Dean Koontz.  Yes, it's typically mainstream, but I can't help it.  I love his imagination, and his characters are so easy to believe in.  But it's not his style that I've ended up adopting--at least not in For Sarah.   In my next two novels (still in process) I can see a little more Koontz, but in For Sarah I leaned more on books like Anywhere but Here by Mona Simpson, and Nobody Nowhere by Donna Williams .  I used the raw honesty of Williams portrayal of herself, and I expressed the characters by using epistolary as did Simpson in her aforementioned  novel.  Through this I was able to be as open and personable as possible and still keep the flow of the story. 
 
LEA: What are some of the 'high's' and 'low's' you have experienced as a writer while establishing your career?
 
ANNIE: The low's are easy to list.  Those come when I take on another part time job to help pay the bills, all the while refusing to open a 401K plan because I fear it would be like silently agreeing my writing career will never take off.  It's when a year has past and I realize I still haven't heard back from a certain publisher, and at that point I'm actually WANTING a rejection letter just to be acknowledged!  The high's are few and far between.  But as I imply in For Sarah, they are decidedly delicious when served that way.  Because of the hardships of writing only to be rejected more often than not, we become stronger, both as writers and as people.   And because they are not dished out on a daily basis, we learn to savor them, recognizing even the smallest achievements.   My first high came when I received a form rejection letter that had a personal note inserted within: "I regret to inform you that Nolen is Golden (beautifully written by the way) does not fit in with our current needs..." I carried that letter with me for over a month, using it to remind myself that I was moving forward.  Other high's since then have been actually getting published, and asked onto a radio talk show.
 
LEA-Do you find an agent a necessary step in your writing career? If so, what are some of your experiences and feelings with any initial agent contact? If no agent, then how did you come to decide on your present publishing house?
 
ANNIE:  If I could have found an agent the process might have been much easier and I might have found a larger publisher.  Regrettably, the only agents to contact me were agencies who wanted to represent me while charging editing fees. Just as I have adamantly refused to pay to have any of my books published, I also refused to pay an agent (other than commission) for representation.   And that is essentially what they are asking for.  Watch out for any costs other than commission, it is my opinion that if there are other fees, than chances are they are in the business to collect those fees, not sell your manuscript.  Just as the publisher who believes in your work is willing to pay all up front costs, so should your agent.  
 
So, having no agent, how did I choose my publisher?  I researched all houses who accepted my genre, submitted my manuscript, and jumped on the first offer to come back.  The latter of this list is not a highly recommend move, but understandable, I'm sure!    
 
LEA-Did you start off with writing goals? If so, which ones have been achieved and what are your future goals?
 
ANNIE: Writing Goals?  As in, "I will actually write today"?  Or, as in, "I want a novel published before I am thirty"?  Because I did want a novel published before thirty!  I missed that by five years, but who's counting?  My daily goals went something like this:  "I will write for eight hours each day."  Then I found I was interrupted too often during the day, so I changed it to : "I will write eight hours each night."  And each day I'd be grouchier than the one before.  Realizing that couldn't last, I changed it to, "I will go to bed and wake up three hours earlier than everyone else so I can write!"  Yeah, like I was ever going to get out of bed with the snooze button egging me on!  I had to figure this one out creatively.  
 
LEA:Being a writer, I know time management is a heavy-duty load to handle with family and outside commitments. How do you handle time management?  Can you give us a brief timetable of your day and/or methods you use to prod you to write?
 
ANNIE: What I finally ended up doing was working in smaller stints.  I write first thing in the morning for only half an hour, just to get my mind running, then I get back to taking care of my toddler, all the while envisioning and revising in my head.  When he lays down for his nap, I have two hours to arrange onto paper all of the work I had mapped out mentally.  I do this all again in the evening after he is asleep.   Small bites.  That is what I learned I am able to digest while raising a family. 
 
LEA: Writers need a constant source of writing articles and outside motivation. Do you find your immediate circle of friends understanding to the time you devote to writing?
 
ANNIE: I think I do.  My family and my friends are very encouraging, they'd have to be or I wouldn't have come so far.  What I do find is that they quickly tire of hearing endless variations on what changes I am going to make on a novel I have been telling them about for two years already!  But I can't help it, I get very excited as I see things progress in the stories I am working on.  Why else would I be writing them?  
 
LEA: Your book For Sarah received a great review on The Muse Book Reviews by Mary Schneider. What was your inspiration and purpose in writing this book?
 
ANNIE:  It's funny, I was just telling a friend how For Sarah wasn't a book I wanted to write.  I love working on my other novels and I love writing children's picture books, and yet, a part of me never wanted For Sarah published.  This story was too personal, like letting someone look into your underwear drawer--too embarrassing. 
 
My motivation in writing For Sarah was watching the people I loved fall repeatedly from the lingering ghosts of their abusers...and feeling powerless to do anything about it.   I wanted to show the world what happens to those poor, haunted children when they can't wait any longer for help.  What happens when they are forced into running away from home, and if they survive that, what happens in their lives as future wives and mothers?  I know what happens; I didn't want to know, I don't think anybody does...and that's why domestic abuse is so ongoing even in this enlightened time.  
 
  So although I never wanted to write For Sarah, you can see it was a novel I HAD to write.  There wasn't any part of me that could refuse, and still feel free to move forward in my own life.      
 
LEA: Do you write in more than one genre? If so, which is your favorite?
 
ANNIE: I love to write children's picture books.  I think they are my favorite simply because they are so bouncy and joyful.  But I also love my adult novels; I love the excitement of not knowing what's going to happen, then upon realization, the impatience of watching it all unfold.  It's absolutely invigorating.   
 
LEA: Where can our readers hook up to find out more on your writing career and any new projects in the works?
 
ANNIE: My web site is www.annieharmon.com.  I haven't gotten around to adding the synopsis' of my newer novels yet, but I do have a few short stories placed on the site that readers may want to check out. 
 
LEA: Do you have any words of wisdom to pass on to new writers?
 
ANNIE: Do everything the advice columns say to.  I avoided listening to advice on writing, thinking I was above all that, that if my work was as great as I figured it was, anyone would want it regardless of the path I chose to get there.  I still think highly of my writing, but I also realize how steep the competition is and that you have to get the ball moving one way or another. 
 
One really neat thing I learned recently was the added benefits of entering writing contests.  I've always been told to enter them and I always resisted.  I finally did, and two of my stories (For Sarah and an unpublished piece called "The Night Before") were named as Finalists.  The reason I finally entered the contest was so I could market my stories as an award winner, but I may not have to market "The Night Before" after all.  Because of the contest, a publisher saw mention of my manuscript on the award list and requested to see the piece.  Knock on wood--or a processor chip if that's all that's available--they'll love the manuscript as much as I do and want a contract signed.  
 
If you are that good, I hope you find a home for your work eventually.  But why not save yourself ten years of waiting and be as pro-active as you can about getting your work into the market.  Follow the guidelines, read up on publishers, and enter contests to promote yourself.  
 
Oh, and one more thing..avoid querying for a manuscript that isn't finished when the publisher expects one that is.  Seems they don't always want to wait...just a little extra advice from personal experience!    

 
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