Who are you? Where are you from? What are you working on these days?
My name is Karen Harrington. I live in Plano, Texas and was raised in Garland, Texas (not uncoincidentally, it’s the town featured in the opening scene of ZOMBIELAND). I’m the middle child out of five siblings, so naturally, I became a writer. I’ve published four novels, most recently MAYDAY (Little, Brown). I was a mentor editor at Arizona State University’s ‘Your Novel Year’ program for two years and was recently a judge for the Texas Institute of Letters’ young adult novel awards. Currently, I’m editing a novel I wrote for last year’s NaNoWriMo challenge, working on a pitch for an anthology, writing short stories and trying to get two teenagers to clean their rooms. Some of these activities are more successful than others.
What do you hope to accomplish as a writer?
I always say I’d like to make a living at writing someday. And then I laugh. For the long haul, I’d like to be writing, editing, and helping other writers create projects. It’s hard to imagine not writing stories my whole life. I mean, I just took a trip to East Texas where I asked this lady if she knew the details about the three-legged dog in the neighborhood and she replied, “Which one?” There’s a story! And, I have a couple of published novels I’d love to see on the big screen one day, MAYDAY in particular. I’m working on that dream, so if you know Clint Eastwood…
Who are some of your influences? How have they influenced your work?
Ernest Hemingway, Elizabeth Berg, Anne Lamott, Stephen King, Elizabeth Strout, Gary D. Schmidt, Louis Sachar, Harper Lee, John Floyd and Pat Conroy, to name a few.
They’ve influenced my work largely through their unique storytelling, dedication to the craft and work ethic. The late, great Pat Conroy mentored me a few years ago. He told me it never gets easier and, hearing that from someone at his level makes the blank page less agonizing. And what I like about all the other mentioned writers (maybe with the exception of Lee) is that they kept/keep showing up and doing the work. That inspires me.
What are some writing tips you’ve received over the years you feel have helped you improve your writing?
Edit fearlessly. Every time I’ve cut five thousand words, I’ve created five thousand better words the next time around.
Read your work out loud. It can be painful but less painful than sending in a piece with an incomplete sentence or two characters with meaty hands.
Invest in a 15-minute hour-glass timer. Anyone can write for 15 minutes. And, in reverse, ONLY allow 15 minutes of internet time. No one is going to be your coach as a writer. You have to do that yourself and this little tool helps.
What are you currently reading? How’s it going—recommend, or no?
THE PLOT by Jean Hanff Korelitz. It’s about the life of a once-promising young novelist turned teacher who encounters a talented student’s work…and things go off the rails.
I’m also reading I WILL NEVER SEE THE WORLD AGAIN: The Memoir of an Imprisoned Writer by Ahmet Altan
If you had the chance to see one musician/group live in concert, living or dead, who would it be and at what point in their career would it be?
I would go back the first concert I ever attended because few shows since have measured up. It was 1982, 15th row, QUEEN with Billy Squire opening. Pure bliss.
What should we look for from you in the near future?
I have a novel on submission right now and several short stories making their way into the world. My first young-adult novel, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, comes out in Germany (Briefe an mein verrücktes Leben) this coming August.
Karen Harrington’s work has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Shotgun Honey. She is the author of three acclaimed novels for young readers and JANEOLOGY, a mystery thriller. A former speechwriter and editor, Karen can be found at www.karenharringtonbooks.com and on Twitter at @KA_Harrington