An Interview With Ms. Harris

Ela Gonzales, Copy Editor

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Ms. Harris, the Honors Survey of American Lit and Creative Writing teacher recently sat down with The Pioneer to answer some questions concerning the paperback release of her middle-grade novel, “The Perfect Place.” Since its initial release in 2014 the book has won numerous awards and was even elected as one of the best books of the year in 2015 by both Bank Street and the Cooperative Children’s book center. As of Jan. 16, 2018 the book is now available in both paperback and hardcover.

What’s the difference/meaning/importance of a book coming out in hardcover vs paperback?
There isn’t really a difference–most books come out in hardcover first. Then, after a period of time–anywhere from 1 year to as many as 3–the book reprints in paperback.

How did you come up with the idea for the story?
I came up with the idea for my novel The Perfect Place the same way I come up with ideas for just about every story I’ve written since I was in third grade: by asking myself “What if?” In this case, I asked myself, what if there were a girl whose father just up and left? And what if, without having any say at all, this girl was shipped off to an unknown (and very cranky) relative down south? In answering these questions, the seeds of a character began to form and, over time, those seeds took root and became the story of Treasure Daniel’s search for the perfect place in her father’s absence.  

What made you want to write a novel?
I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, and it was always a dream of mine to write a novel. I wanted to be like the authors I read as a kid growing up: Katherine Paterson, Mildred Taylor, Octavia E. Butler, Toni Morrison.

Was it hard to hear constructive criticism about your writing?
The first time I ever had to sit through a writing workshop was incredibly painful. It happened when I was in graduate school and I had to sit in complete silence while a group of people picked about my work. I remember being mildly annoyed at first and, by the end, furious. However, I had to admit that my critique group was right about everything they found wrong with my novel. And so, once I was ready to calm down and accept the criticism of others, I realized it helped me a lot. Now, I welcome constructive criticism because it has helped me grow as a writer.

How many drafts did you write? English teachers always tell us that we have to edit our papers several times: how many times did you have to edit your novel?
I wrote roughly 3 or 4 drafts of my 60,000-word novel. Imagine that. Rewriting 60,000 words 3 or 4 times. And after that, because of feedback from my editor, agent, and fellow author friends, I edited The Perfect Place more times than I can recall or even count. But good writing requires revision.

 

How did you feel when it was finally done?
I felt an enormous sense of relief, but also a little sad and slightly panicked. Treasure, my main character, had been with me for close to seven years during the writing process. I felt I had no idea how to write anyone else’s story, and so I had a few brief moments where I asked myself, “Now what?”

What made you want to be an English teacher instead of a full-time author?
Writing is a passion of mine, but it is not the only one. I love being an educator just as much as I love being an author, so for me, it was never an either/or decision. Should I be an author or should I be a teacher? It was and always has been: I should be both.

Do you plan on writing any more children’s books or do you want to explore other categories next?
I do intend to write more children’s books. I am currently working on the draft of one now. It’s very different from The Perfect Place in that it contains elements of magical realism. However, at its core, this new novel is similar to The Perfect Place as well, because, at its heart, it’s about family, as all my stories are.

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