For a while now, I’ve been playing around in my mind with the idea of interviewing writers who are still seeking to publish their first novel. It seemed to me a fun (and fine) idea. After all, hardly anyone thinks to interview those still seeking publication. Having decided to begin, I, of course, asked Denise to be my first interviewee. I’ve known Denise for seven or so years now, and we’ve been meeting again and again in the same circle of conferences, each of us lugging behind her a novel, the subject of so many hopes and dreams. Thank you so much Denise for agreeing to this interview and giving me (and the readers) your time!
You and I met for the first time at the Big Sur Conference in 2005. Can you tell me a little about the path you followed to become a writer?
I can’t say I’ve always wanted to become a professional writer. 7th grade was when I became intrigued with analyzing literature for metaphor, symbolism, etc. In high school, I had teachers praise my creative writing, which was sort of defiant because I didn’t especially like being forced to write. In 9th grade I wrote a memorable horror story about ants. The teacher wondered if I’d plagiarized it; I like to think she thought it would take a lot of writing talent for a nice girl like me to come up with something that unsettling (ha ha). In 11th grade, for the required mock-epic poem, I took the “mock” aspect to it’s full potential and wrote about the war between the Peanut Buddies and the Chocolateers. They ultimately joined forces–melting into one–playing off the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials that say, “Two great tastes in one candy bar.” In 12th grade, I got an A on a persuasive paper about the importance of lipstick. I went on to college and studied marketing and advertising, which requires a good deal of writing, creativity, and knowing your target audience. All these things eventually came together in writing for kids.
When did you know that you were writing for children rather than adults?
I never considered writing books for adults. That just doesn’t seem fun.
I remember that your novel is located in Hawaii. Can you tell me about the background to choosing to locate the novel in Hawaii?
The Hawaii novel (I’m surprised you remember it!), for middle graders, comes from my unique experiences while living there as an outsider. I wasn’t local, and I wasn’t a tourist. It gave me a certain perspective. It’s details from my backyard. It’s about adapting and overcoming.
What is your writing routine like?
My sitting-in-front-of-the-computer writing time is when my 3 kids are in school. That is total submersion time–when I focus on the story, even if I take a break from the chair. Sometimes I think I hate summer vacation because everyone is around all the time, interrupting…, but the fun and excitement of it forces ideas to the surface. I love hanging out with my kids in the summer, and it’s not like I don’t like having fun, but I start feeling the muse poking me to get back to work. Then I can sit down and write some more. It seems like there is always a story working itself out in my head.
Which books do you most remember from your childhood?
Growing up, I really loved the Boxcar Children and Island of the Blue Dolphins. I’d dream and dream about what I would do if I were on my own–all the good, adventurous things. Not scary things, like battling ants. (ha ha!)
As a young child, I loved the book The Monster at the End of This Book, Starring lovable, Furry Old Grover. That book will live on my shelf forever. It tickled me the way Grover tried and tried to stop me, and I won every time, and he was so embarrassed…it still cracks me up. Though, for the record, my high-schooler says I’m really immature.
Do you have a favorite snack while you write?
I do snack when I write. Favorite mix for success: Goldfish crackers, pretzels, and chocolate. 🙂
You told me that you had an article published with Highlights Magazine. That’s so great! The road to publication can be long and depressing. Do you have an advice to writers who are still on their way to see their words in print?
It helps to know that my work has been chosen before, that it’s been good enough for publication. But that only proves potential. I still receive rejections. And I still have a lot to learn. The only thing to do is keep working at it.
We’re going to see each other in LA in less than a week! Yay! What are your hopes for the conference?
I’m looking forward to the social gathering in L.A.–seeing you and other writer friends from all over, supporting each other, and being energized by the excitement of the crowd.
Thank you Denise for visiting my blog and good luck in getting more articles, novels and stories published!
We love your comments! You can ask Denise any questions you’d like. You can also find her on Facebook under her name, Denise Harbison. Look for these interviews every Monday, and please comment and let me know if you are a writer who would like to be interviewed as well.