Thursday, October 29, 2015

An Interview with Juliet Harper

MM2: Juliette, you will never know how much I admire you. However first, let's start with your backstory. How, when, and why did you start writing books?

I had a childhood that wasn’t perfect -- not that many of us do. But mine lent itself to creating more interesting worlds than the one in which I was living. I always created, even if it was just in my head, but I didn’t put anything down on paper in a formal way, although I won a poetry contest in grade school. As a young girl, I did keep a journal. I never put my ideas in story form for a book until more recently.

When I began to write professionally, I was doing nonfiction ghostwriting for clients until the need for self-expression took over. I could see that other people were self-publishing and that was something that motivated me to go beyond and to create because I liked the idea that I would be able to control my books.

I also like the freedom not to be pigeon-holed in a single genre. I’m interested in so many things that I have no desire to be a one-dimensional author. As a self-publisher, I thought I would have a greater ability to write and to publish in a number of genres, which is proving to be the case.

MM2: You wear many hats so tell us about all of them and how you manage to work and sleep?

Obviously as an Indie author you have so many roles to play to cover all the business essentials of self-publishing. It would be great if you could do nothing but write, but you are also responsible for marketing your books as well. I do enjoy the aspect of writing that puts me in touch with my readers. I also enjoy communicating with other authors and people in the business. It’s wonderful to be part of a creative community. Fortunately, I don’t have any other job and I work from home, so I suppose the answer is that I simply find time to get it all done. Some days I’m more successful at that than others.

MM2: Where is your favorite place to write?

I have a specific office area in my home, but I have a real love of nature. I force myself to get up and get out to take walks and enjoy the landscape. I also travel a great deal between Texas and Maine. Each place has its own beauty, which constantly rejuvenates my creative spirit.

In both locations there’s an “office,” but often where I write is where my laptop lands. My workflow is a combination of organized routine and spontaneous opportunity. Sometimes little routines can help get you in a different place.

Mainly it’s the idea of creating a cocoon that nurtures the senses required for that day’s work. I like to take out my fine china tea pot and have a proper cup of tea instead of just filling a mug with coffee -- although coffee is essential.

The place where you write is often as much in your head as in your physical surroundings. Part of that slightly territorial sense of space is probably a direct result of having grown up as an only child.

MM2: For you what comes first? The setting, plot or character?

The setting. Sometimes I get the setting and the real landscape of the area by designing the cover of the book first and then writing to that visual. I create the world with an outline and then I start thinking about if this was on film, who would be playing the roles? I cut and paste pictures to “cast” the book.

Plot involves a great deal of research. I like to take from real world situations and regional realities. I look at history, geography, current events, and try to incorporate real life events and consider how the characters could have an impact on or be impacted by those happenings.

It’s a real iterative process of modifying and changing, but I stay open as the story unfolds. I think staying flexible to switch directions to fit what’s happening on the page is essential. That can mean a change in time, mood, situation, characters. Whatever keeps the story authentic is what has to happen.

MM2: Take us through a typical work and writing day?

Well, “I” am actually two people, Patricia Pauletti and Rana K. Williamson. So “my” routine is a combination of what they each do. Patti likes to get the real world stuff done first, like walking the dog and doing the dishes in the sink. Rana heads straight for the coffee machine, then feeds the cats, and starts work. By about 9 o’clock, my two halves join each other via video conference and spend the rest of the day working together.

MM2: What is it like to work together as a writing team?

As trite as it might sound, there actually is no “i” in teamwork. Rana is a scene setter, but Patti is the master plot-smith. Without that framework, there would be no scene. You can put a penguin, a rabbi, and a fifth of vodka in a bar, but without a plot, all you get is a punch line.

MM2: Let' talk about You Can’t Get Blood Out of Shag Carpet. You make humor read so easily but it is one of the hardest things to write. Why the 1960's setting? You have nailed the small town life. Tell us about your characters?
Rana is from a small ranching community in the Central Texas Hill Country. The characters are based on real people she knew there growing up in the 1960s. Their unintentional flamboyance etched itself on her memory, so what comes off as a comical “send up,” is more real life than most readers might suspect.

MM2: If you could sit down with any three authors dead or alive? What meal would you serve and what would you ask your guests?

Since this would have to be a party of six, the guests would be Dashiell Hammett, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Margaret Mitchell. For Hammett and Papa Hemingway, liberal amounts of alcohol would be required. Peggy Mitchell would most likely not object. Beyond that, I think a bit of boiled beef would be up Dickens’ alley. And Sylvia Plath could have anything that would make her happy in the slightest.

I would love to ask Dickens if he could describe, from his perspective, what the world of 1970 -- one hundred years after his death -- might look like. As for Hemingway, I would want him to tell us something about himself other than all the obvious facts we all know. My question for Sylvia Plath would be what dream she would like to see actualized. For Hammett, it would be to encapsulate his love of writing and Lillian Hellman in a single sentence. For Margaret Mitchell, did she actually give a damn? And for Seneca, is it possible to be a moral man and leave the confines of one’s home?

MM2: Okay now for some really get-to- know- you questions. What is your favorite meal, place to vacation, movies, song, TV series, books (maybe ones you reread), dessert and a place you want to visit?

Meal: any pasta dish
Vacation: Bermuda
Movies: Field of Dreams
Song: Over the Rainbow
TV Series: Scandal
Books: Memoirs of a Geisha, The Kite Runner, Anna Karenina
Dessert: key lime pie
Place to Visit: Rome

Meal: steak
Vacation: Scotland
Movies: Gone with the Wind
Song: Faded Love
TV Series: Scandal
Books: Gone with the Wind and Seneca’s Letters
Dessert: pecan pie
Place to Visit: The South Llano River

MM2: I say every cancer patient ought to own a copy of your book. You would make them forget about being ill for at least a few hours. Tell us your future writing plans and what you want your readers to walk away with from your books?

I’ll be working on the sequel to Shag Carpet, You Can’t Put a Corpse in a Parade and a new cozy / light paranormal series will debut this fall, the first of the Whaler’s Nook books set in Maine.

MM2: What would your characters tell us about you?

She’s not as funny as she thinks she is.

MM2: Lastly, leave us with  character quote?

“Really, Petunia,” Ida Belle said as if she were explaining a simple equation to a dull-witted student, “is it all that difficult to put an incriminating piece of literature in the hand of a dead man?


  1. I love the idea of asking Dickens to predict the 70s. Dickens is one of my favorite authors, when I first read Hard Times, I was floored.

  2. Juliet,
    I had so much fun interviewing you.


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