Origins: Karen Harrington on Sure Signs of Crazy

SSOC final cover (441x640) (2)

I don’t recall how I first discovered author Karen Harrington, although it was probably through following a link to her blog Scobberlotch. However it happened, I’m glad I did. Her first novel, Janeology, is a moving exploration of mental illness and family, and a riveting legal thriller.

Karen’s follow-up novel, Sure Signs of Crazy, a middle-grade/YA story of Sarah Nelson, surviving daughter of Janeology’s Jane Nelson, is a moving and touching story of a young girl’s quest to understand herself, her family and her relationships with her father and especially her mother.

I recently emailed Karen to tell us a bit more about her new novel:

TG: What made you write the story?

KH: I wrote this story in large part because of a letter I received from a reader of my first novel, Janeology. The letter asked questions about Jane’s daughter, Sarah, and wondered what it would be like to grow up with an infamous mother. I couldn’t get that idea out of my head! I thought, Wow, I’m now thinking about that young girl, too. That was the genesis of writing Sarah’s story. I wanted to understand how she would cope, how she would see herself in the world.

TG: You’ve mentioned the novel was originally meant to be a more adult novel, a sequel to Janeology, rather than a YA or middle-grade book. How did the change come about? Was it difficult to adjust the manuscript?

KH: This was an interesting adjustment, but one I’m quite happy about. I really thought the themes of mental illness and fears of inherited traits were darker and heavy, and, therefore, more suited to an older audience. But since that time, I’ve read many terrific books in the middle-grade category and find that there’s lots of space for stories that are realistic and depict big problems in the lives of young kids. I like that these stories sort of provide hope and an example for real-world kids to follow. That’s what I’d like readers of Sure Signs to take from Sarah’s story.

TG: Why did you choose To Kill a Mockingbird as the novel that guides Sarah?

KH: I don’t even quite remember the part of the writing process where To Kill A Mockingbird came into Sarah’s life. It just happened. Then I read a lot of biographies about Harper Lee and lit upon the fact that Lee’s mother possibly struggled with mental illness. I knew then that this book would be a huge part of Sarah’s life. She would find that connection in the characters and with the author that would allow her to know she wasn’t alone. Sarah also related to TKAM so much because like Scout Finch, she too is being raised by a single father.

TG: You have a tween’s voice down very well. Was it difficult to develop Sarah’s voice?

KH: Thank you for saying that. This might sound odd, but writing this story was so natural. Sarah came to me fully formed and I followed her. I remember days when I’d open my manuscript and think, “I can’t wait to talk to Sarah today.” So it was really like having a conversation with a young person.

TG: What are you working on currently?

KH: I’ve just finished up final edits for my next middle-grade book, Courage for Beginners, due out in August 2014. It’s another coming-of-age story that follows the life of a Texas seventh-grader during a dramatic change in the life of her family and how working on a Texas History project plants the seeds of courage in her life. An early reader told me this story is “a love letter to Texas” and I hope others see it that way, too.

—Todd

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Editor’s note: This is the first of what I hope to be a series (tentatively titled Origins) of author interviews, guest posts, etc., of recently published novels nonfiction or other creative projects. If you would like to participate, please comment below or contact me through this site.  I will follow-up with guidelines in a later post.

Fonts, Page Design and Publishing

I was just reading Rudy Rucker’s blog post today about his efforts to find the right font for his forthcoming self-published novel The Big Aha, and was Free Fontsstirred by this paragraph about fonts,  page design and reading:

Getting back to my rant about font design—one bad thing that that can happen is, I think, that a book or (more often) a web page might be designed by someone who doesn’t actually read.. They want to be different and cool and hardcore and they don’t actually like text. So—they go with 9 point Arial beige type on a brown background.

I wonder if this is true about web designers or other non-text-oriented types. Many of the commercial clients I write for aren’t text- or design-oriented, until I try to diverge from their preferred Calibri text, and write a document that fits with the product being sold. I’ve had email flame wars with my clients over fonts; I actually like bolder serif fonts for the main body of the text, but sans serif fonts seem preferred for online reading, and my clients presume the final documents will be read online and not printed out.

Are, generally speaking, most people reading business documents, or for that matter other online content, not readers? Does font matter to you? Do you consider the nature of readability over legibility? What do you prefer, serif or sans-serif fonts?

Is the sans-serif font of this page readable?

—Todd

 

How Many Words Must a Writer Write Down To Know He or She Has Written a Novel?

Word Count

Word Count

I once read somewhere Mark Twain kept a running word count in the margins of his manuscripts. Word counts are probably a weird obsession held largely by writers. We survive by them. Sometimes we’re paid by the number of words we write. Sometimes we use the count to measure a good day’s work, whether those words add up to a few sentences or several pages.

Word counts also tell us—somewhat arbitrarily—what sort of work we have written. Is it a Tweet (which actually is even more micro, down to the character)? Is it an essay? A short story? A novella? A novel?

A few months ago, a writer friend of mine Gerald Warfield and I shoptalked about just such things. We couldn’t come up with a solid answer. But a blog post from Writer’s Digest gives some novel advice at least, breaking down some average word counts for novels of different lengths.

The link is here. Of course, it’s not the end-all declaration of authority, but it must count for something.

—Todd

One Word Writing Prompts: Episode 2, They Say You Want an Evolution

Episode 2

Evolution

Evolution

Welcome to One Word Writing Prompts, Episode 2. Basically, your instructions, dear Reader, should you wish to participate, are to simply use the word below as a prompt to write something from it. And, if you would like, please feel free to post your creative output in the comments, and with your permission, I might share them in a later post. Have fun. Be creative.

>Evolution

—Todd

STFU

After reading and a few cups of coffee in the morning, I like to start my morning off with this radio show out of Austin, Texas. Its host, Dale Dudley, fairly frequently gets fed up with commenters on FaceBook, Twitter and text messages, and just as frequently bans, blocks and busts the balls of the trolls who go off the rails in the comments.

One of my recent morning ritstfuual additions is reading writer John Scalzi’s blog Whatever, who just happened today to have linked to a Scientific American post about commenting on social media. Which, besides making think about my favorite morning radio show, also made me think about just how skewed and rambunctious commenting and commenters can be. I thought this bit about a study to reveal attitudes about commenting was quite revealing:

A couple of weeks ago, an article was published in Science about online science communication (nothing new there, really, that we have not known for a decade, but academia is slow to catch up). But what was interesting in it, and what everyone elsejumped on, was a brief mention of a conference presentation that will be published soon in a journal. It is about the effect of the tone of comments on the response of other readers to the article on which the comments appear.

I have contacted the authors and have received and read a draft of that paper. Since it is not published yet, I will not break all sorts of embargoes by going into details, but can re-state what is already out there. An article about nanotechnology, a topic most people know very little about and usually have no a priori biases for or against, was presented to the test subjects. Half the people saw the article with (invented) polite, civil and constructive comments. The other half was given the same article but with uncivil comments – essentially a flame-war in the fake commenting thread. The result is that readers of the second version quickly developed affinity for one side of the argument and strongly took that side, which affected the way they understood and trusted the original article (text of which was unaltered). The nasty comment thread polarized the opinion of readers, leading them to misunderstand the original article.

The assumption is that on hot topics, like climate change, readers already come to the article with pre-concieved notions, and thus the civility of the comments would have no effect on them – they are already polarized. Chosing nanotechnology as a topic was a way to see how comments affect “virgin minds”, i.e., how the tone of comments starts the process of polarization in new readers.

They specifically chose a topic about which most people know very little and do not already have any opinion. Neither the article nor the comments contain sufficient information to turn the readers into experts on the subject. So they have to use mental heuristics – shortcuts – to decide what to think about this new subject. Uncivil, aggressive comments resulted in quick polarization. Readers, although still not well informed about the topic, quickly adopted strong opinions about it.

Sometimes it’s a street fight out there and all you want to is  scream . . .

STFU!

—Todd

Dear Blog: Sorry for the Neglect

Dear Blog and Blog Reader:

Sorry for the neglect over the past few weeks. There are times I’ve meant to write interesting posts like the one I had in mind of defending genre fiction, science fiction in particular. I’ll put a link here to China Mieville doing a good job of that, or parts of this piece in The Guardian do so.

I really have intended to write more here. But things were happening that weren’t so great. Or maybe they were. I ran away; I came home; I moved to a new place; I don’t know what to make of all that, except to say my Memorial Day weekend was interesting and maybe one day I can write about it.

Speaking of writing, Blog, one chief reason I’ve been neglectful is because I’ve been writing, almost daily, with a few interruptions (see above). When I get on writing jags, I tend to neglect you.

I’ll try to be more attentive, Blog. But I won’t make any promises.

Best,

Todd