Last spring I had the privilege of talking with Morgen Bailey on her web site. Here are the results.
Blog interview no.360 with writer Gail Harkins
Welcome to the three hundred and sixtieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with romance author Gail Harkins. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Gail. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Gail: I have recently begun writing fiction as a counterpoint to my career as a science and business journalism career. The fiction aspects of my work came about during a rainy spring that followed a rainy winter, which kept me indoors more than I liked. As an antidote to the dreary weather, I wrote myself a vacation, although it was set here in the rainforest of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I’m married and live on a tree farm with my husband and college student sons, as well as three cats and two dogs — a Great Pyrenees and a black Labrador.
Morgen: We’re having a rainy spring here in the UK at the moment, I wonder if its spawning any new writers. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Gail: I like to write light, sweet romances – nothing steamy. Considering that, as a writer, I have to live with my creations for some time, I prefer to create characters and environments I actually like being around.
Morgen: I found that for NaNoWriMo 2008 and 2009. Having to write 1667 words a day for a month I wanted something fun so write a lad lit then a chick lit but then went dark for 2010. What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Gail: I do write under a pseudonym, to keep my scientific career separate from the romance work. My first fictional work is “The Winds of Glenhoolie,” an 18,400 word novella set in Scotland against the backdrop of debates about building a wind farm near a national heritage site.
Morgen: Ah great. Scotland’s always a popular location; very picturesque and often eerie. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Gail: Rejections? Of course. They’re part of the writer’s life. The trick to discern why a work was rejected and make it — or the next piece — better.
Morgen: Absolutely. Live and learn as the saying goes (whilst remembering that it may just have been the right thing for the wrong person). Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Gail: I’ve not had an agent. The publishing industry is in the midst of a transformation as e-publishing and self-publishing becomes more popular. At this point in my career, the value proposition an agent would bring seems of minimal value.
Morgen: I think so too but you never know what the future holds. You mentioned e-publishing, are your books available as eBooks? How involved were you in that process? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Gail: Yes. I love e-books and read them on my Nook. Preparing a manuscript for an e-book format is actually quite simple. Smashwords.com has a wonderful, free “how-to” that cuts through the jargon for even the most technophobic among us.
Morgen: It does but at 70-something pages was daunting. Once I realised how comprehensive it was I ploughed through it and quickly built a template for use thereafter. Amazon was even easier. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Gail: I do virtually all the marketing, which seems to be true for all but the top handful of writers.
Morgen: It does. I’ve only had one or two say they don’t do anything but invariably they have an online presence (Twitter and Facebook) so it’s not nothing. Did you have any say in the title / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Gail: Funny, my RWA chapter just had this discussion. A cover is what causes me to pick up a book or click to learn more. I want a graphic that pulls me into the story. Personally, I favour outdoor scenes with a “wow!” factor.
Morgen: There’s little doubt that a cover will draw you in and although I’m a big fan of titles, they don’t put me off if the story sounds good (James Patterson’s ‘The Quickie’ for example… what a terrible title!). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Gail: Currently, I’m writing a second Glenhoolie novella and anticipate a summer 2013 release. My novel, “Almost Scotland,” in the polishing phase.
Morgen: I’m buffering some too. Do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Gail: I try to write daily, but sometimes life intervenes. Writer’s block hasn’t been an issue for many, many years. Early in my career, I learned to write the middle if I didn’t have the beginning. Stellar writing is less about being initially brilliant than about being a ruthless editor.
Morgen: Absolutely, you can’t edit a blank page. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Gail: I’m a bit like a tourist in a new town who sees something wonderful and runs to it, and then checks the map to see where to go next. So, I write “by the seat of my pants” and then plot out the next few turns.
Morgen: Most do but those who plot appreciate that things change as the story is written so are adaptable. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Gail: To create names, I consider geography and age. The U.S. Census Bureau has lists of the most popular names in given years, but honestly, I tend to follow my instinct and the trends I’ve observed in my personal and professional life.
Morgen: Do you write any non-fiction, poetry or short stories?
Gail: I have a career as a non-fiction magazine writer, but not as Gail Harkins.
Morgen: Do you have to do much research?
Gail: Much of what I write was already researched as part of my non-fiction career, but I still check details. For example, The Winds of Glenhoolie is set in a fictional castle and town in Scotland, but I needed to determine the amount of snow, species of trees, and the understanding of certain phrases – like “rain check” an American phrase that I needed to define for my hero.
Morgen: We say it over here too but only in recent years (from US TV programmes here, I think). And of course you have check for payments but we say cheque (well, saying is the same sound but you know what I mean). Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Gail: Very possibly, although I toy with the notion of resurrecting one in particular.
Morgen: Me too. I have over 100 short stories (possibly nearer 200) and part of the master plan is to go through them all at some stage. I’m older and wiser now. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Gail: The best advice I could give is to read widely – fiction and non-fiction, trade journals, reports, biographies, histories, everything. Additionally, have experiences yourself. Meet people, travel, try new sports, learn new ways of seeing the world. It all is reflected in your writing.
Morgen: Writer what you know, or what you experience then fill in the gaps. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Gail: For dinner, I would serve roast turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, an orange and spinach salad, and apple-raisin pie. (I love cooking) for guests, I would consider Benjamin Franklin (a Renaissance man), Winston Churchill (erudite wit) and Jane Austen (who, I daresay, could keep them in check).
Morgen: Oh yum, that sounds lovely (sorry, I will read the guest list in a minute but still ogling over your choice of food). That’s an interesting combination. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Gail: I love hiking through the forest, camera in hand. I also play classical piano, and have a fondness for the romantic composers – Rachmaninoff, Debussy, and Chopin.
Morgen: I’m a Satie (Erik) girl myself although I love anything classical while I’m writing. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Gail: Romance Writers of America has been a wealth of information for me. I also am exploring Definitive Serious Writers Group on LinkedIn, which led me to your insightful Web page.
Morgen: Ah, thank you. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Gail: Thank you so much for having me!
Morgen: You’re very welcome. Thank you for taking part. Do come back and do something else if you’d like to.
I then invited Gail to include an extract of her writing…
Claire dipped her head and widened her eyes, and sighed. “You must think I have no manners! My parents taught me never to discuss religion or politics, so this is entirely my own fault. I can hardly have a conversation without straying into forbidden territory!” She raised her head and looked him square in the eyes. “Now, tell me about yourself. Are you from here? What was it like growing up? “
He gave her an amused glance. She’s not sorry one bit, but she has the grace to pretend. Alec nodded. “No apology needed. It’s actually rather refreshing. I like a good discussion with a knowledgeable companion. Too often, people are perfectly polite and never actually say a thing worth hearing!”
Claire laughed, and Alec continued. “As to your question, I was born just outside the village in my family home. We’ve loved here for some 600 years.”
Claire laughed again, more quietly.
“What’s so funny?”
“You said, ‘we’ve loved here.’ You meant ‘lived here’.”
Alec reached across the table, took her ringless left hand and brushed his lips against her knuckles. “Are you sure of that, lass?”
Her breath caught. Looking into his twinkling brown eyes, Claire knew that if she hadn’t been seated, her knees would have buckled then and there.