Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins


An interview with C. C. Harrison

I have had the opportunity to review both of C.C. Harrisonís novels ("The Charmstone" Feb. 2007, and "Running from Strangers" Sept. 2008) and have found them to be very engaging stories. But it was the second one that caught my attention because a number of scenes take place at very familiar locations; within ten miles of my home. I had to find out how an Arizona writer knew so much about Michiganís Lake Huron shoreline, right down to the name of the restaurants and the childrenís fun center at the edge of town. I contacted C. C. and discovered that she vacationed in this area as a child and was coming back to visit relatives this past summer. I made a breakfast date with her and we had a very nice discussion about writing. It went something like this...

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING?

I've been a freelance writer most of my life. My nonfiction and short fiction work has appeared in hundreds of regional and national publications. Iíve been fortunate enough to have had corporate writing jobs along the way, mostly magazines for employee and other corporate publications. For years I wrote for Vocational Biographies, a company that published career reference material. But I always knew I wanted to write novels. THE CHARMSTONE came out in 2007, and that was my first book. RUNNING FROM STRANGERS will be released in September 2008. SAGE CANEíS HOUSE OF GRACE AND FAVOR, an Old West historical written under the pseudonym Christy Hubbard is scheduled for July 2009. It's about a reluctant madam who teaches the miner's wives how to keep their husbands home at night.

DESCRIBE YOUR WRITING PROCESS.

A story idea will churn around in my head for quite a while, sometimes months, before I put anything on paper. I do lots of research, take lots of notes, set up files and a Work-in-Progress notebook. After that, I begin character development and plotting. I write character sketches, a chronological working outline, some rough scenes. Since I write mystery / suspense, I always know my ending, of course. I always know where I'm going before I start, and for the most part I have a pretty good idea how I'll get there. I don't mind surprises and detours along the way, though. On my last book, I tried something new. I wrote all the plot points and turning points on 5"x7" file cards, and then sorted and numbered them in order of occurrence in the story. The file card system worked very well for me. I always knew where the story was going. I donít believe there is any such thing as writerís block. Writerís block is really lack of planning.

WHAT PART OF THE WRITING PROCESS DO YOU LIKE BEST?

I really enjoy starting - the plotting and character development, and I love final revision. Iíve always been very interested in the writing process, curious about how other writers develop their books. I give a workshop on it called "Are You a Plotter or a Pantser?" The big surprise that came out of my research was that there are no pantser purists. Even writers who claim they write their entire book by the seat of their pants and never plot, when pressed, will admit they outline and plot a little bit.

WHY HAVE YOU CHOSEN TO WRITE IN THIS GENRE?

Well, it's what I like to read. I like strong female characters who, even though they may be flawed and make mistakes and bad decisions, donít squeal and run away at the first sign of danger. They pursue their story goal relentlessly despite obstacles and setbacks; they check out those creepy noises in the shadowy attic or dark basement. Even though theyíre afraid, they do it anyway. Thatís real courage.

 

A FEW QUESTIONS ABOUT CHARMSTONE

HOW DID YOU COME TO WRITE THIS NOVEL?

I spent time on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Monument Valley as a VISTA volunteer (AmeriCorps). My experiences there inspired some of the people and events in the book.

WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF WRITING THIS NOVEL?

Getting the Navajo culture and belief system correct. I verified everything including the language. I wanted to be correct and respectful in my portrayal of the culture, and of life on the Navajo Reservation.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT THIS BOOK?

I really love this book. It's set in one of the most beautiful places in the southwestern desert - in the world, really. Certainly the most beautiful place I've ever been. The time I spent there, and the people I met will be in my heart forever.

WHAT MAKES THIS NOVEL STAND OUT?

Well, there aren't many novels published today that show contemporary life on the Reservation, or contemporary Native American relationships. The romance element in this story involves a Navajo man and a non-Navajo woman, and how they work out some of the inherent difficulties in that. The mystery element in this book is about Native American antiquity theft. That hasn't been widely written about in a mainstream novel, either.

 

LETíS MOVE ON TO RUNNING FROM STRANGERS

HOW DID YOU COME TO WRITE THIS NOVEL?

I was a child advocate, a Guardian Ad Litem, in a county child and family services department in the east, so I learned a lot about family court and foster care and the plight of abused and neglected children. My experiences there inspired some of the people and events in the book. Weíve all read stories in the newspapers about children supposedly under the protection of the system who end up dead or missing. Those things do happen.

WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF WRITING THIS NOVEL?

I wanted to portray the deficiencies in the child welfare without specifically pointing any fingers at any particular county social services department. But the truth is, despite the good work of the child welfare systems in this country, many are greatly flawed. The child welfare system and social workers portrayed in this book are entirely made up and not based on specific workers or counties.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT THIS BOOK?

The characters. They had to overcome great obstacles and face grave danger to protect a child. And of course the Southwestern setting and the wild horse herds. And, I was able to set some scenes in one of my other favorite places, Caseville, Michigan.

WHAT MAKES THIS NOVEL STAND OUT?

The behind the scenes look at the flaws in the child welfare system.



2008 Past Columns

© MyShelf.Com. All Rights Reserved.