Wednesday, August 21, 2013

10 Questions with Karen Harrington

With Polly Holyoke

Author Karen Harrington is celebrating the release of her middlegrade debut, SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, this week. This wonderful new novel has already garnered a galaxy of starred reviews from industry journals. It was recently listed in Entertainment Weekly’s August calendar AND Publishers Weekly named it one of the best books for the week of August 19! I’m not the least bit surprised by these accolades because SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY is a fearless and heartwarming story about the summer Sarah Nelson experiences her first crush, makes new friends and comes to terms with her mother’s mental illness.

But Gary Schmidt, award-winning author of The Wednesday Wars, said it so much better than I can:

 "Sarah Nelson faces her life squarely, with a heroism that makes us cheer for humanity's courage, wit, and guts. Hers is a compelling journey that takes us into that most fragile place: hope. You will be glad you journeyed there with her."

Karen and I recently sat down over coffee and I tossed out a few questions. (Because we love James Lipton's Inside The Actors' Studio final 10 question format on Bravo, we took those questions and modified them for writers.)

PH: What is your favorite book?

Karen: You’re kidding, right? One book? I would have to say The Bible because not only is it a book of life wisdom, but I think people forget how much powerful, dramatic, poetic language it contains in addition to being the ORIGINAL Hero’s Journey.

PH: What is your favorite word?

Karen: My favorite word changes on a regular basis. Lately, I’m very fond of incandescent and I’m trying to work it into every day conversations such as, “Polly, you really look incandescent in that color.” 

PH: Why, thank you Karen, and I have to say you are looking incandescent over the prospect of SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY’s release. What is your least favorite word?

Karen: Hate. I dislike how this is misused as in “I hate tuna fish.” Hate is a strong word and shouldn’t be bandied about. (Oh, wait, now bandied is my new favorite word.)

PH: What was the moment/experience in your life that made you KNOW you wanted to write?

Karen: I think it was in the sixth grade. My English teacher was a published author and he made a huge impact on me. I’d never met an actual published author before and he was so passionate about words and writing great imagery. It’s a good motivator to have a teacher you want to impress.

PH: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received?

Karen: Write the first draft with your heart, not your head.

PH: What writing tool can you not live without?

Karen: Spiral notebooks. When I’m developing a new story, a notebook is with me at all times. Right now, my spiral notebook is purple and I get panicky if I can’t find it.

PH: What turns you on creatively?

Karen: Reading. When I read a great story or even a paragraph, it makes me want to write. I get inspired by writing. It’s like seeing a top athlete or musician: you recognize how many hours went into that kind of perfection. It’s the same for me and terrific writing. I want to run and get my notebook and put in those long hours when I’m in the presence of dazzling prose.

PH: What turns you off creatively?

Karen: Spending time on the internet and reading about writers who have published 40 novels by the age of 25. I have to turn that noise off. 

PH: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Karen: A tour guide. I’d love to travel for a living and introduce people to English castles or ancient ruins. But since I have a horrible sense of direction and get lost in my own town, I’d make a terrible tour guide.

PH: What profession would you NOT like to do?

Karen: A telemarketer. It takes a lot of moxie to call strangers during the dinner hour.

That concludes our chat for today. You can read our earlier chat about my writing and book, The Neptune Project, at Thank you for joining us!

If you'd like to learn more about Karen, you can visit her website:

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