I’m so pleased to be interviewing Kathy Lynn Harris today! Kathy is the author of the fantastic novel Blue Straggler – a funny, entertaining and poignant read that will be a great summer pick!
First, please tell us something about yourself. Tell us a secret.
Well, I grew up in a hard-working ranching family in South Texas, but really always loved books more than cows, much to the dismay of my father. A secret, though? Hmmmm. I was the valedictorian of my high school class. Yep, I was a book-loving, brainy ranch nerd.
How long have you been writing? What inspires you?
I’m one of those people who really believes I was born a writer. It’s just something that I’ve always done, and it’s always made me happy. I was keeping journals as early as second grade and wrote my first ‘book’ when I was 9 on my dad’s typewriter. As for what inspires me, that’s an easy one: A perfect, beautiful, perfect, breathtaking, perfect phrase. When a writer hits something out of the park, I always think, ‘Wow, life is better because of this right here.’ (And we’re back to that nerd thing : )
What are you passionate about? What keeps you awake at night?
I’m passionate about raising a son who is kind and giving. I’m passionate about keeping the mountains I love so much here in Colorado untamed and undeveloped. Lately, the growing problem of homeless families with children is on my current I-must-do-something-now radar. How can these kiddos function and do well in school and move themselves out of the cycles of desperation when they don’t know where they will sleep at night or if there will be any money for food? The shelters in our city (Denver) are full to the brim, there are no shelters in the suburbs or foothills, and more and more families are sleeping in cars. It’s heartbreaking. My family and I are also huge supporters of animal rights organizations, like ASPCA.
If a magic carpet would take you anyplace in the world, where would you go? Why?
Oh good, a fun question. I was kinda bringing myself down with that last one. :) My answer is Italy. The culture, the history, the food, the architecture, the music, the wine, did I mention the food? : I really must find a way to get there soon. Can you send over that magic carpet, stat?
If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be? Why?
I’d finally find a way to live more in the moment. I tend to always be planning and working toward the future, achieving a goal and then moving on quickly to the next one. And then I stop (usually forced by my family) and realize I just missed enjoying a whole month of my life, focused on what’s next. Okay, next question? (ha)
ABOUT BLUE STRAGGLER
If I’m not mistaken, Blue Straggler is not your first novel. What other novels have you published? Do you always write in the same genre?
Blue Straggler is actually the second novel I wrote, but the first novel I’ve published. Both Blue Straggler and my first project, A Good Kind of Knowing, are women’s fiction, though I really don’t like having to fit my work into defined categories. I’ve also written and published essays, poetry and short stories. (You can find a list of my other work here.)
Tell us about Bailey. Who is she? How did you shape her character?
Bailey, bless her imaginary heart, was born in a short story that I wrote in grad school. In the short story, she was even more depressed than she is at the beginning of the novel! So I toned that down a little when I began to write Blue Straggler, so I wouldn’t have to institutionalize her right away. Seriously, I wanted Bailey to be an obvious misfit, a young woman struggling to figure out who she really is inside, and a person who had learned early in life to cover hurt and disappointment with self-deprecating humor. I had listened to so many friends in their 20s and 30s who just had no idea what would truly make them happy (neither did I, by the way). Instead, we all just moved along a path that society had set for us (college, marriage, babies, churchgoer, caretaker of family) without stopping to see if that path was right for us. I wanted Bailey to stop and choose her own path.
Could you take us behind the scenes – tell us about Adam and B? Bailey and Rudy?
Ah, the love triangle. Bailey and Rudy love each other for their respective weirdness; they can be themselves 24/7. Their relationship has been a salvation to them both ever since their college days at Texas A&M. Yet they have never crossed the line from best friends to friends with benefits. But that closeness, in some ways, is holding Bailey back. Then along comes Adam, and Bailey (or ‘B’ as she introduces herself to him as) sees something in him that could help her move forward, or at least in a different direction. She can be someone new with Adam. It’s an opportunity for change. And let’s face it. Adam’s got some mountain man mojo going on.
The first person voice can feel claustrophobic and solipsistic. I loved Bailey – she’s smart, funny, self-aware, loveably self-deprecating. How did you accomplish this?
Well, thanks for saying that! Writing in the first person does have many limitations, and I worried constantly that it was setting the story up to fail. I knew it would be critical to paint Bailey as quirky, yet universal in some ways, or readers wouldn’t connect with her. They’d just find her damn annoying. I really tried to balance her bad decisions and odd choices with truths that most readers could see in themselves.
You do amazing work with place detail. The mountains almost feel like a character. Have you lived in Colorado? How important was this place for you? For the story?
Thank you again! Place was critical to this novel. I wanted South Texas – the hot, humid, flat land – to represent the place, the people and the moments that had shaped Bailey as young girl. That place was also what she had to break away from to find herself. In contrast, I wanted the Colorado mountains to represent who she could be, something bigger and more resourceful than she ever thought possible. As for me personally, I moved from Texas in 2001 with a dream of living at the top of a mountain in Colorado. And I’ve been on that mountain now for more than 10 years. I love how the terrain and seasons and wildlife challenge me every day. It’s a little extreme, but hey, life can get boring for me without extremes!
WRITING & PUBLISHING
You write stunning description. It’s hard to describe without disrupting forward momentum. How do you achieve this? Would you be willing to share your process?
You’re really giving my ego a boost today, Terri! I don’t know that I have a defined process, but I do think that all those years of reading two or three books a week made me quite in tune to what works and what doesn’t. I guess I’d call it a heightened sense of intuition. That’s why I always tell beginning writers to read as much as they write. It’s important. Another point: I always overwrite description in my first drafts. I just put as much in there as I can. It’s in the revising that I slice and dice to see how much is needed to convey images in readers’ minds without killing the forward movement of the story.
How long did it take you to write Blue Straggler? To revise? What did you most and least enjoy about the process?
I wrote Blue Straggler over a two-year period. I revised for another year. I love the writing, the plopping down of everything in my crazy imagination onto the page. Love that freedom! It’s those revisions that give me hell. It sometimes becomes overwhelming to me, but I force myself to soldier through. Because I truly believe that revising is as important as writing in creating a work I’m proud of.
What, if anything, are you doing to market your book? Can you share any ideas that have been particularly successful? Have you tried anything that hasn’t worked? What would you change?
The best thing I ever did was ask Laura Pepper Wu to be my publicist! She’s amazing and one of the smartest people I know. She has developed a great publicity plan for Blue Straggler, and even though it’s been a ton of work, it’s been quite fruitful. Specifically, we had good success with a Goodreads giveaway when the book was first released in paperback, and enrolling the book in Amazon’s KDP Select program has led to more than 20,000 downloads of Blue Straggler in the past six weeks, which is huge. I wouldn’t change much about what we’ve done, actually, and I’m not just saying that because I know Laura will read this. (Hi Laura!)
Lefty or righty? Righty.
Introvert or extrovert? Introvert posing as an extrovert.
Plane, train or automobile? Feet?
Beer or wine? Wine. Unless the beer is ice-cold and it’s 100 degrees and I’m out fishing.
Water: ice or no ice? Ice, Ice, Baby (I’ve always wanted to include that in an interview, thanks.)
Light or dark? Dark – which, by the way is a weird word when you look at it spelled on a page, isn’t it? Or is that just me?
Winter or summer? Summer in Colorado; winter in Texas.
Walking or running? Depends on who is chasing me.
Sit on a beach or sit by a fire? By a fire.
Book or audiotape? Book.
Read or write? No fair! (Love both equally.)
Draft or revise? Draft.
Writer’s group or editor? Writer’s group all the way!
If you were to give one tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
I know it sounds trite, but seriously don’t give up. It took me eight years after finishing Blue Straggler to see it in print.
What are you working on now?
I’m putting the finishing touches on revisions to A Good Kind of Knowing, the novel I wrote before Blue Straggler.
How can your fans connect with you?
My blog, You Can Take the Girl Out of Texas, but, can be found here.
Twitter – @KathyLynnHarris
Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/BlueStragglerFiction
Pinterest – http://pinterest.com/kathylynnharris/
Kathy grew up in rural South Texas – and comes from people who work hard, love the land and know how to have a good time on a Saturday night. As a writer, Kathy was lucky to have been surrounded by exceptional characters throughout her life, many of whom have lived their lives exactly the way they wanted. The rest of the world could take `em or leave `em! Inspiring, to say the least.
In 2001, Kathy made the move from Texas to the Colorado Rockies to focus on her writing and soak up All Things Mountain. She lives in an authentic log cabin near the southernmost glacier in North America, at 10,500 feet above sea level, with her husband and son, plus two fairly untrainable golden retriever mixes. It is there that she writes.
ABOUT BLUE STRAGGLER
But this is not a story about astronomy.
Bailey Miller is “disconnected” from the cluster of her rural south Texas family. She has never quite fit in and now in her early 30s, she finds herself struggling with inner turmoil and a series of bad choices in her life.
Bailey’s drinking too much (even for a member of her family), has a penchant to eat spoonfuls of Cool Whip, works in a job that bores her beyond description and can’t keep a relationship longer than it takes for milk to expire in her fridge.
Even with the help of her two outspoken friends, Texas lass Idamarie and her quirky college pal Rudy, she’s having a hard time.
So she packs up her Honda and heads out of Texas in search of herself and answers to secrets from her great-grandmother’s past. The novel takes readers on a journey from San Antonio, Texas, to a small mountain town in Colorado and back again, as Bailey uncovers not only the secrets of her great-grandmother’s life, but also some painful secrets of her own. All while finding love along the way.
If you have ever wondered why you got stuck with the family you did, what you are doing with your job and your life, or had a sudden desire to run off to the mountains, sit back and join Bailey for this laugh-out-loud, yet poignant ride.