Interview with Novelist, Judith Harkness

This interview originally appeared in October, 2014. To celebrate the arrival of the books online, I am reprinting it.

It's with fiction writer Judith Harkness, a writer whom I’m privileged to claim as a friend.  Judith has published five wonderfully written Regency novels, which are finally released as e-books on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles and other digital stores.

A few words about her:
After a childhood spent traveling with her diplomat parents, attending seven schools in seven countries, Judith Harkness graduated from Milton Academy and Brown University, where she majored in Comparative Literature. She now lives in Southern Rhode Island in an old stone house that requires a lot of upkeep. That, and gardening, swimming, reading, and walking her dog in the beautiful woods and on the beach, take up most of the time when she is not writing. .  

SARETT: You’ve written five Regencies. What attracts you to the form?  What’s the most difficult part of writing these?
HARKNESS: I was encouraged to write a Regency years ago by my then literary agent, who took me to lunch, and said "Wouldn't you like to be able to afford a nice lunch one day?" At the time , I wrote poetry and the occasional free lance magazine piece. Of course, I said, yes! And she suggested trying my hand at the Regency genre. Since I had been an ardent fan of Jane Austen, I was enthralled, thinking I could knock one off in a few weeks. A year later, I was still trying to write The Montague Scandal. After many false starts, I got the gist. At one point I had about a thousand pages of internal monologue!

What I like about the genre is that there is a formal structure, with predictable elements -- the heroine, usually feisty, a villain, and the hero, who reveals his depth and strength of character towards the end. But within that structure, there is a lot of room for variety, and humorous insight into the characters. I am a big fan of human comedy in fiction.

SARETT: There are lot of rules about what’s good writing and what’s bad.  Is there any rule that you secretly enjoy breaking?  
HARKNESS:  I don't know that I consciously break any rules. To me the one cardinal rule of all good story telling is that whatever serves the story, works. So if you are writing a historical romance, you need to follow a different set of rules than if you are writing, say, a thriller.

SARETT:   Do you think that men and women have a different sense of what is romantic?
HARKNESS: I always assumed women were much more into romance than men, but as I've gotten older, I've been amazed to discover how romantic men (at least some men) can be.  For  instance, I have been amazed at the elaborate arrangements some men make for proposing marriage, which has gotten to be almost as big a ritual as the wedding. And of course, it depends on the man. Some men wouldn't be caught dead reading a Regency, even one written by the great Jane Austen. My own husband, on the other hand, loves Jane Austen, and read all five of my Regencies when we were first seeing each other. I thought that was very romantic!

SARETT:  You've published five Regencies-- do you have a favorite character or love story?
HARKNESS:  To say a writer prefers one character over another would be a little disloyal, like saying you prefer one child over another, but I do have some favorites: 
Lady Pendleton, in Contrary Cousins, is one. She is a tiny, round, and I think hilarious and charming impresario, who decides to take charge of the introduction of her young American niece to London Society, partly to spite her brother, the odious and stuffy Earl. Her nephew, Freddy, is also one of my favorite (and human) heroes, as is Lord Arden, from The Montague Scandal. And I love Charlotte, who seems like such a delicate flower, but proves she has a spine of steel in Lady Charlotte's Ruse. I have a special fondness for the characters who exhibit human foibles.

SARETT: We are both Jane Austen fans.  What do you think that modern Regency writers can learn from her?
HARKNESS:  In a word, everything! I think all writers have a great deal to learn from her: starting with her economy of words,  and her deft insights into the motivations of her characters. And, as I know you will agree, she never sacrificed comedy while creating some of the most romantic stories ever told.

SARETT: I’m always trying to discover new interesting (or forgotten) women’s writers.  Do you have suggestions for our readers?   
HARKNESS: Apart from Jane Austen: Nancy Mitford, Diane Johnson. They are all masters of comedy and also highly literate romance. I have to say, I am also an ardent admirer of Carla Sarett!

SARETT:  What are your current projects -- and is there any new fiction in the works?
HARKNESS: I am working on a family saga that takes place in the present -- or recent --day, which I've been thinking about for a long time. I am not working on Regencies for the time being, but would love to see any of my books made into films. Wouldn't that be fun?

Find Judith Harkness Regencies on Amazon:  The Montague Scandal; The Determined Bachelor, The Admiral's Daughter, Contrary Cousins, Lady Charlotte's Ruse.

Interview with Humorist and Author, Tabitha Ormiston-Smith

One of the delights of Facebook is discovering new writers.  I found Tabitha Ormiston-Smith in a Facebook group, and to my joy, she has authored a funny charming books about grammar (yes, grammar.)  I’ve also had the pleasure of being a contributor in short story collections in which both of us have appeared. She is the author of Dance of Chaos, Gift of Continence, Grammar Without Tears and a variety of short fiction.

SARETT: Are you funny in real life -- or just funny in fiction?  What led you to the comic side of the writerly aisle?
Ormiston-Smith: Oh, no. With me, funny goes right to the bone, and has done all my life. Even at school I was always the class clown. It is my modus vivendi.

SARETT: I find in writing comedy that pace seems all-important.  If it is too slow, the writing feels flat-- whereas in drama, you can linger over, say, the light coming in through the forest.  What’s your feeling?
Ormiston-Smith: I completely agree. You have to keep it moving, and if you try to dwell too long on something funny, it goes off. Just as in court you must make your point and move on or incur the judge’s displeasure, so with humour it is vital to keep your touch light.

SARETT:  In a comic novel, lots of stuff that can seem scary in other forms (like corpses, for example) are treated lightly.  What’s the secret to making it funny?  
Ormiston-Smith: If you see it as funny yourself, you can show that to the reader. If you don’t, I think it is better not to try.

SARETT: There’s that saying, dying is easy, comedy is hard.  True or not?
Ormiston-Smith: Well, comedy is what comes naturally to me, so I don’t know that I agree with that; on the other hand, it seems that dying comes easily to most people too; at least, I have never heard of anyone failing in the endeavour.

SARETT: There are lot of rules about what’s good writing and what’s bad.  Is there any writing rule that you secretly enjoy breaking?  
Ormiston-Smith: Absolutely! My two published novels contain many comma splices. It’s a technique I use to bring out the rambling, chattering nature of my protagonist’s thoughts.    
SARETT:  Tell us about your new book!
Ormiston-Smith: Dance of Chaos follows the fortunes of Fiona MacDougall, a young woman who transfers to her company’s infotech department purely because she can get an afternoon off work to sit the aptitude test. Fiona is lazy, frivolous, self-centred and not terribly bright. Her life is one disaster after another as she struggles to cope with the demands of her new job and her disorderly family life.

SARETT: I’m always trying to discover new (or forgotten) humor writers.  Do you have suggestions for our readers looking for funny stuff?
Ormiston-Smith: Well, Terry Pratchett, of course, and P G Wodehouse. Both marvellously funny writers. Evelyn Waugh. It doesn’t seem to be a very popular genre.

SARETT: Any new projects in the works that you’d like to share with our readers?
Ormiston-Smith: Well, I have two - one is drafted and rotting down. It’s an historical novel about King John (or the Count of Mortain as he still was in my book), Richard I and Robin Hood. It’s very funny, but historical fiction is a lot of work and it will require extensive revisions.

The other book, which I am currently in the process of writing, will be the third and final volume in the Fiona MacDougall trilogy. I envisage that it will be released next winter (for you Northern Hemisphere types, that would be next summer).

I also plan to release a collection of short fiction, spanning many genres, because I use short stories as a sort of laboratory to play with new things, and at some point there will be a big new edition of Grammar Without Tears.

Follow Tabitha on:  

twitter: @Ormiston-Smith

Buy  her books here:

Three Tips from Well-Known Novelists

Mary Yuhas writes for Harvard Square Editions, where she interviews authors, literary agents, editors, film makers, directors and others.   I asked Mary if she had learned any "tips" from these well-known authors.  

Here are three tips that she sent from novelists:

Tip 1: 
From Interview with James Patterson, best-selling author.  

Write an outline that tells the story before you start writing - 60 - 80 pages.  Keep the story as tight as authors of short stories do.'

Tip 2: From Interview with Paul Levine, mystery writer, cowriter of TVseries, Jag with Don Bellisario  

First time authors should try to publish the traditional way: look for a literary agent rather than going with a self-published eBook.

Tip 3: From Interview with Susan Cox, winner, 2013 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America

Talk to other writers and keep alert to changes in your genre

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Holiday Coupons

Time for holiday coupons for my books.

If you'd like SPOOKY & KOOKY TALES in either a .mobi (for Kindle) or Epub (for iPad,)  use coupon VT89P on Smashwords.   This ebook is not yet available on Amazon, and contains seven short stories.

These are slipstream, surreal, and funny little tales.  Some have appeared in online magazines but three are from anthologies: "Chopin for Igor" from Contrary Cats, and "Stranger in Paradise," from Summer Dreams, and "My Name on It" from Jake's Slipstream Anthology.  

Two new feline stories included.


Tomorrow, I will have more Smashwords coupons.  

Holiday Reading List: New York Reads Recommended by Author, Suzanne Rosenwasser

Our Holiday Reading Marathon continues!  This guest post comes from author Suzanne Rosenwasser, whose charming memoirs I highly recommend.  I'll let Suzanne take it from here.

My first acknowledgment as a writer came with a local color piece I wrote in the eighth grade. I earned an "A." The town featured was my home: Manhasset, Long Island. In adulthood, a few essays reached the New York Times and these became the basis for my memoirs, Manhasset Stories.

These days I'm a displaced New York baby boomer who loves a story drawn with a rich sense of the place I call home.The books in the list below take readers from the eastern beaches of Long Island to the Borscht Belt of the Catskill mountains; from the Irish kitchens of Jackson Heights to a bar full of LI baby boomers; from a child's view of the Plaza Hotel to a bird's eye view of urban politics in Brooklyn - with many train stops in between.

(in alphabetical order by author)

Coming of age novel  set in the 1960s tells of the trials and triumphs of a Long Island youth and his friends.

Wall street meets the Mafia in this novel set on the aristocratic streets of Long Island's North Shore.

Dunhill's rich prose celebrates Shelter Island's 350th year, along with the fine photography of Alex McLean and stories from Shelter Island Historical Society members.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald 

Classic novel of 1920s Jazz age parties on Long Island where wealth competes with love.

Memoir of a lost boy who finds his way in a Manhasset, Long Island bar where a group of baby boomers helps launch him toward a literary career.

Touching memoir in which the author describes with humor and grace the ways in which muscular dystrophy shaped the lives of her New York family.

The well-loved novel that takes place in the first decades of the 20th century. Young Francie Nolan, a third generation Irish-American, struggles to find herself through the poverty and prejudice of the times in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The Pulitzer prize-winning novel written to make a New Yorker feel at home in a mystery that  walks the streets of Manhattan and follows a painting to places far away from the Metropolitan Museum.

A favorite Christmas gift I received in the 1950s: this children's book, with wonderful drawings by Hilary Knight, is the whimsical storyof an eight-year-old who resides at the Plaza Hotel. 

1950s novel about a New York girl with dreams of being an actress who spends a season at a summer stock theatre  in the Catskills,.

Order Manhasset Stories, Vol I & II:

Visit Suzanne's blog:

Holiday Reading: California Poets Recommended by Poet, Dan Essman

I asked my ever-wise poet friend, Dan Essman, who resides in Willits, California to suggest some California poetry for our Holiday Reading Marathon.  Here’s his list in his words::

Jeffers speaks to my love of epic emotion, to my sexual hungers and love as loss...and of sex as a form of fatal instinct...and beyond the passions...four generations of my family have lived on the western edge of America...this is Jeffers territory...his recognition that the surf racked stones and cliffs of Big Sur transcend human limits...are a pure and lonely and monumental aesthetic force...this recognition speaks to every memory and bone-felt truth in my poet's heart...I feel this California in the same way Jeffers I said, he knows me...

Sharon's heart of love is ripped from her chest and splayed-out on the page in blood and tears...a book-length poem that speaks from the body...what a perfect cry...

Formal and powerful blank verse sonnets in iambic pentameter...

Beckett is a well respected lyricist as well...and often recorded.

Poet laureate of San Francisco...there are still poets in the City...but it's hard for them. Hirschman is a great poet...a Beat..a lefty. A friend to us all.

Out of print, but worth finding:

Reading her narrative prose poems brings me to tears...I don't know why...a special and ineffable being hugged hopefully by a lost child. (Note: the talented Robin Rule is also Mrs. Essman.)

A Natural History of Mill Towns by Theresa Whitehill
Memorializes towns and places in Mendocino that have disappeared in time...what a strange sad soft voice speaks here...

While he’s not a California poet, Alan’s Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” tops my list of California poems.  Dan agrees:  The Jersey boy Ginsberg was a California poet...that's where his genius blossomed.  
You can read it here:
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