Interview with NY Times Best-selling Author: Kim Harrison

I had a hard time not fan-girling over Kim Harrison when I met her at Dragon Con 2018 in Atlanta this Labor Day weekend. Harrison is best known for the Hollows books, a New York Times #1 best-selling paranormal fantasy series.

Harrison has written more than two-dozen books, some in the young adult genre (Madison Avery trilogy), and even accelerated-science thrillers (Peri Reed Chronicles). Her work can also be found in various anthologies, and she scripted two original graphic novels set in the Hollows universe. She has also published other traditional fantasy under Dawn Cook, her real name. Harrison said she began the Hollows series out of desperation to find reader, agent, and editor attention.

“The Hollows started as a short story. In the 1990’s, I was trying to break into print in the short story market. I looked at what was being published in the science fiction and fantasy area, and it was really weird stuff at the time,” Harrison said. “I knew I couldn’t match that; I couldn’t come close to it. But I said, you want weird? I’ll give you my kind of weird. So, I put a pixie, a vampire, and a witch in a bar. What happened was the first chapter of “Dead Witch Walking.”

After shopping the story around and not finding a buyer, Harrison put it in a drawer while she worked on a traditional fantasy story she had in her head. She broke into print with that story as Dawn Cook. Later, when her editor asked if she had anything else, Harrison opened the drawer and pulled out the short story. “I think I called it ‘Life is a Bowl of Cereal,’ because of ‘Lucky Charms’,” said Harrison. “I beefed it up into a novel; it took a while, but it did sell. I’ve never looked back since.”

As for what is next for the Hollows series, Harrison said she is starting the series back up. “I kicked around a lot of ideas. Do I develop the demons, or do I concentrate on the elves? But I just kept gyrating back to Rachel when I started writing in the Hollows again,” said Harrison. “The next story is called “American Demon” and it starts just two months after “The Witch with No Name.” Harrison likes to make a play on Clint Eastwood movie titles when naming the Hollows books.

“In the new book, the church has been destroyed and there is a lot of political upheaval. Rachel is feeling very lost and alone, because the church is gone and she’s not sure where she’s going to be living. She doesn’t want to live with Trent. She wants to make it on her own. And when magic went down in the previous book, a lot of things in cages got out.”

Harrison is still working on the rough draft for “American Demon” and has no clue as to when it will be published. She said it’s going along really well and will be at least a year. But she is no longer publishing with HarperCollins and is exploring new avenues for publication. “I am free and clear to go with whomever I want at this point, and it’s an exciting place to be,” said Harrison.

As for the Young Adult Madison Avery trilogy, Harrison said she probably won’t continue the series. “I enjoy writing Young Adult. I was writing about a book and a half a year, but [HarperCollins] only wanted a book a year in urban fantasy, so I thought I’d try my hand at Young Adult. That is what I was reading at that time,” Harrison said. “I love it, because the stakes are higher. When you’re young, you don’t feel like you have any resources and you feel lost and alone. But you find out that isn’t the case, that you have an amazing number of resources, usually in the form of friends. I had a great time with the Madison Avery Series.”

Harrison doesn’t see a lot of difference between writing for the Young Adult reader and writing for older readers. “It depends on who you ask. In my Young Adult, I’m targeting high school and college age. They’re dealing with a lot of the same issues adults are. They have few resources. They’re backs are against the wall more. They’re learning about themselves more,” Harrison said. “It’s more fun, because I enjoy that part of the writing process, the learning about characters and how they grow and interact, what’s important to them and how their needs and wants motivates them. I try not to write any differently. I still use that wonderful, big vocabulary.”

“Perfunctory Affection” is a new book by Harrison that isn’t in the Hollows series. “If you squish it together, you get the short title “Perfection,” which is really what the book is all about. It’s a step away from Urban Fantasy for me, but I still have magic in it,” Harrison said. “Magic is not a tool in this one, it’s a kind of force. Things that happen are magical. It’s portal magic. It’s kind of a psychological thriller more than I’ve ever done before. I had a blast writing it and it’s coming out under Subterranean Press, late first quarter. I don’t have a date yet. It’s longer than a novella but shorter than a novel, so it was really hard to place; I didn’t want to beef it up with nothing, just to hit that magical mark.”

Harrison’s home and office

Harrison grew up in the mid-west but lived for a while in South Carolina before returning to Michigan. She started writing when they lived in Michigan originally, but she said she had a huge learning curve, because she didn’t take any classes in college for writing. “I have a degree in science engineering and technology, which I bring into my work all the time. My dad said, ‘she goes to school for that and now she’s writing,’ and I said ‘Dad, I use my degree every single time I sit down.’”

When she moved to South Carolina, she found a “fabulous, writers’ critique group” with an amazing amount of talent and dedication. “We met every week, face-to-face. Everybody got to read and critique. By the time we were ready to move up north again, I had found publication, mostly due to the people in there.” Once back in Michigan, she began “writing more and more with less input from other people.” She added, “I still look on those days as my Camelot. It was such an amazing time.”

In addition to writing full-time, Harrison also manages her website and social media, and writes a blog. After being a writer for 20 years, she said her schedule has become pretty static. “I am usually up in the morning; I have a light breakfast and I eat lunch at my desk. I try to be out of the office by three,” said Harrison.

When she and her husband Tim moved back to Michigan, they bought an old Victorian house and slowly remodeled it, adding a new porch and a gazebo. “Tim said ‘you should move your office out to the gazebo.’ About a minute later, I’m lugging out my desk and I’ve been there ever since,” Harrison said, laughing. “I have a beautiful office. It’s in a gazebo in the middle of Michigan winters, and it’s enclosed on all sides. I can see everything, and no one can see in. The windows have a light tint.” The gazebo also has a heated floor. She showed a picture of the idyllic view from her office, which had a babbling brook, a statuette of a wading bird, and lots of beautiful, lush green foliage. Harrison loves to garden in her spare time. “I figured if I’m going to be looking at something for six hours a day, it’d better be nice,” she said. “I don’t know how some writer’s stare at a blank wall, but maybe they need that.”

She also enjoys cooking and made sugared pecans this year to keep up her energy, using her grandfather’s recipe. Harrison is full of surprises. She has two black belts, one in Hapkido and another in Taekwondo, but is thinking of moving to Tai Chi because the other forms have become too rough on her back. Now we know where Rachel gets her fabulous fighting moves.

For more on Kim Harrison, visit her website at www.kimharrison.net.