Mocha Girls Read is taking time out to chat with published authors. We have asked HonMag PR to help us get in contact with authors and see if they would be willing to sit down and chat with us. But this Sunday we are going to chat with the author of our Book of the Month.
This morning we are pouring cups of tea and sitting down to chat with author Suzette Harrison.
Who is Suzette Harrison?
Suzette D. Harrison, a native Californian and the middle of three daughters grew up in a home where reading was required, not requested. Her literary “career” began in junior high school with the publishing of her poetry. While Suzette pays homage to Alex Haley, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison as legends who inspired her creativity, it was Dr. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings that unleashed her writing. The award-winning author of Taffy is a wife and mother of two teens, and she holds a culinary degree in Pastry & Baking. Mrs. Harrison is currently cooking up her next novel…in between batches of cupcakes.
Welcome, Suzette. Thank you so much for joining us today and I am so thrilled you are here. We have a few questions we would love to ask you. The rules are simple. You MUST answer 10 questions. You can pass at any time and we will pull another question but you must answer 10 of them. OK! Here we go.
MGR: Let’s start with an easy one. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
SH: Both! Writing is one of my greatest passions. It is a seductive lure that pulls me in, makes me want to be smack-dab, right in my characters’ worlds. But it pulls from my center. Not just my mind, but my spirit. It’s invigorating and liberating, yet draining.
MGR: Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
SH: I did just in case I wrote too far off the beaten path or got too out of character in my content, But then I remembered my grandmother saying to me, “Suzy, one day I’ll see your name up in lights.” Having my name “in lights” isn’t my goal, but I remember my grandmother’s words and how poignant they felt. As if a marker of success, and indicative of her pride in me. So I keep my name in remembrance of my Granny when writing.
MGR: That is so beautiful. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
SH: That is a demanding balance. I want my readers to walk away from my books satisfied, delighted, and ready for more. At the same time, I’m very much about authenticity and giving my characters the freedom to do what they need to in every story. I’m disinterested in my characters being cookie-cutter shadows or trends. I want them to have their place in the sun and if that means being original, then original it is.
MGR: What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
SH: Meeting and developing relationships with other authors is one of the highlights and blessings of this writing business. I hesitate to name names because I don’t want to miss a Lit Sis who’s impacted me, but briefly: Sheryl Lister, Suzette Riddick, Tiffani Sanders, Anita Davis, J.L. Campbell, Gerri Spencer Hunter, Dwayne Joseph and more! These fellow scribes encourage, uphold, inspire, listen, keep me accountable, and stand with me. I appreciate God for the gift of them.
MGR: Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
SH: Both. I want each of my books to stand as their own unique and individual work of art even if/when part of a series with linkage and overlap. I actually enjoy linking stories, continuity, even when each book has its own set of characters. It feels like I’m building a world in which my heroines and heroes can thrive and live.
MGR: I love that. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
SH: Push the button and publish! I wrote my first manuscript in the early 1990s and did nothing with it. Had I published it, I would (prayerfully) be enjoying a multi-decade career. But you know what? I published in 2002 and, despite setbacks, I’m still here.
MGR: Push the Button! Can be a Mantra for so many things in life. What did you do with your first advance?
SH: Honey, I bought an expensive vacuum cleaner! My carpets thanked me.
MGR: Why did my soul completely understand that. LOL! What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
SH: When I was delivered from a deep, dark depression simply by re-reading Dr. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. After months of suffering, what I now recognize as depression, I picked up Caged Bird needing something to soothe my mind. When I finished it and closed the cover, that darkness broke. Literally. Not figuratively. I experienced the power of language, words, and said: “If this is what writing can do for me, then I want to write and help free someone else.” I got up and immediately started my first manuscript…which we know per question 6 I sat on and didn’t publish. But I wrote it, and that led to belief in my ability to pen stories.
MGR: What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
SH: How many times have you heard someone in your circle say, “I couldn’t have been a slave. They would’ve had to kill me!”? It’s dangerous to be culturally arrogant and dismissive or to endow self with super powers as if our ancestors were weak for enduring. The ancestors doing what they had to so that we can live enables us to even spout statements like this. We ride on their backs. What does this have to do with the ethics of writing historical figures? It’s all about respect! Sometimes as readers and writers we approach a historical novel with cultural, contemporary arrogance. We analyze or process the story and the characters’ actions by what we would or wouldn’t do; or juxtapose them against what makes sense for our ethos. To compare something unfamiliar with what we know is human. However, do not impose your contemporary, modern-day ethics, experiences, or expectations on your historical figures–whether your characters are fictitious or factual. If they’re actual persons who lived, be accurate! Don’t reinvent them. If quoting directly, perhaps include a bibliography with source citation. Or a bibliography so your readers can enjoy those books that enabled yours. Also, when writing historical fiction, your grip on contemporary knowledge has to fade somewhat, and allow for “other.” Why write historical fiction if you prefer the present? Allow yourself to enter a world in which you haven’t lived. Become the era of which you write. Meaning? Do the research. Food. Clothing. Music. Idioms. Social climate, etc. Call up memories of your grandparents’, parents’ stories and colloquial phrases. Detach from contemporary, cultural arrogance and immerse yourself in the era. Read books by bygone authors whose writing can help open the imagination and a richer glimpse into the past. And please be careful of jarring readers with inaccuracies: let’s not have your 19th century heroine using a cell phone to call somebody.
MGR: Last question. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
SH: I’m not certain that it’s under-appreciated, but the author seems to have slipped away from the literary scene somewhat. That said, 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter is my absolute favorite novel in the “off-track” zany category. It’s fresh. Fun. A perfect summer, relaxation read.
MGR: Loved that book too. Thank you so much Suzette Harrison for joining us today. Please let the readers know how to find you on social media.
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Books by Suzette Harrison
Other Authors We Have Interviewed