'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Friday 31 July 2009

A Taste for Red with Lewis Harris

Who is this talented person? Lewis Harris

What does he do? Author

Where can you see his stuff? www.lewisharrisbooks.com

What’s his story? I currently reside in Florida, USA—but only temporarily. I love living a temporary life. I’m addicted to change, a habit I undoubtedly acquired as a child. I was reared as a military brat, shuffled from base to base and school to school. It made for a shy kid, but a heck of a bookworm. I’m no longer shy, but the love of books stuck. My feet never did stick, though. I’m always ready to grab my bag and hat. Although I don’t actually wear a hat.

How long has he been writing? I’ve been writing fiction for as long as I can remember. I was a shy kid, and maybe (probably) a nerd. I was certainly a big reader, so writing was bound to follow. In fact, I think the key to writing is reading—at least it is for me. I couldn’t do one without the other.

I remember writing stories as a teenager and trying to get my brother to go in ‘halfsies’ with me on a typewriter. I assured him that I would pay him back with the proceeds from my first book sale. He passed on the offer, which wasn’t a bad move on his part. I didn’t sell my first book until I was 44.

Does he remember the first story he ever wrote? I believe the first story I wrote was a western. I loved westerns as a kid—and still do. I invented a character named Amos Roan that was almost certainly a rip-off of Jonah Hex and Clint Eastwood.

My appetite for spaghetti westerns was insatiable. I even made a cassette tape of that signature Ennio Morricone music, and played it under my pillow as I fell asleep at night.

What inspired him to write books for young children? I lived for several years in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I thought it was magical place—a giant playground. Even thinking about it now, I have to smile in wonder. Everything there was…amazing. I felt like a kid in a candy store, even if it was a somewhat ramshackle store built on shaky ground.

Later, when I wrote a story about The Quarter, it seemed only natural that the tale be told through the eyes of children. And I loved writing it. I had FUN writing it. So now that’s what I do.

How did you get your first book published? I found an agent. I sent out queries and sample chapters and collected rejections and then sent out more queries and more sample chapters and collected more rejections. I kept that up for about twenty months. I wrote four novels and accumulated a fat file of rejections before an agent signed me up. Two months after that I had a book deal with Houghton Mifflin.

What else has he done other than write fabulous books? I used to be a retail robot, but my gears rusted. It must have been all that crying. I’ve washed a lot of dishes and served a lot of eggs. I’ve cooked a lot of eggs, too. I’ve been a massage therapist, a janitor, a hotel manager and a bicycle deliveryman. I like this writing gig best—although I might take a stab at Actor or Internet Entrepreneur in the future.

What pesky obstacles has be experienced on the book-writing journey? There are no obstacles, only challenges (I think I stole that line from an old Kung Fu episode). When I decided to seek publication, I knew that it might take a long time. I knew that I might collect a load of rejections, and I did. I found that the key to overcoming the challenges was to KEEP WRITING and KEEP SUBMITTING.

I listened to informed feedback when I was lucky enough to get it. Write, rewrite, polish, and repeat became my mantra. I don’t believe there’s a magic ticket. If you hone your writing skills and keep at it, you’ll find an audience. Technology is changing everything, and it’s all working in the writer’s favour. In the future, everyone will be a novelist.

What children’s books does he love love love? I have no doubt the answers would change depending on when I was asked, but here’s what I’m saying today: The Cay by Theodore Taylor, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and everything by Robert E. Howard.

Howard created Conan the Barbarian, and had a profound effect on my literary palette. Right about the time my years were rolling up into double digits, I was riding a first-class ticket on the pulp fiction train. Thanks, Mr Howard.

What was his favourite game as a child? Cards. My mother used to play rummy with me and my younger brother. She’d say “All right, go get your change and let’s play.” Me and my brother would then scrape together our coins and head to the kitchen table where Mom would expertly separate us from our hard-earned allowance. She was quite the businesswoman.

What are some of his fave things to do? Reading, writing, eating out and videography make the list, but travel is number one. I love backpacking and low-budget exploration. The easiest way to rustle up adventure is to head out to the mountains for a few months with everything you need strapped to your back. It puts the world in perspective, and makes everything nice and shiny. You can’t beat that.

If he couldn’t be a writer, what would he be? I’d go back to waiting tables, hopefully at some posh place with decent tips. And breakfast service for sure. I love serving a single course—and I’m a sucker for free coffee.

What fabulous advice does he have for other wannabe children’s writers? For me, a children’s story is like any other kind of story. I don’t try to write a children’s story, I just tell the tale. If it ends up being a children’s story, then that’s what it is.

If you’d like to learn more about the fabulous Mr Harris, have a meander around his website. He also loves to receive emails – especially from those who have read his book, and most especially from those who liked it!

A Taste for Red is available online at Booktopia.