writing about writing

Bernita Harris – The Interview

Posted by Flood on June 12, 2006

Bernita Harris is the author of An Innocent A-Blog. She discusses with us her previously published accomplishments, her current project and her Hang-Ups.

Thanks for agreeing to meet with us. You look great.

This is so nice of you, Flood.

This isn't your first interview. How were you previously a subject?

I was interviewed over a lost and no-longer-lamented non-fiction title, for example and for the odd thingy now and then. Nothing much to expand on – and this covers many years, you understand. I think the last one was a telephone interview by a freelancer who saw a letter to the ed. of mine on the Unknown Soldier (my son was part of the Honour Guard which brought him home). It must have gone OK because he sold his interview.

Sadly, I will not be getting paid for your time.

Nevertheless, these interviews are an excellent idea. You are both good and clever to feature other writers this way.

You are too kind. I love learning more about people so I don't feel so alone.

It is lonely at times, isn't it? Blogging helps assuage that a little.

What is your writing genre?

Romantic adventure in this latest incarnation. Cross-genre. Not a formula story. I think.

Did you write something else before?

Long, long ago and far, far away, I wrote a non-fiction how-to book as I mentioned. I secured a publisher. When we reached galley stage, the publisher developed financial problems and eventually released the book. The book was promptly snapped up by another publisher, who almost as promptly went bankrupt. Life intervened and other books came out on the same topic. So, like Prospero, I drowned my book. Before and after that at sporadic intervals I've sold the odd magazine article, but not many and not recently.

Having been published in non-fiction, is that a help or a hindrance to what you are trying to achieve now?

It may be both. One learns to be flexible to the demands of an editor. One learns to write succinctly to fit word limits for a requested article. On the other hand, the urge to support a point can lead to a fiction writer, freed of those restraints, to wander and include wallops of info dump.

What is your current project?

A projected series of romantic adventures called Tempest in Time – the first book, temporarily titled A Trio of Dragons, features a forensic occultologist, Dr. Damie Tempest, as the main character. The series involves time travel, terrorists and temptation (insert hunky male member of the anti-terror squad) – because every age has its dragons.

Sounds exciting! Do you find one aspect more difficult to write? I have a hard time with action scenes.

Not really. Time consuming since one has to visualize every movement and then decide if they contribute to the scene or not. I worry about making the linking scenes interesting. Or fussing if the rare sex scenes are cliche.

Querying your fiction yet?

Slowly querying. Snail pace. Contrary to the very good advice to query in batches of half a dozen or so, I've queried one at a time, while continuing to revise and polish. I have a full out on request at the moment.

Has that been nerve wracking?

Do you mean do I sit for long periods in the corner, rocking back and forth and moaning? Metaphorically, yes. One part of my tiny mind does that, while the other part is exasperated with such stupid behaviour.

Do you have any writing rituals or superstitions? Do you ever write by hand?

No rituals or superstitions. I began writing by hand but as I become more familiar with the computer, I have found I can compose direct – much to my surprise. Still scribble notes and scenes though. I must have a general outline of the plot in mind before I begin. I tend to focus exclusively, perhaps obsessively on a project until it is done in draft.

Why did you start blogging?

Blogging seemed a necessary step to establish myself as a serious writer. It allows me to share opinions and ideas, ask questions, and, most importantly, learn from other writers and from those agents and editors kind enough to share their experience and knowledge. I wrote the book first though.

Why 'An Innocent A-Blog'?

Because, though a take-off on Twain, it was the bare truth. And like Miranda, I began totally ignorant of this "brave new world".

What's your blogging style? Do you have a schedule for blogging or an overall theme to your blog?

My style is familiar essay – sometimes very familiar. One blogger, Bonnie Calhoun calls my blog "a civil living room." I blog most every day as a morning ritual. Anything to do with writing – from punctuation to sexual positions – seems to have developed as the main theme.

Does blogging daily and coming up with clever entries ever create a sense of pressure for you? It's obvious you give each a great deal of thought.

It hasn't until lately. I may alter my blogging to every other day.

Interfering with your writing time?

Not so much the time as the concentration.

What is your favourite entry on your blog?

Better to ask which one you enjoyed most. Probably the short fiction pieces.

I love the discussions that go on in your comments. I go back a few times a day for that.

I do that to with my favorite blogs, too. Comments make a blog live, otherwise one is yelling down a well.

What advice do you have for new bloggers? New writers?

Read blogs and more blogs. Especially industry blogs. Finish the book first.

Whose blog do you use most as a writing resource?

Easy question. Miss Snark.

Do you have a lot of support for your writing?

My family and fellow bloggers have been most encouraging – and very kind.

Tell us about the coat hanger cartoons. They are very cute, and don't think I didn't notice your fine penmanship.

Thank you. The study of Anglo-Saxon affected my style forever. My "Hang-Ups" – some of which are just raw sketches/scrawls – are products of my aborted career as a cartoonist. I re-discovered them rooting through some old files and thought they might add a bit of fun to the blog. My favourite is an early one of the little dress dreaming of an evening gown.

You seem to have a real love of the english language, and a strong vocabulary.

Words are exciting, fascinating. I have a Masters in English Literature with minor things like anthropology, history, classics and languages. The last time I counted we had over 5,000 books littering our house and straining the floor joists. I'm a victim of book lust.

You are a fellow Canadian. How will that affect your writing and quest for publishing?

I am quite happy to go with an American agent. Few Canadian agents deal in genre fiction and there are few Canadian agents. I use American spelling in my ms.

Your blog is lightly peppered with your poetry.

At one time I had the usual immature ambitions to be a poet. Even won some awards for poetry in undergrad and had a few published.The few I post are those I consider fit to be seen.

Are you hard on yourself when it comes to your work?

Oh yes. One of the most detrimental qualities in a writer is conceit and satisfaction about one's own work. There is ALWAYS room for improvement.

You often use your garden as a metaphor for writing.

It seems fitting. As one must dream a garden into being, imagining color, flowering season, height, spread and habit, so must one dream into being the reality of fiction. A WIP needs occasional pruning, transplanting and – most of all- weeding.

You mentioned habit. I find myself stuck sometimes with the same ideas or using a word too often or just overusing the same literary device.

We all have our modus operandi and have to watch for those repetitions. The trick is to decide which are part of "voice" and which are simply careless, obvious and irritating.

You recently shared the opening lines of your current project.

Do you mean "La Belle Dame?" It began as a novella but may become the beginning chapters of the third in the Tempest in Time series. Fascinated by a legendary artifact "The Luck of Eden Hall" (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum). I wanted my heroine, Damie Tempest, to have a hand in its acquisition.

Is "La Belle Dame" any relation to the Keats poem?

Indirectly, yes. Both "Belle Dames" have qualities in common.

To what do you credit your blog's high readership?

I don't place any great value on statistics – they are so often used out of context or for competitive purposes. My blog has generated over 30,000 hits to date, and I have no idea if that is large or small. I'm just grateful so many take the time to read and comment. They are quite splendid people and I have learned so much from their comments and advice.

What are your goals from this point forward?

The normal ones: acquire a publisher. Learn more. Write more.

Bernita, thank you for opening up with us today.

Thank you, Flood. Very much.


Next Week: Scott, of Hard To Want

Weekly, FlashFlood interviews writers who blog. Any writer at any stage of publication is interesting. If you would like to know more about your favourite blogger or want to be interviewed yourself, email me.


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