Thursday, March 25, 2010

INTERVIEW: Mette Ivie Harrison - Award-Winning Author Of The Young Adult Fantasy Novels

Welcome to “Up Close and Personal.” For every interview I will be introducing a literary personality discussing their views and insights, as well as upcoming literary events around the world.

Today’s interview is with Mette Ivie Harrison. She was born in Summit, New Jersey. Her father, a retired computer professor at Brigham Young University. Her mother Betty Jo Ivie, have 11 children.

Ms. Harrison holds an M.A. in German Literature from Brigham Young University, and a B.A. in German. She also attended Princeton University and has a PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures

The Monster In Me—One of Bank Street’s Best Children’s Books, 2002
The Princess and the Hound—Top 100 Librarians' Choices (Texas Women's University), 2007
The Princess and the Hound—Honorable Mention, Best YA Novel of the Year (Association of Mormon Letters), 2007
The Princess and the Hound—Nominated for ALA's Best Books for Young Adults, 2007

Mira, Mirror—Spirit 0f 76 Recommended Book List, 2004
Mira, Mirror—Honorable Mention for Juvenile Books (Association of Mormon Letters), 2004
Mira, Mirror—Utah Center for the Book Letters for Literature Level II Winner, 2004

E.I. Would you share some early self-reflection to give us a sense of who you were as a teenager? What were you like? Give your readers three “Good to Know” facts about your first job experience, the inspiration for your writing career, any fun details or anecdotes that would enliven your page. Also tell us about Mette Ivie Harrison today -- the woman behind the Middle-grade bestselling YA author.

Mette Ivie Harrison: I went to Germany for a year my sophomore year as high school. My mother used to tell people that was the year I "grew up." I was certainly allowed a level of independence that many other teens my age never experienced. I took a train to the ferry across the English Channel and then a bus to London for two weeks and wandered through the National Museum and wherever else I wanted to go. I also spent a week with my German school friends at a ski lodge taking lessons from an advanced ski instructor. I think I nearly killed myself, but I was a different person when I came home. I was more confident, and I had seen a lot of the world that others were still reading about in books about famous art and literature of the ancient Western world. But I was also very much a square peg in a round hole. I had a small group of very bright friends, and one of those was my current husband. I had always known I wanted to be a writer, since I was in Kindergarten, and I swerved away from that for a time, but not very far. Books have always been a part of my life. I read them while I walked to school, at school whenever I could, and I used to read myself hoarse reading to my children.

E.I. What is it about the art form of writing young adult novels that enchants you, and gives you the enduring passion to continue in such a demanding profession?

Mette Ivie Harrison: I do like to have some kind of formal challenge when working on a novel. For MIRA, MIRROR, I wanted to write an entire novel from the viewpoint of an inanimate object. I have another book in which each chapter is written from the first person viewpoint of a different character, and yet all the stories work together to tell a whole novel.

I am working on a new project that takes the old German legend Tristan and Isolde and translates it into modern high school. I wrote a romance with a bear and a hound as the two main characters. And I like to play with conventions about romance and fantasy and turn them on their heads.

E.I. Please tell your young readers about your novel *“The Princess and the Bear.”* What was it that sparked your imagination? What were your favorite aspects about this book?

Mette Ivie Harrison: I love that the "princess" in the book is not at all princessly. I hope that I make readers feel like they know what it would be like to be a hound or a bear. I also hope that the magic feels real and integral to the world. I think that fantasy demands just as much realism with characters as realistic fiction does.

E.I. What were your biggest challenge and obstacle while writing and creating the character King Richon and Chala? You've created a cast of characters so remarkably captivating that your readers definitely clamor for more; how did you decide what level of details your readers will accept? How does your creative process work?

Mette Ivie Harrison: The tricky part was making the two characters feel human, and yet not at all human. The reader has to care about them, so I can't stretch too far away from the bounds of a traditional novel, but I press the boundaries. I think that dialog has always been the easiest part of writing to me. Rather than seeing a novel visually, I tend to hear it in my head, mostly in conversations between the characters. I am blessed with family and friends who love conversation. We sometimes have to raise our hands to get a word in edgewise when we are debating hotly.

My creative process is very messy. I keep trying to shape it up. We'll see if it works. But I try to get a first draft down in a rush. I wrote BEAR in a month, about 10,000 words a day (only a tenth of which probably stayed in the final draft). It was rough, but it was a beginning point. Then I work through layer by layer, adding details, shaving away the extraneous, and twisting the cliched.

E.I. How do you imagine audience as you are writing? Do you try to do character development, chapter outlines, various novel-related brainstorming? Do you have sheets of newsprint covered in a story boards all over your walls?

Mette Ivie Harrison: I have notebooks in which I scrawl a variety of comments. I doubt they would make much sense to anyone but me. Sometimes plot questions, character issues, things that are inconsistent that I have to get right, questions about rules of magic, and then story ideas for the next book, and the one after that. Very rarely, I outline before I write. More often, I outline afterward and try to see the structure that needs to be in the broken one that I already have. If I had advice for writers, it would be to let go of what you wrote before because what you write the second time will be much better. I once lost my entire master's thesis on my computer. I had to rewrite it out of my head. It was one of the best things that happened to me. So now I have to force myself to do that a lot, and cut out a hundred pages here and there without blinking an eye.

E.I. If you were asked to read a page from *“The Princess and the
Bear.”* is there one that you would personally select to share with your fans? And why?

Mette Ivie Harrison: I love the first page. I think I got the feelings of the bear there exactly right. If I had to choose another section, it would probably be the rising of the animal army out of the forest.

E.I. When you finish a novel, it's off to your agent and publisher, then you're on to the next. Do you find letting your manuscripts, especially your characters, as easy to part with when finished?

Mette Ivie Harrison: On the one hand, I am eager to start a new project. But whenever I have a chance to take another pass at a manuscript, in galleys or any other stage, I do. I have been known to add scenes even at the very last moment because I want to get the manuscript exactly right.

E.I. Ms. Harrison, you are well known in the writing community as
Award-winning author, recipient of the Best Children’s book of 2007, Nominated for ALA's Best Books for Young Adults. Having a PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures. Do you ever feel pressure or insecure, or are you able to separate all that from your own creative

Mette Ivie Harrison: I feel pressure and insecurity constantly. I think I am my own worst critic. But I will say that I write easily. I don't let myself off the hook just because I am afraid, and once I get started, I just remind myself that I am just trying to tell the story as clearly as possible. I try not to get in the way of my creativity. That is the biggest problem I see. People are so afraid of writing badly that they never start. And if you don't start with something, you are never going to get better.

E.I. And, finally, could you give us a sneak peek about your upcoming book, *“The Princess and the Snowbird?* What was it that sparked your imagination about this book?

Mette Ivie Harrison: I conceived of SNOWBIRD and BEAR in the same moment, as I was going through the galleys for THE PRINCESS AND THE HOUND and realized that the story of the hound and the bear was woefully incomplete and the only way to fix it was to write two more novels about them. I thought of these books first as THE BEAR AND THE HOUND and THE HOUND'S DAUGHTER and think of the series as THE HOUND SAGA. I have a couple of other books in the series I am working on, one about the hound's hound daughter. If you read the first book, you will know who I mean. And I was drawn to the story of the hound and the bear's daughter because I wanted to tell a story about a character who has so much magic that she cannot relate to any other humans. And not really to animals, either. She is very lonely, because of her power. But she can't escape it. I think that is a story that gets told over and over again, and this is just one of my versions of it.

E.I. Ms. Harrison, Thank you for contributing to my blog. It has
been a pleasure for me to get to know your work a little better. Would you like to end your interview with a writing tip or advice for young aspiring writers all over the world?

Mette Ivie Harrison: I think that writers have to find out what they do well, what they are uniquely suited to write about. That takes a lot of experimenting. I wrote 20 novels before I figured out that I should write YA fantasy. But how could I have found that out unless I had tried everything else? Or a lot of other things, at least. Don't worry about trying to get published at an early age. Just write what you want to write. Let yourself write without fear as much as possible. Don't show it to teachers who will correct it if you can help it. And read. I used to read a book a day. This year it's only a book a week, but you can learn so much from reading and rereading fine books that no teacher can tell you in words. You learn an instinct for character and plot. And also, that's all material for you to steal, twist, and make utterly your own.

To learn more about Mette Ivie Harrison, please visit her website.
To purchase her books, please visit AMAZON and Barnes & Nobles

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