Stuart M. Harris began writing for the theater professionally in 1991 when he was invited by the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York to attend a summer conference. The experience led the native Californian to move to New York to become a playwright. After successfully writing a number of plays, Harris has put playwriting on hold in order to weave the story of generations of Iowan farmers into his new historical novel. He lives in Brooklyn.
Enjoy this interview with Stuart.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?
I’m a playwright. Originally from Los Angeles, I moved to New York when I submitted a play to Ensemble Studio Theatre in 1991 and they invited me to their Summer Conference in The Catskills.
Tell us about your latest book. What do you hope readers take away from it?
The Northeast Quarter is my first book. It began as a three act play in the Works In Progress Playwrights Lab at Manhattan Theatre Club Studios. It soon became apparent that the stage was too confining for the sweep of the story and so it became a novel. Idea the reader can take away – Never quit. Even if you’re alone and the odds are against you, never give up.
Book you’re currently reading?
A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O’Connor. Had never read O’Connor before. Love her rural backgrounds. Even her descriptions drip with atmosphere.
What is your best marketing tip?
Go to social media. And when you get there, bang your drum loudly.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day? Also, do you write every day, 5 days a week…?
I always try to finish at least 5 pages a day. Most days I get up to 8 or 9. My writing hours are almost office – like 9 to 5. With The Northeast Quarter the work went as many as 6 days a week. As a newbie with an AARP card, I believe in getting my rest as well. I’m not a die for my art guy.
Where can we learn more about you?
S. M. Harris/Northeast Quarter website, I am also on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.
Anything else you’d like to add?
This has been quite an experience. Most of my contemporaries are retirees or soon to be, and I’m just starting out here. A friend once said to me, “You’ve finished your book. It’s over. He had it wrong. I’m learning it’s just the opposite. Now it’s just beginning.”
What does your writing process look like?
I usually begin with a cluster of notes about ideas, background and actions in the story. Then I arrange them across the floor in chronological order. Standing over them allows me to have a birds-eye view of the entire narrative. Then I turn the order of cards into outline form and from that outline comes the first draft.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does he/she do that is so special?
Ann Hardy. Her special trait is that she clings to a promise she has made to her grandfather. During her journey she is torn by feelings of revenge, keeping her promise and doing the right thing. The key to Ann is perseverance.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose a name based on liking the way it sounds or in the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
Sometimes the names just come to me. I pick names based on the way they sound for each character. For example, I chose the name Royce Chamberlin for my villain. He’s a clerk who connives his way into becoming the most powerful man in the territory. For me the name Royce Chamberlin suggests wannabe royalty. Aspiring to the top, but always the outsider.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
It took 6 years to finish The Northeast Quarter. 3 to write and 3 to edit.
What are your favorite authors?
Edna Ferber, Lillian Hellman, Horton Foote. Eugene O’Neill.
Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?
Gorilla High – a play wrote in Works-In-Progress Lab. I am thinking of turning it into novel. At the same time I miss playwriting. It’s been 6 years and I miss the process.
What is one of the things you’re most thankful for as a writer?
Then I didn’t die before now. Writing this novel has been quite an experience.
If you didn’t like writing books, what would you do for a living?
I would probably be an artist of some kind. I would have to tell a story or communicate something in some way.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
This is more pathological than interesting – I’m a born pack-rat. I keep notes for future narratives in drawers and on desk tops. Every now and then I have to clean house and I always have a nagging thought as approach the dumpster: that maybe my next play or novel is going out with the trash.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Comedic?
Descriptions have been a challenge for me. They tend to read like stage directions and I always have to go back and perk them up abit.
In your opinion, what’s the measure of a successful writer?
Money is certainly one measure. For me the best measure of a successful writer would be to have someone pass the scribe’s tombstone one day and say, “That guy sure knew how to tell a story.”
Full Author Bio
Stuart M. Harris began writing for the theater professionally in 1991 when he was invited by the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York to attend a summer conference. The experience led the native Californian to move to New York to become a playwright. Several of his plays have been produced Off Broadway and around the country, among them. Oona Field produced by Diverse City Theater Company and Colleen Ireland, about a 90-year-old retirement home resident and her great granddaughter, that played in New York, Spokane and other cities, including Hamilton, OH, where it won ‘Best Play’ at The Fitton Center One-Act Playwriting Contest. A follow-up to Colleen was Spindrift Way, the first of ten more plays in the series. The Northeast Quarter began as a full-length play developed by the Works in Progress Theatre Lab at Manhattan Theatre Club Studios. Harris put playwriting on hold in order to weave the story of generations of Iowan farmers into his new historical novel. He lives in Brooklyn.