Rory Harrison: “I Wrote the Book of My Heart”

Rory Harrison: “I Wrote the Book of My Heart”

Bookish is dedicated to giving readers the best content around; that’s why we’re partnering with NetGalley (our sister site) to bring you this interview:

We’re excited to share this special Q&A with Rory Harrison about her book, Looking for Group, and something exciting she’s doing with Quarterly:

This quarter’s box is curated by Rory Harrison, featuring an exclusive annotated copy of Looking for Group and a letter from Harrison herself! Also find in the box two more books, handpicked by Harrison that inspired her as an author, plus awesome bookish goods—perfect for YA book lovers. (Psst: Act fast, subscribe by April 21st to get this box.)


BUY

Quarterly: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into writing?

Rory Harrison: I was a poor kid, who grew up in a lousy neighborhood, and my mom took me to the library every single Saturday. I was allowed to go anywhere in the library, pick out any book, and just be. It was my happiest place; my safest place. But sometimes the stories I loved best would run out—one book and over. I wanted more. So I started writing the more for myself. Some of my earliest works included Sarah returning to the Labyrinth when she realized that the real world was dull, and a companion novel to Lois Duncan’s Stranger With My Face—it turns out the twins were triplets, and I too, could astrally project!

Now I’m a grown up, in a better neighborhood, and I can take myself to my library. (Or bring the library to me—I love checking out e-books!) I live in a yellow house with a red door, with my wife and my youngest daughter. My eldest daughter is grown and lives in a town not too far from here.

I still read and write fan fiction, by the way. It’s just now I spend most of my time writing books, first (usually).

Quarterly: What is your favorite novel of all time?

RH: Completely impossible question to answer. But I will say that The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, It by Stephen King, and The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause were my best friends as I was growing up. And I admit, every summer, I reread all of Harry Potter. I appreciate The Deathly Hallows a lot more each year.

Quarterly: In your opinion, has there ever been a movie that is better than the book?

RH: Oh absolutely. Going way back, The Godfather was an amazing book, but the movie completed it. And I’ll probably get eviscerated for this, but I think the first Twilight movie was better than the book. Melissa Rosenberg’s screenplay cut down to the heart of what made Twilight a sensation and Catherine Hardwicke’s choices as a director were disconcerting and beautiful. (And you can check out Rosenberg’s work now in Jessica Jones. She’s just so great!)

Quarterly: Which three authors would you invite to a dinner party?

RH: I’d love to have dinner with Malinda Lo, Shaun David Hutchinson, and Anna-Marie McLemore. I follow them on Twitter, and I think that would be an amazing, illuminating night. And if I could cheat and invite one more, Mary Roach. She’s hilarious and has researched so many things, who knows where the conversation might go?

Quarterly: Your novel, Looking for Group, features two very real and relatable—though not frequently depicted in YA fiction—characters. Did you always plan on writing the characters as is? What inspired you to get them on paper?

RH: In the beginning, I wanted to, very much. I wanted to tell stories like mine and my wife’s and my friends’, because so often, you’re allowed to be One Thing in a book. You can be poor, and that’s all or you can be queer. Or you can be sick. Or you can be a gamer. But real life isn’t like that; a lot of times, those things stack because of each other. So I wrote the book of my heart, and made my wife cry each day when she read my pages.

But when it was done, and it came time to do business, I was afraid that a book about a queer boy and a transgender girl wouldn’t sell. So I broke my own heart, and straightened everybody up, and sent it to my agent. He realized something was missing—I’d never told him about the original version. Finally, though, I did, and he was loving and stern and said, “I’ll worry about what sells. You worry about writing a great book.”

So I put Looking For Group back the way it was supposed to be. And now it’s a real book, in the real world, with the real characters I hoped and dreamed and wished for all along.

Quarterly: There is so much travel in Looking for Group. Are you yourself a traveler? How did you pick the places Dylan and Arden visit?

RH: I love to be in new places, but I hate to travel. Ugh, getting there is awful. I hate that part the most! But I do enjoy weird roadside attractions—some of the things that Dylan and Arden see in the book are from my real life. Others are things that I looked at online. I “drove” to the Salton Sea probably fifty times on Google Maps.

They’re all special and have stories behind them. But here’s a tiny spoiler: When I was a kid, my parents would save up all year so that we could go to King’s Island—an amusement park—in the next state. They’d pack us in the car when it was still dark, and we’d go back to sleep for the drive. Mom would wake us up when we were close. She’d say, “Watch for the Eiffel Tower,” because in the middle of King’s Island’s International Street, they have a replica of the Tower, light blinking on top and everything. Seeing it was a revelation, every single time.

It meant so much to me that I deviated Dylan and Arden’s “I-70 or bust!” driving plan, just so they could go down the right highway to see it.

Quarterly: If you could visit one fictional world, which would you chose?

RH: I expect I would go to Hogwarts. Aren’t you still waiting for your letter, too?

Quarterly: Do you have any advice for young writers?

RH: Read, read, read. But mostly, only listen to advice that makes you feel like a better writer. Everybody has their own process. There’s no one way to write a book. Trying to follow the wrong advice can make you feel defeated and small.

I’ve tried to follow both good and smart advice that wasn’t for me, and stupid advice that was just stupid, and none of it helped me to write a book. The advice that felt like blooming instead of burying worked for me. So read, read, read. Learn how your favorites tell a story. But only listen to advice that helps you grow.

Quarterly: What is your favorite thing that you have received in the mail?

RH: This is the best question ever. When I was in high school, I had several Japanese pen pals. We’d write snail mail* to each other; we corresponded for years. And one of them, Michiko, taped several entire anime series for me on VHS tapes, as a surprise. It was this HUGE box, full of anime, turning up out of nowhere—back in the 80s. It was unexpected, and anime in the US back then was so rare, it was like getting a box full of gold.

(*Because we had to. There was no internet yet. SpoOooOoky!)

Click here to get Rory Harrison’s YA Fiction Box, complete with an exclusive, annotated copy of Looking for Group!

Rory Harrison lives in the American Midwest and is sorted into Slytherin. She’s a geek and a gamer: she and pop culture are >>likedis<<. Some of her favorite games include Skyrim, Dragon Age 1 & 3, World of Warcraft, Guild Wars 1 & 2, Life Is Strange, Goat Simulator, and whatever else strikes her fancy at the moment. When she’s not reading, writing, or gaming, she’s having very strong opinions about things. Visit her online at www.roryharrison.com.

This article was originally posted on NetGalley.

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