Q & A with author Corran Harrington

Corran Harrington, author

Corran Harrington, author

AFP (Arbor Farm Press): Where did you get the idea for Follow the River Home?

CH (Corran Harrington): Follow the River Home began as a collection of short stories, with the intended link between the stories some reference to the Rio Grande. But after writing several stories, I noticed that two of them had a protagonist named Daniel (though with different last names). I began to wonder what would happen if those two Daniels were the same character. Almost immediately, then, I saw how all the characters from all the stories were connected. It turns out they all grew up together in the same neighborhood in the 1950s and ‘60s, and that many of their lives intersected in adulthood. I decided to write Daniel’s story as a novella, which became the first part of the book. The short stories became the second part of the book and serve to cast a different light on many of the characters and scenes from the novella. The short stories informed the novella and, after writing the novella, I only had to tweak the stories for consistency. It was like putting together a puzzle and was great fun.

AFP: Are any of the characters real, or parts of the plot true?

CH: The characters and plot are fictional, though it would be hard to imagine writing anything of fiction that didn’t have some truth in it, be it based on the author’s research or own personal observations in the world. I am not in this book, but many of the bits of texture and little details come from my own experiences–for example, a blue corduroy coat – I’m sure I had one when I was a kid. That coat shows up at least twice in the book. Also, the beginning of one of the stories is based on my experience as a five-year-old who in the fall of 1960 was dragged to a Richard Nixon campaign speech at the Civic Auditorium in Albuquerque. I have a vivid memory of men yelling, “Open the goddam curtains!” They were angry because the curtains obscured the view of Nixon for those who were seated at the sides of the auditorium. The story is not about me, but that little touch of detail is true, as well as the fact that I was, like the girl in the story, thankfully, also taken to a John F. Kennedy campaign speech a few weeks later.

AFP: Follow the River Home is vivid in setting and detail. How much research do you do when you’re writing?

CH: I am a meticulous researcher. I actually find research fun and completely satisfying to the left side of my brain. I research anything and everything, specifically including the most trivial of details. I have a strong dislike of inaccuracy, even if it would likely go unnoticed by the reader. So, for example, one of the stories had a scene where the mother is quickly throwing together sack lunches for her children. I spent a lot of time making sure the particular brands of bread and mustard were on the market at the time of the setting of the story. I never imagined myself researching condiments! For more serious research, though, I find that it often informs the story and leads to some of my better writing. An example of that can be seen in one of the stories written in the voices of certain pieces of antique furniture. I extensively researched that style of furniture, and it ended up informing some of the more beautiful lines in the story. And as for the setting of Follow the River Home, it is completely authentic and essential to the book. The setting is practically a character of its own in this book.

AFP: Did you always aspire to be a writer and, specifically, a writer of literary fiction?

CH: I have to answer that with a resounding YES! I was first a reader, of course. But I always wanted to write fiction. I had written a few odd short stories in high school, which were published in the school’s literary magazine. I had a wonderful grandmother, Dorothy Harrington, to whom Follow the River Home is dedicated. She was an artist and a weaver (and a very eccentric librarian). She encouraged me in everything I was ever interested in. When it came to writing, she and I planned to team up. I would write children’s stories, and she would illustrate them. That never happened but, when I was about 20, I told her I wanted to start writing novels. She very tactfully suggested that maybe I should get some more life experience before I tried that. So I started writing songs as a way of keeping the creative forces moving until I felt ready to write fiction. I wrote songs for about twenty years, until I felt ready and called to start writing fiction as a serious endeavor. By then, my reading tastes were clearly in the area of literary fiction. I love writing that explores not only the physical setting, but the emotional landscapes of its characters.

 AFP: How do you get inspired to write, and what is the best thing about being a writer?

CH: I don’t do anything in particular to get inspired. I just trust the process of inspiration itself. It seems to have a life all its own, and I try to remain open and observant, trusting that when it shows up I will recognize it and make room for it. I love how writing engages both sides of my brain. The right-brained creative/inspirational/muse part brings great joy on a deep spiritual and emotional level. And the left-brain part, where the crafting, research, and structuring come from, satisfies the part of me that loves to work, solve puzzles, and have fun.

AFP: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

CH: First, be willing to write embarrassingly bad prose! No one will see it but you. Second, be brutal with your editing and meticulous with your research. Learn all you can about the craft of writing. Read books about it, and read books by authors you admire. Third, be professional when you make submissions and follow all the submission guidelines of the publisher. Finally, welcome rejections. Every writer probably has enough to wallpaper his or her house. Rejections are rarely hurtful, and occasionally an editor will write a personal note which can be very helpful and encouraging. Rejection letters are a sign that you take your writing career seriously.

AFP: What are you currently working on?

CH: I am almost done with a first draft of a novel based on one of the stories in Follow the River Home. It is set in the Pacific Northwest. I am also writing two short stories, one of which is almost completed; and I recently found a home for a third short story, forthcoming in April 2016.