INTERVIEW WITH JANE ALVEY HARRIS
Jane Alvey Harris
Jane Alvey Harris (2016)
Reviewed by Faryal Jabbar (Age 14) for Reader Views (8/16)
Jane Alvey Harris has a Humanities degree from Brigham Young University with emphases in Art History, Italian Language, and Studio Art. She’s CRAZY about the visual and performing arts! She enjoys playing classical piano, painting & sketching, singing & acting, and especially writing poetry & prose.
But, her real passion is PEOPLE. She loves to watch and study what makes us tick as human beings. Definitely a dreamer, her favorite thing to do is to weave together sublime settings and stories for characters to live and learn in…herself included.
Jane currently lives in an enchanted fairy-princess castle in Dallas, Texas, with her three often-adorable children and their three seldom-adorable cats.
Sheri: Welcome Jane, and thank you for being with us today.
Jane: Thank you so much!
Sheri: What is Riven about?
Jane: I think this tagline from Kirkus Reviews sums it up pretty well. Riven is “A Whirlwind narrative about an imaginative heroine that uses fantasy to offer salvation from abuse.”
Sheri: Riven is the first book in your My Myth Trilogy. Do you have the whole series plotted out already? How far along are you with the manuscripts for the other books in the series?
Jane: I do have synopses for both the second and third books. I’m horrible at writing things sequentially, though. My process involves lots of daydreaming and transcribing the vivid scenes from my mind. After I’ve written a bunch of scenes, I connect them together. I’m writing books two and three simultaneously because I don’t pick the order the scenes arrive in my brain…I just ask for lots of inspiration and stay open. It works because I know my characters so well and I know where they all end up. Right now both Secret Keeper and Primed are a quarter of the way done. But, I’m going to make a concerted effort to focus on Secret Keeper so I can appease readers who are hungry for the second book.
Sheri: What was your inspiration for writing this series?
Jane: It started out as a love story to my kids…Jacob, Aidan, and Claire…but it took some serious turns and over four years became a tale of self-acceptance. Like any fiction, Riven is a mixture of dreams and real experience. Not all of the experiences are mine, but most of Emily’s reality is based on things that have happened to important people in my life. I have had the distinct honor of being an Outcry Witness (a person who first hears allegations of childhood abuse by a victim) for six adult men and women survivors. I realized I don’t have the luxury of remaining quiet about it.
Sheri: What was your biggest challenge in writing Riven and the rest of the My Myth series?
Jane: Definitely, my biggest challenges were my lack of self-confidence, and developing the skills to write well enough to do justice to the story that’s been growing in me for years. I’ve always loved to write, and I thought I was pretty good at it. I mean, I was a good writer. But, writing well and writing a novel or trilogy, well… are two different animals…so many moving parts! It wasn’t until after I was done with the first draft of the manuscript that would become Riven, that I realized how far I had to go and how much I had to learn. That’s when I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), hired a consultant, and started attending as many workshops and conferences as I could. My writing has VASTLY improved, and I’m working hard to continue progressing in my craft. As for the self-confidence? I continually push myself to operate just outside my comfort zone. Small successes and learning I can do things I didn’t think I could do helps me develop courage. It’s a lifelong journey.
Sheri: What lured you to the young adult fantasy genre?
Jane: My imagination is a very big part of who I am. I’m a dreamer. I’ve always loved that my, maiden name, Alvey, really means Elf Warrior. Seriously, how cool is that? Besides, as Jesse Williams said at the 2016 BET Awards, “Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we aren’t real.”
As for why I chose to write Riven this way? Three reasons.
· First, because so many people use fantasy to cope with and escape from unpleasant realities, especially people who live with and/or who have survived trauma and abuse.
· Second, telling such a darkly disturbing story using fantasy makes it more approachable AND at the same time heightens the tragedy with its stark contrast to innocence.
· Third, I wanted to present an allegory with several different layers of meaning. Some readers may simply enjoy the fantasy, adventure, and romance that exist on the surface. Others will dig the mental illness/psychological/addiction/self-harm aspects. And, if anyone is open to diving even deeper, they will find everything from feminism to quantum mechanics to musings on organized religion.
Sheri: How do you think writing for the YA crowd differs from writing for a more mature audience?
Jane: I hope, in this case, not very much. The thing I love about YA is that when it’s done well it packs an enormous punch in a very accessible fashion. I wrote Riven as a crossover, which I hope adults will enjoy as much as teens. Riven deals with some very mature themes, but they can’t be considered “adult” themes because they happen to children. My goal in this trilogy is to treat the subject matter with sensitivity, while not protecting the reader too much from the ugliness. Childhood abuse of any kind is unacceptable, but unfortunately pervasive. It needs to be discussed. Exposing how prevalent it is can help strip it of power. Normalizing and empowering victims and survivors of abuse will help break the cycle.
Emily, the protagonist in Riven, suffers from a dissociative disorder. She hears voices in her head, self-medicates, and self-mutilates. Sometimes the narrative switches abruptly between realities and there is some purposeful confusion. In writing it this way, I put a lot of trust in my readers to pay attention and THINK…look for clues, wonder what they would do or how they would feel if they were in Emily’s situation. Personally, I don’t like to know everything that’s going on in novels. I’m paying my young readers a compliment in letting them figure things out and learn key plot points along with the protagonist.
Maybe the biggest way it differs is the language. I swear a lot more than Emily does, and when I’m writing as her, I sometimes get really upset with what’s going on around her. I’ve picked up some BAAAAAAD language from my three horrifying children, so the drafts have a lot more swear words than the finished book will. I only try to include swear words in the final draft that I think are really necessary and authentic.
Sheri: What is the best part about being an author of young adult novels?
Jane: EVERYTHING so far. I’ve been a substitute teacher at the high school level, and teens ROCK. I was always researching and watching while I interacted with my students. I haven’t done it yet, but I anticipate that my favorite part (after the dreaming and the writing), will be school visits, readings, and panels. I learn so much from people and especially young people. They inspire me and are such a rush.
Sheri: What is it you hope readers take away from your books?
Jane: Self-acceptance, self-mercy, self-love, EMPOWERMENT, and fun. Even though there is ugliness, there is a lot of good and a lot of fun, too. That’s the symbolism of the cicada on the front of the book: we are all a combination of light and dark, ugliness and beauty. But, when we accept ALL our parts, all our experiences, and love ourselves unconditionally, we are infinitely stronger.
Sheri: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing, or about life in general?
Jane: My real-life therapist, Nancy, introduced me to this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “Well behaved women rarely make history.” It’s kinda my motto. Live by YOUR rules and take responsibility for yourself. You don’t have to please or defend yourself to ANYONE.
Sheri: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Jane: YES: Do it! Don’t wait to start! Join a critique group! Google writing groups in your area! READ. Write. Share. SUBMIT. And, don’t give up. Writers WRITE. If you write, you’re a writer. Call yourself a writer. Tell people. Make a website. Blog. Hand out business cards! At first, I felt lame saying I was an author when I didn’t have a book published. But then, I fixed that by saying, “I’m pre-published.” BELIEVE IN YOURSELF and DO IT.
Sheri: What do you like to do in your free time?
Jane: Collect experiences. I’m a huge process-oriented person and the ultimate consumer of LIFE. I love traveling, but I’m also content being at home hanging out with my kids. I’m into all of the highbrow visual and performing arts, but I’m also a TV/movie junkie. Scary movies and British crime dramas are my fav! I want to imbibe life, connect with people, learn, and grow.
Oh, and eat. I LOVE FOOD.
Sheri: Is it true you live in a castle?
Jane: My home is a castle to me and I feel like a princess living in it. My writing/art room is in an ivy-covered turret.
Sheri: So, what’s next after the My Myth series?
Jane: I have synopses for another YA…a modern retelling of Rapunzel, and an adult fiction about karma.
Sheri: Do you have a website or blog (or both) where readers can learn more about you and your works?
Jane: Yes! www.janealveyharris.com I’m also on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, and Twitter as Jane Alvey Harris. Give me a follow, peeps. I follow back! I wanna connect!
Sheri: When and where will readers be able to purchase Riven?
Jane: Riven’s official book birthday is August 15, 2016! She is currently available in paperback and on kindle on Amazon, and will be coming to a bookstore near you soon. I’ll keep you posted.
Sheri: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers today?
Jane: Just my gratitude for your wonderful questions and for this opportunity to talk about my passion for writing and my love affair with Riven and the My Myth Trilogy. I believe the story is important and inspired and I’m just the lucky vessel who got to write it down.
Sheri: Jane, thank you so much for joining us today! I really enjoyed getting to know more about you and your work, and I wish you the best of luck on the rollout of your series!
Jane: Thank you!