Mary-Jean Harris writes fantasy and historical fiction, both novels and short stories. Some of her short stories have been published in anthologies and websites such as the Tesseracts 18 and 20 anthologies, Polar Expressions Publishing, Allegory Ezine, and SciPhi Journal. Four of her short stories have also been honourable mentions in the Writers of the Future contest. Mary-Jean is currently a student at University of Victoria in Canada studying theoretical physics and has a Master’s degree from the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo. In her undergraduate, she also studied philosophy at Carleton University. Mary-Jean enjoys learning about ancient philosophy and loves to travel. Her novel, Aizai the Forgotten, is the first in the series The Soul Wanderers. To learn more, visit www.thesoulwanderers.blogspot.ca/ You can also find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SoulWanderers/.
Featured Author: Mary-Jean Harris Interview
- How long have you been writing?
- What/who inspired you to be a writer?
- What genre do you prefer to write in?
- Describe your writing process. What comes first–character or plot? Do you “pants” it or outline?
- Are there any software tools, resources, or websites you often use while writing?
- Do you have a set number of words per day you target? Or do you set other goals to meet?
- How much time is spent on “the business of writing” – queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?
- Do you prefer short stories or full-length novels in your writing?
- Can you give some us some insight into your story in Realities Perceived?
- What advice can you give other writers?
LHP: How long have you been writing?
Mary-Jean Harris: I started writing in elementary school, mostly with short stories, although I did start a novel in grade 7 and I finished it a few years later. I never published it, but I’m glad I wrote it all the same. I got into writing more seriously later in high school and have been writing regularly ever since.
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Mary-Jean Harris: For me, creating a story and writing beautifully are one of the few things that are goals in themselves. I love fantasy books and I just tried out writing myself, so there was no one particular inspiration for me. Back to top >>>
LHP: What genre do you prefer to write in?
Mary-Jean Harris: Definitely fantasy! I also read historical fiction and classics, and I like to combine fantasy with a more old-fashioned style of writing, like one of my favourite books, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The magic and exploring other places is one of the highlights of fantasy for me. I often find this kind of magic to be more “real” than things in the “real” world, because it takes you to a higher level of existence. I also include some philosophy in my writing, which I studied as a minor in university. As for historical fiction, past times seem more interesting and more unknown. The mystery of past ages with magic and sorcery and secret philosophies…all very exciting! Back to top >>>
LHP: Describe your writing process. What comes first–character or plot? Do you “pants” it or outline?
Mary-Jean Harris: I’m a mix of both. When I wrote my first novel Aizai the Forgotten, I started it without any knowledge of where it was going. In fact, I thought it would just be a short story, something fun to do after I had finished writing a long novel (that wasn’t published). But it grew and grew, and I eventually realized that this was going to be a novel, so then I went and planned some of it. Though even with some planning, I modify things a lot as I write. I make up new plans and don’t fit in some of my original ones because the events and the characters lead me elsewhere. For short stories though, I try to plan them more so that I can keep them to a reasonable length. Though it’s fun to sometimes just start writing and see where it goes without any planning whatsoever! Back to top >>>
LHP: Are there any software tools, resources, or websites you use often while writing?
Mary-Jean Harris: A nice pencil (never use pens or else you can’t erase!) and a notebook. Or just loose paper. You really don’t need anything special when writing initially, and it’s better to be simpler to prevent the big “D” word: distraction. Though you’ll need Microsoft Word later on to type up what you’ve written. Back to top >>>
LHP: Do you have a set number of words per day you target? or do you set other goals to meet?
Mary-Jean Harris: It depends what I’m working on at the time. If I’m in the middle of a novel and have enough plotted out to continue for a few chapters, then I try to write as much as I can, usually a few pages (handwritten pages, and written tiny, so about twice that number in typed computer pages). Though sometimes if I’m planning a new story I might not do any real writing at all, or if I’m researching I might just focus on that. Since I don’t write as a full-time job, I’m lucky in a sense because I don’t have to force myself to write when I have no good ideas or when I don’t want to. Writing is a creative pursuit and restricting it by forcing it to a schedule or word limit can be debilitating. But of course, in order to get things out in good time and make progress it’s important to have some goal or word target, so it really ends up being a balance. Back to top >>>
LHP: Question: How much time is spent on “the business of writing” – queries, seeking an agent or publisher, marketing/sales?
Mary-Jean Harris: Too much time from my point of view, but not enough time from a realistic point of view. I would publish and sell a lot more if I was better in the marketing/sales arena! Back to top >>>
LHP: Do you prefer short stories or full length novels in your writing?
Mary-Jean Harris: Usually novels, though I also love writing short stories, especially with things I want to try out for some time but not devote months and years to. I often come across interesting philosophical ideas in the books I read and find that some of them are perfect to form a short story around. However, I like to write novels more because you can really get into character development and have a much more intricate plot that can explore many different themes and ideas. Back to top >>>
LHP: Can you give some us some insight into your story in Realities Perceived?
Mary-Jean Harris: My short story in Realities Perceived is called “The Riches of the Kingdom of Enryaku-ji.” This started from one of those interesting philosophical ideas that I mentioned before. In ancient Japan, very advanced monks used to undergo a process of self-mummification in which they starved themselves to death and dried out their bodies over the course of six years. A monk undergoing this process was called a sokushinbutsu. He would eat very little to begin with, usually just tree bark and roots, and drink poisonous tea made from a urushi tree that would help dry out his body (but not yet kill him). Eventually, he would stop eating and drinking altogether, and would become little more than a living husk. The monks would meditate and pray during this time, and eventually be sealed in a box by their disciples until they died. Although this sounds gruesome, I found it fascinating, especially because the purpose of this was to prepare the monk for enlightenment by strengthening their minds and attuning them to the spiritual realm even during intense physical hardships. If they could survive this process, then they were truly enlightened and so would ascend to a greater realm at their death.
This is the main idea behind the short story, but you’ll have to read it to find out more! Back to top >>>
LHP: What advice can you give other writers?
Mary-Jean Harris: I think that if you’re just starting to write, you have to try different things to see what you like. Write short stories in different genres, different styles, different points of view, etc. When you find out what you really like, and it might be a lot of different things, then I would just write what you love most, and have fun with it. I wrote a few novels before getting my first novel published, and even though they weren’t ever published, they definitely improved my skills a lot. Another thing is to be inspired. Most writers say you just have to sit and force yourself to write, which is true to a point, but I find that you can’t get real inspiration by just forcing yourself through it. You have to dream about your story, look up in the clouds (literally!) and let your imagination take you on an adventure. I think if you love to write and have fun with it, then anyone can write good stories, because if you love to do it, you’ll find the time and make it work, just as we find the time to do things like eating and sleeping, because if we didn’t, we’d be miserable (or dead!). I think the key is to remember why you want to write, and to keep that in your heart and mind whenever you write or plan your stories. Back to top >>>