Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Interview with Sue Harrison, author of Mother Earth Father Sky and Song of the River

Today, Flashlight Commentary is pleased to welcome author Sue Harrison to our little corner of the net to discuss two of her recently re-released titles, Mother Earth Father Sky and Song of the River.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Sue. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Mother Earth Father Sky and Song of the River.
Both Mother Earth Father Sky and My Sister the Moon are based on the legends and stories of Native Alaskan peoples, and both novels take place thousands of years ago. Mother Earth Father Sky is the first book of The Ivory Carver Trilogy, which also includes My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind. Song of the River is the first book of The Storyteller Trilogy, which also includes Cry of the Wind and Call Down the Stars. Both books combine suspense, a bit of mystery, and a romance. The main characters in each novel face tremendous challenges that require them to grow in physical ability, mental acuity, and spiritual strength in order to survive.

What inspired you to write this story and why did you feel it needed to be told?
I love stories about people who are able to overcome the odds and not only survive but thrive. I wanted to write about people like that to encourage readers when they face tough situations that test their fortitude. Of course, when I wrote Mother Earth Father Sky I had NO readers except myself. So I have to concede that I also write for myself. A few years before I began Mother Earth Father Sky, my husband and I lost a baby daughter to meningitis. In part, that sorrow was an impetus to reach out to others who were enduring times of loss and great hurt.

Both Mother Earth Father Sky and Song of the River are pre-histories. Where do you even start you research and what proved the most intriguing discovery over the course of your inquiries? 
At the beginning, my research followed no prescribed plan. That was back in the late 1970s and without an internet or a nearby library, I read whatever I could find about Native cultures, borrowing books from people I knew. I also did interviews and learned hands-on skills. Later, I began to base my research on Native languages and travel, which tends to open up whole worlds of ideas and mindsets. Preliminary research usually takes me years, but I also do another round of “small question” research in the third or fourth rewrite of the novel. That research involves specific questions about small things within the story, which I usually leave blank during the first draft rather than interrupt the writing process to look something up. I’ll have a sentence like, “She used a (some kind of bone - look it up sue) to scrape the wolf hide.” The answer to that is a caribou leg bone, notched at the widest end. 

My most intriguing discovery was how amazingly well the Native peoples adapted to their environment to survive, but a close second is that widespread trade networks existed in North America even thousands of years ago. 

Your stories beautifully balance the harsh lifestyle of prehistoric people against very familiar human emotion. How did you achieve this and why were both aspects so important to you as an author?
Thank you! The harsh lifestyle was the reality of that time period, that place, and those people. None of us on earth today would be here except that our ancestors were strong enough to survive. Of course, we know that in our heads, but it sometimes takes the “reality” of a novel to convince our hearts that that was so. I based my premise of emotion (that human emotions were much the same then as they are now) on how many surviving artifacts display some type of artistic handwork, beyond what was useful. A scraping bone might have a design incised on it. Woven grass burial mats had bits of contrasting colors embroidered into the weaving. Amulets were detailed three-dimensional sculptures. These artifacts give evidence that the people appreciated beauty, which means they felt emotions: joy, love, sorrow, pride… The combination of human emotions and a harsh lifestyle allows me to write full, well-developed characters, and full characters carry a novel into the hearts of readers.   

Do you see yourself in any of your characters and is there one of them you wish you were more like?
I see bits of myself in each of my characters. In my writing, my protagonists are what I wish I could be, especially Chagak in Mother Earth Father Sky. She is so strong. So determined. Such a survivor. I wish I were more like Chagak.  

Each of your books tackles different topics. How did you determine what ideas you would work into each particular plot? 
I always develop my characters first, and once I get to know what is important to them – at the center of their hearts – I rip it away and then write the journey they must take to reclaim what is theirs. So I guess you could say that my characters tell me what the story is about. 

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character in either book you wish you could have spent more time with? 
The trader Cen in the second trilogy (The Storyteller Trilogy) is an amazing but flawed man, and I love the sacrifices he makes for those he loves. He began as a background character and pushed his way into secondary rank, but I couldn’t let give him the space he would need to ascend to protagonist status. I wish I could have spent more time with him. 

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, who would you choose and why?
Chagak from Mother Earth Father Sky. I would love to have a conversation with this wise, strong women. I would also love to have her show me how she weaves her beautiful baskets.

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?
I hope they come away with a stronger sense of their own potential and also a deeper need to connect with the Creator. 

Finally, what is next for you? Any new projects waiting in the wings? 
I’m writing suspense novels for the inspirational market. They are outside the box, so difficult to place with a publisher, but I’m excited about them and so is my agent. In the wings? A general market novel that combines paranormal, women’s fiction and mystery. Right now the characters for this novel are living in my head, and I’m having a ball getting to know them. 

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About the Author: Sue Harrison grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and graduated summa cum laude from Lake Superior State University with a bachelor of arts degree in English language and literature. At age twenty-seven, inspired by the cold Upper Michigan forest that surrounded her home, and the outdoor survival skills she had learned from her father and her husband, Harrison began researching the people who understood best how to live in a harsh environment: the North American native peoples. She studied six Native American languages and completed extensive research on culture, geography, archaeology, and anthropology during the nine years she spent writing her first novel, Mother Earth Father Sky, the extraordinary story of a woman’s struggle for survival in the last Ice Age. A national and international bestseller, and selected by the American Library Association as one of the Best Books for Young Adults in 1991, Mother Earth Father Sky is the first novel in Harrison’s critically acclaimed Ivory Carver Trilogy, which includes My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind. She is also the author of Song of the River, Cry of the Wind, and Call Down the Stars, which comprise the Storyteller Trilogy, also set in prehistoric North America. Her novels have been translated into thirteen languages and published in more than twenty countries. Harrison lives with her family in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula. For more information please visit Sue Harrison’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Book  ~ Mother Earth Father Sky: A young woman fights for survival amid the brutality of the last Ice Age. It’s 7056 BC, a time before history. On the first day that Chagak’s womanhood is acknowledged within her Aleut tribe, she unexpectedly finds herself betrothed to Seal Stalker, the most promising young hunter in the village. A bright future lies ahead of Chagak—but in one violent moment, she loses her entire way of life. Left with her infant brother, Pup, and only a birdskin parka for warmth, Chagak sets out across the icy waters on a quest for survival and revenge. Mother Earth Father Sky is the first book of the Ivory Carver Trilogy, which also includes My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind.

About the Book ~ Song of the River: Two ancient tribes on the verge of making peace become foes once more when a double murder jeopardizes a storyteller’s mission. Eighty centuries ago, in the frozen land that is now Alaska, a clubfooted male child had been left to die, when a woman named K’os rescued him. Twenty years later and no longer a child, Chakliux occupies the revered role as his tribe’s storyteller. In the neighboring village of the Near River people, where Chakliux will attempt to make peace by wedding the shaman’s daughter, a double murder occurs that sends him on a harsh, enthralling journey in search of the truth about the tragic losses his people have suffered, and into the arms of a woman he was never meant to love. Song of the River is the first book of the Storyteller Trilogy, which also includes Cry of the Wind and Call Down the Stars.

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CHeck out all the stops on sue Harrison's Mother Earth Father Sky and Song of the River Virtual Book Tour!

Monday, August 5
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book (Mother Earth Father Sky)
Tuesday, August 6
Review Bitches with Books (Mother Earth Father Sky)
Wednesday, August 7
Guest Post at HF Connection
Thursday, August 8
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book (Song of the River)
Monday, August 12
Review at Just One More Chapter (Mother Earth Father Sky)
Review at Closed the Cover (Song of the River)
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Tuesday, August 13
Review Bitches with Books (Song of the River)
Wednesday, August 14
Review at Flashlight Commentary (Song of the River)
Thursday, August 15
Review at A Chick Who Reads (Mother Earth Father Sky)
Friday, August 16
Review at Broken Teepee (Mother Earth Father Sky)
Monday, August 19
Review at Carole’s Ramblings & Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell (Mother Earth Father Sky)
Tuesday, August 20
Review at Unabridged Chick (Song of the River)
Wednesday, August 21
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, August 22
Review at Book Drunkard (Mother Earth Father Sky)
Friday, August 23
Review at Too Fond (Song of the River)
Review at Broken Teepee (Song of the River)
Monday, August 26
Interview at Bibliophilic Book Blog
Tuesday, August 27
Review at Book Drunkard (Song of the River)
Wednesday, August 28
Review at Flashlight Commentary (Mother Earth Father Sky)
Thursday, August 29
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time (Song of the River)
Review at The Musings of a Book Junkie (Mother Earth Father Sky)
Friday, August 30
Review at Carole’s Ramblings & Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell (Song of the River)

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