Today we’re interviewing Harper Fox. I say “we” because a few readers helped out with the questions and I’m very appreciative and wish to thank Simsala, Stacy and Rdafan for asking such interesting and intelligent questions.
Before we start the interview here’s Harper’s bio:
My name is Harper Fox, and I’m an M/M author trying to make it as a full-time writer, with just that bit more urgency after being made redundant from my day job. Interesting times! In a way it’s great, because I get to spend most of every day doing what I love best – creating worlds and stories for the huge cast of lovely gay men queuing up inside my head. I live in rural Northumberland in northern England and do most of my writing at an old kitchen table in our back garden, often with blanket and hot water bottle.
I live with my SO Jane, who has somehow put up with me for a quarter of a century now, and three enigmatic cats, chief among whom is Lucy, who knows the secret of the universe but isn’t letting on. When not writing, I either despair or make bread, specialities foccacia and my amazing seven-strand challah. If I have any other skills, I’m yet to discover them.
Hi Harper and welcome again to the site.
It must be pretty heady and exciting to have made such a splash with your first two books Life After Joe and Driftwood. What did you hope for when you submitted them to the publishers? Is the reaction of readers overwhelming or are you taking it in stride?
Hello, Wave. It’s a pleasure to be interviewed and I’m looking forward to tackling these great questions from you and your readers. First off – “heady and exciting” barely scratches the surface. I’m still in a state of disbelief. What I hoped for on submission was no more than the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done your best, explored a possibility. What I expected was another thud of my well-padded head against a brick wall. And, although you might expect the excitement to die down, I have been trying and failing for so long in this game that every confirmation I get that readers are buying and enjoying my books knocks me for six. I really do spend quite a lot of time flat on my emotional backside. Will that change? I don’t know. I can’t feel any potential inside myself ever to become blasé or unappreciative. It’s a double-edged sword: a bad review can go through me like a knife; an email from a reader who’s loved a story makes me happy in a way I’ve never experienced before. It’s a roller coaster. So… “in stride”? Not so very much. No. 😀
How long have you been writing stories that you hoped to have published some day?
Since my early teens, and that’s a number of decades I don’t like to think about. Like any teen I had my passions and my fantasies, and like any compulsive writer I dealt with them in story form. I even tried to get some of the end results published. The one thing that never, ever occurred to me was my target audience. The stories came from my heart, and that was good enough for me… except that clearly it wasn’t, because the rejection letters kept coming, kept hurting, and I kept going back for more. I don’t know what I was thinking – possibly that all these publishers were idiots who just couldn’t perceive my real genius. Certainly, as a self-taught writer, I was too proud and ignorant to ask for help. Josh Lanyon told me a great story about one of his book signings recently. One unpublished author had said, in response to a question about being edited and critiqued, “But these stories come from my heart!” (Sound familiar?) And Josh, who knows plenty about those cardiac origins, and values them as the essential thing they are, replied, “Yes, and that’s great. Now let me tell you how to sell what’s in your heart.” I am still on a
massive learning curve with that one, but what surprised me most is that there isn’t really a conflict. I can, and do, still write my stories in heart’s blood. However, now that I’ve submitted myself to being taught about technique, pitch and marketing, I can make that blood run more usefully. I don’t need to tell you who my teacher was. And speaking of Svengali…
How did you hook up (in a good sense) 🙂 with Josh Lanyon whom you describe as “a mentor and friend whose endless patience, generosity and inspiration gave this story its wings” in the dedication for Driftwood? How instrumental has Josh been to your success?
Now, could there ever be any bad way of hooking up with Josh? (He’s safe; there’s the whole wide Atlantic between us. Otherwise I would, of course, just move in.) It’s not so much a case of Josh being “instrumental” as “wholly responsible”. Josh was kind enough to look at some unpaid writing I’d done. He liked it, and I said I wished I could make a living from it. He said, “How serious are you about that?”, and I said, “Deadly,” and he pretty much set me a target to turn out three novels over the course of the coming year. It was just what I needed – to be ordered, organised, slapped on the rump and sent trotting off about my business. Because I realised then it was business – not, “Oh, I feel like writing today so I will”, but “I absolutely have to turn out 1,500 words per day into the foreseeable future.” Josh took those first three rough drafts and – to say he edited or beta’ed is wrong; what he really did was somehow lay an unerring hand on large central problems – POV balance, exposition, backstory, character motivation – and tell me, clearly, kindly, precisely – how to deal with them.
I think your greatest skill is in developing realistic flawed characters whose lives are so devastated and then you build them back up and reward them with the love of their life. How do you do that? I admit to being blown away by the characters in both your books but especially Thomas and Flynn in Driftwood, although Matt and Aaron in Life After Joe were extraordinarily well drawn as well.
Thank you! It’s not helpful if I say I’m not really conscious of doing it at all, is it…? It’s my experience that life is devastating and that love is both infinite and infinitely redeeming. So I have these two convictions in my head all the time. And they seem important. I’m not big on proselytising but I do want other people to know that, so maybe it’s a big motivation for my writing. (Also perhaps a reason why I don’t find a conflict between writing “from the heart” and writing “for the market”; I do genuinely believe in that “love conquers all” which lies at the heart of romance.) I’m hardly dewy-eyed. I’ve seen, and been in the pits. It’s hard to fight back, and love is the only reason and reward for doing it at all. So, in answer to your question (finally!), I suppose that I feel that and feed it back into my characters. Especially Driftwood’s Tom, I think. He became almost frighteningly real to me and I do look twice at blue Landrovers whenever I visit Cornwall…
Here’s a question from Simsala, a ‘regular’ on the site:
In both of your published works you write about alcoholism and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Do you work with diseased people or is this “just” interest and (well done) research?
Thank you, Simsala. I’m glad my protagonists and their difficulties are convincing. One thing I’m aware of is that I mustn’t let it become too much of a recurring theme, or at least that it shouldn’t be the dominant feature of my work. As for the source of the knowledge – that’s a tricky one to answer. If I say “family”, and the incredible power family behaviour has to pattern itself into successive generations, I’m sure you’ll understand. And it’s great to use that as inspiration, but writing as self-therapy and writing commercial romance are two very different things, so I tap that source carefully and with a watchful eye on the potential for self-indulgence.
Stacy wants to know
Do you write based on events/people in your life?
Hi, Stacy. From my answer to Simsala’s question, you’ll see that part of the answer is “yes”. In fact the whole answer is yes – every little thing, even the boring, inane, pointless stuff that happens – gets stored away as potential material. Of course I haven’t fought in Afghanistan (though the night is still young) or been helicoptered to an oil rig in a storm, but technical stuff isn’t hard to find out, and I come humbly to the exercise of imagining the experience of soldiers and rescue workers, armed only really with my belief that a great deal of crucial human motivation – love, pain, loss, hope – is universal. (I’ve also had a lot of gay male friends, who continued to talk to me even after they knew I was gonna pick their brains, suck out their marrow and leave their bones to dry in the sun.)
Are your stories planned out completely before you start to write, or do you just sit down and write them?
Ah. Interesting one. “Sit down and write” was my modus operandi in my pre-Josh era. Post-Josh – “planned out completely”, every time. (I’m aware that I make him sound like some kind of national disaster.) It’s the difference between business and pleasure, although writing is still a massive pleasure – I couldn’t do it otherwise. Knowledge of a deadline, even an informal one set by a friend, means that I need a structure and a timeframe, and to stick to both very closely. For me, organic growth was uncontrolled growth, unpublishable growth. Yes, the new technique is restrictive, but it strikes its own types of sparks from my imagination. It means that I have to plan really carefully, or end up with a book I don’t want to write, and I spend a preparatory week/fortnight in a state of intensive R&D, mostly staring at walls. It’s an odd state, very solitary, during which I’m aware that I’m working as hard as I’ve ever done in my life, and nothing beats the rush that comes when I get it – the complete idea, the central theme, the ending. Once that’s in place, and written down with target dates and times attached, I just blaze away.
Rdafan has a couple of questions
Will we see more of Aaron & Matt in the future…really loved Life after Joe and saw it was #5 on Carina’s bestseller list, so congrats Harper
Thank you, Rdafan. It never crossed my mind that Life after Joe would get published, so you can imagine how I felt when it became one of Carina’s bestsellers – really one of the proudest moments of my life. And, yes, I have thought about sequelling the novel. I don’t think Matt and Aaron have told their whole story yet and I’d love to see what they made of life, say, five years down the line. Same with Tom and Flynn. I’d never unpick any of the stitches of their partnerships’ romance, but they certainly might have further adventures…
Also, what do you do to relax in your downtime when taking a break from writing?
Oh dear. This is tough and makes me sound quite dysfunctional. Relax? Downtime? Taking a break? What are these alien concepts of which you speak? The answer is “not much”, and that worries me a bit. It was the same in my pre-Josh era; all spare time and energy got channelled into writing. Again, not a conscious decision, just a reflex, a condition of being. One thing I do love, now I’ve been made redundant from my long-term day job, is meeting up with my ex-colleagues and completely jumping over from my life into theirs. They all knew me long before I had any success as a writer and they take me with a healthy pinch of salt. I love to hear all about their days and their new jobs and their kids, their troubles and triumphs. I’m out of myself for that time. Otherwise, sadly, I’m just an obsessive compulsive wreck… 😀
You have two new books due out in the fall and winter – one is a novel – A Midwinter Prince which will be released in November by Loose Id. What would you like to tell us about this book? Are we going to have another breathless adventure? 🙂
A bit of a one, yes! A Midwinter Prince is a glittery, frosty city romance. There is an adventure subplot, but essentially it’s a coming-of-age story for Laurie and Sasha. Laurie is an aristocratic, wealthy young Londoner trying to break out from the clutches of his overbearing father. One bitter winter night he meets Sasha, an illegal immigrant from Romania, who’s living on the streets and doing what he has to in order to stay alive. They fall in love, and what I really wanted to do with the story was show how much more of an alien Laurie is in his native city, his golden cage, than Sasha, who lives by his wits. Both are homeless in one sense or the other. I’ve tried to tell the story of how they become one another’s refuge. It’s an unashamed romance, but Sasha has dark and mysterious Romanian roots, leading to suspense and gunplay…
You’re writing a short story to be included in Carina’s Christmas anthology. Tell us a little bit about it.
It was meant to be a bit shorter, but Carina were kindly and didn’t flinch when I sailed past my 40K word count! Nine Lights Over Edinburgh is a festive story about a tired, grumpy Edinburgh policeman called McBride. He’s divorced, battling a new boss and new policing methods. He’s seen every shade of dirt and betrayal on the city’s seamy side, and the last thing he expects at the age of 40 is to be swept off his feet by a visiting Israeli Mossad agent. Tobias meets all McBride’s bitterness and self-doubt without batting an eyelid, and when McBride’s daughter goes missing, they join forces to get her back. I like Nine Lights. McBride is my most flawed hero yet, and it was my great pleasure to unleash all the forces of Toby’s love upon him.
Do you have any other stories planned/to be released over the next 6 months? Do you feel any pressure to ensure that your newest releases are at least equal to Life after Joe and maybe Driftwood. That’s a tall order because both books, especially Driftwood, (which I don’t think you’ll ever top, but I’ve been wrong about you before) 🙂 are exceptional.
I do! I was delighted to hear a few days ago that Samhain Publishing has accepted my longest novel so far, The Salisbury Key. I’m pleased because they did such a lovely job with Driftwood. TSK is an erotic archaeological mystery thriller, if you can imagine such a thing… Here’s the blurb:
Jason Ross, a wealthy, respected archaeologist, has just taken his own life. His heartbroken young lover Daniel begins a lonely mission to find out why. What is the nature of the mysterious key Jason was searching for on Salisbury Plain? Dan hopes to get his answers when the army assigns him a handsome explosives expert called Rayne to help him deal with the Plain’s bomb-riddled military zone.
Now Dan must deal with the guilt of betraying his lover, and Rayne is faced with the terrifying possibility that the army he’s served may be willing to sell him out in order to obtain the elusive – and deadly – Salisbury Key.
With regard to pressure, my feelings vary between the following two states – (1) “Oh, this is fine. I can keep this up no trouble at all,” and (2) “Aaaargh, I’m doomed to certain failure!” I have to say, the sole disadvantage to having people like your books is the fear that they won’t like the next – yes, it does seem like a steep slope to look down when you settle yourself to write in the morning. And readers will, of course, compare. I think it’s a massive mistake for me to do so myself, and I’ll try to remember that, and give each book as it comes all the love and attention I possibly can. With gratitude that they come at all!
Now that you have four books under your belt what’s next for Harper?
The next four, I most sincerely hope. Josh wisely counsels me to build up my contemporary-romance readership before branching out elsewhere, but I think I’ve mentioned on this site before that I’ve got a historical on my mind’s permanent back-burner. It’s got a great title – Brothers of the Wild North Sea – but that’s about all it’s got. Being dragged out of the concept room at the moment is what I hope will be the first in a series for Loose Id, although this is still at the proposal stage. I find law-enforcement partnerships very sexy, and hope to find English brethren for Josh’s excellent Dangerous Ground protagonists, though I could never hope to match that dynamic and fascinating pair.
Thank you Harper.
Thank you so much, Wave, and the contributors of all the other challenging questions. I had a great time answering.
Harper’s next book, A Midwinter Prince, will be released in November through Loose Id.
Harper Fox’s Contact Information