Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Interview with Author Bill Harley



1. What motivated you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and turning it into a book?

I always have several ideas for books circulating, and for that matter, a number of books half-started. When this kernel of an idea presented itself to me in a conversation with my niece (Why would a 15-year-old girl have to drive across the country?), it immediately seemed like a good premise for a book. When I talked about it with others, I could see the interest in their eyes.  Especially students during school visits. I was working on some other writing projects, but this one finally muscled its way to the top.


2. What is it about and who is it for?

The book tells the story of a fifteen-year-old adopted girl, Mari, who, upon losing her single mom and afraid of going back into the foster care system, convinces her younger brother to get in their mom’s old car and drive across the country from Los Angeles to the Boston area, hoping to be taken in by her adoptive grandmother. Pshew. All in one sentence! So, it’s an American road trip. The trip is complicated by her being too young to have a driver’s license, short on cash, and responsible for her brother, Conor, who is brilliant but challenging, as he’s on the autism spectrum. Just to make it even more exciting, they plan to see the solar eclipse that happens the week of the trip. The book is aimed at 10–14-year-olds, but that to me, has to do with the necessity of marketing. It’s for all of us who feel like we don’t quite fit and are looking for our place in the world.


3. What do you hope the reader will be left with after reading it?

I’d love to have them feel like they just took the ride with Mari and Conor. I’d like to give young readers a sense that finding their place in the world is a journey we’re all on (one that, apparently never really ends, as far as I can tell). I would also hope that readers gain compassion for people who are different from them and gain a perspective on other’s lives as we learn about Mari’s struggles in the foster care system and Conor’s view of the world.


4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers?

Years ago, I had a short conversation with the novelist Russell Banks. I was struggling with getting anything written. He said to me, “I think if a a writer writes for one hour a day, consistently, they will do their life’s work.” That somehow freed me up - it’s the consistent showing up and working at the craft that is more important than how many hours a day you write, or how inspired you are. There are many things you can work on in developing the craft, but the routine of it is at the heart of the work.


5. What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?

I try to keep to my own lane in my work, and not pay attention to what trends are. I’m too old to be trying to figure out what’s hot and what’s not. That said, I’m very aware that we’re in an exciting period in children’s literature, hearing voices and stories that haven't been heard from before. And as an old white guy, it does present challenges - what role do I play in this? How do I listen to these voices and still offer my own stories? As a creator, what is my role in the new landscape?  And while I have to be careful not to presume and speak for others, in the end, writing is an act of imagination.   One reason we write is to have readers (especially younger ones) develop an empathy for the lives of others. I think a good writer develops a deeper sense of empathy through their writing – as they put themselves in someone else’s shoes. In writing Now You Say Yes, my thinking about what is “normal” changed a great deal in my study and thinking about autism. I only hope I did Conor and those like him justice.

As far as where book publishing is heading - I’m glad I don’t have to be responsible for that. I do know that people need stories, and books are one major way of getting them. The publishing world happens over my head - I’m down here trying to figure out the next paragraph.


6. What challenges did you overcome to write this book?

There were a lot of challenges - the book was a long time being born and went through many rewrites. Because it’s a contemporary story, and has to do with children at risk, there was a lot of laboring over how they were presented. I’m very aware that it would be easy to be misunderstood or taken to task when speaking about foster care and autism, or the presentation of different groups in our culture. I still don’t know how people will respond. On the craft end, I worked a long time trying to find the right voice in the story - trying different tenses, different perspectives, different registers of voice and language, before one really started to work. The book is a very subjective third person present, and there’s a very intimate interplay between the narrator’s voice and Mari’s perceptions - I was constantly asking myself, “Who’s speaking here?”


7. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?

Well, I hope they read two or three! Now You Say Yes is a page-turner. I think kids will REALLY want to find out what happens with Mari and Conor. After all, what kid hasn’t imagined taking their parent’s car and going on a long road trip? Conor and Mari do it, and they don’t know what they’re getting into. They meet really interesting people. They run out of money! They get stopped by the police! They lose the keys to the car in a very horrible way! Some people on the road are not to be trusted, but many are kind. It’s a lot like life. But it’s a story, so it’s all jammed together. I’m very proud of the book and, of Mari and Conor.


Bill Harley is a two-time Grammy Award–winning storyteller, musician, and author who has been writing and performing for kids and families for more than forty years. He has published several picture books and novels for middle readers—among them Night of the Spadefoot Toads, the popular Charlie Bumpers series, and Now You Say Yes. His books have received many honors, including Parents’ Choice and ALA awards. He lives in Massachusetts. You can visit his website here.



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Brian Feinblum should be followed on Twitter @theprexpert. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2021. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America. For more information, please consult: 

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