Yet, despite the three H's (heat, humidity, hurricane), we have Hope. And that leads me to our next guest in the Author Behind the Story series here at ckevinthompson.com!
Please welcome to the Florida front porch, fellow author, Deborah Harper!
Deborah, I want you to pretend you are in an elevator. The door opens, and Jimmy Fallon is standing there. He gets on with you and says, “Hi, I’m Jimmy Fallon, and I’m looking for average Joes & Janes with not-so-average lives to interview for my new show segment airing next month. And you’re name is? Ding! The door just shut. You have twelve floors until you reach the lobby. Go!
Hi, Jimmy. I’m Deborah Dee Harper, recently relocated from Alaska to Tennessee. I write inspirational and humorous books for both children and adults when I’m not chasing grizzly bears or moose for a picture, climbing on glaciers, or hiking rugged mountain trails—slowly, and usually in great pain.
Okay. Got my attention. And I'll bet Jimmy might ask some clarifying questions as well! Before you ever got a notion of becoming a writer/author, how old were you, and what were you doing in that time of your life?
I believe I was in elementary school when the writing bug bit me. I must have been about seven years old when I came up with the title The Mystery of Castle Dawn. That’s as far as I got—the title—and I’ve often thought I should just write the darned thing so it’ll quit bugging me. (And you know, I might just do that.) My writing back then consisted of half-page book reports, handmade Christmas cards, and lists for Santa. I picked up the pace in high school during a creative writing class and was encouraged by my teacher to continue writing but didn’t do so, in earnest at least, until my children were born and I was in my mid-20s. My writing was wretched, but I didn’t know enough about writing to know it was, so I blindly continued trying. That was the most important thing: I kept trying. I learned and read and studied and wrote and wrote and wrote. Eventually I began to learn what I needed to know.
That's the key isn't it? Keep writing and keep learning. Haven't read or met the perfect author yet. When the words aren’t flowing, what is your favorite comfort food and why?
Oddly enough, I find that a glass of wine and some cheese (or chocolate) helps relax me enough to get those creative thoughts flowing again. (Or maybe I just don’t give a rip what I’m writing after a glass of wine J.) Sometimes I even have to resort to two glasses of wine and both cheese and chocolate. Scandalous, I know, but it works! If none of those are available, I tend to gravitate toward pizza.
Ah, pizza...Thanks. Now, I'm hungry...I'll be back in a little while...they just opened a Little Caesar's down the road...
Okay, I'm back (excuse me...let me wipe the sauce off my chin). For all the pet lovers out there, answer this question: Do you have any?
We have/have had a wide variety of pets. At the moment, we have two cats, three birds (two canaries and a parakeet), and two hermit crabs. In the past, we’ve had a black lab, yellow lab, three rabbits, about a dozen other cats through the years, several other hermit crabs (who have a disconcerting way of dying on us), and three other birds. My daughter is a licensed medical veterinary technician, so we love pets, and I have the added benefit of living with someone trained in sticking pills down animals’ throats so I don’t have to. Our plans include a couple of goats and a small flock of chickens, but that’ll have to wait until we have a place in the country.
Besides cramming pills down animals' throats, what makes you cringe?
I have a fairly simple and probably common cringe-inducer: spiders and snakes. I detest them. My daughter (the lover of all types of living things that she is—creepy or not) urges me to “re-home” them by taking them outdoors and releasing them, rather than the “smash, grind, and sweep up” method I use. I tell her I am re-homing them by sending them on to their next life. Snakes are not as easy to smash and grind into the ground, so if it were up to me I’d use fire power and explosives. But they’re bigger and easier to spot, so I don’t often have to deal with them.
Good thing you don't live around here. You'd never have any time to write. You'd be spending your days grinding and smashing and blowing up your cringe-inducers. Everybody seems to have a bucket list. Do you? If so, what’s on it? If not, why not?
Yes, I certainly do. I’d love to someday visit the Holy Land and Italy—not necessarily on the same trip, though. I’ve wanted to visit Israel for decades now, and I might just do that one of these days now that I’m retired from my full-time job. To walk where Jesus walked, see the places of the Bible, experience the weather and scenery, to simply touch the buildings of Old Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall—well, it all boggles my mind and quickens my heartbeat.
I think my desire to visit Italy came about even earlier—I remember wanting to be a “stewardess” (back before they were called flight attendants and when Pan Am Airlines still existed) on an international run to and from Italy. That didn’t work out for a couple of reasons: I hate flying and I
As a writer, if you had one thing you would do over again, what would it be?
Funny you should ask … One of my books is titled Faux Pas. J I think my worst writing mistake was made early on when I thought everything I wrote should be etched on stone and prominently displayed everywhere books were sold and in front of courthouses and government offices across the country. Some of it embarrasses me so much I can’t even read it. I’ve even gone so far as to burn it so no one runs across it after I die. I’d hate to be humiliated in my grave; it’s bad enough being dead without being embarrassed too.
An even bigger mistake was sending my early work to so many publishers. It not only wasn’t ready for the eyes of professionals, but the whole process was time-consuming as well, and my propensity for over-submitting didn’t help any. Back then you submitted to publishers through the U.S. Postal Service, waited six months for a reply (which was always, always a rejection), then started all over again with another publisher because simultaneous submissions (sim-subs) were usually not allowed. Another six months passed, I added another rejection letter to my pile, and did it over and over and over again. I must have improved as time passed because the acceptances started rolling in.
I remember those days. Lots of printing and lots of stamps. And postcard rejection notices. Ahhhh, the good old days. So, all authors have writing days. Tell us about yours. How do you go about writing?
I’m retired from my long-time job at a school district in Michigan, so I have more hours in the day to devote to my writing. I’m also divorced and my three children are grown and have families of their own. In fact, I live with the oldest of my daughters (and middle child) and her sweet little girl—my precious and only granddaughter. It seems as though I should be rolling in leisure time to devote to my writing, but I don’t. That’s because I watch Molly while her mother works, and my other children and grandchildren live out-of-state. That means traveling whenever I want to see them. On the other hand, we currently live in an apartment so taking care of our home isn’t as time-intensive, and Molly is six and in school most months of the year. My other grandchildren are also in school, so that limits their availability for my visits to those times they’re off.
I try to write as often as I can, although I’ve fallen out of my routine of getting up and writing first thing in the morning, because my morning hours are filled with getting Molly off to school and starting the laundry, etc. My daughter works long hours at a vet clinic an hour or so from here, so many of the things she’d normally do falls to me, and I gladly do them. But that means my writing has to be done when I find the time. As soon as Molly is back in school this fall, I’ll have a more regular routine—get up, freshen up, get her to school, and return home to a cup of coffee and my computer. It’s amazing how much writing you can get done when you don’t have all the time in the world to do it! My mind works faster, the ideas flow more easily, and as a result, I’m more productive than I would imagine I should be. It’s a hectic life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Knowing what you know now about writing, publishing, etc., what piece of advice would you give to the person thinking about writing that novel they have always wanted to pursue since they were young, or the person who believes they have a non-fiction book in them that would be helpful to others?
If I’d known back when I first began writing what I know now, I might not have pursued it. Fortunately, I didn’t know, and I think that’s a good thing. As they say, experience is the best teacher, and I can’t put a price on the things I’ve learned either from other authors or through trial and error. It wasn’t always easy, but it was effective in turning me into a writer.
I think the most important thing I could pass along to others is what so many others say: Don’t give up. Granted, there are people out there who think they can write and perhaps have great ideas, but just don’t have the skill, imagination, time, whatever, to pursue it successfully. But if you do think you have those things, please don’t be discouraged. For every person out there who’s achieved fame and fortune with their first or fiftieth book, there are thousands and thousands of us who have not and never will. But not everyone can be at the top of the heap, and I can’t imagine the pressure of being a #1 bestselling author, anyway. (I might want to explore that option, but even so, I still can’t imagine what it feels like. J) That said, please don’t give up. There’s more to writing books than fame, and who knows who you’ll influence by your words?
Another point I’d like to pass along is to get yourself as much training and education in writing as you can. Creative writing classes in high school or college can cut your “trial and error” period by years. I joined the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writing Guild early on and learned so much about different kinds of writing—fiction, non-fiction, essays, poetry, short stories, newspaper, etc. It’s not fun having your work critiqued by professionals, but how do you think they learned? They too were critiqued, and I can’t imagine it was much fun for them either. None of us emerged from the womb experienced writers. We have to learn, study, make mistakes, try again (and again and again), get better (and better and better) until we feel confident enough to shoot for an agent or a publishing contract. Even then, your studying and learning isn’t all behind you. Great writers learn all the time. As writers, we’re never finished; we’re just on different points in our journeys.
Well said. Has your writing crossed over into other areas? If so, how? If not, will it?
Although I have plans to try turning my fiction into a screenplay, I haven’t yet done so. In the meantime, I’ve combined my photography with my writing and found it to be an effective way to use both. Having lived in Alaska for six years, I have thousands of pictures of mountains, glaciers, wildlife, and flowers. I’m also a sky-lover. I consider the clouds precious gifts from God that are never the same—not one day since He created Earth and the heavens have the clouds been the same. Each and every day we’re treated to an entirely new masterpiece by the Master himself. I have a semi-regular “column” that I post on Facebook entitled Laughing with the Lord. It’s a humorous look at my life and how God protects, guides, loves, and rescues me from silly things that happen to me—usually due to my clumsiness or lack of common sense. If any of your readers are interested in reading it and seeing my photographs, they should check out https://www.facebook.com/deborah.harper.33 . I’m also writing a devotional using many of my pictures taken over the years.
Why do you live where you live?
I grew up in small towns, as did my parents. While we weren’t farmers ourselves, my grandparents on both side had strong ties with the land. I learned to love the smell of hay, freshly-cut grass, and gardens. I now live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a town not far from Nashville. While it has a hometown feel for me, it’s growing by leaps and bounds and it saddens me to see so much of the green space being sold and converted to apartments or businesses. Perhaps we’ll move to another town or state and I can renew my love for all things country.
What’s the craziest thing you have ever done?
This one’s easy. I lived with my son-in-law and daughter for four years on Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. (This was prior to my recent move to Alaska.) We saw an incredible array of wildlife—moose, black bears, whales, Dall sheep, eagles, puffins, wolves—the list goes on and on. But up to the very last month we were going to be there prior to my son-in-law’s retirement and our move to Tennessee, we had yet to see a brown bear—a grizzly.
One evening my daughter Darice, my 10-month old granddaughter Molly, and I embarked on a serious expedition to look once more. There was a road around the perimeter of the base that we often drove to find wildlife, so that night we bought a good supply of candy bars and headed out. We weren’t very far into our ride when I spotted a brown bear. We couldn’t believe our eyes. I screeched at my daughter to get closer, she did, and I jumped out. I had to get a picture. I left my door opened a couple of inches so my entrance back into the car would be a bit easier if he turned on me. But Darice yelled, “Shut the door! You’re letting in the mosquitoes.” Not “Be careful, Mom” or “I love you!” Nope. She wanted to keep those helicopter-sized mosquitoes away from Molly, and looking back on it, I don’t blame her.
I dutifully shut the door, walked behind the car, edged alongside it to get closer and closer to the bear, who was now aware of my presence, and … Darice drove off. Not just a few feet, either. She headed right on down the road. She didn’t want mosquitoes getting into the car, but she left her mother in the middle of Alaska on a gravel road with only a grizzly bear, a half-eaten Hershey bar, and mosquitoes for company? Go figure. As I watched her drive off down the road, I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m going to die right here, so what should I do? Put my camera away or get myself the best darned grizzly bear pictures ever taken in the history of the world?” I got to work.
Coughing on the dust Darice was kicking up, I turned my attention to the bear. He didn’t seem to care one way or the other that the GGBS (Great Grizzly Bear Stalker) was on the loose, so I upped the ante a bit and walked toward him. He might have been twenty feet away from me by that time.
Closer and closer and closer I approached, emboldened by the fact that he didn’t seem to care one way or the other if he killed me then or a few seconds from then. As I drew perilously near … that darned bear started to lope away from me, and the big chicken hoisted himself over a wire fence to get to a small indentation in the landscape that probably held a drain or something to keep the road from washing out.
To her credit and my relief, Darice returned to pull up beside me so I could get into the passenger’s seat without going around the car. Turns out the road was a dead-end, and in my astonishment at seeing her drive off, I didn’t notice that. But all’s well that ends well. At least I can say a grizzly bear ran away from me. Not many people can say that. (I must be pretty scary-looking.)
God thing he didn't get a sniff of that candy bar. They love candy bars, I hear. When you look for a new home, what are the things that are important to you?
I’m big on coziness, ambiance, and family togetherness. Ideally I would build a house on no fewer than ten acres (need some goats and chickens, you know) with four bedrooms and a den for my office and books, three full baths (because the fourth bedroom would be for guests), a fireplace, beamed ceilings, a country kitchen (and by that I mean shelves in lieu of some of the cupboards, no “sleek” cupboards or ultra-modern design, a large separate pantry room, and enough space for a big kitchen table), a wrap-around porch, lots of light, and enough space to accommodate guests, but not so cavernous or empty that it feels hollow when it’s not filled with friends or loved ones.
On the practical side, I want a spacious home, but utility costs rise with the addition of square footage, so clever use of the space available to me is mandatory. I want an herb garden outside my kitchen door, a chicken coop and a second out-building to house our goats, a fenced-in pasture, a room for a large garden close to the house. Perhaps this house will eventually come to pass, perhaps not. But in any event, I can still use whatever home I’m in at the moment to welcome visitors and shelter my family.
If you had one person you could meet (think ONLY Bible characters here) and could spend as much time as you wanted with that individual, who would it be besides Jesus?
Saul of Tarsus. When I think of the atrocities he was responsible for in his past and the guilt he must have felt, I’m amazed he could function in the ways he did. I realize he knew he was forgiven, but still, it’s human nature to feel regret. Paul was so eloquent, yet straight forward and plain spoken in everything he wrote, that as a writer myself, I envy his ability to get his point across (clearly the most important point ever made) in the ways he did. Also, his writing wasn’t done in an air-conditioned office with a computer, printer, and the internet. (Actually, he had it better because he had God inspiring him!) He was either traveling, hard at work to support himself, or in prison because of his preaching much of the time, so his life was neither leisurely nor easy. But I must admit I’m envious of his encounter along the road to Damascus with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
What Bible scripture has impacted your life the most, and why?
I’d have to say Philippians 3:13-15 has impacted me the most. “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
There have been many times during my writing career (as I’m sure it has with lots of other writers) when I’ve been ready to throw in the towel. It’s not always easy to find the time, inspiration, and inclination to write, let alone edit, market, blog, write a newsletter, and try to balance it all with other family/work/church obligations.
Nevertheless, I do continue. I feel God has gifted me with not only the ability to write, but also my sense of humor, so I do my very best to stay focused and busy doing those things He wants me to do. I’m not quite sure my work makes the difference I would like it to, but that’s not my decision to make. It will make a difference in the life of whomever the Lord wants it to. It’s my job to write it; it’s His to use it for His purposes.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about you, or anything we didn’t cover?
I firmly believe God gave us a sense of humor to help make sense of this world. He knew it wouldn’t be an easy row for us to hoe, so a sense of humor definitely helps. I’m talking of wholesome humor and nothing directed toward a person, group, race, religion, or other part of our world that would divide rather than unite us. I think humor brings us together, shows others we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and helps us get to know one another. I write a lot of self-deprecating humor, but I’m careful not to imply that God’s creation is anything less just because I mess up once in a while. I write humor in my novels because I want non-believers to know that believers are imperfect and often do things that are silly, dangerous, or downright dumb. Nevertheless, we are God’s children and owe everything we are or have to Him alone. Humor, to me, is just another way to bond with others.
If someone wanted to check out your writing more, where can they go?
All of my blogs and my website are undergoing renovation at the moment, so the best way to get in touch with or learn more about me or my writing would be to either visit the Facebook page I mentioned earlier (https://www.facebook.com/deborah.harper.33) or https://www.facebook.com/authoredeborahdeeharper/ , which is my Facebook author page.
My Amazon page can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/y7mqlhv3 and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Pictured above is the second book in my Road’s End series, Faux Pas, a hilarious story whereby the President of the United States visits Road’s End, Virginia, a tiny town forgotten by all except those who still live there—a crazy bunch of senior citizens and a retired Air Force chaplain and his wife who purchased The Inn at Road’s End and had no idea what they were in for.
Also pictured above is the first of the six books in my Laramie on the Lam adventure series for kids. If your kids love adventure, humor, wildlife, good guys, bad guys, dogs, mystery, great locations, and learning about America along the way, Laramie on the Lam is great for their summer reading.
Deborah, thank you for taking the time and visiting with us today, and we wish you all the best in your writing career!
To all our readers, thank you for stopping by! And remember, our Author Behind the Story series appears every second Wednesday of the month (unless I don't have somebody to highlight).
In this time of July 4th, May God bless America, and may America bless God!
(And if you wish to join Kevin's newsletter to keep up with his writing announcements, go to www.ckevinthompson.com and scroll down to the bottom of the home page and sign up!)