Today’s interview is with author Clarissa Harwood, whose book, Impossible Saints, debuts TODAY, January 2, 2018!!
Impossible Saints is historical fiction and published by Pegasus Books and you can grab a copy NOW from the following book vendors:
The book is set in 1907 England. Lilia Brooke, an agnostic militant suffragette, believes marriage to a clergyman is a fate worse than death. Paul Harris, a quiet, intellectual Anglican priest, is well aware that falling in love with Lilia is incompatible with his ambition to become the next cathedral dean. Lilia and Paul must decide which compromises they’re willing to make and whether their love is worth fighting for.
A teaser from Impossible Saints:
“How well do you know Whitechapel?” she asked.
“Have you ever been there?”
“No,” he admitted, “but I don’t need to go to Hell to know I don’t want to spend time there.”
She laughed. “That’s a terrible analogy.”
“Don’t you think you could better achieve your ends by adding a little prudence to your fearlessness?”
“You sound like my mother.” She tapped her foot impatiently. “Why is it that men’s courage is called bravery but women’s courage is called recklessness—or, even worse, foolishness? If I were a man, would you urge me to be prudent?”
“I certainly would,” he said firmly. “Not everything is a question of sex.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Everything is a question of sex, but because you’re a man, you don’t see it.”
Minerva Spencer: How long did you take to write this book?
Clarissa Harwood: The novel took about twenty years from conception to publication. The first draft took me a little over a year, but I’ve written so many drafts since then that I’ve lost count. I gave up on it several times and wrote other books, but I kept coming back to it. You can read more about the timeline, including signing with my agent and getting the book deal in this blog post.
MS: What kind of research did you do for this book?
CH: As a doctoral student and later an English professor, I specialized in nineteenth-century British literature, so the poetry and fiction of that era always sparks my research and leads me to primary sources. An early influence on Paul’s development as an Anglican priest was Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, with its delightful melodrama surrounding the lives and loves of cathedral clergy. Poets associated with Anglo-Catholicism inspired Paul’s story too, such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and Christina Rossetti. First-person accounts of the suffragettes’ destruction of property, hunger strikes in prison, and the brutal force-feeding they endured, especially Emmeline Pankhurst’s My Own Story and Constance Lytton’s Prison and Prisoners, were especially influential in shaping Lilia’s experiences.
MS: What did you remove from this book during the editing process?
CH: Deciding what to include and what to exclude is always difficult, but I’m fortunate to have people with great editorial eyes looking at my work—critique partners, beta readers, my agent, and my editor at Pegasus. I’ll admit I was dismayed when Laura, my agent, first suggested killing off a fairly major character in Impossible Saints, but Laura has an uncanny ability to detect which elements of a story should be left in and which should be left out, so I knew I could trust her judgment. I was also disappointed when I realized on my own that I had to kill off my only Canadian character and put a New Zealander in his place! It’s obvious to me now that both “murders” improved the novel.
MS: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
CH: My natural tendency is to be a plotter, but I’m trying to let my inner pantser come out more often! I never plot a novel in great detail, though. Before I start writing a novel, I usually write a brief synopsis. Writing a synopsis for a finished novel is painful, but writing one early in the process is a helpful exercise to work out what the important turning points and key scenes will be. Of course, the synopsis I write at the beginning bears little relation to the one I write at the end, but that’s as it should be!
MS: What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?
CH: I love revisions, whether I’m doing them on my own after having written several drafts, or whether I’m doing them based on my agent’s or editor’s feedback. There is no “terror of the blank page,” so I don’t experience writer’s block when I’m doing revisions. I already know the story and the characters, so I don’t have to create anything from scratch. Instead, I’m adding layers and depth, polishing something that is already a solid story.
MS: What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?
CH: The first draft! How I hate the first draft! I hate not knowing my characters. They aren’t my friends yet, and I miss my old friends from the previous novel. The characters in a first draft are people who’ve dropped out of the sky and are ordering me to tell a story I don’t know.
MS: Can you share your writing routine?
CH: I’m very fortunate to have flexible hours in my day job (I teach online courses at my local university), so I can work at home most days and organize my time the way I want to. Mornings are my sacred writing time: I try to write for at least an hour or two every morning. But my writing routine is quite different depending on whether I’m writing an early draft or a later one. I give myself a minimum time period when I’m working on a first draft (only ten minutes if I’m really struggling). When I’m working on a later draft or revisions, I give myself a maximum time period: otherwise I miss appointments, meals, and sleep because all I want to do is write!
MS: Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?
CH: Yes, usually when I’m working on a first draft or if I’ve been away from the manuscript too long. I’m a recovering perfectionist, so my first step is usually just reminding myself that it’s ok to “write crap.” In fact, this is how I wrote my entire dissertation! When my writer’s block is really severe, I use the ten-minute minimum time period I mentioned before and let myself make point-form notes if I can’t form complete sentences. Another trick I use for severe writer’s block is stolen from the movie The King’s Speech: to work on the king’s stutter, his speech therapist had him shout out swear words to loosen him up. I do this with writing if I’m really stuck: I just write long lists of swear words!
MS: How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
CH: I wrote two novels as a teenager that were awful. I rewrote one of them in my twenties, but it was still pretty awful. I’ll call those my three practice novels. Then I signed with my agent based on a finished novel that didn’t sell, and I recently finished a sort of sequel to Impossible Saints. That’s two finished unpublished novels. I also have two unfinished first drafts of new novels.
Thanks so much for sharing your process with my readers and good luck with your publishing journey!
If you’d like to contact Clarissa or have questions for her you can find her at one of the following places:
Goodreads: Clarissa Harwood