Monday, November 7, 2011

Author Interview with Mette Ivie Harrison

Today I'm excited to have Mette Ivie Harrison here to talk about why she loves writing fantasy, her best writing advice and the #1 mistake writers make.  

Mette Ivie Harrison is the author of several best-selling novels, including Mira Mirror, The Princess and the Hound, The Princess and the Bear.  And recently out, The Princess and the Snowbird and Tris and Izzie. She has a PHD from Princeton. She's raced in three Ironman competitions and she is one of the smartest and hardest working writers on the planet. Mette publishes with Viking, Harper Collins, and Egmont.  And she is just Plain Awesome.

What is it that draws you to write fantasy?

I used to read fantasy indiscriminately with realistic fiction until I hit about age 13. That was when I decided I was too grown up to read fantasy, and I stopped reading for fun almost entirely. I read through all of the classics, and I thought of fantasy as for children. It wasn't until I was in grad school that I rediscovered fantasy and how smart it is. It's the only way I can think of to talk about certain things in a way that makes it feel less political and hot-button. It also can make people think in different ways and be more open to the changing world. But in the end, I write fantasy because I love it and because in some way that I do not understand myself, it is what I write best. My characters and my plots, my ideas, they all work better in fantasy.

Can you tell us how you got the idea for Tris and Izzie?

I actually had wanted to do a retelling of Tristan and Isolde for years, since right after I stopped teaching German full time at Brigham Young University in 1997. But I never actually sat down and did it. I was too intimidated. It wasn't until I was willing to give myself license to fail and try something absolutely new that I wrote down chapters two through six in the published version. I didn't know where it was going after that, and set it aside until my editor, Ruth, asked me if I had something different. I was reluctant to give it to her, but sat down and reread it, and suddenly saw where it needed to go. Once she offered me a contract, I sat down and wrote it within a couple of months.

If you had could have any magic potion, what would it do?

I would have a magic potion to make me faster, because I would love to feel the sensation of being really fast in a triathlon just once, even if it wasn't earned and wasn't me.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process?

Oh, dear. My process feels like such a mess. I don't even know how to describe it. I have an office in the basement and I lie to myself and say I'm just going down to check email, or to look over what I wrote the day before. I try not to set goals for myself because I become really anxious about that. I also find myself doing stupid things like ending chapters after a page and a half, so I have a good page count, or being really wordy so I have a longer word count. I try to end each day with at least an idea of what I'm going to write the next day, but I'm not much of an outliner. I think it must happen subconsciously, because I have a strong sense that I know where I'm going these days, even if I sometimes veer off into an unexpected direction. I try to spend a certain number of hours a day writing, and when I'm done, I leave it and come back the next day. The most frustrating thing for me is when I have to leave a manuscript in the middle and then come back to it months later. It's hard to get the feel of it back.

What was the hardest part to write in this book? And the best part?

Well, I spent a year not knowing what happened after Izzie used the potion on herself and Tristan. Once the two headed dog appeared, it was easy sailing. I think my favorite part is in the hospital when Izzie is trying to get Mark to take her to Tristan's room. I think it reminds me of madcap Laverne and Shirley episodes, which I loved as a kid. I've never written anything light and funny before, and I was nervous that I couldn't do it. I'm not a very funny person. In fact, many people consider me humor impaired.

What would you say is one of your interesting writing quirks?

Everything comes down to character for me. An editor will be talking to me about a problem with the plot or with setting or world building and in my head, I'm always translating it to character problems. My editors can be confused when I try to explain this, but for me the whole story is about character. I love plot, but only as it relates to character. The what if? question that I pose in every novel I write is about people able to do things in fantasy they couldn't in the real world, so that their characters can be utterly unique.

How old were you when you wrote your first book?

Um, 13, I think. I wrote a lot when I was a kid, but my first novel was 13. It was written in a journal, and I wrote every night a few pages before bed. It surprises me in some ways how much I still write like that, by the seat of my pants, scene by scene. I can count on one hand the number of times I have written scenes out of order.

What would you say is the best writing advice you've ever received?

I think the best advice is to read a lot. Reading a lot helps me to be able to read my own books as a reader would. It helps me see what parts are fun. It also helps me see where I'm failing. I also make myself send things out even if it feels scary. And I expect rejection. Might as well. It comes anyway.

Alright, now I know you teach at workshops and conferences. You've read a lot of manuscripts over the years. What would you say is the #1 mistake writers make?

Telling rather than showing is up there.

In fantasy, though, it is often not letting the mystery unfold. This isn't a mistake that only beginners make. Everyone makes it.

You have other new books out right now. Can you tell us a bit about those?

I just epublished The Princess and the Horse, a fourth book in the Hound Saga, which began with The Princess and the Hound. The publisher, Harper, was finished with the series with the third book, but I had written this book and another fifth one, and I felt obligated to allow loyal fans the chance to read it. I doubt I will make a cent off it. It was really just for fans who have been so loyal to me and to this series.

What books are you reading now?

I wish I was able to read more. I've been reading a lot of manuscripts for critique, and that has taken away my time for reading published books. I love the Inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George, and Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher. I also love Kinsey Milhone (the alphabet series) by Sue Grafton. The Mercy Thompson books by Patricia Briggs. I like series as a reader. They are hard to do as a writer. 

Do you ever experience writer's block?

I used to think that I didn't, but I wrote an essay about it last month, and I realized I just don't call it that. I call it abandoning a book. It is very painful, but I do sometimes give up on books and simply move on to another one. That's the way that I deal with it. It's not that I can't write anymore. It's that I can't write that anymore. This would be a big problem if I got writer's block on books that are under contract, but that hasn't happened, largely because I try to write books before they are under contract. 

Who are your favorite authors?

Love Holly Black's books. Jo Knowles. Ally Carter. Karen Healey. Shannon Hale. Justine Larbelestier. Laini Taylor, Robin McKinley, Margo Lanagan, Megan Whalen Turner, Lois McMaster Bujold, Robin Hobb, Orson Scott Card, Connie Willis, Kate Elliott, Guy Gavriel Kay, Garth Nix, Patrick Rothfuss. I could go on and on. Carol Berg, Harry Connolly, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Moon . . .


See? Didn't I tell you she was Plain Awesome...ok. I take that back. She's not plain anything. More like Shiny Awesome. Or Sequined Awesome. Or maybe Flashing Lights Awesome...

You can read more writing advice from Mette on Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Go check her blog out Here. And if you ever have a chance to take a class from her or listen to her speak, you better show up. You won't regret it.


  1. Great interview--thanks for posting it! (Reading through her list of favorite authors, I can see why I liked Mette so well--she's listed some of my favorites as well!)

  2. It was fun to read Mette's interview, especially since my writer's group is going to interview her this month for our writing podcast at