This week the Writers Who Read series continues with Mick Harris.
Who are you?
I am a discrete unit who first wanted to be an archaeologist when I was six and wrote my first story from the perspective of King Tut’s heart scarab as it was stolen by tomb robbers in Ancient Egypt. I still have it, and it’s probably better than anything I’ve written since. I abandoned the idea of archaeology in college when I realized that it included planes, bugs, sleeping outside and, more importantly, taking sacred objects from the land where they belong. Never looked back.
My storytelling is influenced by a variety of things, from traditional text RPGs to ritual magic. That’s a pretentious way of saying I draw inspiration from a lot of sources and have been writing steadily for a long time. I co-wrote a screenplay and am currently at work on my first long-form work developed from my grad thesis, as well as a chapbook of poems.
I still don’t entirely own the idea of being a writer, much less a poet, but I am getting there. I live in the East Bay, uprooted for 7 years to the East Coast and then fled back as soon as I finished my MFA. Jury’s still out on if that was worth the money, but it did show me what it takes to be a writer and it afforded me the opportunity to work with some amazing authors and meet some incredibly talented people.
What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
This is such a hard question for all of us, I’m sure. My top three would have to be The Hobbit, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. I found The Hobbit at a book fair at my local library. My mother introduced me to Snyder (also with The Velvet Room). I found Konigsburg through the Scholastic reading program at school and read it obsessively. I almost decided to run away from home to spend the night in the Oakland Museum. Never mind that I had no idea how to get there, but the idea of sleeping in the exhibits was pretty mind-blowing as a kid.
I’m adding one to cheat as well: the Shadow series by Anne Logston. They’re out of print and slim run-of-the-mill 80s fantasy but they were the first books I read that featured a strong female lead in control of her life (and her sex life). They had a HUGE impact on me, and were another random book fair find as a kid.
What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Anything by Flannery O’Connor, but especially The Violent Bear it Away. It’s my favorite of hers. I think she’s an absolute visionary and even now remains an underrated author in many respects, from her long-form work to the subtleties of her religious explorations in her texts. I adore her and if I could travel back in time, I would go visit her and ask to walk with her in her mother’s yard and see all of her pea fowl and chickens!
What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
Good question – I am a budding comic fan (DC and 80s indie, if you must know) so I’m focused primarily on that right now, but I can’t resist a visionary story with oddball characters. Shirley Jackson comes to mind, as does O’Connor again, but I’ll also plow through anything Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child write about Agent Pendergast. Those are my “crap” stash, and I love them to death. My dad passed off Relic to me as a kid and I was hooked. I enjoy archaic personality traits, strange psychic phenomena and curmudgeonly characters.
In comics, I love non-traditional story lines (think Grant Morrison) and just about anything to do with Batman or Guy Gardner. I’ll probably get internet feminist heat for that one, but no one ever said complex and flawed characters couldn’t be fascinating. They have to exist, because they have to challenge us. I don’t want to unequivocally love a character all the time, nor do I wish to be pandered to as a fan as the current geek culture climate tends to perpetuate.
What is your ideal time and place to read?
I enjoy reading right before bed and on public transit. The latter I use mostly as a shield, though it often functions as a big “Hey, come talk to me, I’m totally interested in you and your life!” sign over my head for some people. I read before bed because I’ve done that since I could hold a book and look at pictures. I’m incredibly blessed to have an aptitude for language & the educational privilege to indulge this, so I’ve always read voraciously whenever I could.
Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
My mind always goes completely blank when anyone asks me this. O’Connor’s work, as I said. Yukio Mishima, Stephen King, Rebecca Brown and Denis Johnson all contributed, as do Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, Joseph Conrad and Octavia Butler. I can’t pick specific texts as I’d have to dismantle my bookcases, and this answer would be longer than the whole interview.
I grab what I love from nearly everything I read and I try and incorporate these techniques into my writing. Sometimes, all a text does is leave an emotional impression that gets thrown in the cooker, and I’ll only realize later where a particular thread came from.
How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I generally read more than I write, as I am a procrastinator. I like to sit on an idea until it has nowhere to go but out, so when I write it happens in bursts. This is not conducive to producing a body of work, so I’m changing that.
I will go through periods when I am primarily reading and not writing, or vice versa. They tend to inform each other in this relay pattern.
Choose your preferred book form: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical books definitely win, though I’ve been taking to ebooks lately. I really enjoy not having to put on pants or get out of the house to get my hands on a new book. It cuts down on the storage space as well! But you just cannot beat that old book smell.
Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
Not at all! Half the books I have, I have yet to read. I tried to curb this habit until I had one too many of the 3 AM “Oh, hey, I’ve never read this and I’ve had it for ten years, why not start it now” moments, and now I’m convinced I can never get rid of anything in preparation for these wonderful epiphanies. My whole shelf is my list, and I don’t like book challenges. I read when I feel like it. I don’t want it to ever feel like a chore again (thanks, grad school).
What are you reading now?
Uh, some really horrible fantasy novels that I will not mention by name here. Yes, they are that embarrassing. I’m also reading The Disenchanted by Budd Schulberg and working my way through Jack Kirby’s DC oeuvre. I’m dipping into The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore and just picked up Citizen by Claudia Rankine. I usually have several books going at once.
Mick Harris is a writer and editor living in the CA Bay Area. You can blame them for it if you like, but they probably didn’t do it. Their work can be found in Pink Litter, Fruitapulp, Deep Water Literary, the Up, Do anthology from Spider Road Press and Digging Through the Fat. They blog semi-regularly at positivelysocialsix.wordpress.