Today’s special guest on my page is author Sheena Robin Harris, whose short story, “Technical Jargon,” was just published in the anthology A Contract of Words, which features 28 authors from all over the world, including my new short story, "Two Gunslingers." Here is what she had to say about life, writing, and her story:
1. Besides writing, what is one thing you couldn't live without?
My family. They are the stitches that hold me together, and they give meaning to every breath.
2. What was your inspiration for your story?
This story was purely inspired by the contract theme of ACOW. I wish I had a sparkly explanation involving my own bad plumber experience, but nope. Just the theme itself got me thinking about common contracts, and “Technical Jargon” just kinda happened from there.
3. If a genie could grant you 3 wishes, what would you wish for?
I’d be willing to bet 99% of the population has spent some time pondering this exact question. It’s funny, though. When you’re a kid, you carefully but quickly spout off the three things you want the most (cotton candy clouds, flying abilities, that sort of thing). As an adult, this question is one you carefully analyze as you fall asleep. Then, if you’re a critical thinker, this silly question gets all complicated. You see, one of my wishes would have to be that all of those I love could also have three wishes. BUT, what would happen if someone else’s three wishes conflicted with mine? Like, what if someone wished for all the money in the world and I did too? Plot twist! What happens then? Obviously, time and Earth would come to a screeching halt and we would all die.
4. Has reading influenced your decision to be a writer? What book(s) made you want to write?
Totally. I think the first time a book made me cry, that did it. It was The Velveteen Rabbit, of course, but as a really small kid, I thought: Wow. That story made me feel. I want to do that to people with words too. There were many others after that, and there are still many now. Reading a good book proves over and over to me why I want to write just like it did back then.
5. Would you describe your writing process? For example, do you write in a specific place, have music playing or is that a no-no, lean toward outlining specifics, or are you a pantser?
I’m lucky enough to have an office with a door where I can hide away in my own little world, music on, writing away when I need to. But I prefer to write outside, surrounded by the fresh air and peaceful country views—and the many cows and chickens. I’m a pantser, but I’ll often think on a story, a paragraph, or idea for a long time before I ever start writing.
6. When faced with the dreaded “writer's block”, how do you push through and find inspiration? Is there a ritual or process you have to get yourself back on track?
I don’t think I really have ever suffered from the trademark writer’s block so many others talk about. I do run into brick walls at times. These are easy enough to overcome for me by switching over to another scene or another piece of work temporarily. My biggest problem is I get bored with ideas easily, so I have to really push to maintain focus to bring something long to completion without leaving it somewhere in the dark.
7. Did you know how your story would end when you started writing it? If not, did plans change while writing or did you improvise when you arrived?
I did not. I knew what I wanted to take place between John and Ted, and I knew there’d be a major twist at the end, but I didn’t yet have the ending pinned down when I started. Somewhere in there, the ending came to me, so I jumped to there and finished it out, going back to fill in the middle afterward.
8. If a movie were to be made of your story and you were in charge of casting, who would play your characters? Who would direct?
Ted the Plumber would be such an easy pick; John Goodman. Just who I was picturing while I wrote that character, right down to his crude mannerisms and certain way he is capable of a creep factor like in 10 Cloverfield Lane. John Cross would be a little harder to cast. Perhaps James Franco or Matt Damon could do—someone with a good smirk and probably a little snarky.
9. How close did your story end up being to the original concept you had in your mind? What were the biggest changes? Why did you make them?
My concept pretty much stayed the same throughout. I knew what I wanted the main character to experience and feel. I knew what I wanted to take place. The only real change I made was going back through to inject a few bits of humor that may have been lacking when I was finished with the first draft.
10. What book were you reading when you thought, This stuff sells??? Oh, hell, I can do that…
When I first started seriously writing as a kid, horror was my thing. I believe that was in part from reading so much R.L. Stine, Mary Downing Hahn, and Stephen King’s short horror stories in books like Nightmares and Dreamscapes. I really did read them and think I could do the same.
11. Did you have to do any odd research for your story? How did you conduct that research, and then how was it used in your story?
I did have to figure out what genre of music people would find the most unsettling/annoying/frustrating if they had to listen to it, really loudly, for a long period. I knew my answer would be holiday music—not that I have something against cheerful bells, rosy lyrics, and chorused voices, or maybe I do. Anyway, several years ago as a retail employee, holiday music hit about November and played on repeat for damn near two months non-stop. (If you’ve ever experienced a rude retail employee during the holidays, please, consider this could be partially to blame.) Knowing my own opinion could be biased, I asked the wonderful folks of the Facebook Fiction Writing group. Luckily, I’m not just a Grinch, as MANY people had the same answer.
12. If you could pick one place to sit and write, where would it be?
Atop the cold crushed souls of all my haters, of course. Where else? (Kidding) I don’t know that I have haters, at least not ones I would like to see with crushed souls. I always thought it’d be cool to sit beside the sea and write. Not like those serene coastal areas where it’s quiet; those loud and angry ocean shores with waves crashing against stern rocks and cliffs.
13. How closely do you relate to/identify with your characters? What inspired them? Did they take over your story or did you direct them?
I’ve never felt comfortable about service people being in the house. It’s just weird. I guess having a handy husband has helped contribute to that since I never really need any “professional” to fix anything. So I can relate to my main character who feels the same, and I can definitely relate to the fear he experiences throughout the story. Anyone would be a little freaked out.
My characters aren’t really inspired by anyone in particular. Bits and pieces come together to create new personalities I suppose. Characters always take on a life of their own for me almost immediately. Yes, I write them, but once I get them in my head, I can hear their voices, see what they will do next. Sometimes, what they want to say and do is surprising, though.
14. What do you consider your all-time favorite novel? One that you would read again and again.
That is a really tough question. One of the first full-length novels I read was Heaven by V.C. Andrews, and that one will always hold a spot for me, so I guess that’s a favorite of sorts. However, I can’t pick just one. There are many that are favorites for different reasons.
15. How much of your writing is outlined from the beginning and how much of it is ‘pantsed’ or written on the fly?
Total pantser here. Can’t do a proper outline to save my life.
16. What are your favorite snack-as-you-write or eat-as-you write foods? How do they help your creative flow or process?
Not much of a snacker I don't suppose. I do love gummy lifesavers though. Way better than gummy bears!
17. How is your ACOW story typical or atypical of your writing in general?
“Technical Jargon” leans on the side of comedy, and no matter what I usually write, it tends to be more on the dramatic side. This story came out of me fast and is so far from my usual style that I honestly thought it was a long shot. Writing comedy, for me, is challenging—it’s difficult to tell whether what I think is funny is actually funny or just what others would see as me trying to be funny unsuccessfully. I guess I did succeed but was totally surprised with the acceptance and have been surprised with reader’s reactions as well. Kudos to anyone who writes humorous pieces all the time. You have my respect.
You can order on Amazon (worldwide), Barnes & Nobles, Books-A-Million, or get a FREE companion soundtrack CD if you order through Scout Media’s online store here: A CONTRACT OF WORDS.