Gregory P. Harm, M.A. [bisonwerks]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
Probably Highlights for Children, then Dick & Jane. My parent always had Life, Look, National Geographic, Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. I always looked at all of these before I could even read.
The first to read anything meaningful I wrote was when I began college and a neighbor, a newspaper reporter, read it and told me that it was pretty good.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
Nonfiction. www.louisvilleartdeco.com. I wrote an article for this Art Deco site about a prominent, but long forgotten architectural sculptor. I have since written a book about his work.
You may read about my book here. http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/459343
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Curiosity leads to research. For my book, I had to sew together different aspects. I used the technique of "mind mapping" where you draw a series of balloons, then lead off with lines to smaller balloons. For example, Biography as a central balloon, then immigration, jobs as a kid, orphanages, apprenticeships, etc. Themes of patriotism, religion, symbolism.
By platting out ideas before you write, you can kind of design the way they want to progress, prioritize, and so on.
As a nonfiction writer, I like to know what I need to, the facts first, and then if I have to develop theories to explain a person's character, why they were a certain way, then I explore that.
What type of reading inspires you to write?
Great nonfiction. History. Biographies. Political analysis. Adventure to a degree.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Plot. Context. Characters. Credibility. Excitement.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
First person. I know that which I know. I feel awkward when writing my thoughts as statements. My views are opinion. While I believe them to be true, I've been wrong before.
For me, first person takes ownership. The rest can sound like gossip.
What well known writers do you admire most?
Perhaps the best new writer I have found of the past decade has been Sebastian Junger. I first read the Perfect Storm years before the movie came out and loved it. It was technical information, describing the mechanics of meteorology, and so on, but described in layman's' terms.
I also like Upton Sinclair because his writing made a difference in our society. I like Steinbeck, David Sedaris, Chris Anderson, Edward Abbey, Dickens, and others I can't think of. My favorite contemporary writer is Mark Monfort who writes for SF Gate, that I read online. Perhaps the most brilliant and accurate political columnist alive today.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
I don't write fiction, so the characters I reference were real. I find records of their writings, letters, drawings and so on, and try to understand their meanings, and perhaps reiterate them.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
I write for the kids I never had. I have learned a lot in my 55 years. I worked two decades in blue collar work before I had my first composition course, but I had many stories to relate.
I like to share my experiences with fools like myself, to help them avoid the stupid mistakes I have made in life.
But, I also write for future generations, to read the history that I have uncovered, and to offer new perspectives on historic events, and contrast them with the contemporary world.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
In a way it is therapeutic. Having something to write about has added some purpose for my OCD to channel it in a positive direction.
There is always something more to learn, something yet undiscovered. My only conflicts come in putting writing ahead of my share of the housework.
Does reader feed-back help you?
Yes. My wife is a journalism graduate from Nebraska, which was a top ten J-school at the time. ('88). She forces me to justify a lot of my writing, and helps to illustrate it when I make incomplete phrases, have sentences that run on or lack a verb, and so on.
I have benefited from reader feedback. One early reader of my manuscript, asked why I had chosen my topic, why I was interested in it, and so on. I added that info in my intro into the book. I think it is useful to have people iterate the questions my writing raises.
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
I plan to enter a contest as soon as I have some superfluous copies of my book, to submit. I received scholarships in college, but have not been directly competitive since.
No awards yet, other than the satisfaction of completing my first book.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Always. The more reflections you get, the more you are forced to think and choose the right words, abandon insufficient works, efforts, and cull the crap.
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
Yes. My voice is that of a layman. I am trained in the Law, but have written a book encompassing biography, art, art history, architecture, politics, and world history.
My voice conveys complex ideas in simple terms. I learned graduate level research and writing skills in grad school. But to reach a broad audience, you need to draw readers in, rather than exclude them. I voice my enthusiasm and admiration for a forgotten 20th Century American artist, who has work nationwide, but who was not adequately recognized during his lifetime. I have found my calling and ample material to research.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
I write as a second job. I am a paralegal, so my work has to come after household tasks, fitness, shopping, and other daily obligations. Luckily, I am a night person, and get my best work done after midnight, when the house is quiet.
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
Either classical music or silence. I used to enjoy going to a noisy bar or coffee shop to write, but that is often too much of a hassle. I feed on lots of coffee.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
I prefer to write on my laptop. I don't like to print a lot. I do correct on paper. At times I will crank out a pdf of my work and then manually edit it.
I write both in Word, and publish in Blurb, which lacks tools like a decent spell check, "find", show paragraphs, etc. So editing online is difficult.
I have ordered Blurb copies of my book, which runs almost 200 pages, but it costs about $65 to get a print-on-demand copy. But paper editing is nearly always easier to do, as it doesn't miss homonyms when you visually check spelling.
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
What has been your experience with publishers?
I am basically unagented, so not productive. You spend $20 on bond paper, and writing cover letters that will likely end up in a slush pile.
I tried for a year, and got several rejection letters. I am now self-publishing as my book is rich in illustration and photography. I am getting sales, and hoping that sales will speak louder than mere queries to editors' gophers that don't take a genuine interest in my work.
My book targets a niche audience, but only if you feel that books about architecture, art history, art, Art Deco, History, and similar subjects are of narrow interest. I cover a lot of ground and don't like hearing that "Nobody wants books about dead architects."
What are you working on now?
Stalking Lawrie: America's Forgotten Machine-Age Michelangelo
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
See if they still resonate. I've been a record collector since my youth. I began collecting in the early 1960s. Things I really liked then, like Blues Magoos, for example, no longer resonate. Other music from then, Hollies, Beatles, Donovan etc. still sound good.
The same is with your writing. But if it was crap then it may still be, and vice versa.
Gregory P. Harm, M.A.
Austin, Texas, USA