July 29, 2011 by heartonsleevereview
It is with great pride I begin this last Meet The Author interview with Harley May. Pride for Harley, as she stole my heart from the first time I was introduced to her. Charming, funny as hell, and one class act, please join me in getting to know one of my favorite people on this rock we call Earth: Harley May.
HeartOnSleeve: Harley. Harley, Harley, Harley. Welcome to your interview, and thanks for the pineapple. That’s, uh…very…thoughtful of you. Tell me, do you know the way to San Jose (la la la la laaaaa)?
Harley May: No, but the voice on my GPS is that of Dionne Warwick.
HOSR: She’s Whitney Houston’s aunt, dontcha know? Terrifying woman. Harley, I enjoy your writing very much. It’s open, honest, and at times, gut-wrenching . What is your favorite genre to write?
HM: I’m a genre jumper. I adore reading many genres and tried writing most. I wrote a science fiction novella about a robot girl. It sits in the “to be edited” pile. My first manuscript is an urban fantasy for young adults. The second is a pretentious, coming-of-age, bit of lit-er-a-chure. I have an idea for a middle grade novel. I’ll try anything once. That’s what she said.
HOSR: I tried genre jumping once. My instructor was this really hot Australian man with the sexiest accent…ahem. Sorry. Harley, what did you want to be when you grew up?
HM: A teacher. I still do
HOSR: I think you would make the perfect teacher. I bet all the boys would give you big apples. Wow…I am definitely in the wrong line of work. Anyway, I know you had a very unique childhood. What is one of your favorite memories from growing up?
HM: My brother and I are only a year apart and we grew up in a smallish city in South Korea. I say “smallish” because to American standards, it would seem a bustling metropolis, but by Korean standards was in the country.
Anyway, my brother and I were given a lot of freedom. Our apartment was in front of a mountain with a lot of hiking trails and we would explore them for hours. We gave parts of the mountain Narnian names, built shoddy forts, and carved magic words into trees. We played a lot of make believe.
At the bottom of the mountain was a man who kept several trampolines with mesh netting around them for all the neighborhood children to use. We’d pay him the equivalent of a dollar and jump. When there weren’t other kids around, he’d let my brother and I jump for longer than anyone else.
After jumping, we walked to an outdoor market down the road. We looked at all the dried squid hanging under awnings. The storefronts were lined with overcrowded tanks of eels and small fish for sale. Eventually we’d end up at a candy store. This is what we saved our allowance money for: trampolines and candy.
HOSR: That’s incredible. How fortunate it was to experience such an amazing upbringing. My childhood was spent outdoors, mostly, but mainly I’d sit in my room and read, or come up ridiculously elaborate plot lines with my Barbie dolls. Let’s just say, Ken and Barbie did not practice celebacy. I tried dried squid once–chewy. Fishy. Stringy. I’m glad you used your money for jumps and sugar. Harley May, what helps you remain sane as a writer?
HM: I’m not trying to be cute with this answer, but I honestly don’t think sanity is an option for me. The outdoors, time spent in and around water, bring me happiness. I’ve noticed a direct correlation between my mood and my exercise. If I haven’t gone for a run in a while, I’m bluer than normal. If the writing stresses me out, I take a break. I move to a project that I will see completed from beginning, middle, to end. Crafts with the children, baking cookies, or cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom are popular diversions. Work with my hands that bring instant gratification.
I love people, but am seldom by myself so I’ll leave the house to be alone, even if it is to sit in a chair and read. Social networking, twitter, and facebook are all great. I’ve found many a kindred heart on here, but can only take so much of it at a time.
HOSR: I think perhaps the better word to use would have been “grounded” instead of “sane,” or perhaps elaborated on the “sane” as not the clinical definition of it, because this isn’t a psych eval, but just a general question: what keeps you level-headed? All of those things you listed–outdoors, being in/around water, running, etc; we’re quite similar in almost all of these aspects, with the exception of baking. I burn chocolate. I kid you not. How in God’s green earth does a person burn chocolate? And also like you, and quite the opposite of you, I like people just fine, but I am alone almost constantly–by choice, mind you. If I don’t get what I affectionately refer to as “E Time,” I go stir-crazy. Bonkers. Irritable. I guess that’s why I enjoy the social networking, as well–you can connect with people, but at your own leisure (and yes, I say leisure like “leh-zure. Very British). Harley, just who do you think you are?
HM: I am a woman, blessed beyond measure, and hopelessly flawed. That’s not true. My flaws have hope. When I read this question, I heard Christina Perri’s song “Jar of Hearts” in my head. The song really doesn’t have anything to do with me, but the following lines stuck out:
“Who do you think you are? It took so long to feel alright, To remember how to put back the light in my eyes”
I’ll admit to getting defensive with this question. That in itself is telling. I harbor a lot of guilt. Guilt for being a wife and mother to a beautiful family, for having so much, more than I deserve, and still wanting to be more. I begrudge even wanting to write.
HOSR: I’m sorry if you took offense to it–I meant it purely in jest, but I appreciate your answer, and to be quite honest, it made me tear up, mainly at your admission of guilt. This breaks my heart, and I’ll tell you why: I know you love your husband and your kids with every fiber of your being, I can see your love for them in everything you do. Do NOT feel guilty for wanting more for yourself. You need to have something that is just for you, you know? If you don’t have something you can cling to and possess as your own, you start begruding those around you for keeping this from you. I am making not one bit of sense, I bet. It makes sense in my head…which, we all know, is quite the playground at times. So. How about a question to break up this seriousness? Do you like your sandwiches cut diagonally or horizontally?
HM: Whole, no crust.
HOSR: Me? Peanut butter and jalapeno jelly on wheat bread, full crust, horizontal. I loves me some horizontal action. I may or may not be referring to sandwiches at this point. I adore your post called “Pool Toys,” and how you struggled with the act of asking the group of teenagers for your children’s golf ball back. Do you consider yourself a pushover?
HM: Absolutely. I hate this about myself, but am working to be more assertive in a loving way. I can’t stand rude people and have a difficult time responding with rudeness. I want to be the better person and show people what kindness looks like. But I don’t want to be a doormat, either.
HOSR: Don’t worry, Harley; I’m the same way. Eager to please, eager to do whatever it takes to make everyone happy. However, as I’m getting older, after all, I am the wise old age of thirty now, I’m starting to not care so much. I mean, manners are important, because being rude really solves nothing except me thinking you’re a douchebag, but I think I’m becoming more “politely assertive,” if I may coin a phrase here. I think you and I should be the poster girls for being kind with sassitude. New topic: where do you get your inspiration for your stories?
HM: People and pain. Mistakes I’ve made. Sometimes it’s a setting. I wrote one short story after sitting in my car, alone, parked outside of Wal-Mart on a rainy evening. My urban fantasy came from staring out the window at lush Alabama forestry. I’m often inspired after reading a great book.
HOSR: There’s always a story in Wal-Mart. Always. So, do you research your stories, or just go in, guns a-blazin’?
HM: For my longer pieces, I will do some form of outline. I plot and timeline in notebooks with fancy outsides. I want to get the bones of a story out on paper before I begin. This doesn’t mean the bones will stay as they are. My bones change. I just like flexible parameters.
HOSR: You know, I’ve never outlined/plotted/graphed/pie charted any story, except in high school when forced to, but even then, I would write my essay or whatever it was, and then write my outline afterwards, never beforehand. Odd. Having the childhood that you did, how much impact does it have on your writing?
HM: I’m sure more than I realize. How can it not? Your writing, even the evil characters, should have a lot of yourself in them. That’s what makes writing and reading relatable.
HOSR: Do you admire your own writing?
HM: Meh. Sometimes. More often than not I want to eat it and poop it out. My doubt is constant. Being critical of your own writing isn’t a bad thing. It means you care.
HOSR: As our first Testosterone Tuesday writer Thomas Pluck and I are fond of saying to each other when discussing this craft of writing, “we are our own worst enemies.” And it’s true–everything I write, I mostly hate. Hyper critical and judgemental of myself, but like you just said, it means we care. Even though we tell ouselves and other writers not to write for someone else, but to write for ourselves, I think there’s an inkling of truth to writing for others; we want to make our words resonate with everyone, and to do that, we have to sometimes cater to our audience. That’s just me, though. So, how do you feel about being interviewed so far?
HM: A lot of these questions have kicked my butt. “Who exactly do you think you are?” “What do you do to stay sane as a writer?” And “How do you find time to write?” I took my children to an indoor play place one afternoon and my mind wandered to this interview. While mulling over just who exactly I thought I was, the oddest thing happened. A little girl came up to me, bold as day. I’d never seen or met her before, and she asked, “Why do you look so sad?” I smiled and told her I wasn’t sad, just thinking. But honestly, at that moment, I was sad. I saw who I was deep inside. The woman I don’t let other people see makes me hurt. She’s selfish.
HOSR: Well, trust me, you’re doing fantastic. And damn it, woman. Stop it. This is the second time I’ve been reduced to tears by you, and I’m starting to get sick of it. Perhaps I can say this because I don’t have kids or a husband to think about, but be selfish. I know it’s hard. It’s one of the hardest things for people like you and I to do because we constantly think of other people first, but damn it, Harley–be selfish. If action at the craft table gets to be too real, walk away and write (that, by the by, remains one of my absolute favorite story about any child EVER. For those in the dark, Harley’s five-year-old was working on an art project at the crafts table, and stood up and firmly decreed all of those who are standing in the way of her vision, to please leave. Magic. It warms my heart every time I think about, Harley). Be like your child–IF YOU DON’T REALIZE MY VISION, GET OUT OF THE WAY. Alright, you are taking a lot out of me, May. Can I have a snack?
HM: I don’t know, Erin. It’s so close to dinner. If you don’t think you can make it another 45 minutes, eat these grapes.
HOSR: Grapes are like Nature’s candy! Thank you. Fact: I hate frozen grapes. I do. I don’t care. Do not disguise this grape as a frozen confection, when clearly it is not a frozen confection. Moving right along: how do you find time to write?
HM: I wait until my children go to bed at night and it is best if I leave the house entirely. I used to try and piece meal my writing. Five minutes here or fifteen minutes there, but that frustrated everyone in my family, including me. Imagine being arms deep into something glorious, something you enjoy. You love everything about your arms being coated and then someone needs you to stop and aren’t at all finished. You’re not even close.
My writing is like that. My children would ask me to help them with a puzzle, find a lost Lego man helmet, read them a story. I would get impatient, angry, and aggravated. And for what? After we did the puzzle together, found the Lego man helmet, and read the story, we’d all be smiling. They enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. I remembered my aggravation and felt horrible. I don’t want to feel that way about my family. They’re great kids, so I write a lot less now. I don’t mind writing here and there, working towards whatever it is I’ll be. I’ll get there.
My mother is an incredible (well-educated) musician. When my brother and I were young, she stayed home with us and taught piano lessons. After we graduated and left the house, she went back to school. She always wanted to be a nurse and graduated Magna Cum Laude. (Can you hear me beaming?) She still plays the organ every Wednesday and Sunday and is a great testament to reinvention. People can be whatever they want to be, whatever they put their minds to. I remember that on a regular basis. Julia Childs – she didn’t become the JULIA CHILDS we all know until she was fifty. That’s something to consider.
HOSR: So, what you’re saying is you won’t help me find my Barbie shoe? And you will get there, and I think you’re nearly there right now. That’s just me, though. And I agree 100% with your last point: I am a firm believer in going at your own pace. Too often I think we’re forced to hurry through things because you should accomplish this at such-and-such an age, and that’s bullocks. The greatest thing I’ve ever been given the opportunity to say to someone was when I was in college for the umpteenth time (long story): I was twenty-six, so by “today’s standards,” not really a “traditional” student. I was a tutor at the college, and helping a student with her anatomy and physiology homework, which she was finding extremely difficult to understand. Patience is my middle name, but this chick was grinding my gears something awful. She kept saying that she was never going to get this crap, she should give up, she’s going to be in school until she’s TWENTY-TWO. Only losers are in school for that long. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY. TWENTY-TWO YEARS OLD AND STILL IN COLLEGE. THE ABSOLUTE HORROR OF IT ALL. I made her stop talking, and said, “listen, you will understand this, you are not going to give up, and personally, I take offense to what you just said about ‘only losers are in school for that long.’ I’m twenty-six. There’s a woman here who is sixty-six years old and decided she wanted to get a degree in accounting. She’s sixty-six. Are you going to tell her that she should give up because she’s too old? No, you’re not, and shame on you for having such a shitty attitude. Now shut up, listen to what I’m trying to help you with, and it will make more sense.” I swear to you, I said that verbatum. She stared at me, blinking maybe once or twice, then feebly said, “I’m sorry. I’ll work harder.” And boom. Guess who got an A on her next test? Uh, that kid did. Booyah. So, as you can see, big fan of people doing what they want, no matter what age they are. And your mom sounds like the absolute coolest woman alive. Good lord, I have no idea what I even asked you that evoked such a strong response from me. Damn. Well, how about this question? What is the loveliest thing you’ve ever seen?
HM: My husband, holding our children after their birth. He wept each time.
HOSR: Maybe your kids were pinching him, and that’s why he cried. Sorry…couldn’t resist. I had to humor the joint up a bit. Harley May, if you were stranded on a deserted island, how would you entertain yourself?
HM: By living. I’d probably dance and sing differently. I wouldn’t feel self conscious of my stretch marks and make myself a bikini out of twine. It’s been a long time since I’ve worn a bikini.
HOSR: Twine bikini? Where would you get the twine? I personally would make like Tom Hanks in “Castaway” and grow a wicked sweet long beard. Pop quiz, hotshot: can you still do long division?
HM: Death first.
HOSR: Weird fact: I do long division sometimes just to prove I can still do it. And I can. High fives to me. Please tell me who is your favorite author?
HM: Do I have to pick just one? John Greene, Libba Bray, Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, and C.S. Lewis make my heart ache.
HOSR: Good choices, Harley. What’s your favorite book and/or book(s)?
HM: There are too many to name. How about books that have changed my life? Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Patterson, Looking for Alaska by John Greene, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
HOSR: The question everyone “dies” for (har har har), if you were to commit the perfect murder, how would you go about it?
HM: I would fuck the person to death. Next question.
HOSR: ……………………..uh…wow. Okay then. Moving quickly on before I get fucked to death, are you jealous of other writers?
HM: Somewhat. I say that with a shrug. Most of the time, if these writers are my friends, I am more happy for them than anything else. I know my time will come.
HOSR: It will. I know it. Harley-bo-Barley, if you could meet a musician, who would it be?
HM: If my mother were standing behind me (and she is), I’d say, “BACH, OF COURSE.”
HOSR: Goooooood save, lady. You forgot the sweet, innocent smile to accompany the blatant butt kissing you just did. So, we know what you write about, and what inspires you to write, but why do you write?
HM: I love stories and have always, always been a reader. If a writer can take me into a world/town/era nothing like my own and give me something to relate to and care about? Swoon. This is what I want to do to others.
HOSR: Sounds like as good reason to me. And I agree. I love Stephen King purely for this fact: that man can make me explore the depths of my imagination that probably should be left untouched, but I’ll be damned if I don’t love him for it. Final question, and a bittersweet ending to a fabulous interview, and in all seriousness: Who is the better captain of the Starship Enterprise? Captain Kirk, or Captain Picard?
HM: Well, I grew up watching Jean Luc Picard (AND ADORE HIM AS PROFESSOR XAVIER). All the recent Shatner shenanigans make it difficult to take him seriously as Captain of the Enterprise. May I have Chris Pine instead? Be still communicator-covered heart, if he approached me in a bar and said, “Tea? Earl Grey?” combining my love of Picard and Pine together, he would have my panties.
HOSR: You may have Chris Pine, and apparently, he may have your underpants. Harley May, you beautiful bastard you, thank you so much for this.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, and by that, I mean our moms and the pervert who will accidentally found this post by googling “fucking Captain Picard with Earl Grey Tea,” this is Harley May. I told her earlier today that she is “elegant and crude, all at once,” and by golly, I think she proved that in spades today. If you want to ride more of the Harley, do us both a favor and check out her personal blog site at http://harleymay.com.