Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Guest Appearance: Karen Harrington, Author

When I asked Karen Harrington if she would be a guest on my blog, I had not yet read her book (it was still on my wish list). Reviews of her book kept popping up all over the blogosphere, and she appeared on a couple of blogs as a guest. I found her posts charming and witty. As a result, I worked up the courage to ask her if she would make a guest appearance on my blog. Not only did she say yes, but she did so enthusiastically. I used this as an excuse to bump her book from my wish list to my TBR pile, and I am so glad I did. My review of Janeology will be posted tomorrow.

Please welcome Karen Harrington!

Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel

“Do you have sticky-notes all over your desk?”

As a novelist, this is probably one of the most frequently asked questions I get. People assume that I am taking notes on people and dialogue that might go into a future story.

They are right to assume this.

Each one of us has a reference point on life, created largely by where we live. I grew up in a Quaker oatmeal fed, two pair of shoes per year, pink-sponge rollers in the hair at night middle-class household where my single, non-college educated father inexplicably raised three children on a 35k per year salary. After my husband and I graduated from college, we got great jobs in a city where most people are annoyed by higher gas prices, but have yet to stop ordering four dollar lattes that sound like five drinks in one and where we’ve found solidarity with the handful of neighbors who….gasp….mow their OWN lawns.

Gives a gal some perspective, huh?

This perspective is where I reach for character material that sounds authentic. I needed this to write my novel JANEOLOGY - a family saga, spanning four generations and two continents, linking more than 10 significant characters. Yikes! How to make each of the characters sound unique and genuine? This was a challenge, I can tell you.

But I have found that what people say, to whom they say it, and WHERE they say it reveals a lot about a person’s nature. And those quick slices of dialogue almost always give me a launch point into a character’s head.

In just the last two weeks, I’ve collected the following:

Someone let the dog out (literally) a child’s birthday party. Some moments later, the canine liberator was discovered – the mother-in-law. In a quiet corner the hostess/daughter-in-law made her displeasure known. The MIL replied in her best, sunny, newscaster voice,

“Well, still the same, dear, mother in laws don’t like to be yelled at.”

This exchange is a perfect set-up for a dysfunctional holiday story that smells of Everybody Loves Raymond.

At a café, I overheard two women talk men.

“The guy is perfect for me and we are alike in so many ways. No, he’s not a reader, but he ASKS ME what I’m reading, so, you know, it’s wonderful.”

Right away, you get a sense of her age, don’t you? Who knows – maybe Book-Inquiry-Man is Mr. Right. But his action and her response to it tell us so much about her current worldview…and what might be to come if she’s married to him for 20 years.

While checking into a Houston hotel last month, I heard another patron say to someone else,

“Well, if I don’t know where the house is, I always call a cab and follow him there in my car so I’m not late.”

She strikes me as someone’s favorite, eclectic aunt. The one who always brings the fruitcake.

Here are a few others. I wonder if you can guess their ages and sexes just from these slices.

“I need to brush my teeth. Feels like they’re wearing sweaters”

“Yes, I deflowered this woman at the age of sixteen.”

“You gotta peel that garlic like you’re mad at somebody!”

“We ate in a cafeteria. It’s sort of like a restaurant.”

You get the idea. Eavesdropping Observation and taking notes about what people say is what every writer does. And if you know a writer, you can assume he has sticky-notes with at least one of your own unique thoughts or expressions.

Heard any good comments lately? Please, PLEASE send them to me anytime. Because they might just end up in a novel.

Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY, a psychological thriller about the nature and nurture of one woman. Visit her at www.karenharringtonbooks.com Visit her blog at www.scobberlotch.blogspot.com Send her comments at kharrin2003@yahoo.com.


  1. Lol those are great notes! I often overhear conversations I later wish I could recall, perhaps it's time to start jotting notes :)

    Thank you Karen for sharing, I have Janeology on my TBBought list.

  2. Karen:

    I completely agree. Observation, though I think eavesdropping is more along my lines, is a fantastic way to get fodder for stories and poems!

  3. Oh have I got the perfect website for you lol! It's a blogger's page called Overheard Lines. It's hilarious! They like to "observe" too :)


    #1. youg girl or guy
    #2 college guy
    #3 older aunt or mom
    #4 little kid or teenager

  4. Book Zombie -

    Yes, take notes! A story will write itself at times. I hope you do enjoy JANEOLOGY soon! Thanks for your support.

    Serena -

    You are so right. Even if you just get a couple lines of real dialogue, it helps a writer create the rest of the character's personality.

    Ladytink -

    I love the Overheard At the Office blog, but I didn't know about this one. Yay! I'll check it out.

    Okay, you answered the who-said-what challenge. But here are the real answers. It will surprise you!

    #1 - a 70 year old woman
    #2 - a man at a company dinner party upon answering the question, how long have you known your wife?
    #3 - an African American chef on TV
    #4 - Yes! My little kindergartner.

  5. Hi, Karen, great subject!
    I was dove hunting in Sikeston, Missouri and enjoying some chicken fried steak. A woman at the next table wore a t-shirt which said "Keep on Tractoring" which was good enough in itself but then she confided in her friend, "We were just in Hawaii and I saw the bunyion tree in Lahoina." This speaks volumes about the Ozarks and sets up a whole thing about doublewides on cinderblocks.

  6. I forgot to add that the same woman made the comment,
    "Sikeston, Missouri is a din of inequity!"
    I couldn't agree more!

  7. What a great guest post! Thank you for writing and posting it. I must be in the dark ages, because I would never think to ask an author about sticky notes. Now I'll beware of authors with them. LOL!!!! I'm looking forward to reading Janeology! It's only a few books away now. :)

  8. So glad to see Karen as a guest blogger. Can't get enough of this author!

  9. What a fun guest post!

    Looking forward to the review of Janeology, Wendy.

  10. Great guest post, Karen (and Wendy!). I loved the out-takes of life ... I should start taking notes!

  11. Great post!! I loved the comments. Isn't it fascinating to hear the topics and tidbits that others say?!

  12. KH - So good to see you on LiteraryFeline's blog! A great post!

    I have read JANEOLOGY and I would highly recommend it!

    =) Jill

  13. Karen Harrington, I loved your post, and I think that Janeology sounds fantastic. I'm trying to get my library to purchase a copy...

  14. Thank you, Karen, for your fantastic post! Thank you also to all those who participated in the discussion. I enjoyed reading all your comments. :-)

    I thought of Karen the other day while at the airport when I overheard a couple arguing over whether the woman could take her water bottle onto the plane in her purse. Of course, I meant to write it down, but I completely forgot. It was such an every day type conversation, only the way the couple were bantering, it was worthy of being put into a book, I thought. :-)

    A definite lesson in the importance of note taking!


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