Kim Harrison, bestselling author of The Hollows series, The Peri Reed Chronicles, and traditional fantasies under the name Dawn Cook, joined moderator Carol Malcolm for the virtual panel “A Conversation with Kim Harrison” on Sunday at 5:30PM on the Urban Fantasy Track’s Facebook page.
When Harrison first read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, she was disappointed that the main character couldn’t actually speak aloud to dragons. Years later, she wrote her first book, First Truth, a coming-of-age story with talking dragons and mysterious beings in a medieval setting. That fantasy led to Decoy Princess, also in a medieval setting. She found the idea of urban fantasy appealing, though, because it would allow her to bring fantasy into the modern world. “I love my magic,” she said, and it’s easier “to connect with the reader” through a modern-day setting.
Educated as a biologist rather than a writer, she enjoys creating new species using the science she learned. Pixies, for example, are small and fly, so they’d likely live short lives, need a rich food source, and be more active at dusk and dawn to avoid predators. In her Madison Avery YA trilogy, she wanted to write about good and bad angels and their hidden influence on humans. Lots of time travel movies were popular at the time, so she decided to splice the two ideas into one short story just for fun. The short story took root and grew into three novels. It’s easy to see that she’s an expert at encouraging such growth. Her The Hollows series, also begun as a short story and has flourished under her care into 16 books and counting.
Asked to describe her Peri Reed character, Harrison said she started the new series while trying to avoid becoming stagnant as a writer. Rather than the first-person perspective of The Hollows, she decided to take some ideas and write in third person from multiple viewpoints. Peri developed from there. A special agent who “gets things done,” Peri has the ability to jump 15 seconds back in time, so she can redo that brief period and make changes. The trouble is, she can’t remember what happened during those 15 seconds, so she needs a partner who can quickly fill her in.
The idea of the 15-second time-jump and its accompanying memory loss came to Harrison from watching her father use memory tricks to deal with his Alzheimer’s disease. “Authors take their world,” she said, “and they bring it in, they internalize it, and it comes out in a completely different way. And yet we’re all healed, or at least healing.”
Harrison enjoys writing about characters who are strong-willed, persistent, and loyal because “you can trust that they’re going to do the right thing, even if it’s the hard thing.” Rachel and Peri both fit this mold, but Harrison described Rachel as a spontaneous person who learns by doing, whereas Peri is more thoughtful, methodical, and doesn’t really trust herself.
The publisher for The Peri Reed Chronicles asked Harrison to write a short story that brought Rachel and Peri together for a short time. This seemed to her an impossible task at first because the two characters’ worlds are so different. She felt as if she was “breaking way too many rules… But it was fun!”
Harrison wrote The Turn, a prequel to The Hollows set in the 60s and published in 2018, well before the current pandemic. Since it dealt with a plague, she doesn’t think she could have written it now. At the time, she could “shut the door” on it, and life went back to normal. She thinks she could easily get two more books out of that same time period, though. She’d like to see Rachel and Trent at the Make-A-Wish camp, find out more about the siblings, how Jonathan survived, and what happened to his mother. But for now, she’s focusing on moving the story forward. American Dream retuned readers to Rachel’s time, 27 years later. Million Dollar Demon, which came out in June of 2021, is set three months later.
Some of Harrison’s favorites of her own books are the ones where Rachel gets to leave Cincinnati. During a recent conversation with her husband about the course of her next book, she decided that Rachel is going to go on another road trip. Harrison has turned in the manuscript for the next book in the series, tentatively titled Trouble with the Curse, and she’s finished “a very rough draft” of a new series set in a different universe. The protagonist is Petra Grady. She’s not a mage, she’s a mage’s trash collector and picks up the magical waste of an entirely difference magic system. Grady, of course, turns out to be something quite different from a mere trash collector.
Harrison usually manages to write a book-and-a-half each year, “But the last couple years, trying to work through the pandemic, have been the hardest two years in my entire writing career because the concentration was shot.” Thankfully, she’s been able to write a lot in the last six months. She had this advice for other writers: “…if there are writers out there who are banging their heads on the wall, saying ‘I can’t do this!’ just relax, wait until the world finds its new normal, and keep going. If you can get ten words down, you’re doing okay.” Wise advice that we can all take to heart.