Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Interview with Author Steve Harz

Give us a quick introduction on yourself and your book.

My name is Steven Harz and I am a Connecticut-based writer who was born in West Virginia and grew up in Maryland. In some of my work these places are very much a part of the story.  When I’m not writing I coach football and play taxi driver to my kids. 

“Songs you can’t dance to” is a collection of poetry and short fiction with themes  ranging from the anticipation and joy of new and maintained love and the sorrow and pain of longing and loss.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I’d been wanting to write a book for about ten years.  At first I was writing a novel but somehow, organically, shifted gears to shorter fiction.  The poetry came later and was, for me, a great way to get ideas out of my head and onto the page in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.

How did you come up with the title?

Not only and I a firm believer that books get judged by their cover, I am confident that people select books by the title as well.  At least I do!  In actuality, I came up with the title “Songs you can’t dance to” even before I wrote the poem that goes with it.  I just liked what thoughts and ideas that phrase conjured.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

While I didn’t write the book with a message in mind, I suppose that if there is an underlying theme it’s summed up in one of the very nice reviews that the book has received:  “It is also a true reminder of how much we all should attempt to fully enjoy love and the ones we love now.

How much of the book is realistic?

A lot of the content in “Songs you can’t dance to” is based in some type of reality.  Whether stories about high school loves or the impact of 9/11 or rediscovering love in middle age, much of this is autobiographical.  I guess when I was taught “write what you know” I took it to heart!

What books have most influenced your life most?

This could be a very long list, but if I were to pare it down and make it digestible I’d have to go with the following.  “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving is one of the main books that made me want to put pen to paper – and has the greatest opening sentence in history.  “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry should be required reading for anyone who is involved in interpersonal relationships, namely all of us. And anything by Dave Eggers – his blend of humor and heartbreak is second to none.  I am in awe of him.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

Well, my grandfather, Ben Hale, was a writer (“How to Program Yourself for Success”) and I take after him in many ways so he was definitely a mentor, and is missed by all.  From a poetry standpoint, I really enjoy, and am inspired by, spoken word poets Sierra DeMulder and Shane Koyczan – they are certainly mentors from a distance.

What book are you reading now?

I’m currently reading “A Life Not My Own” by T.M. Brown which is about a young black girl’s upbringing in 1960s Baltimore (my adopted hometown).  This book is a lesson in perseverance.  Prior to that I re-read “The Night Country” by Stewart O’Nan – I read this book every year or two as it’s an amazing story that always seems to amaze me (read it!)

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

Since she’s young I’ll consider her new – I’ve read Sierra DeMulder’s “New Shoes on a Dead Horse” a few times.  This poetry collection is beautifully written and I am amazed at her grasp on situations and emptions at her young age.

What are your current projects?

I am always writing.  I try to complete a poem or two each week and will then revisit them a few weeks later to edit and revise.  My next book, to be published later in 2013, will be another collection of poetry and short fiction. The tentative title is “An umbrella for the bomb drop”.

Do you see writing as a career?

Eventually, yes!

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

My interest in writing began, I suppose, with my appetite for reading at a very early age.  As a young boy I’d ride my bike to the library a few times a week and loved being surrounded by all of the books.  I still feel great when I walk into a library. About a dozen years ago I began thinking to myself that perhaps I could do this and that’s when I began writing a blog.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

This is the very last thing that I’ve written:

Stick figure you

I needed you
to be perfect
being my very
last chance
so I stood at
the workbench
goggled and gloved
and crafted you
from leftover lumber
and half-bent nails
piled in the corner
that I’d used
and given up upon
in the failed
creation of love
jigsaw and mallet
nicked knuckles
and pounded thumb
I measured twice
and cut once and with
paint covering spackle
these rebuilt remains
of loves lost
slowly became my
perfectly imperfect
stick figure you

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I love John Irving, Sherman Alexie, John Updike, and Dave Eggers, but from a poetry standpoint – since that’s mainly what I do, it’s Shane Koyczan. I enjoy his printed work, but am especially moved by his spoken word delivery.  He reaches into your heart and your head and pulls you into his way of thinking.  He’s a tremendous storyteller and has the ability to verbalize his stories in a way that will know you off your feet.

Who designed the covers?

I self-published with Book Baby and their team did the cover design.  I gave them a pretty specific idea of what I wanted and they nailed it.  I was very pleased with the outcome, as it was almost exactly as I’d pictured it in my mind.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

For me, in that I had more than enough material for the book, was to perform triage and decide what was in and was wasn’t.  It was the “Sophie’s Choice” of writing – well, maybe not that bad…  The good news is that much of the ‘leftover’ material will find its way into my next book.  It’s not that it wasn’t included this time because it wasn’t good, it’s just that I needed to provide some balance.

Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I learned that I could remove myself from my comfort zone when needed – I began this process by writing what was ‘safe’.  As I continue my writing journey I will continue to challenge myself. 

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Always have a pen and paper with you – you never know when your next great idea will strike!

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Yes, I’d like to thank them.  That you have bought my book, and in many cases written such beautiful reviews, is extremely humbling.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

The main challenge with “Songs you can’t dance to” was actually putting it out there.  I write in a vacuum and in all honesty not many people knew that I wrote at all.  A few family and friends stumbled, accidently, onto my first blog but for the most part I kept this fairly quiet. Since much of the material is autobiographical there is a fair amount of uncertainty as to how it will be received.