E. Don Harpe, formerly of Nashville, now of Georgia, is a songwriter, poet and novelist. Now retired, Don devotes his time to his family and his writing.
Shelagh: Tell us a little about yourself, Don.
Don: I’m from a small town in Middle Tennessee, spent my teenage years in the fifties, my crazy years in the sixties, and thought I’d settled down in the seventies. The eighties and nineties proved that to be a wrong conception, and now here it is the two thousands, and I’m busier than ever. All through that period I played a lot of country music in little honky tonks and while I don’t do it any longer, I still miss the rush that walking out on a stage used to give me. After high school I took some classes at a couple of schools but never got a degree. I spent the majority of my working career in mid-management, and was an industrial engineer for a major appliance firm for a long time. Spent the latter part of my career as a manager in a call center, where we did over the phone trouble shooting on computers, and I also managed a Yahoo billing account. Retired in 2004 after the center sent all of the jobs overseas and closed down. I’m a published and recorded songwriter, I’ve written several books, and I have a story in a science fiction ebook that won the Eppy a couple of years ago. I played sports all of my life, pretty much anything that involved a ball, and once aspired to be a professional bowler. Spend my time these days working on a lot of new novels and screenplays.
Shelagh: When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?
Don: I started writing poems and short stories while still in grade school, and did even more while in high school. I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t writing something. I pitched my first song in Nashville about 1960, and started working on my novels in the mid 80’s. I don’t write in any one genre, preferring to extend my scope so that I remain interested in whatever current project I’m working on.
Shelagh: When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?
Don: When I started writing I was concentrating on my songs, and my only goal at the time was to get a song published and recorded, which I managed to do several times over the years. My goal now, with my novels, is to continue to gain name recognition so that at some point in time a major publisher will decide I’m good enough to be in bookstores worldwide. I seldom think about a message for my readers. I just want them to be entertained enough that they’ll take a look at what I write next.
Shelagh: Briefly tell us about your latest book. Is it part of a series or stand-alone?
Don: The newest book is called Sundown Two, and it’s based on the events that may or may not happen in December of 2012. It takes disaster books to a new level, and while it’s meant to be a stand alone novel, there is enough background for a sequel if there becomes a market for it. I co-authored this book with Phil Whitley, and it was a very satisfying experience.
Shelagh: What’s the hook for the book?
Don: They say the Mayan Calendar, which is a few thousand years old, ends on December 21, 2012, and also that Nostradamus made no predictions past that date. Once our research began we learned that there will be a cosmic alignment of the planets about that time, which is a rare event itself. There is a lot of interest worldwide in that date, as well as a lot of speculation. We gave it our own twist, and believe me, the book is a thrill ride from cover to cover.
Shelagh: How do you develop characters and setting?
Don: A long time ago I read that we write better if we write about stuff we know, and that’s what I try to do. I usually set most of my work in the South, because that’s the area of the country that I know best, and I use southern characters, for the most part, as my leads. I try to give my characters a lot of common sense, and as I really don’t like it when characters in books or movies do something that is really dumb, I try not to let mine do those things. If you’re alone in a cabin in the woods at midnight and you hear something prowling around outside, don’t go out with a stick and try to make it go away. That’s dumb. I won’t let my guys do things like that. I do a ton of backstory on my lead characters. I know their birthdays, their parents names, their brothers and sisters, their religion, what they like to eat, how tall they are and how much they weigh, and what bad habits they have. Most of the backstory doesn’t get into the actual book, but I always know what my guys are going to do in a given situation.
Shelagh: Who is the most unusual/most likeable character?
Don: Micajah Harpe, no doubt about it. He’s not in the Sundown book, but once you become involved with Kiga, you will never forget him. He’s not all that likeable, just unforgettable.
Shelagh: Do you have specific techniques to help you maintain the course of the plot?
Don: Yeah. I’m a firm believer in outline, outline, outline. I write outlines of all of my chapters, plotting as much of the main storyline as I can. Some believe they can’t be creative if they use an outline. I believe that if I am creative while writing the outline, it will lead to a much more creative book. Some say they like to be spontaneous, I say that most of the time their books wander around a lot, get off and on the storyline, and can lose the attention of some readers. I want to know where my book begins, what’s going on in the middle, and where it ends. The stuff in between gives me plenty of room to be creative, and that means that it’s also quite spontaneous.
Shelagh: Do you have a specific writing style or preferred POV?
Don: I don’t really have a preferred POV, although most of my stuff is in third person. I find it’s easier to move from character to character that way. My writing style is just me, just the way I write. I’ve been writing a long time, and most seem to think I use the storyteller style. Maybe I do, I don’t know. I do know that a lot of people say I make it easy for them to read, easy to follow, and hard to put down, so I guess whatever my style is, it’s working.
Shelagh: How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?
Don: Pretty much in every way that it can color it. I was dirt poor as a kid, never got all the education I needed, worked my butt off all my life, and my writing reflects that. Don’t expect to see me writing about an advertising firm in New York, or a law firm in Los Angeles, because I’m not going to do that. I don’t know anything about that life, I don’t write about it. My characters are common people, my places are real world settings that common people live and work in, and I’m comfortable with that. You won’t find me writing about what a bunch of yuppy, upwardly mobile, just graduated from college kids are doing, cause I don’t know. By the way, I don’t really care either.
Shelagh: Share the best review (or a portion) that you’ve ever had.
Don: Here’s a portion of a review I received from Eugen M. Bacon, a very talented author and reviewer, on born wolf Die Wolf, the first book that was published.
One heck of a bloody history…, July 14, 2006
A poignant dedication sets the scene for re-visiting history in a Wiley and Micajah Harpe close-up. The novel unveils a different perspective on two of the most feral killers in American history. Victims come to know the savagery of unholy Harpe fire when the blood thirst of the Wolf is awakened. Tory or colony: it doesn’t matter any more. There is one heritage to protect. The stirrings of unrest grow to one giant rampage as Harpes begin fighting their own battles, and theirs is a razor-sharp rage.
Shelagh: What are your current projects?
Don: I always work on multiple projects, using the theory that if I get tired of writing on one of them, I can change to another and never lose interest or run out of ideas. I’ve never had writer’s block, don’t even know if I know what that is. Currently I’m working on a handful of short stories, I’m about three quarters of the way through writing Neon Rainbow, the story of a fading country music superstar that has made a deal that helped him gain that stardom, and now finds he isn’t quite ready to pay the piper. I’m about half way through a novel called Tears of God, which is high action as two angels, one of God, one of Satan, use our world as their fighting ground over a handful of crystal Tears of God, tears which contain a portion of God’s own power, and have the capability to destroy creation if my guy can’t stop the angels, recover the Tears, and get them to a place where neither God nor Satan can ever get their hands on them. I’ve also just finished compiling all of my Amazon Shorts into collections, and made them available for Kindle readers.
You can find out more about me and all of my books and short stories by visiting http://www.donharpe.com
Shelagh: Thank you for joining us today, Don.