In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing
victim author and they choose their own interview by choosing which questions, and how many questions, they want to answer! Patricia Harman’s The Midwife of Hope River is the intriguing and heartwarming story of a novice midwife trying to find her place in a small Appalachian town during The Great Depression. Here is what Patricia had to say about reading, writing, and the experience of trading one passion for another.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
My name is Patricia Harman and I’m the author of two memoirs, The Blue Cotton Gown and Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Journey (Beacon Press) and coming Aug. 28, my first novel, The Midwife of Hope River (William Morrow).
As you might guess, from the titles of the books, I’m also a nurse-midwife. I never aspired to be an author, but words come easily to me and I’m a natural story teller. A few years ago my husband, an OB/Gyn and I had to give up delivering babies because of the high cost of medical liability insurance. We do only Gyn, infertility and early pregnancy now. This was sad for us and our many devoted patients, but the good news is I had time to seriously write.
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?
I think writing is very comforting for me. One of my patients asked me was it sort of like therapy and in someways I would say yes. I get so lost in the scenes, in the story I’m telling, that I even forget to eat, drink or go to the bathroom. You’d think I’d be skinny from that description…sadly…I’m not. When I’m nervous or frustrated about the writing, I try to munch on baby carrots, but I also eat natural crunchy peanut butter by the spoon.
What was it about this story that made it the one you had to tell at this time? What impact did telling this story have on your life? Did you find that it had changed you?
They say a writer should write what they know. I used to do home births. In the 1970s we lived without electricity and heated with wood and grew our own food. We were trying to live sustainably and decrease our dependence on fossil fuel. I used to be a radical non-violent activist.
I thought it would be interesting to put all that together and set the story in the Great Depression, because we are going through similar times. Thus, Patience Murphy, midwife, fledgling farmer, suffragette and union sympathizer was born.
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?
Sadly I wish I read more. When I started writing The Midwife of Hope River, I read many non-fiction books written about the great depression and classic novels written around that time like. Now on my bedside table are James Herriot’s Creatures Great and Small, Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much by Anne Shaef. These I read for comfort when I can’t sleep.
In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?
One of my strengths is that I’m very disciplined. This is not always a great thing, of course…I could be more relaxed and probably happier. I still work at a regular job, like most authors, but only part-time. Mondays and Wednesdays are my writing days. I start writing around 8:30 and write all day. My boys are all grown and out on their own, so I have the freedom to write after work too.
If I’m in a bad mood, or anxious, or out of sorts and don’t feel like writing, I go back a few chapters and read and edit. By the time I get to where I left off, I’m back in the groove.
Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?
I had a different title in mind for the book, Sound of the Heart, but my editor came up with The Midwife of Hope River and I think that is just right. If I’d hated it, I’m sure we would have kept working until we found a mutually agreeable solution.
How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?
I currently have one main project, the second in a trilogy about the people of Hope River. I also have a 90% finished middle grade novel called LOST, the amazing story of the little goat midwives and in my head a third book, about a homeless female physician. I never scrap anything, thinking it may become a short story or part of another book.
As a published author, what’s been the biggest surprise about life after the publication of your first book?
When you finally get your first book published you are so happy and relieved, kind of like a mother after she’s given birth, but you quickly learn if you want your book to be a success, you have to help promote it and this takes a lot of time away from your writing. Again, like the mother giving birth, after the beautiful baby comes out, she has to feed it, diaper it and love it.
Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?
My first book, The Blue Cotton Gown, (about the patients I see and my professional and family life) was written daily as I lived it. My second book, Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Journey was based on my journals from the 1970s, and I referred to them continually. My new book, The Midwife of Hope River, my first novel, is set in the 1930s and I had to do lots of research. When I come to something, like the price of bread, or what nurses uniforms looked like in 1934, I look it up on the internet. Occasionally I have to email specialists. It’s really fun.
Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?
I sit in the corner windows of our living room with my feet up on the opposite chair and my lap top in my lap. Outside, I can see our vegetable garden and the trees across the way. When the leaves are down I can see the lake. Birds come to the feeders on the porch and sometimes a fox squirrel visits me and peers through the window. I am blessed.