Author Deborah Harkness Makes an Impression: Fantastic Books, Great Messages, AND She’s Straight up Lovely.
Recently I went to see one of my favorite authors speak. She is that because she has written what I do believe are my favorite fiction books of all time. Last night she became my favorite author for two reasons. One she’s the only fiction author I’ve ever met in person and most importantly– she was so gracious.
This was the first author book reading I had ever been to and I thought—“I’m going to do the whole thing. I came all this way—I’m not going to walk out of here without a signature in my book and having gotten the whole experience.” I had sent my family camping ahead of me that morning. Which, if you’ve ever had two toddlers camping you know is no easy feat. It was only possible through the cooperation of my equally gracious husband AND the good friend of ours who agreed to set out early and help him set up camp with the kids.
“I’m sorry. I know you’re in a hurry,” I said rushing my questions out when I finally got up to her. “I know all these people are waiting so I’m trying to be brief.”
“No I’m not,” she smiled at me. “I’m not in a hurry. This is your time (honey).” Okay, I don’t think she actually said honey—but I felt it.
“Thank you for that reminder,” I said taking a deep breath and sitting back in my chair. And of course that’s when I fell in love with Deborah Harkness the person, and not just her talent for writing historical fiction with compelling characters with interesting and imaginative story lines. Three books full in fact. Deborah (I feel we are on first name basis 😉 ) is the author of the All Souls Triology: Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life.
She also has lovely messages. When asked to sum up what her trilogy was about she said, “It’s about the power that can only come when you look yourself in the mirror and accept who you are and own it…. It’s about the importance of empathy, in a world where people like to emphasize difference much more than they like to emphasize what brings us together… And it’s about family.”
To my surprise, despite being the author of three best selling historical fiction “fantasy” books whose characters are vampires and witches, she’s also a professor of European history and the history of science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
“What do your colleagues think about this?” someone in the audience asked her that night.
“Good question,” she said smiling. She mentioned that they were supportive although baffled. And she told a few good anecdotes.
First of all, that of course when she broke the news to her superior and close colleagues everyone assumed she would do it under a pseudonym.
Shaking her head with a wry grin and speaking in a conspiratorial whisper she said her response had been, “No. Under my own name.” She went on to say, “I study the 16th century where women were never able to do things under their own name, and I thought—‘We’re not going back there.’”
She mentioned also that she still remembered when she broke the news to her grad students. One of her students walked in the class carrying her book and said, “Is this YOU?” And then the blunt question, “Aren’t you afraid people aren’t going to take you seriously anymore?” For a history professor to be writing about witches…
Her message: Be who you are without apology. (It’s a theme that also runs through her books.) And furthermore, it isn’t healthy to stifle creativity. Clearly, a history professor IS completely capable of doing her job and writing three, 600-page novels, which include some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever met.
And I say, just like the characters in her novels, when you accept who you are, and be it without apology you’ll find you are capable of great things too.
Seeing Deborah Harkness in person: A real treat. So glad I did. Thank you Deborah. (And, if you’re interested in the same experience. University Book Store put the whole thing on You Tube. Link below- you have to scroll down on their “playlist” for Deborah Harkness.)
Reading her books: an experience that has affected my life positively, perhaps forever, one I’m so glad I had. Highly recommend.
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