Interview with Teri Harman
I had the opportunity to meet Teri last year when the first book in her series, Blood Moon launched. I’m part of a chic, over-the-top book club—Delicious Reads—and we had Teri come both last year and this year for our Halloween book selection. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Teri better and seeing her writing journey.
Teri is the author of The Moonlight Trilogy. The second book is called Black Moon and was just released in September.
Simon Howard accidentally killed three people. Four months later, the nightmares won’t stop. Willa Fairfield, his girlfriend, his soul mate, wants nothing more than to help him move on. But guilt isn’t the only thing getting in Simon’s way.
When unexplained earthquakes hit the small town of Twelve Acres, and dozens of people go missing, the Light witches discover their most feared enemy, Archard, is still alive. Employing the twisted, dynamic magic of a legendary witch known as Bartholomew the Dark, Archard plans to exact his revenge and take control of the Powers of the Earth on the night of the black moon, a rare lunar event infamous for Dark magic.
As the Light Covenant fumbles to defend against Archard’s sadistic intentions, Simon’s magic grows inexplicably more powerful, even dangerous. Willa throws all her efforts into solving the mystery of Simon’s transformation, but when the events of the past storm into the present, the couple’s future changes forever.
In addition to being an author of magic and wonder, Teri is a mother of three and a contributor on Studio 5 Lifestyle Show on KSL. Her segment shares book recommendations and book lists.
Brooke: Congrats on the release of your second book! Can you tell us how writing the second book in the series was different from writing the first book? Did you have the series planned out from the start?
Teri: Writing a sequel is tricky business. I had one goal: Make the second book better than the first. Often second books disappoint and I did not want that to happen in this series. However, when I first started writing I had no idea how I was going to do it. I knew how I wanted the book to end, but getting there was the problem. I wrote 45,000 words in my first draft and then trashed it all except for two short scenes. Yep, all of it in the trash – it wasn’t right. I started again. And I drafted and drafted and drafted.
Getting BLACK MOON right took about ten drafts/revisions. Sometimes it was brutal and hard, but the satisfaction of the finished product was worth it. It’s better than the first; it’s so good.
Brooke: Do you have writing rituals? Where do you write? Do you have a word count target? Are you more of an outliner or a pantser? Do you listen to music while you write?
Teri: I have three young kids, so a set schedule every day just isn’t possible. But I do try to write every day. Some days I can put down 5000 words, other days only 500. In the beginning of my career I wrote at our kitchen counter on the most uncomfortable cheap stool ever made. Now, I’m lucky enough to have an actual office where I’m surrounded by books and art and things I love, like my typewriter from 1937.
I keep lots of notes – a binder full for each book. It’s impossible to remember everything or keep it all straight, so I write it down. Every thought or brainstorm session gets written down. Being a writer means being a student of life – and being a student means taking a lot of notes. Even though I’m more a discovery writer than an outliner, I’m still really organized about it.
I do write to music most of the time. Music is the sound of emotions, so when you need to feel a certain way it’s so helpful. Plus it helps block out other noises, like kids watching Barney. But I find I can’t listen when I’m editing.
Brooke: You’re published through Jolly Fish. Can you tell us about how you connected with them and what the editing/publishing process has been like? Who is your agent? Did you work with one editor? Tell us about what you’re expected to handle on your end, such as setting up book signings etc.
Teri: I connected with JFP shortly after they opened up for business. My brother went to a publishing fair at BYU and collected a bunch of cards for me, one of which was for Jolly Fish Press. My agent and I had been submitting BLOOD MOON for close to a year at that time. I sent her the information for JFP and about a month later we had a trilogy deal.
It took me five years, over 100 rejections, and a second book to secure my agent, Fran Black and Jenn Mishler of Literary Counsel, New York. They are wonderful and I’m so glad I have them.
JFP has an amazing design team. My covers – and all of their covers – are amazing. It really helps draw readers to my books. Everywhere I go I get compliments on my covers. My editor for this series has also been incredibly helpful. He loves bad guys and the dark and twisted as much as I do, so we have a good time with this story.
As with most authors these days, I handle most of my own marketing and event scheduling. JFP sets up signings with Barnes and Nobles, and will let us know of other opportunities. But mostly, I reach out and ask for opportunities. Social media helps a lot.
Brooke: I know one of your main goals in writing the second book of the series was to avoid the “second book slump.” How did you overcome that common problem?
Teri: Sequels present a lot of problems. You are working with the same characters and often the same kind of problems. The challenge is to make it feel fresh and exciting. I found four things help beat the sequel slump.
1. Make the hard decisions. Throwing away 45,000 words was like cutting off my own arm. Not a pretty experience, but it made all the difference. Don’t be afraid to do something drastic.
2. Stay true to YOUR story. A lot more eyes, and therefore a lot more opinions, are on a second book. It’s easy to get confused by all that. Take what is useful and ignore everything else. It’s still your story.
3. Excellent Beta Readers. Good, constructive, trusted input helped BLACK MOON so much. I needed those other eyes on things. I needed to see it from someone else’s point of view. And I needed help generating ideas for making it better.
4. Go for the unexpected. Sequels have to feel different and fresh, even though it’s much of the same. Dig deep for crazy, unexpected ideas. Avoid clichés. Be creative. Shock your readers (and yourself).
Brooke: You received a positive Kirkus Review—a review from an experience professional service that gives an honest, impartial evaluation of the book. What made you decide to submit your book to get a Kirkus Review? Black Moon Kirkus Review. Do you feel like it helped with marketing and sales?
Teri: My publisher submitted BLACK MOON to Kirkus, which I didn’t know about until I got a call from my agent the day the review was sent back to JFP. It was a huge surprise and a big uplift. A lot of things went wrong during the writing and editing and production of BLACK MOON – this was one brilliant bright spot.
As far as helping marketing and sales – that’s really hard to judge. I know it helps legitimize my work and people pay a little more attention when you say ‘Kirkus’ – those that know about it anyway. Plus it got my book in front of more eyes. I know it’s certainly helpful to have, even if not measureable.
Brooke: Your books are rich with background information on witches, spells, the cycles of the moon, herbs and rituals. What was the most interesting thing you learned in your research?
Teri: That’s hard to narrow down – I was fascinated by it all! But I really loved that each full moon had a name and certain ‘powers’ or ‘magic’. I’ve always loved watching the moon, but now I know so much about how it works and the lore behind each phase, each different moon. Did you know when the moon is full it rises at the same time the sun sets? There is just something poetic and beautiful about that.
Brooke: On your website, you have a “refresher” for your first book. This is a brilliant idea because by the time the second book comes out, it’s been at least a year. Do you feel like it’s been helpful to be able to direct people there and have a quick cheat-sheet?
Teri: SO HELPFUL! This has been really popular with my readers. It makes the BLACK MOON reading experience so much easier and more enjoyable because you’re not trying to remember everything that happened in BLOOD MOON. As a reader of many, many books, I wish that every author/publisher did this for every series.
Brooke: You also wrote a book called “A Painted Life” which will be published next year (congrats!). How did you know when to let one project sit verses moving on to something fresh?
Teri: I actually wrote A PAITNED LIFE while BLOOD MOON was on submission. I was frustrated and worried BLOOD MOON would never find a publisher. The only thing I could do was write another book and hope. A PAINTED LIFE is very dear to my heart. We submitted it to JFP right after we signed the deal for the MOONLIGHT TRILOGY. It was JFP’s decision when to publish it. They decided it was best to wait until after the second book in my trilogy. I can’t wait for it to come out.
Moving on is always a hard decision. We are very attached to our projects and we want every one to succeed. But it’s also very refreshing and liberating to move on to another idea, to stretch your writing muscles. And in a subjective, competitive business such as publishing, it’s vital to keep doing new things. One book may not take, but a second or third might launch your career.
Brooke: Tell us how you juggle writing time with young children. What have you found that works best for you?
Teri: The discipline to write whenever, wherever, however is key. And having two kids in school full time has helped a lot – can’t wait for all three! My husband is also a great support. If I need extra time on a Saturday or Sunday, he’ll take the kids to his parent’s house for the day. And I’ve learned to let my house be a little messier than it was before I wrote full time. I don’t really fold laundry anymore – everyone has a basket for clean clothes. If they want them folded and put away then they can do it.
And it’s amazing how much plotting and figuring out you can do while washing dishes (as Agatha Christie said) or vacuuming or driving kids to school.
Brooke: What’s your top piece of writing advice for other aspiring authors?
Teri: Andre Dubus said, “Talent it cheap. What really matters is discipline.” Being a writer is a tough road. It’s frustrating, long, and often we get little, or nothing, in return. Sticking with it and making a career of it requires disciple, perseverance, patience, and hope. Study your art, get better all the time – the words on the page are the only things you can control.
The Nitty-Gritty Six
Something That Will Surprise Us: I’m a Trekie. Love me some old school Star Trek. Jean-Luc Picard is my captain.
Guilty Pleasure: Hot, homemade brownies at least once a week
Favorite Movie or TV Show: Right now – probably ARROW. But I’m a little bit of a TV addict, so I could list so many. THE PARADISE, THE BLETCHLY CIRCLE, THE X-FILES, BATTLESTAR GALATICA, BUFFY, PSYCH, DOCTOR WHO . . .
Item You Can’t Live Without: Hand sanitizer
Favorite Book This Year: MIDWINTERBLOOD by Marcus Sedgwick
Three Things You Love Besides Writing: cook, read, travel
Teri thank you so much for participating in this interview. It was great to get to know you better and learn about your writing journey!
Keep checking back for our next interview with Mette Ivie Harrison who is releasing “The Bishop’s Wife” December 30th from SoHo Press.
If you want to get caught up on past interviews, you can catch them here:
See you next time!