Kev’s Author Interviews Presents:
Tell us a bit about yourself, Stuart.
A: I’m Stuart Harris with writing name of S. M. Harris. I’m a playwright with some off Broadway productions (in NY, Spokane and Baltimore) to my credit. I have written my first novel. I am starting at this somewhat late in life, so one might say I am a newbie with an AARP Card. So far it has been a terrific experience
Kev: What’s your latest book called and how did you come up with the title?
A: The novel is called The Northeast Quarter. It’s set in Iowa between 1918 and 1929. The title comes from a land surveyor’s term, when they were creating the original homestead plots.
Kev: Which Genre do you have it listed under and does it cross any other genres?
A: The Northeast Quarter is listed for adults, specifically for the ages of 40 and over. However, since Ann, my protagonist, ages from 10 to 22 in the course of the story, it could also be enjoyed by young adults as well.
Kev: Tell us a little bit more about it.
A: The story is about a young girl’s effort to keep a promise to her grandfather, no matter what. On July 4th, 1918 Colonel Wallace Carson, the ruler of a vast agricultural (corn) empire asks his granddaughter Ann to promise that, when she is of age, she will safeguard The Northeast Quarter, the choice piece of land from which the empire was founded. Ann readily accepts, little knowing what awaits her. The Colonel is killed shortly. Ann witnesses the remarriage of her grandmother to Royce Chamberlin, the seemingly humble banker who institutes a reign of terror over the household and proceeds to corrupt the entire town. Over the next 10 years Ann matches wits with Chamberlin, waiting to make her move and reclaim her inheritance.
Kev: Introduce us to your main character
A: Ann Hardy is small in stature, with auburn hair. She is tougher than she seems. Some have described her as an early feminist. Her strengths are that she endures alot hardship and grief. Her weakness is that she has a temper, which she must always keep in check. For example, when a lawyer asks “Do you want revenge or do you want your land back?”, Ann replies,” I know what I want to answer, but I also know what I’m going to answer. I want the land.”
Kev: Provide a teaser/short passage from your book.
A: Ann saw that Royce’s eyes were on her and not Jack. The battle lines had been drawn long ago. This demonstration was for her benefit, and Jack was the pawn. Royce was planning to get him drunk.
“I want to spend time with my family,” Jack said.
“You can do that later,” Royce countered, “I insist.”
“I’m real sorry to hear that, Royce. But my daughter’s home.”
Ann saw her father smiling back at Royce. He was hesitant but standing his ground, and he was even returning the half smile. Ann felt a spark of encouragement because someone on her side was finally standing up to Royce.
Kev: When you wrote this work, did you write off-the-cuff or use some kind of formula like an outline?
A: I am definitely an Outline Guy. I begin with a series of notes, scene ideas, data, dialogue snippets, etc. I spread them out across the floor of my apartment in chronological order. Standing over them gives me a birds-eye view of the whole story from start to finish. Then I slowly follow them across the floor creating an outline of the story. From that outline comes the first draft.
Kev: Did you research for the backdrop of your story or any other part of it?
I researched for some of the technical or historical details, But most of it came from first person accounts of people who were alive at the time the story takes place. A major part of The Northeast Quarter came from a promise to my mother. My parents grew up between 1918 and 1929, the time in which the story takes place. This period, between the end of WW1 and The Great Depression were years of tremendous economic upheaval in the rural areas. In fact, one might say The Depression crept into these rural areas with foreclosures, poor harvest and high interest rates while city people were enjoying The Roaring Twenties and dancing The Charleston. My mother saw these events up close and developed a fear of what would happen to her family if America ever went through a second depression. How would they survive it?
We also had Huey Long’s rise to power in Louisiana and Hitler beginning to emerge in Germany. In both cases, governmental power was getting easily out of control. Mother began to consider various ways to protect her family in the future. Right or wrong, she envisioned a second Depression and the possibility of an executive order which declared that no person could own land unless he lived on it. She focused on one piece of property, which I’ll call Section Ten. Throughout my life she would say,
“Never sell Ten. Promise me you’ll never sell it. Promise me you’ll keep Ten for you and your family.”
Her strategy was that if there were ever another economic collapse, I could always go to Iowa, rent a camper and live on the property until the crisis had passed. This request for re-affirmation of my promise continued repeatedly. The last one was on her deathbed.
Mother passed away in 2006 and I own Section Ten. The crisis she envisioned never occurred, but the story of keeping her promise provided the springboard for the plot of The Northeast Quarter.
Kev: What challenges did this particular work pose for you?
A: Since I am a playwright, one of the challenges was to keep my descriptions from reading like stage directions. Another was to vary the locations for the actions. In a play, the characters would gather in specific locations and either verbally hack away at each other or bare their souls. In novel form, I could expand the action and open up the story.
Kev: What methods are using to promote this work?
A: Social media definitely. There is a Northeast Quarter website at smharris.com. Also I am on Twitter, Facebook and Linked In and a virtual book tour with Rebecca’s Author Services.
Kev: Do you have any advice for new authors?
A: Don’t wait so long to get started!!!!
Social Media Channels
Twitter handle: @smharriswrites
Facebook: S.M. Harris
You Tube Channel ( link is a custom link to book trailer on you tube channel)
THE NORTHEAST QUARTER
Winfield, Iowa. 1918. Colonel Wallace Carson, the ruler of a vast agricultural empire, asks Ann Hardy, his ten year old granddaughter and eventual heir, to promise she will safeguard The Northeast Quarter, the choice piece of land from which the empire was founded. Ann readily accepts – little knowing what awaits her. When The Colonel is killed unexpectedly the same afternoon, the world around Ann and her family begins to fall apart.
Against the background of America sliding from a post-war boom into The Great Depression, The Northeast Quarter tells the story of Ann’s struggle to keep a promise no matter what. She witnesses the remarriage of her grandmother to Royce Chamberlin, the seemingly humble banker who institutes a reign of terror over the household and proceeds to corrupt the entire town.
Over the next ten years she matches wits with Chamberlin, enduring betrayal, banishment and even physical violence. She grows from a precocious child into a tough-minded young woman – watching, observing her enemy and waiting for the moment to make her move.
And when the moment comes in July 1929, life in Winfield will never be the same.
Stuart M. Harris began writing for the theater professionally in 1991 when he was invited by the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York to attend a summer conference. The experience led the native Californian to move to New York to become a playwright. Several of his plays have been produced Off Broadway and around the country, among them. Oona Field produced by Diverse City Theater Company and Colleen Ireland, about a 90-year-old retirement home resident and her great granddaughter, that played in New York, Spokane and other cities, including Hamilton, OH, where it won ‘Best Play’ at The Fitton Center One-Act Playwriting Contest. A follow-up to Colleen was Spindrift Way, the first of ten more plays in the series. The Northeast Quarter began as a full-length play developed by the Works in Progress Theatre Lab at Manhattan Theatre Club Studios. Harris put playwriting on hold in order to weave the story of generations of Iowan farmers into his new historical novel. He lives in Brooklyn.