Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Author Interviews: S.M. Hart

S. M. Hart wrote her first story, The Secret Book, when she was a child.  In college, she majored in mathematics with a minor in liberal studies and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. For over twenty years, she taught at a large urban high school in Fresno, California.  There she used literacy, critical thinking, and empirical investigations to teach a variety of math concepts to teenagers.  The teaching experience showed her the connection between mathematics and imagination, and between the prosaic and the poetical.  It gave her insight into human relationships and social compacts.  It also allowed her to practice the art of storytelling, and it greatly exercised her sense of humor.  Ms. Hart’s debut novel is The Book of Rhino: The Revelation, an integration of low-density fantasy and historical fiction.  Ms. Hart is originally from Durango, Colorado and now lives in Central California with her husband.

1. The Book of the Rhino has been described by some readers as a mix between low-density fantasy and historical fiction. What genre do you consider your novel, and how do you think people’s expectations of genre influence their reaction to your work?

I consider it an integration of low-density fantasy and historical fiction. I think people’s expectation of genre influences their choice of what they read and their level of satisfaction in reading it. The story in a low-density fantasy book usually takes place in a world like ours whose environment and physical laws are familiar; it has less emphasis on the usual elements associated with fantasy. Examples of low-density fantasy books are The Arthurian Saga by Mary Stewart and the Pendragon Cycle by Stephen R. Lawhead. My first reviewers reacted favorably to the low-density fantasy in The Book of Rhino.

2. How long did it take you to complete your book—first draft, editing, the publishing process?

It took almost five years from the first draft to the release date. (June 2012 to April 2017)  It took me ten months to write the book, and seventeen months from my initial contact with a publisher to the book’s release on Amazon. The longest period of time was deciding whether or not I wanted to go public with the manuscript. At first, I wanted to keep my lovely story all to myself. Then a friend of mine asked to read the book. She liked it so much she had the manuscript formatted and bound into a hardcover copy as a gift to me. What else could I do? I promised her I would think about publishing my book, which I did–for two years.

3. What is one opinion about writing you’ve had that’s changed over your career?

It is not always the slow, agonizing process I thought it was. Once in a while, it proceeds along at a nice clip.

4. Is there any terrible advice you’ve received for your book or career? Bad advice you’ve overheard someone else be told? (If not, are there any common writing rules you don’t agree with?)

I cannot recall receiving or hearing terrible advice about my book. The worst advice I ever heard (and thankfully ignored) about teaching was to not smile in class until December. So if anyone ever tells me to be serious in my writing, I will disregard it as terrible. I simply cannot write for very long without making a joke.

5. What are your biggest concerns about the current literary world?

My biggest concern is that there are not enough vertical relationships between generations of writers. I am concerned that older works of literature are not being read by younger generations.

6. What trends, tactics, styles, or genres would you like to see become popular in modern writing?

I would like to see more themes of social justice, which is one reason why I wrote The Book of Rhino. I would also like to see more humor and wit, especially in young adult novels, which is another reason why I wrote The Book of Rhino.

7. What trends would you like to see disappear?

I would love to see misogyny, the objectification of women, and the victimization of the powerless disappear. Unfortunately, this trend has been with us for a long time. Years ago, I addressed this issue in a creative writing class in college. I asked the professor why most of the stories we were reading were about strong, heroic men while the very few stories about women portrayed them as weak victims or cunning manipulators. He gave me a double C- on my next essay. The misogyny trend continues.

8. Where do you find yourself getting stuck most often—beginning, middle, or end?

I am stuck most often at the beginning. I have always been a backwards planner, deciding where I want to end up, and then planning the journey to get there. I always start with the “why” of a story. If I don’t know why someone should read it, then I don’t start it until I do.

9. If you could hire someone to do any of the writing work for you, what jobs would you assign to him?

Right now, I would not hire out any of the work. I enjoy every part of the writing process. I once asked my niece, who is also a writer, if she would write a torture scene for me because I could not bring myself to do it. Although she was willing, I eventually abandoned the idea.

10. What is an assumption people make about your career that bothers you?

I really don’t know what people assume about my career as a writer. I’ve learned that people make all sorts of strange and unflattering assumptions about math teachers. So I have learned not to let people’s assumptions bother me.

11. Tell us a little about The Book of the Rhino.

Love to!

The Book of Rhino is about five boys—brothers—coming of age in Albion (England) during the Middle Ages. When they reach adulthood, they will rule the different provinces of the kingdom. The plot revolves around the training they undergo to become effective rulers. However, one of the boys, Prince Rhino, does not want to share power with his brothers. He has a plan to eventually rule over them. He decides that he will be such a model of perfection his brothers will love and serve him forever. He thinks it will be easy, but the universe also has a plan.

And then there’s a girl named Amalia.

The main themes of the book are: free will and choice, servant leadership, equity and social justice, brotherhood and friendship.

Its main literary influences are: Phantastes by George MacDonald, The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, and The Robot Novels by Isaac Asimov.

12. How much unpublished work do you have sitting around?

The second book in the Rhino series is still unpublished; it is not yet ready for the editor. I am currently writing a series of short stories about Carl, the Calculus Cat for my blog. I would like to eventually turn it into a book. Of course, I will probably be the only one who reads it.

13.  Some people would consider math and creative writing on opposite ends of a spectrum. What is it about those two things that draw you in?

To me, mathematics is a magic world. It’s a way to describe, analyze, understand, and represent real world phenomena with abstract concepts, relationships, and symbols. I think that is what writers try to do with stories. They write to make sense of real world phenomena—even when they set their story in another world. Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “This is the secret to good storytelling: to lie, but to keep the arithmetic straight.” Storytelling was one of my primary pedagogical tools; I had a story for just about every math concept. In a way, solving problems with mathematics is like creative writing in terms of setting, characters, plot, and conflict. Like any good story, math concepts have an exposition, rising action, a climax, falling action, and a resolution.

14.  If you met people like your characters, would you get along?

Yes, but that is probably because I get along with just about everybody. However, there are one or two characters that would test my good humor. I would have to “be kind to them because they are waging a great battle.” (Philo of Alexandria)

15. What was the hardest part in writing your book?

It was whenever my characters went through a very difficult time. I did not like inflicting pain on them and wept whenever I read the text. I think that was because their sorrows are not unique or unusual; they are common to the human condition, things that most people experience at some time in their lives, things that I could relate to.

Twitter: @SMKHart
Amazon Author Page:

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