Tiffany Clarke Harrison on Embracing the Fragmentary in Her Debut Novel
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Tiffany Clarke Harrison is the guest. Her debut novel Blue Hour, is out now from Soft Skull Press.
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From the episode:
Brad Listi: There are a lot of threads to weave to keep this thing feeling unified and to keep the narrative feeling propulsive, and to make sure you’re bringing the reader along and you’re not losing them. I would love to hear about the creative process that you went through to get to that point.
Tiffany Clarke Harrison: Sure. This book was not fragmentary when it started. And it was far more linear. I think the final word count is somewhere around 33,000 words right now. It was originally twice that.
Brad Listi: Thirty-three is short.
Tiffany Clarke Harrison: Yeah, it’s short. And it was about 65,000 words originally. It started out with both Asher and the main character being narrators, so it would alternate first person point of view. And the main character also had a name early on.
I sent it to an editor and she had some very good feedback, and I put it away for like a year or a year and a half even. And I went back to it, and I’ve always wanted to write something more fragmented. I felt like I was doing a lot of explaining. Which I feel like you can get away with in an early draft because—what’s the saying?—first drafts are you just telling yourself the story. Just figuring out, okay, what exactly is is going on? Noah wasn’t even a person in the first few drafts.
I’ll jump ahead. I had sent it to an agent. She’s my agent now. And she said I love it, but there’s just something—I think it’s with the husband. And she said have you considered cutting the husband as a narrator? And I remember being like, no, ma’am! To myself. Absolutely not. I’m not doing that. This is supposed to show how men experience miscarriage as well. Can’t do it, no, absolutely not. And she said, or make it more compelling. I said, how long do I have to make these changes? She said take however long you want, however long you need.
I went to grad school. That had less to do with my book, more to do with being diagnosed with MS and realizing I was totally on the wrong path I was not supposed to be on, but that’s a whole other podcast episode. And I remember the first semester, I was reading through feedback and then also reading through my pages, and I went, oh geez, I need to cut him as a narrator, she’s right. You give yourself a couple weeks grieving period.
And I remember the next semester was starting, and we always have to turn in a certain number of pages. What I did was, three days before—the fragmentary thing was not leaving me—and I said, what would this look like fragmentary? And I just started chopping it up. I said, I just need to get 15 pages to turn in. What would 15 pages look like fragmentary?
I turned that in, and I presented the original first 15 or so pages and then the fragmentary 15 or so pages. We were in group, and my group had read both. And my professor said, obviously, you are the author, you make your decisions, you can do what you want. Do the fragmentary. And a student said of the fragmentary, if I was in a bookstore and I read this, I would have walked out of the store having bought the book.
And so from there, I printed the whole book. I thought I could be one of those people who prints the whole book out and has stuff on the floor and cuts stuff up.
Brad Listi: I had that dream, too.
Tiffany Clarke Harrison: I found out I’m not that person at all. I did go through and just crossed out. Does this need to be here, yes or no? I don’t think so. This is gone. Does this need to be here, yes or no? I don’t think so. This is gone. And really, what I finally understood was I was trying to force it to be about the couple. And it really wasn’t about the couple. The story was about her.
Tiffany Clarke Harrison graduated from Salisbury University with a BA in English, Creative Writing concentration, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Queens University of Charlotte. Writing is a whole-body experience, and her intuitive writing process has helped shape the raw honesty of her stories, and the stories of other authors she’s coached. Tiffany lives with her husband and two children in North Carolina.