The Writing Life of: Harker Jones
This week I am thrilled to be interviewing author Harker Jones, who will be sharing with us details of his writing life, telling us all about his book ‘Until September‘, which was released on 8th July 2019, and answering a few fun questions. This post contains affiliate links.
Harker Jones grew up on a dirt road in Michigan in a town so small it doesn’t to this day have a traffic light. Upon completion of college he found his way to the entertainment hub of Los Angeles where, as a queer writer, he has completed the Amazon #1 best-selling gay love story Until September and seven screenplays, revealing truths through humor and horror.
His short thrillers Cole & Colette and One-Hit Wonder have been accepted into more than 60 film festivals combined, garnering several awards. He was managing editor of Out magazine for seven years, spent two in gay porn, and worked at Disney Publishing. He’s a member of both Mensa and the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, loves cats and carbs and would like to be a one-hit wonder but would settle for being killed in a slasher movie.
1) Did you enjoy writing when you were a child?
I think that was where my love of words originated. I started writing short stories, plays, poems and abandoned novels when I was 13. I finished my first novel when I was 17—a slasher-whodunit set in my hometown. I’ve since adapted it into screenplay form and am shopping it around. It gets really positive feedback so I guess I was on to something when I was 17!
2) Which author shaped your childhood?
Horror authors John Saul and V.C. Andrews were huge influences on me when I was growing up. I was always reading years ahead of my age range, books that were quite inappropriate!
Later, Bret Easton Ellis and F. Scott Fitzgerald were significant influences, and while they are very different, they both chronicle the lost and broken upper class just like I do in my novel Until September does. In fact, some people have compared Until September to Fitzgerald, which is crazy. And humbling. And wildly flattering.
3) What motivated you to begin your first novel?
I don’t remember what motived me to start the myriad novels I abandoned when I was young, but I know that boredom was the motivator to write and actually finish my slasher-whodunit, which is the first novel I actually completed. I grew up on a dirt road in Michigan. My hometown still, to this day, does not have a traffic light. There was nothing to do. So I wrote a book!
4) Do you plot your book, or are you a pantser?
I guess I’m a pantser when it comes to writing, though I’ve never heard that term before! I get inspired and then just jump right in, though I do plot it on the fly once I get going. Inspiration comes in such flashes that once I have traction I’ve got ideas bubbling up all the time. I did outline one of my latest screenplays and it came together really fast when I sat down to write it, which I suppose is because I had it all set out already!
5) What is your average writing day?
My average writing day consists of spinning countless plates. My A.D.D. will have it no other way. So, for example, on any given day I might play with the cat, draft a review of a play, input notes on a script, write a different script, answer questions for an interview, edit my hometown newspaper, edit books for my day job, research illustrators for one of my upcoming children’s books, post a promotional TikTok, coordinate art through an artist on Fiverr, go to a table read of a script (mine or someone else’s), pitch a screenplay to a manager and meet with a friend to collaborate on a script. All in one day, bouncing from one to the other as they pull at my attention.
This all takes place in the loft of the place my partner and I live in. Luckily it’s a nice space with a lot of light!
6) What is the best thing about being an author?
The best thing about being an author is moving people, whether it’s to tears, laughs or screams. When your work is out there, it will find its audience, whether it’s two people or two million, and every time you touch one of them, it is monumental.
Pages – 453
Release Date – 8th July 2019
ISBN 13 – 979-8418480620
Format – ebook, paperback
“I was so young when it all began that the blame hardly feels like mine. …”
So begins the narrator chronicling the summer Kyle Ryan Quinn’s life changes forever. In the lull between the conservative ’50s and the turbulent ’60s, Kyle, an introspective, sentimental boy, leads a golden life. He’s rich, beautiful and smart, and he vacations each year on the same island with the same circle of friends: entitled Adonis Trent; acerbic Claudia; practical Dana; and frivolous Carly. Haunted by the ghosts of a tragedy that took place in his youth, Kyle is more sensitive than his privileged friends. He understands loss, and secrets.
When he meets Jack Averill, a quiet, bookish boy, his fateful 18th summer on the island, Kyle falls hopelessly, heedlessly in love. As he befriends and attempts to woo Jack — and tries to integrate him into his tight-knit yet troubled circle — he’s pursued himself by another summer boy, Trey, who will stop at nothing to win Kyle’s love, all while Trent toys with the affections of an island girl. Amid mounting familial, sexual and peer pressures, all four young men make heartbreaking decisions that will steal their innocence, destroy lives and consume them forever.
Until September is not just another gay romance, coming-out or coming-of-age story. It’s a compulsively readable, authentically emotional tale of obsessive first love with vivid, relatable characters who will take your breath away and break your heart. If you like Brokeback Mountain and Call Me By Your Name, you’ll fall in love with Kyle as he navigates his own summer of love.
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7) How did you go about researching the content for your book?
Since Until September takes place in 1966, which is before I was born, I did a lot of research to add period details to ground it, despite wanting there to be a timelessness to it as well. I also did a lot of research on flowers—when they bloom and their symbolism—since the lead character Kyle’s mother has a sumptuous garden and he ends up tending to it himself.
I wanted to include part of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem North Haven, but it turns out that it wasn’t published until 1978, so I just made an oblique reference to it—Jack’s reference to his “classic summer.” While they’re on the island, they can get only two radio stations, one that is focused on news and one that plays standards from the ’40s, which freed me up somewhat from researching the music too meticulously as long as it was super old. But not knowing the ’60s very well, there were some songs that were newer than I realized—Moon River, for example. Research is critical if you’re doing a period piece. I’m sure there’s something I missed, but I did my best!
8) How long did it take to go from the ideas stage to writing the last word?
I honestly don’t know how long it took to write Until September. I was initially inspired to write it while I was working as a receptionist at a software firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I tinkered with it off and on, then finally pulled the trigger on publishing it maybe 20 years later. So it took a while, though I wasn’t focusing solely on that the whole time. It certainly didn’t take two full decades to write and edit. I had many other projects going in that time as well!
9) What made you choose the genre you write in?
I predominantly write comedy and horror screenplays, but I was inspired to write Until September, a love story, because of a bout of unrequited love, so thusly … a love story. Those feelings had to be channeled somewhere!
I write horror because it’s my favorite genre, and comedy just because it comes really easily to me. That said, I like surprises in storytelling. Whether the setup and payoff are a joke or a scare, I don’t want to see it coming. I don’t just mean plot twists, though I love those, too, but characters we haven’t seen before, real stakes to their stories, choices in prose that you wouldn’t expect. To me, it all comes down to suspense. Surprise is the best part of storytelling, whether I’m the one telling the story or not.
10) How did you come up with the name(s) for your lead character(s)?
I generally just choose names I like for my characters. Sometimes I swap them out, but once they really land, they’re essentially locked in. Most of the characters in Until September have the same name I first gave them. I feel characters introduce themselves to me, telling me who they are, including their name.
Funnily, though, I didn’t realize until a few months ago, that, despite four-fifths of Until September taking place on an island, I never gave that island a name. It never occurred to me to even think about it. It was—and is—simply: the island.
I remember when it came time to name Jack, the boy my lead character, Kyle, falls in love with. Prior to that, because Kyle didn’t know his name, he was referred to as just The Boy. When I got to their introduction, I didn’t have a name chosen and I remember being thrilled that I got to finally give him one. And Jack just came to me. Within seconds. And he was Jack.
11) Can you give us an insight into your characters?
Because Kyle and Jack, the two leads in my book, are gay boys in the 1960s, there is a level of repression, so they grapple with finding their footing in an ever-changing world. I didn’t want homophobia to be the main focus of the story, though, because I think that has been done so much (for good reason, of course). I just wanted something fresher as the driving force, so their fractured connections to their friends and families are what put the pressure on them, forcing them to take on adult roles just as they’re beginning to take steps into adulthood, and that adds an incredible amount of influence to an already stressful relationship.
Kyle’s friends are resentful and his parents fragile, while he is haunted by his own ghosts, so he finds a home in Jack. But he’s not sure he can maintain that, which makes their summer together fraught with tension.
12) How did you feel when you had completed your book?
It was a feeling of great accomplishment when I finished Until September. Almost no one writes a book, so it is something to be proud of, even when it’s just your crappy first draft. You did it, and it can only get better with each succeeding edit. The best feeling of all, though, is getting fan letters. It blows my mind that people are so moved by the story that they actually reach out to me!
1) Do you have a favourite quote?
I tend to (or at least try to) live by the quote: “Recognize it for what it is and don’t panic.” When I can actually put that into effect, it helps ground me and look at a problem objectively versus just panicking, which is my default mode most of the time!
2) Do you have any pets?
My partner, Anthony, and I have a demon cat named Holly. She is our Fearless Warrior Princess, swinging from our curtains, walking the railing of our second-floor loft overlooking the living room, and boldly stalking the wilds of our home. She’s also a daddy’s girl. We’re deeply attached to each other. She loves to give herself a bath stretched out on my lap, sit over my shoulder while I work and sleep snugly in my arms at night. She is one of my soul mates on this path of life.
3) What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading the new (to me, at least) Dan Brown thriller, Origin. Coming up is The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood, which was the basis for the musical Cabaret. I like to mix up my contemporary with my classics! Another Nancy Drew may be on tap in between!
4) Your book has been made into a movie, you’ve been offered a cameo role, what will you be doing?
There isn’t really a cameo role for me in Until September, but since my slasher-mystery feature, Never Have I Ever, is based on my first (unpublished) novel, I would love to be the guy who warns the kids that they’re doomed (Doomed!) at the beginning of the movie. And who then gets killed off, of course!
5) If you could travel to a fictional world from any book for the day, which would you choose?
It’s so ridiculous, but I would choose the world of my own novel to visit. Just to walk the shoreline, explore the beach house, hang with my characters, feeling all melancholy and angsty — that would be brilliant!
6) There’s a penguin sitting in your chair, what’s the first thing he says to you?
“Dang, you like pop music! Almost as much as that damn cat!”
A big thank you to Harker Jones for sharing his writing life with us and for a wonderful interview.