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Creepers, Sweepers, and Dangerous Dross

The Big Thrill Interviews New York Times Bestselling Author Kim Harrison

By Jaden Terrell

Book Cover Image: THREE KINDS OF LUCKYNew York Times bestselling author Kim Harrison is best known for her Hollows urban fantasy series, but she’s also honed her craft on young adult and traditional fantasy. She’s even turned her hand to graphic novels and a unique guide to the world of the Hollows. Filled with facts, maps, character backgrounds, full-color illustrations, and more, The Hollows Insider is a gorgeous guidebook for fans of the series.

Harrison’s bio says, “I grew up reading science fiction and fairytales, which means my fairy garden has Daleks in it.” This blend of magic and science fiction infuses her work with a fresh and charmingly quirky perspective.

She loved to read from an early age and, according to Fanbyte, has been writing fiction since she was 15. When asked about her writing journey, she says, “I’d like to say becoming an author happened by accident, but that implies it was easy, and it wasn’t. I left SVSU with a BS in science, engineering, and technology—no English classes but what I needed to graduate—and I still feel as if I’m learning the craft.”

Author Photo: Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison
© Myra Klarman Photography

While Harrison may not have taken formal writing classes, her years of voracious reading gave her an innate understanding of Story. She recalls, “The SF and fantasy masters of the 70s and 80s were my teachers that I unknowingly pulled from when I first put pen to paper as a way to decompress after work. I had two young boys at the time, and my eldest wanted to hear a new story, one that wasn’t on his bookshelf. An hour at my desk after work turned into two hours, turned into weekends until I realized I loved the process and devoted half my workday to it as a second, unpaid job.”

After a thoughtful moment, she adds, “Fast-forward to when I fell into an amazingly dedicated writers’ group. It was through them that I found the courage to attend a writers’ conference and meet my first agent. From there, it was hard work and an amazing amount of luck. I hit the urban fantasy market just as it was taking off, and I’m honored that I had the chance to influence its development. Lightning didn’t strike once; it struck several times. I simply happened to be the one standing out in the rain, too stubborn to go in.”

Harrison’s latest novel, THREE KINDS OF LUCKY, is the first of a new series featuring Petra Grady, a “sweeper first-class.” Petra has known since she was a teenager that she has no magical talent. What she does have is the ability to see and handle “dross,” the dangerous byproduct of magic use. In mage society, sweepers are the janitors of the magical world—indispensable but often looked down upon. Petra is by turns cynical and idealistic, crusty and soft-hearted. She’s a complex, funny heroine in a book that’s a delight to read.

Asked what inspired the book, Harrison says, “The idea of dross, or magic waste, being unlucky, was born in me watching the world use everything it can to make life…magical (easy, comfortable, clean, healthy—all good things) and the waste that comes from it, basically ignored once it goes to the landfill. I will always be a biologist at heart, and my work outside the Hollows lately is laced with my concern, lightly tracing through the subtext because to make it obvious ruins the story.”

The worldbuilding is impressive, including a magical society that exists alongside our own and an intricate, internally consistent magic system that explores the balance between dross, magic, and shadow. It can’t be easy to come up with such a detailed and original framework.

Harrison explains, “I have been known to overdo it when it comes to developing a new one. But if I can find a way for the magic to logically make sense to me, I trip over my feet less. In THREE KINDS OF LUCKY, the magic system evolved while plotting, hand-in-hand with the story, to allow an organic creation of issues to be overcome. Having said that, there was a lot of backfill of magic mythology that came after the first draft, magic that isn’t showcased in the text but might be in future books. Of all the aspects that go into a book, it’s the mythology and magic that worry me the most, as they are the backbone that the story rests upon. At least, that’s how I see it. The relationships…that’s where the spontaneous fun is.

In THREE KINDS OF LUCKY, Harrison explores a number of relationship dynamics—friendship, romance, betrayal, and social hierarchies, among others. While the underlying messages are often profound, the book never forgets its primary mission to be a fun read.

Considering Harrison’s background in science, it should come as no surprise that she’s a fan of research, including the experiential kind. She says, “Hands down, the most interesting thing I have done in the name of research was to drive an RV down to Tennessee to watch the total eclipse of the sun.”

She was so inspired by the experience that she wrote two books without “even a hint” of a contract. “The first, Eclipsed Evolution, will come out this year as an Audio Only release in three parts to coincide with the second Great American Eclipse on April 8, 2024. Disguised amid the first-contact story are threads concerning species decline and damage from invasive species. As a bonus, I have fallen in love with the RV lifestyle and am now a dedicated RVer. Who knew?”

Because her nine-to-five job is “basically sitting still and making things up,” her time away from her writing tends to be spent in more physical or tactile activities, like gardening, knitting or quilting, and baking. “Short-term satisfaction is paramount,” she says, “and my husband can always tell when I’m having trouble in my office because my knitting projects become wildly elaborate. Once, during a particularly intense problem, I designed a pattern for a knitted dragon to sit on my shoulder. (Instructions at the website!)”

Like most writers, Harrison sometimes struggles to find the right words. “For me,” she says, “writer’s block seems to crop up the most when I’m trying to get the characters to do something that I know they wouldn’t. Backing up a chapter or two and going in a new direction seems to help. But lately, I’ve found that indecision has been slowing the pace of work—indecision caused by simple mental fatigue stemming from a two-year shut-down and huge changes in the writing industry. Realizing that has gone a long way to minimizing it, but it’s an ongoing problem.”

For unpublished writers, she offers this advice: “Write as if you already have the contract, meaning with intent and purpose. Everything has changed concerning how to get that first book on the shelf since I managed it, but at the base, it’s the same. Write. Keep writing. Find someone to share it with. Listen. Rewrite. Keep tabs on the markets if you can, but know it takes time to develop your voice, and that is what people respond to. Be kind to yourself.”

So, what’s next from Harrison? “I’m contracted for two Petra Grady stories, and we’ll see what happens from there. The version I first turned in was a great deal darker than what landed on the shelves, and I’m having a hard time telling the story I want from the sunny side of the street. I also have a new Hollows book coming out this October and an Audio Only trilogy this April, May, and June.”

You can learn more about Kim Harrison and her books here.


The Big Thrill Interviews Bestselling Author Kim Harrison

Jaden Terrell
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