Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Meet Yvonne Harris

LeAnne Hardy: Yvonne Harris is with us today. In her new book, A River to Cross (Bethany), Elizabeth Evans, the younger sister of a murdered Texas newspaper editor, is kidnapped and whisked off to Mexico where she must be rescued by Texas Rangers. The time is 1886 when the relationship between the two countries is a delicate balance.

Yvonne, you live in New Jersey, but I sense a passionate love for Texas in your writing. Tell us about your connection to the state.

Yvonne Harris: I've never been to Texas, but after researching Texas history and politics for A River to Cross, I am a big fan. Texas had been part of France, then part of Spain, then an independent nation--the Republic of Texas--and finally was annexed into the United States. Texas is huge state, slightly larger than Afghanistan. After the Civil War, criminals and outlaws poured into Texas. The Federal Government couldn't help. Washington had a whole country that needed law enforcement help. Texas, who'd sided with the Confederacy during the war, had to do it on her own. She started the Texas Rangers and gave them the power of arrest. It wasn't long before outlaws began fleeing from the state. Rangers had the authority to capture, testify in the courts, and assist with executions. They were lawmen and proud of it.

LH: You have some beautiful descriptions, like this one of the Chihuahuan desert: "Miles and miles of parched land, a dry desert basin lying between mountain ranges. The rhythmic thud of horses' hooves still kicked up clouds of red dirt, but high overhead on the rimrock, something new had been added. Noisy green parrots swept from tree to tree, scolding them. Ponds appeared here and there in the landscape, and butterflies were everywhere." (p.55) Have you been there? Were you able to visit other Mexican settings in the book?

YH: I wish I could have, but the answer is No to both questions. I spent many happy hours digging into Texas and Mexican geography, climate, and politics. Researching a historical novel is fascinating. Most writers have to pull ourselves away and start to write. Reading is more fun.

LH: You made my mouth water with some of the foods your characters ate. (Not the snake.) Do you cook Mexican foods yourself?

YH: Not really. Most Mexican food is too hot for me. My background is grits and cornbread and hold the pepper, please.

LH: You are a teacher by profession. Have you always wanted to write fiction? How did you get started?

YH: I read constantly, but writing a book never entered my mind. I was in my forties when I started writing magazine articles. When we moved to New Jersey from Connecticut, teaching jobs were scarce, so I took a job as personnel director for a large hotel chain. I wrote articles on hiring, firing, and payroll taxes, things I did every day on the job. One day at home, I saw a clip on television from inside an American fighter jet whose pilot was strafing streets in Tripoli. Women were running to get out of the way. Two days before, I 'd seen film footage from inside a Russian MiG, and that pilot was strafing a marketplace in Kabul. Veiled women were running away. Russian or American, I thought, all soldiers are the same. I went upstairs and sat down at the computer and started writing my first book, Hindu Kush, set in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation.

LH: From writing about payroll taxes to a thriller in Afghanistan. That’s quite a jump. What draws you to international settings?

YH: Government and politics are the biggest draw for me. My first two books were both listed as international thrillers. Hindu Kush, was named after the mountain range in Afghanistan and has an American heroine and two heroes, one Russian, one Afghan. The story was based throughout on facts. The Afghan embassy read and endorsed it. I wrote under my initials because the publisher was afraid men wouldn't buy a war story written by a woman. Some libraries still have it, and reviews are still around on Amazon, used books. When the publisher went bankrupt, I bought the rights back. (One of my sons is a bankruptcy attorney and he led me through it.) HK was later e-published and became one of the first Frankfurt nominees. The second book was For Honor, set in Spain, and also has an American heroine. That one won the EPPIE Best Thriller award in 2002. That's out of print and the rights returned to me.

LH: Have you considered re-publishing it as an e-book?

YH: Yes, I have. I'm guessing Amazon is the best way to go, since I'm unsure of the mechanics of e-publishing.

LH: Do you travel much or are you an internet researcher or both?

YH: I am an internet researcher. I hate to fly.

LH: Hate to fly?! That would be a handicap in doing on-site research. So what have you found most useful for researching A River to Cross from the internet? You certainly convinced me that you knew your setting. Do you have any tips for writers unable to visit their location?

YH: When writing historical fiction, books, articles, and travelogues are more reliable sources than first-hand observation. So much of what I'm writing about in A River to Cross isn't there anymore. I was writing about a town that existed 125 years ago. That town is long gone. Few, if any, of those old buildings remain. Even the streets are gone and have been for close to a century. For example, the new courthouse in Chapter 1 was finished in 1886. It was a magnificent structure, but lasted less than 30 years before parts were torn down and a much larger one built on site.

I recall one famous writer saying he needed to go to the location and see it for himself, to smell it for himself. Sounds good, but El Paso (or any place on the planet) doesn't look today or smell today as it did 125 years ago. Contemporary stories, of course, are different and seeing the real thing helps to write about it. Still, the secret to imitating reality is in the details you select.

And I fly when I have to, but I don't like it. When I have the time, the new trains are wonderful and luxurious--like a cruise without the water. I go to New Mexico frequently and look forward to that quiet time looking out a window and writing inside my head or on a laptop. If my husband is along, I compromise and we fly back.

LH: What is your goal in writing Christian historical romance?

YH: To tell a story that is true to the times and mores of that society. Neither of the two stories mentioned above were written for the Christian market. They were contemporary mainstream.

LH: Is there anything in particular that you would like to say to readers of A River to Cross?

YH: Only that I loved writing the story and the people in it. It's family fiction.

LH: We have writers on this blog from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, England, Mozambique, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, and Tasmania. Whom would you most like to visit and why?

Probably Australia. I married an Englishman--­a Pomme, the Aussies call them. Living in Buffalo, NY, for years, I've visited Canada many times.

LH: Thanks, Yvonne. I know that lovers of romance and westerns will enjoy reading A River to Cross.


LeAnne Hardy recently walked across the border to Mexico from Arizona just to say she'd been there.  You can find out more about her books and travel adventures on her website and blog.


  1. Thank you for a lovely interview. I especially like the hints for researching the historical fiction. It is so true that you can't go to a place that no longer exists as it was.

  2. Wow, what a meticulous writer/researcher! It's so true, the researching is so much fun that the most difficult part is leaving out certain things you'd love to add.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this interview, LeAnne. Leaving out stock questions and asking the things we want to know is an art.

  3. LeAnne and Yvonne, great interview! I enjoy hearing about how other writers research their books. Yvonne, your book sounds fascinating and I'm adding it to my wish list :)