Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Margot Harrison

Margot Harrison has a lifelong habit of creeping herself out and now attempts to creep others out via her fiction. Her teenage dream was to see as many movies as possible and write about them, which she does as a Tomatometer critic for Vermont media company Seven Days.

She is also a Harvard grad, wrangler of calicos, speaker of French, native of New York City, and lover of horror podcasts and strong black tea.

Harrison's new novel is The Glare.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

My title started as a placeholder and eventually became the actual title. In the book, 16-year-old Hedda has led an isolated, screen-free existence for the past decade. Her mother chose to shield her from the Internet after a disturbing online experience that Hedda can't remember.

"The Glare" is Hedda's childhood word for screens in general—phones, computers, tablets. But the phrase has a second, more specific and dangerous meaning. When Hedda gets a chance to visit her dad, she wastes no time getting online. She finds a dark web address that leads her to a video game surrounded by a sinister urban legend. To find out whether this is the source of her terrors of "the Glare," she plays the game ... and very bad things happen.

I often find myself wishing there were one nice, simple word for the screen/online culture we're all immersed in, so I was happy to invent one. And screens do glare, giving us eye-strain in the process! I don't expect the term to catch on, but I like it.

What's in a name?

I wait for my characters to tell me their names. Sometimes a mental image and mood come paired with a sound. In Hedda's case, I knew she was an H, and she was recalcitrant and often angry. Ibsen's Hedda Gabler came to mind, so I grabbed that rare (in the U.S.) name, then gave her a Scandinavian last name to match.

Hedda changed a lot over the course of my revisions, but the name stayed. Eventually it inspired a piece of backstory: In first grade, Hedda's classmates gave her the nickname "Heady" because she was smart, headstrong, and a bit of a show-off.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

My teenage reader self would be perplexed, because she didn't use the Internet and knew about it only from movies like WarGames. I am a digital immigrant, and I used that experience to build Hedda's character. What is it like to live in analog isolation and then suddenly find yourself thrust into a bustling online world?

My transition was obviously more gradual, but this book was inspired by the sense that the Internet has changed us in ways we don't yet fully understand. Unlike Hedda's mom, I don't believe "the Glare" is inherently bad or dangerous, but teens now really are growing up in a different world. I would have been far less lonely and very possibly happier if I had had access to online communities when I was a nerdy kid. Possibly more stressed out, too—it's hard to say.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Usually it's beginnings I have the most trouble with, but every part of this book was hard! There were revisions on revisions as the concept evolved in my brain. The story has had four distinct endings at various times, and even more beginnings.

Looking at the final product, I'm happier with the ending, because the beginning required me to feed the reader a ton of backstory. This book is a slow burn that ramps up gradually from an oddball coming-of-age story to a horror tale with a body count, and the second part was the most fun to write!

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I'm a huge movie fan and a Tomatometer critic. Some years ago, I got very into Japanese horror cinema. The Glare is influenced by Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 movie Pulse, the scariest depiction of computers I've ever seen.

What I am not is a gamer. It's not that I dislike or disrespect video game culture; I just never had time for games between all my book, movie, and TV obsessions. So those parts of the book I had to research, drawing on my experience copyediting for a gaming magazine. I made the Glare a very simple first-person-shooter game, because even I can grasp the mechanics of that!
Visit Margot Harrison's website.

--Marshal Zeringue