Author Harr discusses his background, creative process for writing nonfictionBy Josh Schonwald
1. Harr recalls his origins as a writer/journalist - which began right here in Hyde Park as a 5th grader at the Bret Harte school.
2. Harr's career trajectory is different from many of his peers - he never took a formal creative writing class. Here, Harr talks about his journey, from college drop-out to VISTA volunteer in West Virginia to a New York City cab driver/aspiring novelist.
3. Harr started his career as a wannabe novelist but quickly moved to nonfiction. He talks about his transition from fiction to journalism, his first experiences with longer form nonfiction as a writer for a New Haven alternative weekly, and his stint at the late New England Monthly, a magazine which launched the careers of several talented nonfiction authors.
4. In one of his first classes, Harr told his students that he's very selective about who reads drafts of his work; in fact, he seeks feedback from only one person: Tracy Kidder. Kidder, one of Harr's closest friends, is also the same person who helped Harr begin his first book, A Civil Action. Here, Harr talks about the surprising bar room origins of his friendship with the Pulitzer prize winning author of The Soul of a New Machine, House, and Mountains Beyond Mountains.
5. Harr talks about coming up with story ideas, the ingredients he looks for in a nonfiction story, why he prefers stories that have multiple characters and why the level of access he needs is so different from that of a conventional journalist.
6. One of the most important parts of Harr's work is negotiating access to his subjects. Here, he talks about the lengthy process of gaining the trust of characters -- on both sides of the courtroom -- in a A Civil Action, and the techniques he uses when he isn't granted access.
7. How does a nonfiction author create a "page turner"? Harr talks about the importance of maintaining a suspenseful narrative, why there is no formula for creating suspense in nonfiction, and the type of feedback he most likes from his readers..
8. Harr talks about some of the writers and books that influenced his storytelling approach. He also talks about how his early love for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels unconsciously shaped his writing.
9. Harr talks about his class “The Craft of Narrative Nonfiction,” why his experience at Chicago was much different from an earlier teaching stint at Smith College, and why he’s still not sure that writing is something that can be taught.
10. Harr talks about the future of the genre of narrative nonfiction, his personal goals for the future, and why he wants to give fiction another try.