Danielle Harrington is a high school chemistry teacher and young adult fiction author. She got her undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Biola University, and although she’s a hardcore science nerd, she’s always been a lover of the arts. Danielle grew up acting and singing and has turned her love for drama into writing. She is working on a four books young adult dystopian series called The Hollis Timewire Series.
Ana: First, thank you for taking some time off your busy schedule to answer some questions.
Danielle, how did you get your start as an author?
I’ve been writing since I was 5 years old, but I finally got serious with my author career in 2018. When I attended my first writing conference. It opened my eyes to the industry and I learned a ton! I got to meet agents, editors, and publishers, and I also had the opportunity to take a bunch of amazing workshops geared at storytelling, editing, and pitching. After that, I pitched my project, The Diseased Ones, for a little over a year before signing with Acorn Publishing.
Ana: Where do you get your ideas? What and Who inspires you?
There were a few books that inspired me to write my dystopian debut. I loved The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Uglies Series by Scott Westerfeld, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling. Those stories defined my childhood, and I knew I wanted to write a book that felt as fast-paced and exciting as those books made me feel.
Ana: What message do you want to get across?
The best thing I could do with my author career is provide a meaningful escape for readers. I want people to feel something.
Ana: What do you feel are the most relevant aspects of a successful story?
I call them the three pillars: Firstly, who is your main character? Secondly, what do they want more than anything? Thirdly, how can I (as the author) prevent them from getting what they want?
Essentially, you need to define the stakes. Why should the reader care about the main character and what they are trying to achieve? It’s all about the humanity of the situation. If you write a story with stakes readers can connect to, then you have a story that’s worth its chops. (Also, I highly recommend taking editing workshops or reading editing books – especially ones geared toward the craft of constructing a full story arc. It’s a great way to learn!)
Ana: In your opinion, what is most challenging about writing?
First draft to second draft is a challenge. I typically have to rewrite every scene in the book. It’s time-consuming, but worth it! It’s mainly to fill in the details that I couldn’t do with a first pass. I tend to underwrite, which means every revision brings me to a higher word count.
The other scary (and great) thing is getting feedback. It’s so important to find a solid editor who believes in your project and is good at their job. Implementing feedback and being willing to change portions of your story is an important skill. Ultimately, it makes a manuscript better.
Ana: How did you find your writing style? Has it changed over time?
It takes persistence and a willingness to learn to find your writing style. Before attending my first writing conference, I would’ve considered myself to be a great writer, but I was wrong! I didn’t know much about editing or the do’s and don’ts of crafting a manuscript. And before 2018, I’d never worked with an editor. That changed really quick. Writing, even as a solitary discipline, is a team sport. A book passes through many hands before it’s ready for the world.
Has my writing changed over time? Absolutely! I can tell how much I’ve grown with each project (even from book 1 to book 2 of my series). I learn more and improve my craft every day.
Ana: Do you remember your first writing?
I do! I found this old word document with a short story on my parent’s computer. It must have been written when I was little, because it had 36-point font and no punctuation. These three unicorn friends were playing tag when a dragon kidnapped one of them. Then the other two had to rescue their friend from the dragon’s keep during an earthquake! That story was a precious find, and it proves I’ve always had writing in my blood.
Ana: If you weren’t an author, what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t an author, I’d still be acting. One of the reasons I dedicated more of my time to writing is because I missed being on stage. In a book I get to play all the characters. I get to be the bully, the heroine, the bad guy, and more! It’s really fun. And I think that understanding scene dynamics as an actress really helped me craft the scenes in my story.
Ana: Think about a character that demanded total self-control in your novels. What made him or her difficult or special? How did you successfully interact with them?
Hollis Timewire, my protagonist, was especially difficult to write. It was challenging writing a severely brainwashed 16-year-old. She grew up in a society that demanded perfection and absolute emotional control. In addition, she was indoctrinated with propaganda, lies, and a false version of history. Then she was forced to hide underground with the Diseased Ones and they allowed her to cultivate her emotions – and on top of that, they presented her with a new version of history to consider.
The Diseased Ones is a tale of growth that recognizes that people don’t change their entire worldview in a day. With that said, Hollis is near and dear to my heart. Sometimes she makes the wrong choice, but she’s a character you can root for despite her failings. Her story arc (over the four-book series) takes you from a scared and confused young girl to a strong woman who understands her power and takes ownership of her mistakes.
Ana: Is there anything special you do to get into a creative mindset?
Sometimes I will listen to intense instrumental music if I’m writing a highly emotional scene, but I typically just sit my butt down (alone, of course) and get to work. I love the quote that says: “Some people dream of success while other people get up every morning and make it happen.” And it’s so true! The book isn’t going to write itself. I’ve learned an important skill – mostly because I have writing deadlines now. You’re not going to feel creative all the time, but the work still needs to happen. So, on the creative days, I feel inspired, and on the non-creative days, it feels like a job, but I still crank it out.
Ana: What could you not live without?
My laptop and Wi-Fi. It sounds silly, but my whole life is on my laptop – my teaching stuff and my writing stuff. And I’m typically a worker bee, so I’m either lesson planning, writing, or watching Netflix. I also couldn’t live without books, because “a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.”
Ana: Tell us about one secret passion.
I’m a nerd – like, hands down, goggles on, Bunsen burner flamin’ science queen with a lab coat that has too many holes. I teach Chemistry and I’m always looking for another cool demo to show in class. I also love MythBusters! It’s one of my all-time favorite shows. I’m all about learning more neat things about how this world works.
Ana: Which of the elements -time, love or death- would be the most difficult to deal with in your writing? Why?
Love is tricky for me, but only because time and death aren’t. With time, I can fix any issues with a full read through. With death, killing a character isn’t difficult (emotionally it is, but logistically it isn’t – you just pick a method and then kill the character. I sound like I have no soul, but I promise you, I do!) With love, there’s a fine line between believable and cheesy/forced. I desperately hate it when two characters go from ‘we just met’ to ‘I love you’ in half a book. It’s just not the way love works. But I am a fan of all the cute and exciting moments a character experiences at the start of a new relationship. I think a love arc has to be well-paced, or it falls into the realm of me having to suspend my disbelief a little too much.
Ana: For you, who are the real heroes of life?
My parents have been such incredible role models to me. They’ve raised me to be strong and go after what I want in this life. They’ve always supported me in my endeavors. I’m really grateful to them and their dedication in raising me to be strong in my faith and love Jesus with all of my heart. They are my heroes, and I love them a lot.
Ana: Finally, let’s talk about your last work and your future plans.
My debut, The Diseased Ones, is a young adult dystopian novel that brings together action, suspense, a touch of romance, and a dark secret with a twist you won’t suspect. I had so much fun with it! My current project is book 2 of the series, The Unseen Ones. It picks up right where The Diseased Ones leaves off. The second installment is more exciting than the first – which is a good thing! And I feel like I’m a better writer with more experience this time around. I can’t wait for it! It’s releasing near the end of 2020.
Ana: Thank you, Danielle, for this amazing interview.
For those wishing to find out more about Danielle Harrington and her work, check out these links: