Monday, September 18, 2023

How One Unrequited Love Inspired an Acclaimed Debut Novel | Interview with author Harker Jones

Meet Harker Jones

Many months ago, around about when I got sick, Harker contacted me. It took me a while to respond, and then surgery, recovery, etc., etc., and I eventually said, I wouldn't be able to review his book, but it sounded like he had an interesting story to tell, so would he like to do an interview with me? Yes, he would. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, I finally got round to following up with him. I am grateful for his patience, and fortuitously, it's September, which seems fitting since his book is called Until September. I'm going to let Harker tell you his story, in his own words.

Please give Harker a warm bloggity welcome.


Harker Jones

Quotes:What inspired you to write Until September?
I was in the throes of unrequited love at the end of my college experience and I had to put those emotions somewhere. I even wrote the boy a letter (An actual letter! It was very Jane Austen.) telling him of my affections. He had a boyfriend (of course) but he was very kind, writing back and then chatting with me on the phone. He turned into a dick soon after, and while I’m sure it was just twenty-something growing pains and he is probably a lovely person now, I haven’t told him that he inspired the book. Well, he didn’t inspire the book, just the feelings that I channeled into it. It truly has nothing to do with him anyway. But I thank him for not reciprocating as I am happier with this book and my life than I think I ever would have been with him!

Quotes:What is your writing process like? Do you outline extensively or just dive in?
When I’m inspired, I essentially just jump in. Some people write random scenes and put them in order later and some people outline the whole thing, start to finish, but I just sit down, start at the beginning and work forward even if I don’t know exactly where I’m going. Obviously, I take notes as I go about life—inspiration strikes everywhere (usually when I’m driving or in the shower or doing cardio and can’t write down the new ideas!), but I steamroll ahead to the conclusion, which is so fun because my characters surprise me all the time, and then streamline and refine on the subsequent edits.

Quotes:Can you tell us briefly what Until September is about?
Until September is a dark, literary love story about a boy in 1966 falling for another boy for the first time, setting off a series of consequences that affects not just their future but those of their families and friends as well. I try to make clear that it isn’t a romance as most people seem to default to that genre in their minds when they hear “love story.” There’s nothing wrong with the romance genre; this just isn’t that. Why it takes place in 1966, I don’t even know. That was just part of the inspiration. I wasn’t even born at that point! I wanted it to have a timeless quality but an editor wisely instructed me to gently set it in a specific point in time without driving it home repeatedly, just to anchor the reader. He was right.


Coffee with friends

Quotes:When you're not writing, what do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies and interests outside of writing?
When I’m not writing, I’m out living life to the fullest, whether that’s traveling or drinks with friends or hitting a concert. Living in LA means there are plenty of places within driving distance to get away for a few days, like Big Bear, Santa Barbara and Palm Springs, and, of course, there’s a ton of options here in town, too. There’s always some event going on. I’m a member of the LA Drama Critics Circle and I write theater reviews for Broadway World, so I also see a lot of theater. I don’t understand sitting at home and binge-watching TV, just running down the clock. (This is not to say I don’t watch TV. It’s just not the only thing I do for fun.) I want to DO things, meet people, have experiences. And all that then, of course, informs my writing.

Quotes:What are your career aspirations as an author? Do you plan to continue writing novels? Screenplays?
I wrote my first novel, a slasher-whodunit, when I was 17. I wrote Until September when I was 27. And then I hit a dry spell. But I don’t really suffer writer’s block. When I’m not inspired, I go out and live life, I don’t sit at the computer obsessing over a flashing cursor. So I just lived my life and then a few years later, I was metaphorically struck by lightning and I had my first idea for a screenplay. I’ve now written nine of them (including an adaptation of that slasher-whodunit) and adapted Until September into a limited series. Some people are looking forward to the next book I write, but at this point I’m almost entirely focused on screenwriting. Both are hard, just in different ways. My goals are to sell the scripts that are good (some of them still need work!) and build a career around films. I’ve had two very successful short films and I’m getting great responses to the projects that are actually in good shape. I intend to keep at it and finally break through that wall! And maybe write another book somewhere down the line!

Quotes:Who are some of the authors who have inspired you over the years? Why have they inspired you?
F. Scott Fitzgerald is a huge influence. Some reviews and letters I’ve gotten have compared Until September to Fitzgerald and I swoon at the compliment. They, of course, have no idea that he is an inspiration, which makes it all the more meaningful. Ever since I was a child I’ve liked stories about troubled wealthy people. I think because we look at their lives as perfect from the outside, to read stories cracking open that veneer to reveal the jagged truths inside is illuminating. And heartening. No one’s life is perfect. And Fitzgerald was the best at that.


Digital artist

Quotes:Do you have any advice for aspiring authors looking to write and publish their first book?
There are many lessons aspiring authors need to keep in mind on their journey. First, you must be a good editor or you must hire a good editor. It’s critical. Being amateurish will turn away readers and you will be less likely to get reviews or press. You also need a professional cover. It doesn’t cost much. You can find fantastic graphic designers on Fiverr. Hit me up if you want a lead to one. Crappy covers reek of self-published. And, yes, there is still a stigma attached to self-published. You need to stand out from the crowd. You need to be a professional, not an amateur. And lastly, you have to be in it for the long haul. It takes time, effort and energy to promote your book. You have to do so much research finding book reviewers, not to mention the contests. You might want to do the research on those two before you pull the trigger on publishing because many review sites want advance copies, before it is published, and contests are often looking for books published in the previous calendar year. I did not do any of that research and while it turned out fine, it is a lesson learned.

Quotes:How has your life changed since publishing Until September? Have you received any interesting messages from readers?
It literally never occurred to me for a second that I would get a fan letter. It blows me away every time. It’s really what every writer wants: to reach people. I’ve sold more than 1,700 copies, which is a lot considering I’m the only one promoting the book. And I’ve gotten some stunning reviews and some great press. Getting past the self-publishing stigma is the hardest part when getting reviews and coverage. I get it in some ways—you can’t cover every self-published book out there. It would be impossible. So I’m grateful for the press outlets that have been open to me and Until September. I’m hopeful to sell the limited series I wrote based on it so it can reach an even bigger audience. I think it is capable of reaching millions (though I’m sure every author thinks that about their work!).

Quotes:How did you come up with the title Until September? Does it hold any special meaning?
Once the two boys fall in love (it is a love story, so that shouldn’t be a spoiler!), they realize they have only until September to figure out their future because summer will be over and they’ll be going back to their real lives. My friend Katie Thomas asked me what my book was about when I was in the midst of writing it and as I started to unspool the premise, I realized “until September” was the perfect title!


Summer island beach

Quotes:The setting of a summer island seems key to the story. Why did you choose this particular setting?
I honestly don’t know why it is set on an island. That may sound stupid, but originally it took place in my hometown and it morphed into what it is today and I don’t remember there being a specific reason for changing the setting. Though I do think basing it on an island locale adds a timelessness to the story because they’re spending their summer in a bubble, and being separate from the real world heightens their emotions. And also: Who doesn’t want to summer on an island with your friends every year?!

Quotes:Your bio mentions you grew up in Michigan. How much of that small-town experience influenced your writing?
As a child I was annoyed that seemingly 98% of TV/movies take place in New York/Southern California (both are fantastic places, LA being my favorite place in the world!). Obviously, sometimes it’s necessary (Beverly Hills, 90210 and The Wolf of Wall Street, for example), but mostly it’s not. So I decided to set the majority of my projects in Michigan. My slasher-whodunit, Never Have I Ever, takes place literally in my hometown of Manchester, Michigan. My home-invasion thriller, Michigan Murder House, takes place on the road I grew up on. And all of my projects, aside from Until September and my first two scripts that take place in Southern California (because they have to), take place there, mostly Ann Arbor. Why not? Stories happen everywhere!

Quotes:If Until September was made into a movie, who would you envision playing the lead roles?
I think the lead roles would need to be newcomers. Or at least, if I sold the project today, it wouldn’t go into production for a year, year and a half, so the actors would be, now, like, 15, so they’d be 17-ish when shooting the series. (I adapted it as a limited series, six episodes.) What I mean is that I don’t know who they are yet as they’re still breaking in. I do know that the lead character’s mother, however, is written for Elizabeth Reaser. I’ve met her three times and she’s been absolutely lovely every time. She is perfect for that role and I take the fact that we’ve run into each other so often as the universe telling us there is a future collaboration in the making!


Man writing on beach

Quotes:What impact has being a book reviews editor had on your own writing? Has it made you more self-critical or helped strengthen your craft?
Being an editor is dramatically different from being a writer, though they are also quite similar. And I think good authors are also able to police their own work to a large degree. I have found that editing both book reviews and books (I’m a development editor for a publishing house) has really honed my critical ability. It’s also helped me notice just how many words are overused (“stare” and “grab” in particular) and how important it is to set a scene. So many writers don’t set their scenes and characters and items and furniture just appear out of nowhere! My writing is certainly stronger for having learned lessons through others’ “mistakes.” Of course, I make suggestions so the writers can also learn!

Quotes:As a horror and comedy screenwriter and fan of horror movies, do these genres influence your fiction writing in any way? Are there any hints of horror or dark comedy in Until September?
Such a good question! One of the biggest compliments I’ve gotten is from a former friend who said Until September reads like a horror story because there’s such a sense of dread that pervades it from the very first sentence. Some of the fan letters I’ve gotten have said they’ve obsessed over the identity of the narrator. I was certain no one would wonder about their identity and I was so wrong! So there is clearly suspense throughout, though there is almost no humor. The characters have some good times and some laughs, but there’s not much in terms of levity for the reader. My screenplays, too, do not converge the humor and the horror. My horror is pretty dark, straight suspense. I always think if you’re laughing, you’re not screaming, so if you’re laughing in a horror movie, it’s actually a comedy. Which is fine. It’s just not a horror movie.


Brazil map

Quotes:If you had a superpower, what would you choose and why? 
I would love to be able to teleport. Be in Brazil for lunch, Italy for dinner, pop onto an African savanna for the sunset, hit a club or a show in New York and still be home in LA to sleep in my own bed with my partner and our demon-cat, Holly? That would be fantastic!

Quotes:What movie or TV world would you like to live in for a day?
I have to go with Beverly Hills, 90210 (the college/post-college years). Despite (or because of) all the drama, it would be fun to take classes at California University, pop into the Peach Pit for a bite, hit the After Dark for a special performance by some one-hit-wonder ’90s act, and then go back to the beach house and make out with a hot, troubled dude all while dressed fashionably and consumed with ennui and existential angst about my privileged life!


Until September by Harker Jones

Quotes:About Until September
In the lull between the conservative ’50s and the turbulent ’60s, Kyle Ryan Quinn, an introspective, sentimental boy, leads a golden life. He’s rich, beautiful and smart, and he vacations each year on the same island with the same circle of friends: entitled Adonis Trent; acerbic Claudia; practical Dana; and frivolous Carly. Haunted by the ghosts of a tragedy that took place in his youth, Kyle is more sensitive than his privileged friends. He understands loss, and secrets.
    When he meets Jack Averill, a quiet, bookish boy, his fateful 18th summer on the island, Kyle falls hopelessly, heedlessly in love. As he befriends and attempts to woo Jack — and tries to integrate him into his tight-knit yet troubled circle — he’s pursued himself by another summer boy, Trey, who will stop at nothing to win Kyle’s love, all while Trent toys with the affections of an island girl. Amid mounting familial, sexual and peer pressures, all four young men make heartbreaking decisions that will steal their innocence, destroy lives and consume them forever.


Harker Jones

Quotes:About Harker
Harker Jones is the author of the Amazon #1 best-selling love story Until September. His short thrillers Cole & Colette and One-Hit Wonder have been accepted into 60 film festivals combined, garnering several awards. A former managing editor of Out magazine, he’s a member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and a card-carrying member of Mensa.

Quotes:Where to find Harker
Be sure to drop by Harker's socials and say hi. Tell him I sent you. Also, a big thank you to Harker for his patience and bearing with me while I recovered and was generally slack when it came to getting things done. Better late than never, right?

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