U.L. Harper is an after-school program Site Director in Long Beach, California. Over one hundred students attend his program. He previously worked as a corporate manager, and a journalist for a now defunct news agency in Los Alamitos, California. Newspapers are part of his writing background but he also dabbled in poetry. His poetry was published in The Body Politic chapbooks. He is the author of In Blackness, The Flesh Statue and the short story book Guidelines for Rejects. You can visit U.L. at http://ulharper.com/ and his twitter @ulharper.
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Q: Thank you for this interview, U.L. Can you tell us what your latest book, In Blackness, is all about?
A: To be blunt, it’s a coming of age story about three young adults. Through them you witness an alien invasion. The big question is this: How many would you let die to save yourself?
Q: Is this your first novel? If not, how has writing this novel different from writing your first?
A: Nope, not the first novel. And, yes, this was quite different. The thing is I had grown as a writer since finishing my first novel The Flesh Statue. Almost without my knowing, I developed a taste for the slightly surreal. I’ve always loved taking an idea that is far out there and developing a tone around it that made it seem real. But the idea for In Blackness, to me, was completely out there. When you read it, there is a dark feel, sometimes almost like foreboding. A bit new for me but I think I got it done.
Q: How difficult was it writing your book? Did you ever experience writer’s block and, if so, what did you do?
A: The difficulty was bringing it down to a level that made it feel authentic and to do this I had to cut and do some more cutting. Instead of explaining elements that weren’t clear I just lopped those elements off. I don’t like explaining story in exposition and I don’t like when characters overtly tell the reader what is happening. They can talk about it but a lot of times we authors feel insecure in what is happening and we just start explaining things, which I consider cheating. So to reiterate, a lot of elements that had a hard time shining through I had to cut. It took a while to both cut it and make the story feel whole. The result is a story that is a crisp 286 pages. I actually wanted it down to 250. But we can’t always get what we want. I don’t remember feeling blocked, however it was a challenge putting events in order. Sometimes I had to stop and think, does this make sense right here? At the same time, now I have plenty of material for the sequel.
Q: How have your fans embraced your latest novel? Do you have any funny or unusual experiences to share?
A: People who have read and liked The Flesh Statue are generally shocked at the pacing and style difference in In Blackness. I get a lot of “Oh my god” statements. I even remember first presenting the idea of aliens in the story to a friend of mine and he was like, are you serious? You have to understand that at first this was just a coming of age story for three teens. Dustin was searching for his mother, using his father’s journal to backtrack through time and therefore discovering his history. Well, my next draft had aliens in it. To tell you honestly, my friend’s reaction is the same reaction from those who have read it. Everything just seems surprising to them, yet somehow it feels real, like it could really happen.
Q: What is your daily writing routine?
A: I like a word count but I don’t live by them anymore. I just make sure I write in the morning and in the evening. So twice a day. If I can get 1,000 words in the morning that’s great. Then 2,000 words in the evening. Combine this with a brief edit to make the upcoming second draft not too cumbersome and that’s basically the routine. I can’t do it every day, but I can tell you it’s 7 a.m. right now as I write this. I’m going to go to back to bed, wake up, have a full day (peppered with some reading), write about 2,000 words, do some more reading and then call it a night.
Q: When you put the pen or mouse down, what do you do to relax?
A: I do what everybody else does. I watch movies, read books, play some basketball, make love, drink wine. Life is good.
Q: What book changed your life?
A: All the ones I liked. But I’ll level it off to Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I read it at the end of high school. I already loved books but that one proved to me that an author could really do a lot more than what I had previously read. I mean, he had himself in the story talking to his characters. He had Billy Pilgrim moving through time, having sex with porn stars. I was like, wow, I need to be, not just more creative, but also tell a more interesting story. I think Vonnegut is one of three authors whose work I’ll reread. I’m not going to name the other two right now, though one of them is me. Redrafting can be brutal.
Q: If someone were to write a book on your life, what would the title be?
A: Well, if you didn’t know, I’m a Black guy, so I wouldn’t mind the book being called—get this—In Blackness. It’d be perfect, right? It’d have a double meaning and all that; so any readers out there who were looking to write someone’s biography, I’m ready. Let’s do this.
Q: Finish this sentence: “The one thing that I wish people would understand about me is…”
A: …that I don’t like most things.” I’ve learned that I only truly appreciate what inspires me and everything else is pretty damned boring and I have very little respect for. I cheer on my subordinates at work and the kids they oversee but if I’m not at work and you’re doing mediocre crap I have nothing but disdain for what you’re doing. I think you hurt the world with your trite mess. I think it’s a negative influence on what could be a creative generation, and those mediocre boneheads either don’t know it or don’t care, so either way they get no respect from me. Now, I’m not talking about those who tried to write a great story and failed. I love them. I’m talking about those who have no intention of doing something great. They mean to be weak sauce because they believe the public is weak like they are. In fact, they make the public weak. We authors can be powerful. Why not act like it?
Thank you for this interview U.L. I wish you much success on your latest release, In Blackness!
About In Blackness
As kids, Lenny’s and Saline’s parents brought them to Southern California to escape the nightmares. But after their parents die in a horrible car accident, their adoption by longtime family friend, Busek, proves nightmarish in its own right. Busek is abusive to his son, Dustin, and does very little to hold the young family together. The trio of kids become friends and grow up as a family. Outwardly, they are unruffled by life’s events, yet as teens the emotional aftermath of Saline and Lenny’s parents’ death lingers and eventually catapults Lenny and Saline on individual journeys back to their old hometown.
Saline journeys with a small church group which has regular excursions to her old hometown in Lowery, Washington. She discovers the group is protecting a powerful secret that will change her life.
Lenny, on the other hand, becomes stranded in King City. There, he meets someone who unexpectedly and unknowingly guides him to a place in Washington where something might be waiting for him. Impulsively, he makes his way there and discovers that the simple world he has been living in is vastly different from what he could have ever imagined
Meanwhile, Dustin remains in Southern California and meets a group of youth who stumble upon the city’s plan to replace the local library with a jail. In the process of this discovery they learn of one of the largest secrets society has ever kept, a secret waiting for them underground, in blackness.