“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Karen Harrington

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Karen Harrington is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Karen’s debut middle grade novel SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, releases in just a few days, on 8/20/13! Congratulations, Karen!

Here is Karen’s Biography:

Karen Harrington is the author of SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, a middle grade novel about a young girl who writes letters to her hero, To Kill a Mockingbird's Atticus Finch, for help understanding her mentally ill mother, her first real crush and life in her small Texas town. It is set to release from Little Brown Books for Young Readers on August 20.

Here is the description of SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY:

You’ve never met anyone like twelve-year-old Sarah Nelson. While her friends obsess over Harry Potter, she spends her time writing letters to Atticus Finch. She collects trouble words in her diary. Her best friend is a plant. And she’s never known her mother, who left when Sarah was two. Since then, Sarah and her dad have moved from one small Texas town to another, and not one has felt like home. Everything changes when Sarah launches an investigation into her family’s Big Secret. She makes unexpected new friends and has her first real crush, and instead of a “typical boring Sarah Nelson summer,” this one might just turn out to be extraordinary.

Here are the links to Karen online:

You can find out more about Karen and SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY by visiting her website www.karenharringtonbooks.com or following her on Twitter @KA_Harrington or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/KarenHarringtonAuthor You can order SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY from your local independent bookseller, through Indiebound or wherever books are sold. http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780316210584

Now it’s time to hear from our guest.

Smack Dab Middleview with SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY author Karen Harrington:

1. What does Sarah Nelson, your main character want?

Sarah is desperate to know if she has the same genetics and traits as her mother, Jane, who committed a nationally infamous crime and has lived in a mental institution since Sarah was two. Sarah also wants to make sure her classmates don’t find out that she is “that” girl and her mother is “that” woman.

2. What is in Sarah’s way?

No one will talk to Sarah about her mother. Sarah’s dad is a troubled alcoholic whose idea of talking is discussing the grocery list. He holds all the answers, but won’t talk about her mother, her life or her incarceration in a mental institution. This is one of the reasons Sarah turns to her notebook and writes letters to Atticus Finch, whom she perceives is full of wisdom and guidance. 

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve?

Yes, I did know this was my story from the beginning. In my first novel for adults, JANEOLOGY, the story of Sarah’s mother, her crimes, her past are explored. A reader of that novel wrote to me and said she’d wondered what happened to Jane’s daughter, Sarah. As it turned out, I began to wonder about Sarah, too. I wrote the first draft of this story for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) just to sate my own curiosity. But once I began to hear Sarah’s voice come through, I really loved her and rooted for her. So SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY was really born out of a curiosity about how a young girl might grow up in the shadow of an infamous, mentally ill mother. How would she cope with all the challenges associated with coming of age, while at the same time, worrying about inheriting mental illness?

4. Was SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel?

No, it didn’t begin as a middle grade novel. In fact, because of the subject matter, I was surprised to learn that it would fall into this category.  But once my agent sold it as a middle grade novel, I was delighted. Very little of the guts had to change in the editing process aside from the curse word here and there or the description of a French Kiss. (I believe I had to remove the word “tongue.”) Also, in the original version, I had a first and last chapter that featured Sarah as an adult, standing in front of her old house, recalling her childhood and worrying about whether to accept the marriage proposal of a man who wants children. My agent advised me to cut those framing chapters and suggested that in between them, I had a fine middle grade novel. I’m so glad I took that advice!

5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers?

I’m the mom of a middle grade reader and I get to witness how excited a young reader gets about a character she loves and relates too.  I love hearing my daughter’s thoughts and “why” questions about books and characters. (HOLES by Louis Sachar is one of those!) It pleases me to no end to think about writing for eager readers like her who are just beginning to step off the playground and discover their own inner gifts, talents and strengths.

6. Is there any downside?

I don’t think so. The field of middle grade writing and topics is only limited by one’s imagination. The writer Gary Schmidt once said that there’s a real need for kids’ books to reveal all different kinds of lives and situations and show examples of how to grow up or how to meet those challenges. I agree. The characters in Mark Twain’s works, the March sisters from LITTLE WOMEN and Scout and Jem Finch all taught me about growing up when I was a young reader. I can’t get enough of contemporary children’s fiction that continues this tradition.

7. Is there one MG-rated question you wish you could answer about writing, your book, or the author's life, but have never been asked? Here's your chance to Q &A yourself.

I suppose I’d like to use this space to offer words of encouragement.  In my life, I meet a lot of people who say they’d like to write a book, but that it seems too daunting or they don’t know where to start. Just start! Sit down with a new spiral notebook and a pen and write. Consider joining National Novel Writing Month this year and feed off the support of other aspiring writers. Accept that the process will involve hard work, but that it’s worth it.  Somehow I think our culture is starting to perceive “hard work” as something to be avoided. It’s not. Hard work brings out the best in an individual and it often produces meaningful art and literature. When you work hard during the day, you sleep better at night. Plus, I think everyone has a book inside them waiting to get out. 

Thank you for joining us for a Middleview at Smack Dab Blog, Karen. Again, congratulations on the release of SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY! We’ll look for it on bookshelves soon!


  1. Thanks for hosting me on the blog, Tamera. I always love reading the interviews and I'm honored to be here.

  2. Looking forward to the continuing story, Karen.


  3. Great interview! I enjoyed meeting Karen and can't wait to read the book.

  4. What a hard-hitting topic for MG! Can't wait to get my hands on it...

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