Discussion with One of My Most Beloved Historical Authors: Sue Harrison

Today, I’m giddy! Why? I have an interview with Sue Harrison, one of my most beloved authors of all time! I have always had a love for First Peoples (or Native Peoples) and prehistoric historical novels–probably she ignited this in me in my younger years! I am in awe at being able to speak to such a wonderful author, and as you will see when you read the interview for yourself, to a very kind and gracious woman as well.

I truly hope that her books, currently re-released in e-book format from Open Road Media, create a resurgence in this type of book that deals with elements of survival in the native world, but also in Sue’s writing. If you haven’t read her books, see my review of Mother Earth Father Sky HERE and of Song of the River HERE!


Hi Sue! I am thrilled and honored to have you at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!  I’ve been a fan of yours since I was a young adult, so this is quite a pleasure.  How does it feel to have your amazing books re-released into digital form?

Sue: Hello Erin, I’m delighted to be interviewed by you for “Oh, for the Hook of a Book.” Having my books re-released in digital form has been a dream come true for me. I’m sorry about that cliché, but it’s apt!

Erin: That’s must feel amazing!  I can’t wait to get started. I’m coming over to your log cabin home, it’s absolutely beautiful. I’d love to pull up some chairs by the water and chat!

Sue: Yes, let’s go out on the front deck. I’ve made a big jug of sun tea. Have a seat here where we can look out over the water. Oh! Did you see that little red fox? She’s a regular visitor to our beach. We didn’t see her at all for those few months when her kits were little. So, Erin, let me begin by thanking you for sharing the news about my novels with your readers.

Mother Earth Father Sky

Q:  Mother Earth Father Sky first published in trade paper as we rang in the 1990s.  Where did your initial inspiration come from to write a novel of prehistoric Alaskan peoples?

A: My first inspiration came from looking out my kitchen window at a winter landscape. I realized that I had quite a bit of outdoor knowledge and began to wonder if maybe I could put that knowledge to use as I wrote my first novel.

Q:  How much research went into that book, and the next two that would join to become the Ivory Carver series, My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind?

A: I spent nine years writing Mother Earth Father Sky. Not quite half of that time was spent on research. I put in another two years of research for the sequels, plus some wonderful trips to Native villages in Alaska.

Q:  What kind of success have you had with that series over the years? What has been some of the best correspondence you’ve had about it?

A: The Ivory Carver Trilogy has done very well. It’s been published in 13 languages and in more than 20 countries on 5 continents. Some of the best correspondence I’ve received – at least that which means the most to me – has been from readers who have experienced sad or very difficult times in their lives. They write and tell me that my novels helped them cope. A writer can’t ask for a finer tribute than that.

Q:  Later in the 1990s and into the next decade, you also published another series called The Storyteller series, which included Song of the River, Cry of the Wind, and Call Down the Stars.  What motivation did you have in writing this series?

A: I wanted to highlight the storyteller’s place of importance in Native society. I also had a very horrible villainess – the woman K’os – pop into my mind. She was not at all shy and let me know that she deserved a prominent place in my next series. My enchantment with the theatre art of Native storytellers and my interest in an over-the-top villain like K’os gave me NO choice but to write the Storyteller Trilogy!

Song of the River

Q:  How did you research and write so many detailed historical books in just over a decade? That seems like quite a feat!  How much and what type of research went into the second series?

A: I had so much help from Native peoples, Erin. And for this series I was also able to do a great deal of language research. Research to me is pure fun, so it’s no hardship to dedicate a few months or a few years to learn what I need to know to write a novel.

Q:  Are any of your characters based on actual people you can across in your reading or research, or just based on a type of people with characters imagined from what they might have been like? How did you breathe such life into your characters?

A: The only character who is truly based on an actual person is Shuganan, who is the ivory carver in my first book Mother Earth Father Sky. His personality is based on my paternal grandfather, C.R. McHaney, who was wise but quiet and a very caring person. For me, the best way to breathe life into my characters is to pretend that I am them. I would guess that it’s similar to the process that actors go through when they learn a new script. I close my eyes and imagine that I’m doing what that character is doing, I’m saying what he or she is saying; I’m feeling how they feel.

Q:  Who has been your favorite character across any of your book, so far? Who do you miss the most?

A: Strangely, those questions, which fit together so well, have two different answers. My favorite character is Keen. She’s the main female character in My Sister the Moon and in Brother Wind, the last two books of the Ivory Carver Trilogy, but the character I miss most is the male protagonist from the Storyteller Trilogy, Chakliux. He’s so entirely good, despite the machinations of his evil mother K’os, that he continues to be an inspiration in my life. I don’t even know if a fictional character is supposed to be able to do that, but Chakliux does inspire me.

Q:  Since your books came out when I was in high school until slightly after college, I read them as a young adult.  Do you feel that your books, though I believe classified as adult, can transcend both realms easily, both adult historical fiction and YA? Why or why not?

A: When I began writing, I didn’t consider these books as YA literature, and, until the American Library Association named Mother Earth Father Sky as one of its Best Books for Young Adults, it didn’t enter my mind that demographic of readers would be interested. When my agent called to give me that very wonderful news, my first question was, “Is this good?” She assured me that it was, and I do believe that many of my most loyal readers first read the books as young adults, just as you did. (I’m very grateful, by the way!)

MEFS past cover

How I first saw Mother Earth Father Sky when it released in paperback in the 1990s. Still have it!

Q:  Why do you feel there was a surge of interest in this type of prehistoric and native people themes in the 1990s?  I still read novels by the Gears and enjoy them, but am ever searching for more books like yours, as well as types like were written by you. Will you write any more novels with similar content?

A: I believe that Jean Auel’s novel, Clan of the Cave Bear, paved the way for the rest of us to write about early people. That novel sold so well that publishers were seeking writers who could produce similar books. However, that isn’t something a writer can do without spending years doing research. When Auel’s novel first came out, I was very discouraged. I was about 400 manuscript pages into Mother Earth Father Sky, and I had thought that I would be the first person to write a novel set in prehistoric times.  Obviously I wasn’t. I nearly quit writing the novel, but I received some excellent advice from a gifted novelist, National Book Award winner, Gloria Whelan, who told me that we needed a Jean Auel but perhaps we needed a Sue Harrison, too. I would enjoy writing a book with similar content, and actually I have. It’s about a family of weavers and is set in Europe beginning 6000 years ago when weaving was first invented. I researched wrote it during the years 2000-2005, but it needs a lot of work yet.  (And a publisher!)

Q:  All the books in both the Ivory Carver and the Storyteller series have just re-released in digital format from Open Road Media. How exciting! I am happy to share in these stories again and suggest to a new reader base. What were your hopes in doing so?

A: First let me say how overjoyed I am that Open Road contacted me about re-releasing my novels. I think I’ve been smiling since I read Maggie Crawford’s first email to me last fall. I’m hoping that through the ebook market and the efforts of people like you, Erin, that the books will be discovered and enjoyed by a new generation.

Q:  Do you feel that the paperback days are over and digital books are the future? Why or why not? (Personally, am happy to have both your paperback and digital versions in a collection!)

A: I read both ebooks and paperbacks and also hardcovers. I’m not a good judge of what will happen in the future, but I do believe that people will continue to find joy, escape, information, and life-wisdom by reading novels, no matter what the format.

Q:  Does it feel like you’re launching books all over again? How does it feel for you? I was excited to see that your books were being re-released! What types of things have you been doing, or will be doing, surrounding this publication?

A: Yes, it does feel like I’m launching books all over again, and I love it! In just the past few months I’ve had the privilege of doing interviews like this one with you, Erin. I’ve also been more active on Facebook, with an author page, set up by Open Road (because I’m so inept with techie stuff). I do daily tweets and I also made some changes on my blog. Open Road has a great team of media and PR experts who answer my questions and have very good ideas.

One of the most fun things to happen is this virtual book tour with reviews running on blogs like yours and with interviews! We also had a video team from Open Road come to our house and spend a couple days taping. What fun that was! Your readers can view the video at Open Road’s website www.openroadmedia.com or on mine, www.sueharrison.com and also on YouTube (Sue Harrison Author).

Q:  What would you say to readers who like history, but haven’t tried books in the prehistoric or native themes as written by you, the Gears, and Auel? Why might they enjoy this type of book?  Who might enjoy this type of book?

A: Any reader who enjoys historical family sagas should enjoy books like those written by the Gears and Jean Auel and my books as well. With prehistoric I think you can add one more demographic group, people who like to read stories about survival. In prehistoric times, survival was at the top of the list for life skills!

Q:  Have you written anything else outside this theme? Are you currently writing or researching any other novels?

A: I have published a middle readers’ book, Sisu, which is set in modern times and is my take on Odysseus’s journeys. It’s about a boy who is diagnosed with type I diabetes. That sounds like a very serious subject, but I believe most readers will find the book to be funny as well as serious, and it has a happy ending. I love happy endings. I’m currently writing a series of novels for the inspirational market. They are suspense novels set in modern times. I’m also plotting a novel that is a paranormal suspense for the general market.

My writing time has been very limited these past 12 years because I’ve been responsible for the care of my husband’s parents and now also my own. There were years when I really had only an hour or two a week to write, and that takes the heart out of any writer’s career. Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins wrote a book entitled The 36-Hour Day. It’s a guide for people who care for those who suffer with various types of dementia. That title more or less explains my life for about four years. My caregiving responsibilities are now limited to 25 to 30 hours a week, and my husband and I make sure I have enough time to write almost every day. That is wonderful for me. Each morning I wake up so happy!

Q:  What other points in history interest you? What other time periods would you like to take a chance at writing?

A: I love this question, Erin! I would enjoy writing about the Civil War era in the US. I would like to write about the 1340s when the bubonic plague swept through Europe. I enjoy writing about the early 1900s, and I also love writing about modern times.

Q:  I know you live in Michigan, and I am from Ohio. There is a lot of Native American history in both our states. Would you consider writing a novel surrounding the First Peoples of our Great Lakes region?

A: That was actually my intent when I began my research for Mother Earth Father Sky. I love the Great Lakes area, and I would certainly be open to writing about the First Peoples who lived here. But the great good news is that Kathleen O’Neal and Michael Gear have done a wonderful job with that, and readers should also check out James Alexander Thom’s books as well. They are excellent.

Q:  What interests you about Alaska and the Arctic? Have you visited?

A: What interested me most about Alaska was the sheer impossibility of human habitation, and yet people lived there and not only lived there but thrived there. I love that kind of endurance, and I love writing about people who are ultimate survivors! Yes, I have visited, and fortunately was welcomed into the homes and villages of the descendants of the people I write about. I can’t thank the Alaskan Native people enough for their open hearts and their willingness to share their knowledge, their homes and their hopes with me and with Neil, my husband, who always travels with me.

Q: What other hobbies or interests do you have other than writing?

A: I love to read. I also do needlework – knitting and sewing and weaving. I love to garden, and I’m a certified scuba diver. I love to travel and I love my kayak. I enjoy spending time with family and friends and I like to bake. I love to speak to groups and to give workshops about writing. I also love to sing, and I play 7 musical instruments, none really well, most not well at all! (Piano, flute, mandolin, mountain dulcimer, baglama, double-bowed psaltery, and hammered dulcimer [really poorly]. I also plunk away on the viola and scare the dog when I try to play the violin.)

Q:  Where can readers and fellow writers connect with you?

A: Please come and visit me at my website: www.sueharrison.com. I have a blog there and also a schedule of appearances. I’m @SueHarrison1 on Twitter and Sue Harrison Author on Facebook.

Q:  Where can readers purchase your books, both in paperback and digital?

A: My digital books are available through all digital booksellers. Check them out at Open Road Integrated Media: http://www.openroadmedia.com/search/?q=sue%20harrison%20&filter=Ebooks&pageSize=6  Unfortunately, my paperbacks are out of print but can sometimes be found through used booksellers.

Erin:  Sue, again it has been my pleasure to “meet” and interview one of my favorite writers of all time. You are one of the reasons I wanted to become a writer myself. Thank you for your books that ignited in me an ever increasing passion for reading, writing, and for learning about native peoples. I am excited to see your books re-launch and hope much success for you with their resurgence. Please come by again sometime! THANK YOU!

Sue: Thank you so much, Erin. I’d love to visit with you again.  I’m so delighted that my books are an inspiration for your writing.  Could I pour you another glass of tea? Did you notice the family of Cooper’s hawks in that tall white spruce over there? They’re very loud neighbors! And oh, look, on the beach. Cue the deer. Her fawn’s getting so big.  Let’s just sit here very still and watch…

Erin: Glorious.


Mother Earth Father SkyPublication Date: May 28, 2013
Open Road Media
ISBN: 0380715929

A young woman fights for survival amid the brutality of the last Ice Age

It’s 7056 BC, a time before history. On the first day that Chagak’s womanhood is acknowledged within her Aleut tribe, she unexpectedly finds herself betrothed to Seal Stalker, the most promising young hunter in the village. A bright future lies ahead of Chagak—but in one violent moment, she loses her entire way of life. Left with her infant brother, Pup, and only a birdskin parka for warmth, Chagak sets out across the icy waters on a quest for survival and revenge.

Mother Earth Father Sky is the first book of the Ivory Carver Trilogy, which also includes My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind.


Song of the RiverPublication Date: May 28, 2013
Open Road Media
ISBN: 0380726033

Two ancient tribes on the verge of making peace become foes once more when a double murder jeopardizes a storyteller’s mission

Eighty centuries ago, in the frozen land that is now Alaska, a clubfooted male child had been left to die, when a woman named K’os rescued him. Twenty years later and no longer a child, Chakliux occupies the revered role as his tribe’s storyteller. In the neighboring village of the Near River people, where Chakliux will attempt to make peace by wedding the shaman’s daughter, a double murder occurs that sends him on a harsh, enthralling journey in search of the truth about the tragic losses his people have suffered, and into the arms of a woman he was never meant to love.

Song of the River is the first book of the Storyteller Trilogy, which also includes Cry of the Wind and Call Down the Stars.


“Mythic storytelling.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Sue Harrison joins the ranks of Jean Auel and Linda Lay Shuler.” —The Houston Post

“Memorably great . . . in between the satisfying details of an ancient culture, you smell the sweet heather, taste the wind, hear the roaring surf and sense the joy of primeval love.” —Ruth Beebe Hill, author of Hanta Yo

“A book of haunting beauty and emotional power. I became the Aleut girl-woman in Ice Age Alaska, and the carver, the seal hunter, the shaman . . . A remarkable book of passion, tenderness, and the indomitable human spirit, masterfully researched and beautifully written.” —Linda Lay Shuler, author of She Who Remembers

“A moving and credible story . . . Harrison expertly frames dramatic events with depictions of prehistoric life in the Aleutian Islands.” —The New York Times Book Review


“Harrison once again displays her first-rate storytelling talents, here in a rousing tale of murder, revenge, and internecine warfare . . . A warm yarn from the frozen North as authentic as all get-out.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Sue Harrison joins the ranks of Jean Auel and Linda Lay Shuler.” —The Houston Post

“A remarkable storyteller.” —Detroit Free Press

“Lyrical . . . compelling . . . a timeless tale of the best and the worst of humankind in a land where the mundane mixes naturally with the mystical.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

Author Sue Harrison, Biography~

Sue Harri..Sue Harrison grew up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and graduated summa cum laude from Lake Superior State University with a bachelor of arts degree in English language and literature. At age twenty-seven, inspired by the cold Upper Michigan forest that surrounded her home, and the outdoor survival skills she had learned from her father and her husband, Harrison began researching the people who understood best how to live in a harsh environment: the North American native peoples.

She studied six Native American languages and completed extensive research on culture, geography, archaeology, and anthropology during the nine years she spent writing her first novel, Mother Earth Father Sky, the extraordinary story of a woman’s struggle for survival in the last Ice Age.

A national and international bestseller, and selected by the American Library Association as one of the Best Books for Young Adults in 1991, Mother Earth Father Sky is the first novel in Harrison’s critically acclaimed Ivory Carver Trilogy, which includes My Sister the Moon and Brother Wind. She is also the author of Song of the River, Cry of the Wind, and Call Down the Stars, which comprise the Storyteller Trilogy, also set in prehistoric North America. Her novels have been translated into thirteen languages and published in more than twenty countries. Harrison lives with her family in Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula.

For more information please visit Sue Harrison’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/sueharrisonvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #SueHarrisonTour

Sue Harrison Tour Banner FINAL


Filed under Q and A with Authors

5 responses to “Discussion with One of My Most Beloved Historical Authors: Sue Harrison

  1. I loved doing this interview with you Erin! Thank you!


  2. Pingback: A Glance Back: Virtual Tour | SueHarrison.com

  3. Wonderful interview — a real joy to read! (I enjoyed it so much, I linked to it in my review, I hope you don’t mind!).

    Super fascinated by the process of writing — and re-release — and I love learning more about Harrison’s process. Thanks for sharing this ebullient conversation — I love book geeks geeking out. 🙂


    • I am thrilled you loved the interview and also that you chose to link it to your blog. I don’t mind at all (well, as long as attribution is to me of course). 🙂 I do love Sue’s books, and overall, the interviewing process. Authors are so interesting.


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