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Heather Harper-Ellett

Heather Harper-Ellett, Author and Instructor

What drew you to write in your genre?

My writing tends to cross mystery and literary genres because those are my favorite books to read. I want to be pulled along with puzzles and questions, but I want a bold voice and rich line-by-line quality. Emily St. John Mandel melded the two genres beautifully in her pre-Station Eleven noir (The Lola Quartet, The Singer's Gun).   

What other genre would you like to write in?

I'm somewhat interested in speculative fiction in the vein of Kurt Vonnegut. I wish he were alive to address the current divisive state of our country.

What are your most influential books/favorite authors?

George Saunders, Emily St. John Mandel, Megan Abbott, Joshua Ferris, and Jennifer Egan. "Home" by George Saunders is (in my very correct opinion) the greatest short story ever written.  It accomplishes everything in such a small space: humor, pathos, and suspense. I love sharing it with students in Creative Writing Foundations and hearing them say "I didn't know that was even possible!"  

What do you think makes a story memorable?

A big, bold voice is everything. And if that voice can make a joke in the middle of tragedy, I'm yours forever. To Rise Again At A Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris is a brilliant example of the power of voice. The narrator pontificates on heavy hitter existential questions like suicide and God and faith and love but you're slobber-laughing the entire time. 

What do you think is essential in a classroom?

Writing is such a vulnerable pursuit so you need a warm environment. Bonus points if you have a sense of humor. We all need the space to try new things and fall on our faces and laugh when it comes out all wrong.  

What did you learn from your favorite and/or best teacher?

For me, the most important lesson I learned was to sit down and actually write. It sounds simple, but plenty of people approach writing by doing anything other than writing. They read thirty novels a month, attend fifteen workshops a year, and spend their time reading every book, blog, and tweet about the craft.  (I have certainly been guilty of this  myself.) While I am clearly in favor of education and study, at the end of the day, you just have to do it. And fail. And fail some more. And then keep doing it anyway.    

What makes for the most "success" in student?

The most successful students are the ones willing to write something terrible, not judge themselves, and keep going. I mean this on all levels. We've all written a paragraph that doesn't work, and it can be easy to say "I'm really awful at this" and quit. But what if you write a story that doesn't work? Can you learn and keep going?  What about an entire book? Let's talk about the day when you realize you have to cut 30,000 words on a plot line that failed. Wasting time is a huge trigger for me, and the hardest thing to learn was how inefficient writing is.  You will write a lot of bad things, and that's okay. That's part of the process too, and it's not a waste.  Really.

How did you come to teach at The Writer's Path?

After graduating with a creative writing degree from SMU, I wrote for magazines and worked in educational publishing. I loved the work, but had never attempted long fiction, despite it being a lifelong dream. I heard about the Writer's Path from a friend in 2014 and signed up the next week. After completing all of the classes and finishing my manuscript, I found my dream agent through connections on The Writer's Path. He sold my novel a few months later.