Keeping the Faith Fridays: Spotlight Esther Harder

Happy Friday, everyone! Time for our fourth round of Keeping the Faith, featuring the wonderful Esther Harder.

Esther is the real deal. She’s what this series is all about–a writer who consistently puts in the WORK, no matter what. A world traveler, Esther brings an international perspective and deep empathy to her work, writing across many genres. I’m sure the world will one day read and enjoy her stories. Until then, here’s a little sneak peek.


Follow Esther’s adventures on her blog.

1.) Why do you write? What does writing mean to you?

I write to better understand the connections between my self, my psyche, others, the world. I seek out those common, utterly human interactions that can be found hiding in plain sight because the amazing thing is that they are both unique and universal. That’s where I like to write – where the unique meets the universal and sparks compassion.

2.) What do you write?

Stories for kids of all ages (I’ve got a young adult historical novel set in Uganda as well as an early chapter book series about historical math puzzles). I also write short essays about faith-filled questions for Purpose magazine, and puppet scripts for church.

3.) How long have you been writing seriously?

This is a difficult question. 🙂

It wasn’t until post-college and some kind of personality test that I realized not everyone walks through their daily life trying to predict or embellish upon the conversations they might have by predicting dialogue in their head. Just certain kinds of people do that – and they may not all be writers. But this gives me great character-building practice!

I started writing steadily when I moved to Uganda and didn’t have easy access to libraries or bookstores. With limited literature available, and a need to decompress from the stressful conflict documentation work I was doing, I started writing what would be my first novel. Each evening I would plop the floppy into the drive and assertively type the next chapter (the keys on my borrowed laptop stuck – I had to be pretty committed to get the proper characters I wanted to show up on screen). Seeing that I could successfully trace a plot line from beginning to end gave me the gumption to apply to the Chatham University MFA program where I learned how little I knew about writing and met a lot of fellow writers who were muddling along like me.

4.) Do you have a writing regimen? (Outlining vs. pantsing? Process for various drafts? Beta readers? Revision m.o.? Do you send pages to someone as you’re drafting? Tell us anything/everything!)

I am a semi-reliable Morning Pages person. Working through the process of just showing up to write and accepting everything on the page as just that – words successfully attached to a page – helps me accept the more difficult process of deciding which words to keep and which to toss in my manuscripts. In the Morning Pages, all words, no matter how haphazardly formed into sentences, are welcome.

I’m a pantser, which goes against my generally very organized approach to other parts of my life. I tend to start with a theme or an idea for a story, rather than the characters, so in order to develop the characters, I need to write awhile and get to know them. I dump them into possible scenes, rather than filling out notecards with their favorites and physical characteristics. I listen to their voices in my head and write everything down. This causes me to have to slash a lot of pages later on, but it feels most natural to me.

I’m pretty protective of my early drafts. I need to coddle and get to know them before sending them out into the world. I use beta reader insight on all kinds of things once I feel like the manuscript is “finished,” (which, it never is).

5.) What’s the number one thing you’ve learned while writing? What piece of advice would you give to others/yourself?

Pay attention to what gives you those delicious shivers or makes your brain sparkle. Ideas like that are important and unique to you. Treasure them. Write them down. Play with them.

6.) What non-writing activities do you do to help your creative process?

I go running. Jogging, really. It is the one “self-help” routine in my life that happens mostly without fail. The repetitive motion of feet hitting pavement causes my mind to spin free. It’s the closest I get to meditation. My best ah-ha! moments that help me get past an obstacle in my writing usually come while jogging. Or doing dishes. Or kneading bread.

7.) What are you working on right now?

I’m trying to decide how best to tell my next big story. Is it a memoir? Is it a biography? A biography-memoir? Told in two voices? Or whose voices? I’ve got major scenes on notecards, but right now, those notecards have no order.

8.) Who are your big influences in your genre?

I don’t really have a genre – more like a smattering of interests. I read a lot of Nnedi Okorafor and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as well as other contemporary African authors. While I worked  the Children’s desk at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I was reading every middle grade or young adult historical fiction book about refugees, and children in war or extreme circumstances. In Darkness by Nick Drake caught my attention, but so did so many others. I keep up with what Paolo Bacigalupi is writing for teens and what Jonathan Auxier is writing for not-quite-teens. And I troll the picture book shelves where, yes, I do judge books by their cover.

9.) Top three favorite books of all time. Don’t think.

Oh no! Can it be top three authors? If so, then I have an answer.

1. Madeleine L’Engle (The Arm of the Starfish or A House Like a Lotus)
2. Lloyd Alexander (The Westmark series)
3. Lauren Winner (Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis or Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God)

10.) Your turn for the Sorting Hat. Which is your Hogwarts House? Why?

Ravenclaw, most likely. I succumbed to the knowledge is power rhetoric a long time ago.

*Bonus Question! A magic fairy waves her magic wand and grants you one superpower. What is it?

The ability to be omnipresent, so that I can live in all my favorite place with all my favorite people at once, and still have time to go on new adventures!

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