Mount Olive High School Grad Releases First Novel

Photo credit: Nic Harris

By Steve Sears

Rachel Harrison, a 2007 graduate of Mount Olive High School, recently unveiled some great literary news.

Her first novel, The Return, was officially released for publication on March 24, 2020. “In the past few years, I’ve written maybe six drafts of novels. I’d call those ‘down drafts’, where you just get everything down on paper without worrying about how good it is,” Harrison says. “Usually, I get to the end of those drafts and think, ‘This is terrible,’ or “Maybe has potential?” But when I finished writing the The Return and read it back, I was confident. I knew I wanted to pursue publication.”

Harrison, who has been writing for as long as she can remember, says she is obsessed with stories. “I always liked to read and watch movies, stories in any form. But I never thought about pursuing writing as a career path until college.”

Harrison also never considered writing horror until her Sophomore year of college, when a screenwriting club she was a member of held a contest to write a horror screenplay. “I began studying the genre more, which was difficult at first because I’m afraid of everything,” she says, “but I found I really connected with horror because I’m afraid of everything. Fear is a powerful emotion, it’s a universal experience. We all experience fear. Exploring that fear is what I love about horror. What are we afraid of? Why? Plus, monsters are fun.”

She explains her writing process. “I came up with the concept for The Return and wrote a detailed outline. I’m pretty disciplined, I write every day. I would wake up around 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. and write for an hour before work. I had great momentum with this book, I finished my first draft in about four months, then spent another three months editing. Once I had a draft I felt was in good shape, I started the process of querying agents for representation. I ended up finding my agent through a pitch contest on Twitter, which I did on a whim. My agent then pitched my books to publishers, and then my book went to auction with the interested editors, and we ended up going with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House. After that, I worked with my editor to make some more changes, clean things up a bit, and then here we are!” she says happily.

Harrison, who additionally has had a few short stories published recently and mostly writes fiction, adds, “If I feel any accomplishment, it’s short-lived. I’m really proud of The Return, but I’m a worrier, and I’m always finding things to be concerned about.” Among her concerns is how The Return will be received, what’s next in her writing hopper, and skillfully improving. “I should try to stop and smell the roses, but I’m incapable.”

Harrison thanks her husband for his support during the road to publication. “I’m very lucky I have a supportive partner. No writer writes alone, you need supportive family and friends. When I was stressed out, or working late, my husband, Nic, did everything he could to help me.” However, she lovingly warns of “jealous” adversaries who would aim to halt progress. “My cat, on the other hand, tried to sabotage me at every turn. Chewing through computer charger wires, knocking things over to distract me while I was trying to concentrate, yelling loudly. If you’re pursuing writing, choose your companions wisely!”

The author gives kudos to her home state of New Jersey for inspiration. “New Jersey is full of amazing, strange stories and amazing, strange people,” she says. “Growing up in New Jersey gave me a lot to draw on for my writing!”

Finally, does Rachel Harrison have any future works percolating? “I hate to be cryptic, but yes!” she exclaims. “And that’s all I can say at the moment.”

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