Julie Harris Unveils Her First Novel, 'The Fork In The Road'
Many things about the life of protagonist Elaine Whitney in The Fork in the Road parallel the life of the book's author, Juliana "Julie" Harris of Guilford.
Although, like her character, Harris is originally from Kansas City, Missouri, was divorced, lives in Connecticut, works in a bookstore (in Harris's case, Guilford's Breakwater Books), and started a singing career later in life, Harris says her recently self-published first novel is fiction, not a memoir.
"I took some things from reality and turned them around," she explains, such as making Grace, the daughter in the novel, a composite of both of her young-adult daughters.
What does ring true to Harris's own story is the triumphant transformation of her character Elaine after her husband walks out on their 20-plus-year marriage, the risks she takes, and how she grows as a result of the difficult and challenging experience.
"The whole point of the book is that [Elaine discovers] that she is going to be the person she neglected all these years-it isn't about a man," Harris says.
Harris is a newcomer to writing fiction, but not non-fiction, as she was a journalist for many years. She also writes poetry and is a member of the Guilford Poets Guild. Harris has contributed to publications including The New York Times, The Mid-American Poetry Review, The Best Times, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and The Kansas City Star.
Harris has lived in Guilford for 23 years, during 13 of which she was the children's librarian at the Guilford Free Library. She moved back to Kansas City for five years, returning to the shoreline in 2007 for her younger daughter's wedding.
While back in Kansas City, Harris attended a writing conference and recalls one of the speakers' saying that anyone can write a novel; all you have to do is write two pages a day.
"I had just lost my job and was living on unemployment," she says. "I took it as an artistic grant to write a novel."
She went to her computer and started writing.
"The pages kept multiplying and I was hooked and so involved with the characters," she says. "As Elizabeth Berg said, 'Writing fiction is like groping your way down a dark hallway. You never know what is going to pop out at you.'"
The small, attractive, soft-cover book was designed by Kerry Carroll of Guilford, printed by CyberChrome, Inc., in Branford, and the cover features a pastel entitled Yellow House Full Moon by Guilford artist Suzanne Siegel.
"I saw Suzanne's artwork in an exhibit and fell in love with the painting," Harris says, "and I thought, 'That's it-that's the cover.'"
Music has also taken a front seat in Harris's life in recent years. Although she always sang for fun, it wasn't until eight years ago that she began singing professionally.
"I had a musical mentor in Kansas City, like the character Butch [in the novel]. He was brilliant, a consummate musician. We became dear friends and he told me, 'You can have a [musical] career,' and I got married instead," Harris says. "When I got divorced and was considering my options, like Elaine, it was my dream to be a singer in a nightclub, but what were the chances of that happening?"
Perhaps slim, but Harris mustered up the courage, and with the encouragement of her daughter, a professionally trained musician who graduated from Boston's Berklee College of Music, Harris began singing at local Kansas City clubs.
When she came back to Guilford, she connected with Chris DePino of East Haven and other local musicians, but wasn't able to get a solo gig. She began looking for an accompanist and a friend suggested she go to a performance by Steve Roane, a Madison jazz musician.
"I was very impressed," she says. "I'd never sang with a guitarist and it's now coming up on three years we've been together."
Harris says when her friend Stacy Paladino became manager of Whitfield's on the Guilford Green, she asked her to be the first performer at the restaurant. Harris and Roane now perform jazz standards monthly at Whitfield's and have appeared in local cabaret benefit shows.
Julie Sings Julie, produced by Roane at his Madison studio, came out earlier this year, featuring original songs by Harris.
Harris says she is starting a new novel on a very different subject, set in an entirely different place-San Francisco.
Meanwhile, she continues to work at making all her dreams come true.
The Fork in the Road is $15 and available at Breakwater Books in Guilford or by emailing Harris at email@example.com.
Harris and Roane will perform "An Evening with Cole Porter" at Guilford's Nathanael B. Greene Community Center on Wednesday, Jan. 26 at
6 p.m. and "Isn't It Romantic?" on Feb. 14 at 1 p.m. , also at the Community Center. For more information, call the Community Center at 203-453-8068.
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