Jeff Glor talks to Richard Horan about "Harvest: An Adventure into the Heart of America's Family Farms."
Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?
Richard Horan: I was unemployed and still am. Plus, all of my old heroes were dead (the great writers and boxers and agitators of idolized in my youth). Added to that was the fact that America, just after the devastating Cheney-Bush years, was devolving into irrelevance. Particularly vexing was the fact that Global Warming was being denied not only by the government, but also by the politicians, corporations, next-door neighbors, friends, and family despite the fact that the world around us all was and still is drying up and sinking into the sea. Writing fiction books no longer seemed of any value to me. Nothing but raising kids held any importance in my mind. Even teaching, which I'd proudly done for nearly 20 years, had become nothing but a cesspool of mediocrity; and part of the problem rather than the solution. In sum, I was pretty down on the world. Then I heard that radio interview with the president of the United Farm Workers, Arturo Rodriguez, where he challenged Americans to apply for work as farm hands. Images of my immigrant grandfather's fruits and vegetables warehouse flooded my memory. Those fruits and vegetable lifted me out of my funk, and Rodriguez put the idea into my head to travel around America and join the harvest of the fruits and vegetables that I loved.
JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?
RH: I am very suspicious of that term "writing process" because as a writing teacher for many years I have come to realize that it means different things to different people, teachers and students alike, which is as it should be because a writing process is different for everyone, every time he or she writes. In the case of "Harvest," the writing process was both the actual work of living on the farms and working alongside the farmers and farm hands, as well as the actual writing itself. As a fiction writer, writing about my experiences in the field is a great deal different than sitting at my computer imagining the scenes I produce. But to answer your question, the amazing surprise about the actual writing of "Harvest" was how easily the experiences lent themselves to print; to story. I tell everyone who asks that "Harvest" was as much fun to write as the experiences themselves. I believe this is very unusual for any author and any book, and it makes me quite suspicious that there was perhaps some sort of good karma at work here.
JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
RH: I walked away from the sport of professional boxing at the age of 22. My last fight was up in Joliette, Canada, against the number one ranked middleweight in the country. I didn't win, but it was touch and go. After that fight I had lots of offers to fight for big money. At that point I realized that my heart was not in boxing; it was in literature, writing. An article I read made me realize that: Marvelous Marvin Hagler was the middleweight champion at the time. He was training for a fight out in Provincetown, Mass., and the article described his monk-like regimen; the eight hours he spent in his room in addition to his daily workout in preparation for fight day. I'll never forget his description of himself when they asked him what he did in his room all day long: "Think about the fight. If I died and they cut my head open, they'd find a boxing glove inside," he told the reporter writing the article. If they cut my head open, they'd find a thousand stories and wondrous characters, too numerous to count. No, like Hagler and boxing, I was born a writer.
JG: What else are you reading right now?
RH: I write book reviews, so in a sense I get paid to read. But it is one of my favorite things in the whole world to do. It's a great intellectual activity. I just finished writing a book review by Daniel Wolff, "The Fight For Home: How (parts of) New Orleans Came Back." It is a historical document, a transcription, about the folks in the lower Ninth Ward and what they've suffered and how they've managed to overcome incredible obstacles to rebuild their lives after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Loved that book like I love New Orleans. Right now I am reading a book and getting ready to write a review of Jeff Speck's "Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America. One Step at a Time." It's great reading about how wrong city planners, community developers, transportation engineers and architects have been about how to build cities so that they will attract and keep people, especially young people. (Hint: Make 'em walkable!) Hopefully the right people will read this one. We have lots to do and lots to reconfigure in our cities. Oh, and I just read for the third time Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca's "Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America." What a magnificent description of the wildly diverse peoples who lived along the Gulf of Mexico and the interior lands north of the Rio Grande in the early part of the 16th century. There is great examples and discussions about their customs, rituals, personalities, and economies. Fascinating reading. There's a lot of history and information there that has been ignored and/or glossed over for some reason. Read it and see what I mean.
JG: What's next for you?
RH: That's the $64,000 question. I can't predict the future, so I don't know for sure. However, I have a children's book that is ready to be submitted to anyone who is interested. It's about a singing vole (Microtus gregalis) that is inadvertently transplanted from the sub-arctic region of Alaska to the Big Woods region of the Mississippi Delta in Arkansas. It is in the vein of Joel Chandler Harris' "Brer Rabbit," or Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book." Kind of an amalgam of the two authors. I have a novel/screenplay that is also ready to go called "The Authentics" about reality television making war on history, literally. I also have a long list of great ideas for another travelogue/nature book. My favorite idea is this one: "Fishing: " People talk about why they fish and how they feel when they fish (fashioned after Studs Terkel's magnum opus Working.) And this one: "On Parade:" A Plimptonesque account of America's great parade bands as we follow our hero down Main Street and at the front of the line, blowing "The Old Grey Mare" on his cornet. But all writers are full of stories and ideas. Meanwhile.... I'm still looking for a regular job. I've got two girls, one in college and one threatening to go. These are tough times. If nothing comes through, I'll be a harvesting for real next year.
For more on "Harvest," visit the Harper Collins website.