Joe Harwell Interview
April 12th, 2012
|The Legend of Michelle Sands:||Upside Down Heart:||One Drug|
Hi Joe! Welcome to VRB and thank you for taking time to answer some questions for our readers. I would like to mention that I visited your Facebook page, and I was moved to tears more than once with your heartfelt love and devotion to your late wife and your grandkids are beautiful!
Thanks. We married young and had our kids when we were still kids ourselves. It was a great life and I am very grateful for the time we had together and the life we built.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family?
Becky and I were high school sweethearts. It’s hard to believe we grew up in the same small town and never really met until the fall of 1971 when I was a senior and she was a junior. I was on track to leave my hometown of Poteau, OK right after graduation in the spring of 1972 with no attachments and never look back, go away to college and get a law degree and become President of the United States by the year 2000. Then, I met this girl who wanted to be a stay at home mom of two daughters and two sons. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that we went with her plan. Our two daughters and two sons turned out to be great people and have blessed us with five granddaughters and two grandsons, so far.
I read your bio on your website, and would like to offer my condolences for the loss of your wife.
Did she encourage you to write? Why did you wait until after her passing to go ahead and put The Indian Rock Vampire to paper?
Losing Becky after more than 36 years together from our first date until her unexpected death on Thanksgiving morning in 2008 was the toughest thing I’ve faced in life. Becky always encouraged me in everything. As you see on the web site, I made some career moves and have a diverse background of work experience. She always supported me in whatever I felt bold enough to attempt and her support helped me be successful. The spark for the idea of the Indian Rock Vampire story came when she was first diagnosed with kidney failure in 2005 and told she would have to go on dialysis. I carried the idea around in my head for 3 years, discussing it with her from time to time. A lot of things came to an end for me in 2008 with her death and the crash of the economy which put me out of work as a metal buyer. There was literally nothing else for me to do in January of 2009 except write the story. It was very therapeutic and provided an escape from grief and economic stress.
Did growing up in the South influence your writing style, do you think?
Oklahoma is such a diverse state with strong influences from the wild west, the oil business, Native American heritage and cultures from all over the world. For example, many Italians came to Oklahoma at the time of statehood and opened or worked in coal mines which were located all over the eastern part of the state. It also explains what I call The Little Dixie Mafia which still exists in a much more subtle form today. You know, things are done a certain way and certain people have great influence in politics and business. I write what I know and grew up with, and power is a recurring theme in all my novels.
Where has been your favorite place to live, since you’ve lived in numerous places in the South?
I was fascinated with the desert from the first time I saw Lawrence of Arabia as a kid. I began travelling to Arizona on business in the late 1980’s and moved there in 1990 for 3 years. If I could live anywhere other than Oklahoma it would be Sierra Vista, Arizona which is located just west of Tuscon. It’s a beautiful area and also the hummingbird capital of the United States.
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
Spending time with my grandchildren is always number one when I’m not writing. Since October, 2009, I have been writing full time. I participate in four writers groups in Tulsa which has really helped me grow personally and as a writer. I also do a lot of business networking, attending several events a month as well as book signings of authors who come through our area. I do have quite a passion for classic cars and regularly attend car shows and cruise night. Over the winter, I helped my son Jason with an air bagged truck project. Now we go to cruise night in our own low rider.
If you could meet anyone (past or present) who would it be and why?
I became interested in politics during the late 1960’s. I don’t read in the genres I write in and mostly read political biographies. Seriously, if I could meet anyone past or present it would be Winston Churchill. I recently read the book, Citizens of London by Lynne Olson who was an AP reporter. It documents the time just before the Untied States entered World War II and is about three influential Americans, Edward Murrow, Averell Harriman and John Winant who helped convince FDR and the American public to support England and Churchill during a time when the balance of power in the world was in real jeopardy. Churchill was such a man of his time and I can only imagine what it would be like to walk with him as he made tough decisions.
Who are your favorite authors? Do they inspire your work?
My favorite authors and the ones who truly inspire me are in my writers groups. William Peter Grasso has written and published two phenomenal novels set in World War II, both with a twist on history which make them very interesting. East Wind Returns and Unpunished are books I recommend to anyone in search of great story telling.
What is the last book you read for fun?
Just for fun I read Tom Brokaw’s, The Greatest Generation. I bought a brand new looking, hard cover copy at a local used bookstore for $1.49 last summer. Can you believe it? My father, John Harwell served in the Navy during world War II and was on Iwo Jima. I am lucky enough to have photos he took on the island which are posted on my Facebook page. Since I bought the book at such a fun price, I felt obligated to read it just for fun.
The Legend of Michelle Sands is a very different take on the usual vampire story. What inspired you to take this direction?
The use of power in all levels of society has always fascinated me. The spark for the story was to create something with a vampire twist based on the symbols of the Heavener Runestone located near my hometown in eastern Oklahoma. Since I don’t read in the vampire genre, I created something based on my life experiences and all the power centers I knew about in business and politics. Becky’s father was in elective county government for more than 3 decades and never lost an election and was never even in a runoff. Power structures exist in everything from your job, school, sports teams, church, you name it. My story is about an ancient power banished to the area a thousand years ago which stayed dormant until my character, Michelle Sands inherits it. She begins using this new found power to change her life, the lives of her family and friends, the local power structures of business and politics and eventually the world.
Do you have other works? If so, are the in the same genre?
The second novel of the Indian Rock Vampire series was published last year in paperback and eBook. Upside Down Heart moves the series from where it began in 1958 up to the beginning of the 1970’s. Last year I also published what I call a mild sci-fi novel titled ONE DRUG. It takes place in 2052 with China as the leading economic power in the world in possession of a super drug which cures disease, prevents and treats injury. Our country and the rest of the world are now debtor nations. All safety net benefits such as Social Security and Medicare are long gone and assisted suicide is legal to reduce the stress on society in caring for the sick and elderly. It also takes place in eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas.
Are you currently working on anything? If so, can you tell us a little about it?
The last two novels of The Indian Rock Vampire series are underway and will debut at the Viking/Celtic Festival at the Heavener Runestone Park on October 13, 2012
I have two more novels underway which I also plan to publish this fall. The first is Dragline, set in the western Arkansas coal mining industry of the mid 1960’s. It features a fiery redhead named Sissy MacKenzie who has been under my skin for a couple of years. The other novel is Payne County Weekly, set in the Perkins and Stillwater area of central Oklahoma in the 1990’s. It’s about power and corruption in politics and business which are all wrapped up with methamphetamine
production in the state.
What made you decide to go the Indie Author route instead of going with a publishing house?
For me, it was about a sense of accomplishment with my first book. The Legend of Michelle Sands was written as a grief response and seeing it published was part of moving myself forward. I talked to more than 200 publishers and agents before finalizing the decision to self publish. Believe me, self publishing was not a popular choice with the public and other authors in the summer of 2009. Not to mention, the economy was in a tail spin and eBooks were eroding print sales at a fast pace.
You have the facebook page Okie Indie Authors, who are some of your favorite Okie Indie Authors?
As I said, William Peter Grasso is a very good author. Mike Rabon from Hugo, OK has written two great books which I’ve read. Mike is a founding member of the 1960’s rock group, The Five Americans. His first book, Billy Don, Basic and Me is about two guys being inducted into the military in the early 1960’s. High Strung is Mike’s very personal account of highs and lows of the music industry. Both of his books are very powerful.
Janice Grove has published two really cool, paranormal novels with titles of Led Zepplin songs, The Rain song and Going to California. Shirley Howard Hall is a poet extraordinaire with three books of poetry, including her latest release Embrace which is, how can I put this delicately, for mature audiences. While we’re on the subject of romance, Colleen Michaels novel, A Manic Kind of Love is also a great read.
I think it’s wonderful that you are selling your books in the Heavener Runestone park gift shop to help raise funds for the park. Can you tell us a little more about it and how others can help?
The Indian Rock Vampire novels are based on the Runestone, so the park is very special to me. Last year, the state of Oklahoma cut off funding for the park which was established in 1970. The park is now being operated better than ever by a local group called Friends of the Heavener Runestone which can be found on Facebook. They have already made improvements and done more to market the park than the state did in all the years they operated it, and it’s just my way to give back. My readers can help by printing out the order from on my web site and ordering a print copy for themselves. Through September, 2012, I will donate a copy to the park or an Oklahoma library for each book I sell. Friends of the Heavener Runestone also accepts direct donations.
Thanks again for visiting with us today. Is there anything you would like to say to your readers?
My goal for the Indian Rock Vampire series and all my work is to entertain people for a brief time in their life. On a more personal level, I wouldn’t mind making the small town of Howe, OK where the series begins, more famous than the town in the state of Washington named for an eating utensil (not a knife or spoon) which is the home a another vampire series. To build readership for the Indian Rock Vampire, The Legend of Michelle Sands will be free on Smashwords.com through September. I hope to have 100,000 people preview or read it during the run up to the release of the last two novels which are titled Millennium and Return to Indian Rock.
Starting later this month, I will have a regular column on writing, self-publishing and Oklahoma authors on www.oklahomawelcome.com