Nicole Harkin grew up in Montana and Georgia with parents who were steeped in the airline industry. To Harkin, family life was an interesting mix of secrets, drama and humor. She ended up writing a memoir which won an award and keeps readers at the edge of their seats. Illness, cancer, teen pregnancy: it’s all in there! As our Author of the Day, Harkin talks more about her childhood, her hobbies and what drove her to write this memoir.
Please give us a short introduction to what Tilting is about.
Start with a family of four children and two parents, add in a sudden catastrophic illness, a secret girlfriend, financial ruin, and divorce; shake with cancer, teenage pregnancy, a bit of humor and resiliency: that's the recipe for my childhood. Tilting, A Memoir is a story of how one set of parents lived and died—but more than that—it is an exploration of the secrets and lies of childhood and the stories we tell ourselves which mold us into the people we become. The book recently won a gold medal in The Wishing Shelf Book awards!
The book was well received and won an award. What surprised you most about readers' reactions to it?
I really loved my Dad and I think that comes through in the book. So it has been surprising to me how many people write that they are so angry with him. I think that is a universal experience: people see things in your story that you don’t always feel or mean.
Even though the things that happened in your family were quite dramatic, you describe it with a lot of humor. How did you pull this off?
I am glad you see the humor! My mom was hysterical. I get any humorous abilities from Linda!
You only discovered that your dad had a girlfriend after he became deathly ill. How much of a shock was that to your family?
As I explain in the book there had been shadows but nothing concrete. The shock for us was that as we came together as a family, and really healed a lot of the rifts between us. We expected Dad to recover and we would go back to a better life than we had before. And then he decided he needed to leave. That was the shock.
Real life is often stranger than fiction - did this ring true for your family?
That is true…of course The Pilot’s Wife was written a decade before my book and so pilots philandering is not new news. The commonalities between all families and all the things that go unsaid are really universal.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m a spy. Just kidding. No really, I am a photographer, mom, and biker. I have had almost every job at some point. Maybe that is my secret skill: I can do lots of things, passably.
Does this book contain a hidden message? What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I suppose the hidden message is fairly explicit: Press on.
You spare no one (including yourself) in your vivid descriptions of family feuds and sibling battles. How hard was this to do?
I’m a literalist. I believe in radical transparency and I try to practice that in all aspects of my life. And I was a really big brat.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Stop being a brat. Be A LOT kinder to the kids. At some point they will be all you have left.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on two books. One is a mystery novel set in Berlin. The other is a true life novel about my grandmother, Gram. She died on the day of my book launch party last year and I miss her dearly.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Facebook or email. They can also read the first chapter of Tilting at www.tiltingamemoir.com as well as see pics of my whole family.