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February 26, 2024
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Misfits'

Writer and filmmaker Harris’s latest work, Misfits, received an Editor’s Pick from BookLife, which praised the author for breathing “life into his characters by employing evocative imagery and succinct storytelling.” We spoke with Harris about his writing and how he created such true-to-life characters. 

What’s the story behind Misfits?

Misfits draws on my long experience as a journalist and documentary filmmaker. I write fiction to discover truths I failed to see or understand at the time I was filming or experiencing them. For example, “Mute,” the second story in the book, is about a family coming to grips with a son who has autism. I spent five years producing a video-intensive website on autism——but felt there was still more I wanted to explore about this subject. “Tikkun Olam” grew out of the four years I spent writing and directing Foster, an HBO documentary about the foster care system in Los Angeles. Yet I was still haunted by the questions the film raised. As Don DeLillo has remarked, a writer “learns to ride his own sentences into new perceptions.”

What was your writing process like for this story collection?

During Covid-19, it was very difficult to make documentary films, so I devoted my time to writing short stories. I didn’t start out to write a collection, but after a few years I’d published enough stories in literary magazines to form a book. Although the stories are quite different, I think they comment on each other and create a collective portrait of people struggling to find connection in an uncertain and precarious world.

To what extent, if any, did you draw from real life to create the characters in Misfits?

The characters in Misfits are based on both real and imaginary people. J. Robert Oppenheimer, in “A Drink with Oppie,” is obviously real; the biologist who encounters him in the La Fonda hotel bar is not. Many of the other characters are composite figures who emerged in the writing from a mysterious amalgamation of sources that is difficult to identify. I’m drawn to stories about children—earlier in my career, I wrote five award-winning children’s novels—but the formative childhood experiences I write about in Misfits are all viewed from an adult perspective.

How do you imagine readers at this moment will connect to the book?

The fraught encounters in this book are between young and old, people from different races, backgrounds, and ethnicities. Most of the stories take place in Los Angeles, a city where I’ve lived for the last 50 years and that I regard as the Ellis Island of the 21st century, a microcosm of multicultural America. The issues my characters are coping with—climate change, inequality, trauma, and personal pain—are ones many of us are grappling with at this moment in our very divided country.

Can readers expect more books from you soon?

I’ve had two fairy tales published in literary journals since the release of Misfits—“The Invisible Boy,” in  OpenDoor Magazine, and “The Reluctant King,” in Literati Magazine—and I’m contemplating a book of fairy tales. I’ve also begun work on a complicated mystery novel, but it will be a while before I finish it.