Jean Harfenist's first book, A Brief History of The Flood was a Minneapolis Star Tribune Best Book of the Year. She was named a finalist for the Katherine Anne Porter Nimrod/Hartman Award, the Kirkwood Literary Prize, the Missouri Review Editors Prize, and the Indiana Review Fiction Prize. Her short stories have appeared in The Missouri Review, The Barcelona Review, Quarterly West, Sycamore Review, Crazyhorse, Sonora Review, Wisconsin Review, The Sun, and the Cream City Review. She is a native of Minnesota, a graduate of New York University, and now lives in Santa Barbara with her husband.
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A Conversation with Jean Harfenist, author of A Brief History of the Flood
A Brief History of the Flood is your first collection of short
stories. What inspired you to start writing?
I started to write fiction in 1990 while home on medical leave from an ad agency, recovering from what had been diagnosed as chronic mononucleosis. After two years of being nearly bedridden, I had begun to have hours and, occasionally, entire days of feeling well enough to do something, when one morning the UCLA Extension catalog slipped from the stack of mail I was reading in bed. Idly, I flipped through it - and, just as idly, I reached for the phone and registered for a course called "Writing from the Inner-Self."
I had always been a planner, a lover of flowcharts and methods-time-measurement studies. This was whim. I wasn't well yet. And I was a businesswoman, not a writer. This was frivolous. It was silly. But I had to get out of the house; I had to produce something; and I had exactly nothing to lose. This was a low-cost, low-threat, no-credit course. Sick people could drop out. Besides, how difficult could it be to write from the inner-self?
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