Open Mic Blog


Posted on January 31, 2010 at 11:41 AM

Acclaimed picture book writer and poet, Marc Harshman shares seven intriguing facts about himself.  He has graciously agreed to answer questions for the next two days.  If you are a Harshman fan, a teacher, or an aspiring writer, please comment or, better yet, ask Marc a question!



~ Marc Harshman


1.  I recall that a favorite passion in childhood was picking wild strawberries along the tracks of the Pennsylvania Railroad in eastern Randolph County, Indiana.


2.  My family had a pet pig named Polly, a full-grown Hampshire sow with whom, I am told, perhaps apocryphally, I would be left alone in the south lot of the farm. I was told she was a good baby-sitter.


3.  Once took guitar lessons from Rick Zehringer in the rural farm town near where we both grew up. He, along with his brother Randy and two other local boys, would form The McCoys and record “Hang on Sloopy.” Rick would later change his name to Derringer and continues to have a notable career in music.


4.  I value William Bronk, George Oppen, Gael Turnbull, Lorine Niedecker, and Jean Follain as notable modern influences upon my poetry.


5.  During the 1980s I raised approximately twenty different kinds of heirloom beans, discovering, as well, one I named Aunt Millie’s Goose-egg Bean.


6.  My first publication was an article in the old denominational magazine THE DISCIPLE describing a summer spent working in the inner-city of Akron, Ohio, circa 1973-4.


7.  I once spent five weeks living in a restored 17th century carriage house on the grounds of the 11th Century ruins of Bronllys Castle in the Black Mountains of Wales. It was here, along with my wife, Cheryl, that I wrote RED ARE THE APPLES [Harcourt, 2001].


                                                 *  *  *


Raised in rural Indiana, Marc Harshman has lived his adult life in West Virginia where, for many years, he taught in a three-room country school. Periodical publications of his poems include The Georgia Review, Wilderness, Shenandoah, Marginalia, 5 AM, and The Progressive. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry including LOCAL JOURNEYS (Finishing Line). His poem, “In The Company of Heaven,” recently won the Newport Review flash fiction contest. He is also the author of eleven children's picture books including THE STORM, a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children and Parent’s Choice Award winner. Visit his website at





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Reply Barb Childers
11:08 AM on February 5, 2010 
I knew about the beans, Marc, but all else was wonderfully new to me! I relate to your guardian pig. When I was a toddler, my mother set me out in the yard in the wooden playpen with the parrot Polly pacing along the railing. No adult could get near me. Including my parents. When they wanted to pick me up, it took two people. My father took a broom which the parrot quickly climbed toward him as my father hand-over-handed it round and round until he could place the parrot on his perch while my mother lifted me from the playpen. That's the story, anyway.
12:38 PM on February 5, 2010 
Hi, Barb,

That's a great story. You really ought to get some of these down on paper yourself. Thanks for sharing. Marc
Reply Paula Ginther
3:05 PM on February 5, 2010 
This is one of the reasons why Marc's books are so great! Down to earth delightful memories! As a former journalist, I've had the pleasure to feature Marc in several feature articles. None of the seven facts about himself came up during the interviews, but he always provided great information to share with our readers!
3:44 PM on February 5, 2010 
Thanks, Paula, for the kind compliment! And in your many years of journalism, I'm sure you heard a lot of 'stories!'
Reply Jennifer
9:23 PM on February 5, 2010 
I'm sorry to say that I haven't had the opportunity to read your books, but I looked you up on your website and amazon. ONLY ONE and THE STORM sound beautiful! I am intrigued. I love children's books and marvel how sometimes they speak so directly to my adult heart that my eyes water.
I was wondering, how do you do that?! Do you start out thinking you want to touch people so deeply about a topic or does the story just come?
Thanks for opening yourself up to our questions!
Reply Peggy
7:04 AM on February 6, 2010 
Hi Marc,

I suppose I would fall into the catagory of aspiring writer, so I was wondering how did you go about getting your first childrens book published? Any advise on what to do or what not to do when sending a manuscript to a publisher?
8:43 AM on February 6, 2010 
Dear My Hope,
Thanks for your comments -- I'll hope you get an opportunity to see the books first hand. And, yes, even before I ever set pen to paper, I had observed how profoundly moving and beautiful certain children's books could be. Personally, I don't know that I set out thinking consciously about 'touching' others but....inasmuch as that urge to write is born out of having been 'touched' by so many stories myself I believe it is almost natural that I may be reaching out in my words to do just that. It is a kind of re-payment, if you will, of all the authors who have fed me over the years that I somehow offer something back. Another way of answering your question might be to share with you the background for my book, UNCLE JAMES. I'll copy that below. Again, thanks for commenting - all best, Marc Harshman


This book draws part of its plot from recollected family tales and documents I inherited from my grandmother, especially her father's postcards from his years in the logging camps of the American Northwest early this century. Although I did not set out to tell a tale about alcoholism, it does, nonetheless, address this illness and, inasmuch as it does, I have hoped, with something like hindsight, that it provides true testimony and caution, as well as hope.
9:01 AM on February 6, 2010 
Hi, Peggy,

My first response to your question is to feed your passion by immersing yourself in all the children's books you can find. This will most likely come about through the children's collection of a good library, as well as, of course, a good book store. A familiarity with both what has been and is currently being published is essential. Beyond that, regarding your more specific question about how to submit a manuscript I would suggest joining SCBWI: the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. They are very helpful. Hope this helps! Best of luck! Marc Harshman

so I was wondering how did you go about getting your first childrens book published? Any advise on what to do or what not to do when sending a manuscript to a publisher?
Reply Brenda Seabrooke
10:32 AM on February 6, 2010 
20 beans! Marc - who knew? Did Cheryl can those beans? I hope you've written a poem about them!
Reply Laura Treacy Bentley
10:44 AM on February 6, 2010 
Since I've always wanted to go to Wales, I would love to hear a little more about your stay.
10:50 AM on February 6, 2010 
HI, Brenda!

Well, I suppose she did can a lot of those beans! But I would have helped, truly I would have! Have I written a poem about them? Geesh, I don't even know -- I'm pretty sure they've shown up in some way or other -- most of my life has a way of doing that sooner or later, showing up in words. And RED ARE THE APPLES has a whole page that begins: "white are the beans / dry now like leather." And Wade Zahares amazing art is somehow able to render those beans somehow dramatic & wonderful, aided, of course, by some truly zany chickens! Best, Marc
10:56 AM on February 6, 2010 
Hi, Laura - It's a long story but I'll see if I can keep it short. I have a good friend, John Freeman, wonderful poet & teacher at the University of Wales and on a visit to see him in Cardiff about 1983 he took me up into the coal valleys, you know the ones made famous by the Bells of Rhymney. And there I must have caught a glimpse of the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains looming north and northeast. Anyway, I felt drawn to them, even then, I think, and with a chance for holiday and writing, my family would head to those Black Mountains in the summer of 1992 [or thereabouts] and just stay put for about 6 weeks, writing and trekking. Very like WV it is in several ways. And with amazing good fortune I've been able to return for similar extended stays to the same region a few times since. Thanks for asking! Marc
Reply Barb Hinkle
8:52 PM on February 6, 2010 
Marc Harshman is one of my all time favorite poets! In addition, Marc is an extremely kind-hearted, good gentleman! I think it all comes from being partially raised by a pig! I enjoyed the questions and answers/
8:44 AM on February 7, 2010 
Hello, Barb - You have me blushing with all those kind words. And if there's any truth in what you say we'll have to put it down to the pig. By the way her name was, yes, of course, Polly. A Hampshire sow, black banded with white around her middle. There's still a photo of her standing with me -- they're not small animals -- she stood as tall as me aged 4 or 5. Peace, Marc
Reply Debbie Short
2:11 PM on February 7, 2010 
When serving as Canon for Congregational Development for the Episcopal Diocese of WV, I had the privilege of getting to know Marc and engage him any opportunity I could. What a gift he was to us, whether leading a forum on story telling, reciting poetry, or serving on one of our commissions. We are all better off for knowing Marc.
Reply Eddy
3:55 PM on February 7, 2010 
Hi, Marc,

I'm curious about which comes more easily to you--poetry or stories? And, of course, why.
10:35 AM on February 8, 2010 
What can I say, Debbie, but that you are too kind. And thanks.
10:46 AM on February 8, 2010 
Hi, Eddy,

What a pleasant surprise to hear from you here. What comes more easily? Truly, not a question 'easy' to answer! I'd guess I would say that the poetry comes more easily in that I feel as if, on a good day, I am breathing it, that it comes/flows in a kind of effortless way -- NOT that even in those gifted moments the poetry itself is any good but it does 'come,' the bare bones of it, with a kind of ease that does not mark the arrival of children's stories. There are exceptions, of course, and those would be the children's stories that are closest to poetry--- ONLY ONE came in a flash, as did parts of ALL THE WAY TO MORNING. But most of the children's stories are set in a prose line and that always poses a greater challenge to me, a challenge I enjoy, a challenge that strengthens me with every return to the page, yet still a challenge as opposed to what can feel like the grace-filled open flood gate of a poem.
And "why?" I shouldn't even hazard a response as I'm very unsure but.... I will say that I did little but read voraciously every poem I could get my hands on for the first fifteen years I was writing and beginning to take seriously my own writing. And though I was reading some children's literature, I was not yet reading it with an eye to actually penning a children's story myself. That it happened at all I still consider one of those serendipitous blessings that rather dumbfounds me for any more coherent explanation.
Reply Betsy Hurley
6:35 PM on February 15, 2010 
Hello Marc,

I just loved this, especially Black Mountains in Wales for Red are the Apples!
thank you so much for sending this, we just received our 12th issue of the journal.
Rebecca Skloot is lecturing on Wed. she wrote her book at the WV farm.
Stay well friend,
Betsy Hurley
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