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The Seeds of "The Harvest"
By Scott Nicholson

A farmer goes to the field each spring with stubborn hope, a bucket, and a dream. He kicks and scratches through the hard ice of winter, searching for the dirt. Once a suitable hole has been excavated, he slides in a seed. Sometimes it’s watered only by his sweat, other times the season brings needed rain. The sun heats the ground, the seed splits and begins its push for the sky. At its first taste of oxygen, the young plant thrusts toward maturity, dodging drought, storms, wind, and the thousand other natural calamities conspiring against its success. The farmer nurtures the plant through summer and fall, then, in a miracle that seems nothing short of a gift from unseen gods, he reaps the small harvest.

My novel "The Harvest" was a little less miraculous than that, yet in some ways it overcame just as many obstacles. I started it early in 1997, having just finished a draft of an awful first novel. At the time I was working as a night shift deejay at a small AM radio station, which mostly required my punching up vapid Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey tunes for an audience numbering in the single digits. That meant I had the entire morning and early afternoon to myself, since the family was engaged in normal human activities during those typical working hours. What I lost in family togetherness, I made up for in efficiency, often writing six or seven hours a day.

The novel at that time had the title of "Forever Never Ends," a line stolen from a rock song I’d written. I finished the book in about three months and sent it around a little bit, though it was hard to categorize because, to me, it fell in a black hole between science fiction, horror, and Southern fiction. By the time the rejection slips started popping up in the mailbox, I was deep into a newer novel which I thought was better and more easy to put a handle on. It wasn’t until around 1999 or so that I went in and began serious revision. I took out some of the more ridiculously extreme elements, beefed up the characters a little, and tucked it back into its electronic filing cabinet.

It so happened that Kensington Books was interested in seeing another novel in the spring of 2002, shortly before "The Red Church" came out. I dusted off the novel, which was now called "Metabolism," and made another pass at it. Probably about 20,000 words had changed since the first draft. Kensington made an offer and my editor chose the title "The Harvest." Since I had a few months before the official deadline for turning in the novel, I did yet another revision, adding an element that cranked up the drama and ending up with an extra 10,000 words in the process.

I also brought the character of Tamara Leon to the forefront. Though the book is an ensemble piece, with at least a half-dozen major viewpoint characters and several significant supporting roles, I felt Tamara was the major player, since her connection to the menace is not only intimate but personally threatening. I’ve also learned over the years that having one or two major characters makes it easier to get a reader involved in the story.

At its heart, the book is nothing more a simple allegory of the rural Appalachians being conquered by arrogant invaders. I’ve seen this played out in the three decades I’ve lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with wealthy people coming in and buying up property, sprouting their cookie-cutter cabins and stone-gated subdivisions, and getting themselves elected to local government. I intended all along to turn the story into a twist on the old stereotype of the wild-eyed mountaineers being rescued from their own stupidity through the grace and kindness of benevolent and civilized city folk. I wanted my book to portray Appalachian natives in a heroic light.

While I cheekily bill the novel as "Deliverance meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers," the book’s second-most important character is Chester Mull, an old mountain farmer who has just enough of the stereotypical trappings to surprise the reader when he actually turns out to be adaptable, shrewd, and courageous. I must confess I did dip a little into "trailer trash" territory and perhaps went overboard with a few of the scenes, but on the whole I feel the novel is a respectable entry into the Southern Gothic tradition.

That said, "The Harvest" is a thrilling little ride and it’s not at all necessary to mind the themes while reading it. It has a raw energy which I like, and I wouldn't be surprised if a certain number of people like it better than my first novel "The Red Church." At the core, it’s about some people with a big problem. A problem that is so terrible that the world may never be the same, a prospect so devastating ...

Ah, but that’s another story.

(Copyright 2003 by Scott Nicholson)

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