Sharon Kennedy – Pickford’s Treasure: Sue Harrison

It isn’t often a small country town is home to a world-renown author, but Pickford in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the exception. Sue Harrison is known and loved by the locals, not just because of her fame as an internationally acclaimed author, but because she is a kind, generous, thoughtful and totally down-to-earth woman. Anyone who is privileged to call her “friend” knows her value as a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother outweighs her stardom.

Born in Lansing but raised in Pickford, Sue was the first of five children. Little did her parents, Bob and Pat McHaney, know she would gain worldwide recognition for her writing. From an early age, they knew she loved reading, but had no idea that love would result in penning bestselling books. Success as a novelist didn’t happen right away. First, there was graduation from Pickford High School in 1968 and then marriage to Neil Harrison in 1969. Graduating summa cum laude and earning a B.A. in English Language and Literature from Lake Superior State University (LSSU) in 1971 came next, then raising their children, Neil, Jr. and Krystal. Prior to her career as a novelist, Sue was a stay-at-home mom and substitute teacher. When her children were older, she spent three years (1984-1987) with the Public Relations Department at LSSU as a writer and ultimately the acting director. In 1992, Sue was named LSSU’s Distinguished Alumna. She served eight years on their Board of Regents.

So how does an acting public relations director at a small U.P. university transition to a beloved, international novelist? Dedication to a dream that wouldn’t go away, that’s how. Dedication and years of research and the ability to focus like a laser on developing the talent she knew was a gift from God. Her first novel, Mother Earth Father Sky, published by Doubleday in 1990, was a main selection of the Literary Guide Book Club and alternate selection of the Doubleday Book Club. It was nominated as a Reader’s Choice Award by high school students in Michigan and Washington, and was one of a handful of books chosen for Alaska’s young adult market, “Battle of Books.” A year later, it was selected by the American Library Association as one of the Best Books for Young Adults.

But as we all know, Sue’s audience for her first book was not limited to young people. Adults loved it, too. It received a review in The New York Times Book Review and has been a national Publishers Weekly bestseller. It also charted among Amazon’s top three paid e-books. My Sister the Moon, her second novel published by Doubleday, was another bestseller and another main selection of the Literary Guild Book Club as well as an alternate selection of the Doubleday Book Club. It would become part of the Ivory Carver Trilogy and was followed by Brother Wind, published by William Morrow, and took its place among the aforementioned national book clubs. These stories are epic adventures set in prehistoric Alaska. I asked Sue why she chose that state instead of Michigan. She replied:

“I was inspired by renowned novelist Alex Haley’s book, Roots, and decided I wanted to write about the roots of Native Americans. I centered my first research about the Native cultures of Michigan, but I soon realized that to write about the first Native American people, I needed to take my research to Alaska. Most anthropologists believe that many of North American’s earliest Native populations migrated to this continent from ancient Asia and then through or along the coasts of Alaska. You can imagine my joy when Alex Haley graciously wrote a cover quote for Mother Earth Father Sky.

“My next books were Song of the River, Cry of the Wind, and Call Down the Stars. These stories comprise The Storyteller Trilogy. It’s been my experience that once people find a book they really enjoy, they don’t want it to end. Trilogies are an excellent way of keeping readers engaged. Although the writing can be exhausting, once a routine is established and committed to, the rest of the day is mine to share with friends and family. I have time to bake a walnut pie for Neil, attend a monthly reading group, play my favorite musical instruments which are piano, flute and stand up base, participate in church services, travel, and assist Neil in updating our Florida condo. A writer needs a well-balanced life to keep the creative juices flowing. The Lord gives us the gift, and it’s our responsibility to nurture and respect it.

“My newest novel, The Midwife’s Touch, will be released July 19, 2022. It’s a genre-blender set in the mid-1800s in the Missouri Ozarks and New York City. It’s an historical saga highlighted by a touch of fantasy founded on Ozark superstitions, folk medicine, Cherokee traditions, wilderness survival, and 19th century obstetrical practices. Here’s a teaser from the back cover: ‘Named for a broken china plate, China Creed grows up in a family torn apart by her curse—she has inherited the ability to grant wishes. China and her widowed mother do all they can to keep her gift a secret, but it is unpredictable and difficult to hide. When her mother apprentices her to a Cherokee midwife, China earns a respected place in their small Ozark community. However, a romantic relationship with the town’s doctor eventually draws her into the exotic world of New York City’s Gilded Age. Eventually betrayed by the people she trusts, China must rely on her back-country survival skills and her gift of wishes to escape those who would enslave her.’ If this brief synopsis piqued your interest, the book will be available in local bookstores, Amazon, and other online retailers. The Midwife’s Touch is the first novel in what will be The Wish Thief Trilogy.”

Sue’s books including Sisu, a middle reader book released by Thunder Bay Press, have been published in Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South America, and throughout Europe. Her work has been anthologized by Northwest Books, Wayne State University Press, and Michigan State University Press. They are available from Amazon in hardcover, paperback, e-books, and Audible. With all this success, how does Sue Harrison manage to stay the course as a beloved resident of a small community? She says the answer is simple: “My husband and family keep me grounded, and my parents taught me the true meaning of life is not found in a bank account or public accolades. It’s in knowing that God has blessed me and, in return, I try to pass that blessing on to others. I’m grateful for my ability to create characters, and I’m thankful to the people who look forward to meeting new ones. Each day is a gift.”

Sue’s parents were among her first readers. Her father was a speed reader who could easily read a book a day. He contributed comments and ideas and reminded her of the importance of never losing touch with her roots. He need not have worried. Although her condo will be a welcome respite from Easter Upper Peninsula winters, Sue’s roots are firmly planted in Pickford. If you want to meet her, plan on spending a couple hours on Saturday with the Pickford Pickers at the town’s community center. Led by Jim Lockhart, the Pickers play musical instruments and sing old-time songs that will transport you back to the days of your youth. You might even be inspired to twirl your loved one around the dance floor. For two hours, your troubles will be forgotten, just as they will when you immerse yourself in one of Sue’s outstanding books.

One Comment

  1. My gratitude gratitude to Sharon for writing this beautiful article and to the EUP News for publishing it! Thank you for giving my newest novel a shout out! Although THE MIDWIFE’S TOUCH is set in Missouri (my paternal grandfather’s home state), I believe our EUP people will find that their hardiness, strength, and ability to find joy in the backwoods life is mirrored and celebrated in the novel’s characters and the plot arc.

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