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Looking ahead with Harrison Mooney, author of Invisible Boy

By Kobo • June 22, 2023Author Interviews

Harrison Mooney is the winner of the 2023 Rakuten Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Nonfiction for Invisible Boy: A Memoir of Self-Discovery

Kobo in Conversation host Michael Tamblyn spoke with Harrison and his partner Toni about writing the book and winning this prize.

Kobo: Writing a book, maybe especially a first book—that can be a very lonely experience. How was it for you?

Harrison Mooney: It was horrible! Not only was I down in the laundry room for eight hours a day working on this book, but also going through childhood memories and trauma, trying to write it out and make it make sense. It was really disorienting, re-experiencing it all that way.

There wasn’t really anybody I could call to ask, “hey, do you remember when this happened?” I was just so glad to have Toni to come to at the end of the day and try to read to her what I’d written.

Toni: While our kids cried?

[both laugh]

Kobo: That’s actually my next question. For you this is such a personal story—did it help having someone that you could sit down with at the end of the day to unpack that work of remembering and interpreting onto the page?

HM: It didn’t just help—it was essential. At the end of every day, the thing I needed most was to come upstairs and plug back into the life we have now.

Spending all that time in my memories, I found there was a tendency to slip back into that mindset. But I’m a different person now: I have love now, and I’m happy now. I would forget that until I made my way upstairs to talk to Toni.

Kobo: Toni, we’re so glad to have you along for this because we know that while any book is being written, there’s stuff going on around that process. There’s a home, family, a whole context around the creative work. What was the house like while Harrison worked on Invisible Boy?

Toni: Through the writing of this book we had two kids under two in the house and it was COVID. Without any office to write in, Harrison would head down to the laundry room as I stayed with the kids trying to keep them quiet enough for him to concentrate and write.

At the end of every day the thing I needed most was to come upstairs and plug back into the life we have now.

And I think because those memories he was digging into were so traumatic, he just got weirder and weirder as he wrote the book. It was a very strange experience.

HM: You were pretty worried about me!

Toni: I think it was hard on your mental health! [both laughing]

Kobo: Now that you've won the 2023 Emerging Writer Prize for Nonfiction, what does tomorrow bring?

HM: After we pay off a couple of bills, I’m going to convince Toni to let us spend some of this on a vacation.

But first I need to go laptop shopping. Mine got stolen from the library a month ago, and that’s why we’re doing this interview on my son’s iPad.

Kobo: Tell me how you’re each feeling right now.

Toni: It was such a risk writing this book. Harrison had to quit his job, which had come with a lot of security. So jumping into this head-first with two kids was just so risky. I thought he was a pretty good writer, but, obviously, I’m biased. To have that sense validated, to know that we made the right choice—that just feels so good.

HM: Winning any award at all has been my lifelong dream. I still have trouble holding onto my own self-worth: I don’t remember that I’m any good most days. I’m always looking for external validation while kicking myself for needing it. That’s what’s going on for me.

I also need to call my therapist about how this is hitting me. I might be feeling too good right now.

Kobo: What would you tell your younger self who was thinking about becoming a writer if you could pass them a note through time?

HM: I’ve always doubted myself. Everything I was good at was like a delusion of grandeur. Like I write in the book, my family would tell me, “You’re arrogant. You’ve got such a big head.” But I was pretty sure I could write, that I could do this. So I’d like to tell that boy, “You can do this. You’re right about yourself.”

And honestly, it’s just now—today—that I feel like I’m able to say, I was right, I’m good at this.

I’m not sure how to feel good about myself. Where do I put my arms? [Toni laughs]

Kobo: What kind of effect do you hope this book might have on readers?

HM: I want to give people the language to discuss these kinds of experiences in their own lives. I want this to be a jumping-off point for other adoptees to talk to their adoptive families and to feel like they have license to explore their own histories. I want this book to give us a way to have this conversation.

Kobo: Was writing Invisible Boy an investigation or was it a release?

HM: A little of both. I had put all of this stuff away and decided I would move forward. You know, everybody’s had a tough childhood, everybody has identity issues. But as I spoke to other adoptees, I realized there was really something here. The identity issues, the depression, the dislocation—all of that is something that we need to tackle.

I’ve always doubted myself. Everything I was good at was like a delusion of grandeur.

I was reacting to a lot of these realizations in real-time. It felt awful, but I felt that I was healing and growing and getting past things I thought I’d never get past. Maybe it started as an investigation but ended as a release.

Kobo: Toni, is Harrison different coming out of the experience of writing the book than he was at the start?

Toni: Absolutely. In so many ways. [to Harrison] You’re in charge of yourself now. You were someone who wanted to be a writer, and now you are one. I think you were more concerned with how other people saw you. Now you’re getting into your weird era.

HM: I really am. I think I used to want to fit in and get along.

But by the end of this book, I was just so weird. I didn’t feel the need to try to fit in anymore.

Kobo: Were there writers you were checking in with along the way as you wrote this book?

HM: I spoke with Chelene Knight a lot. And I was checking in almost weekly with [2022 Emerging Writer Prize Finalist] Sarah Berman, the author of Don’t Call it a Cult; she was reading my chapters and giving me feedback.

And I spoke to William Gibson a few times.

Kobo: That is not a name I thought you were going to bring up!

HM: He was so magnanimous and generous—and helpful. I asked him some questions about how we handle the book deal stuff, and even writing structure. His advice made such a difference.

I’m going to remember how William Gibson treated me, and when anyone reaches out to me, I’m going to make sure I give them the exact same treatment. ◼

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Invisible Boy: A Memoir of Self-Discovery by Harrison Mooney

A narrative that amplifies a voice rarely heard—that of the child at the centre of a transracial adoption—and a searing account of being raised by religious fundamentalists.

View eBook    View Audiobook

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