“Neither Here Nor There” is the second novel by out local author Nikki Harmon. The story concerns Kim, a biophysics major at Temple University, who dreams of working for NASA. She lives with her mom and stepfather, who try to ignore the fact that she is a lesbian. When Kim experiences a kind of double vision, she learns to harness her powers, unaware that her “skills” — which include jumping through time — are part of her professor’s covert experiment. As Kim meets other students like her, they band together to stop nefarious forces from taking over the world.
Harmon, who published the book under her Mt. Airy Girl Press imprint, will have a book launch at the Colored Girls Museum, 4613 Newhall Street, on Saturday, Oct. 26 at 12:30 p.m. She will also read from her book at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane, in Mt. Airy Village, on Nov. 10, at 2 p.m.
In a recent phone interview, the author explained that she has always loved science-fiction books, TV series and films, and wanted to write something in the genre. “My previous life, I was a filmmaker, but there’s more overhead to make a film. So, I was influenced by Michelle Parkerson’s 1993 short film, ‘Odds and Ends,’ about two Black lesbians in space. Part of what I wanted was to have an everyday girl you would know on the street end up in this kind of really crazy circumstance — a position where she’s forced to be heroic, even though that’s really not who she wanted to be.”
Kim does come across as realistic, visiting her friend Jen or hanging out with Meer, a girl from her high school she becomes romantically involved with before her life takes a drastic turn. Harmon explained her need to establish a reality before the story gets metaphysical.
“I wanted to make sure you felt you knew where Kim was coming from. Her relationship with her mother was not dramatic, horrible or over the top. She wishes it was better, but it is what it is, and she has to deal with it because she doesn’t have money to move out. I also wanted to make sure she had friends, Jen and Kendra, who she could talk to and who were consistent throughout her life. She didn’t have to prove herself to them.”
She continued, “Kim is the quiet nerd in the corner, and she changes when she encounters different dimensions and timelines. In one episode, she gets involved with Meer in high school — which didn’t happen originally — and that shows how different people can change your life track.”
Kim is also seduced by Savvy, whom Kim follows to MIT in one episode. Savvy tries to manipulate the system to get ahead and hopes to convince Kim to do the same. What transpires, however, defines both of their characters.
Time jumping forces readers to recalibrate their thoughts and feelings about Kim. In one moment, Kim is very buttoned-up, but in another, she is rebellious. Her character shifts throughout “Neither Here Nor There,” which makes the book so engaging.
“You are always making choices,” Harmon acknowledged one of the themes of her novel. “Being gay is not a choice. Coming out is a choice. How you decide to express yourself as a choice. Kim and Savvy have a clandestine relationship whenever Savvy wanted it. They put aside their queerness for their career goals. Kim jumps to another timeline where she’s married to a guy named John and chose to make her mother happy. She’s a science teacher rather than trying to pursue a NASA career and is living the life her mother wanted her to live.”
The author’s prismatic approach to storytelling allows her to explore issues of identity and belonging. Harmon divulged, “The first half of the novel is about Kim being able to make her choices and how they affect her and who she is. But then I wanted her to be in an action-adventure story and do something bigger than herself — something expansive. I wanted her to be a hero in this story and part of this cohort who find her and know who she is and have met her in a couple of timelines. Kim is the lynchpin to turn things around and stop detrimental things from happening in the world.”
Harmon makes “Not Here Nor There” appeal to all queer readers, whether sci-fi fans or not. She observed, “I never felt that queer people were not in science fiction. Read ‘Dhalgren’ by Samuel R. Delany. It’s always been there, but it doesn’t get a lot of attention.”
Hopefully, Harmon and her novel will get the attention they deserve.