Recently, I was able to correspond with speculative fiction author Kelly A. Harmon who has written the novel Dragons Clause and more recently published the novella Blood Soup. She is an accomplished wordsmith and writes with an imaginative and chilling style. Definitely a voice to be listened to and expect more great things from! I asked her if I could interview her and just get ideas on her writing history, habits, themes, etc. and she very graciously answered my questions. Here are the questions and responses:
1.When did you start writing and what was the impetus for you to start?
I’ve been writing forever. I don’t remember a time when I was not telling stories. Some of my earliest “masterpieces” are written in crayon.
For me, I think story telling was a natural evolution from reading. My parents encouraged reading – to their regret, initially, I’m sure – for as many times as they had to tell me to put a book down and do my homework, or clean my room, or go to bed!
2.How long did you write before you had anything published? What was your first story or novel that was published? Where was it published?
This is hard for me to answer. Since I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, you could say it’s taken me forever to get published…
In high school I’d set my sights on a journalism degree, and found a job at a local paper as a stringer. I had my first newspaper stories published when I was 15. It was a weekly paper, but it had tremendous circulation. I consider those stories professional credits. I continued to write for several local papers throughout high school and then college.
Professional fiction credits took longer to obtain, but I feel that was poor planning on my part. I enjoy writing novels. So, for a lot of years I concentrated on writing novels and trying to get them published. In some ways, I feel like that was wasted time: I should have been trying to write and sell some short fiction.
In 2008 I decided to concentrate on writing short fiction. I’ve had several short-fiction sales since then, including my novella, Blood Soup.
3.How do you feel now about your earlier works?
I like them as much now as I did when they were first published.
But, the early unpublished stuff? I’m not so fond of that, although I do keep all of it. The ideas are sound. It’s the execution that’s wanting.
4.If you were to give advice to a beginning writer about how to recognise if your writing is improving, what would you tell them?
In the short term, I think it’s very difficult for a beginning writer to recognize if his or her writing is improving. It’s tough for an advanced writer to see mistakes in what they wrote yesterday!
That old adage about putting something away for a few weeks and looking at it with fresh eyes is perfect way to see if there has been improvement. A beginner should be able to see improvement by looking at something he or she wrote six weeks ago compared to something they wrote yesterday.
Before a beginner tries this, however, I recommend zeroing in on one aspect he or she wants to improve and concentrate on that single skill: Sloppy grammar? Unrealistic dialogue? Showing, not telling. There are many parts to writing…and a writer may need improvement in more than one area. (Take heart! The corollary to this, of course, is that one writer cannot be “bad” at all of them.)
So: first I’d advise a beginning writer to identify what he or she wants to improve on. Read about how to improve that skill, do some exercises, some free writing, etc. Once there’s a show of some improvement, pick a different skill to sharpen.
5.What is your process or habits in regards to your writing?
I try to write every day. Writing daily, even if it’s only a few hundred words, keeps the momentum going. I find it much harder to pick up on a story line – even if I’ve got the outline in front of me – when I’ve let more than a few days pass.
Also, writing daily keeps me on pace with my goals. I set a yearly word count for myself in January (based on last year’s accomplishments) and divide that by 365 to get a daily objective. I like watching the total creep toward my goal as the year progresses.
In past years, I lumped both fiction and non-fiction together, but I’ve done so much blogging this year that I’ve decided to separate the two. Next year I’ll have both a fiction and a non-fiction goal.
6.Why do you write speculative fiction? Do you like the term speculative fiction? Do you prefer dark fantasy or horror as a descriptor for your work?
I write speculative fiction because it’s my favorite genre to read. SpecFic is a good “catch all” descriptor, but I usually tell people I write fantasy…I’ve had to explain the term “speculative” to too many people.
As for dark fantasy versus horror, I can’t say I prefer one over the other. I refer to Blood Soup as dark fantasy because it is a fantasy novel with some “dark” elements…in this case, murder, plus one of the main characters – the nursemaid, Salvagia – is a practicing witch. It would, in my opinion, be wrong to term the book horror, because it lacks the fright or gruesomeness or gory details I would associate with a horror story.
I guess it’s a matter of preconceived notions on my part: one colleague who read the book – not a fan of fantasy at all – told me she thoroughly enjoyed the “suspense” story I wrote.
7.Do you see themes that preside throughout your work? Or themes that you regularly return to?
I write character-driven stories, so many of my themes have to do with personality or relationships. I enjoy taking a brash, young character at the beginning of the story and maturing him as the story progresses.
Honor is the major theme in my novel WIP. I have to teach my hero that not everything is black-and-white. He’s got to learn that gray areas exist, and that compromise is necessary; that standing on high moral ground gains him nothing in the short term, and will lose him everything he desires if he doesn’t bend.
It’s a cruel lesson to teach…especially in the harsh conditions of the snowy mountains, while being pursued by demons, and a mercenary army. (After all, if you’re going to teach him a lesson, why make it easy?)
I also like to explore the idea of “promises” in my stories. In my WIP, the female lead tricks the hero into making her a promise. She does everything in her power to make certain the promise is kept, including tagging along with him, so she can monitor his actions. But her demands put others and herself in danger. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that she doesn’t want the promise to be fulfilled– but demanding that it is keeps her in the company of our hero–which she craves. If she releases him from the promise, they’ll part, but if she demands fulfillment, he’ll leave her afterward in disgust. What a situation, yes?
In my story The Dragon’s Clause, a small town finds out what happens when you renege on a contract – a promise, of sorts — with a dragon.
8.Describe your most recently published novel? Where did the idea for it come from? Did you start with a particular character or scene in mind?
Blood Soup is my most recent “long” fiction. It’s a novella.
This story grew less organically than most of my stories do. I’d been invited to participate in the 3-day novel contest with a friend, and I didn’t want to “waste” any of my current ideas on the project. In my mind, the weekend was simply going to be an exercise in word count.
So, I “decided” I wanted to write a medieval story about a witch. I bounced a few ideas off my husband, he added some suggestions, I twisted those around, and a story was born.
9.What comes next?
My story Selk-Skin Deep recently appeared in the Bad Ass Fairies 3 Anthology: In All Their Glory. It’s an alternate history about a Vietnam War skirmish. The main character, Cade Owen, is a selkie, and a Navy SEAL.
And, I recently got word that my short story, “Lucky Clover,” has been accepted for the Drollerie Press anthology, “Magicking in Traffic.” I haven’t decided yet if Lucky Clover is a ghost story or a psychological thriller.
I’ve got a few other short stories making the rounds at various markets, and I hope to place a few of them by the end of the year. I’m trying to make the time to polish up my novel and start looking for an agent…but I’m having too much fun writing short fiction!
Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog, Annette. These questions were a lot of fun.
Thanks Kelly for being cool and answering all of my questions!
Kelly’s blog can be found at: http://kellyaharmon.com
She is on Twitter: @kellyaharmon
Please check out Kelly A. Harmon’s work!