Thursday, May 20, 2010

Special Guest, Kelly A. Harmon!

Hello everyone! Today, I’m very pleased to have as my guest blogger award-winning author Kelly A. Harmon here to answer a few questions. Kelly is a former newspaper reporter who still writes non-fiction. In her fiction writing, Kelly’s short story, Lies, was short-listed for the 2008 Aeon Award and her novella, Blood Soup, won the July 2008 Fantasy Gazetteers Novella Contest. Eternal Press released Blood Soup in print and Ebook format in late 2009.

Jason: Kelly, when and how did you start writing fiction?

Kelly: I’ve always written fiction! I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to be a writer.

I scribbled constantly in a three-ring binder full of loose-leaf all through grade school. At home, I would use my Mom’s Royal manual typewriter, eking-out one or two typed pages a day before my fingers would smart from those sticky keys. I harangued my parents continually for an electric typewriter, which I finally received for my 12th birthday. That’s when I really started churning out the words. (That’s also when I taught myself to type—I still can’t use my right pinky to shift.)

Jason: What were some of your earliest influences?

Kelly: Several authors were influential in forming my literary tastes: Robert Heinlein, Carole Nelson Douglas, Katherine Kurtz, Terry Brooks. I was reading Heinlein in grade school, thanks to a librarian who steered me in that direction, and I LOVED Edward Eager’s Half Magic and Patricia Coffin’s The Gruesome Green Witch. I still re-read those.

I remember a friend handing me the hardback version of Brooks’ Sword of Shannara over the high-backed seat of the school bus. The dust jacket was missing, the black, cloth binding showed a lot of wear. Obviously, it was well-loved. I loved it, too. I can’t decide if it’s Brooks’ Shannara series, or Douglas’ Six of Swords (which I had to read with a dictionary by my side) that was most influential in steering me toward a life of fantasy.

Jason: I am also a full-time journalist. How do you find the one form (journalism) affects the other (fiction) and/or vice-a-versa?

Kelly: I was worried when took a full-time job as a reporter that writing non-fiction would suck the life out of my fiction. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I’m not certain if it was the excitement of the job or the fact that I was already in some kind of “writing zone” by reporting all day, but I found that when I worked as a reporter my fiction output skyrocketed.

In the first three months of writing for the paper, I knocked out the first draft of a novel – about 120,000 words. It was impossible to keep up that output, but I still managed to write a significant amount while employed there. When I stopped reporting, I noticed my fiction output take a nosedive.

I think reporting also educates you about people: You get to meet folks from all walks of life–often in situations they never thought to find themselves in. Talking to people when they’re most vulnerable is a learning experience. Knowing how relationships work, how people react under pressure, and being able to write about it lends credibility to fictional accounts. I don’t think writing fiction affects writing non-fiction as much.

Jason: Your latest release, Blood Soup, can be found at Eternal Press. Tell us a little about it and where the inspiration came from.

Kelly: Blood Soup is a story of murder, betrayal and comeuppance.

The story opens with a pregnant Queen Piacenza. Her husband, King Theodicar naturally hopes for a male heir. But the Queen is from Omera, where the first-born rules, no matter what the sex of the child. This causes no end of friction between them.

The Queen’s nursemaid, Salvagia, casts runes about the birth. Over and over, they yield the same message: “A girl child must rule or the kingdom will fall to ruin.” The women are convinced the baby will be a girl. When the queen finally gives birth, the nurse and the king are equally surprised, and Theodicar is faced with a terrible choice. His decision will determine the fate of his kingdom. Will he choose wisely, or will he doom Borgund to ruin?

I'm an avid genealogist. When I was writing Blood Soup, I was researching the Polish side of my family and putting together a family-recipe book. One of the recipes was for a special-occasion soup called "Czarnina" (char-NEE-nah). In English, it’s referred to as Blood Soup.

Despite the sound of its name, Blood Soup isn't such a sinister thing. There is some blood involved, but it only constitutes a small fraction of what is used to create the broth. The other ingredients are fairly routine and include cloves, peppercorn and fresh apples and pears, which create a sweet-and-sour soup.

As I worked through the plotting process, I acknowledged that blood is a requirement for life. Any great loss of it, and we perish. So, I considered ways by which blood could be used for healing or as a medicinal ingredient. Taking it a step further, I wondered at the efficacy of using blood to save the life of another person: Could blood from a well person pull a dying person back from the brink? Could it strengthen a weak constitution? I looked at whether or not a person could subsist on a diet of mostly blood...human or animal. And, what happens to someone who develops such a taste, so much so that it’s like an addition?

That line of questioning solidified Prince Amalric’s character: He was a weakling as a child and was fed blood to fortify him. He came to crave it as a youngster, often demanding it. He reveals his strong temper—like an addict—when someone has eaten the last bowl of soup which he considers his.

Although King Theodicar set in motion the events which lead to Amalric’s eventual rule, Blood Soup is actually about Amalric, whose blood lust was thrust upon him by a determined father and who must come to realize that he’s not the rightful heir to Borgund.

Jason: What else do you have coming out that you’d like to talk about?

Kelly: My story “Selk-Skin Deep” is available this month in the Bad Ass Fairies 3 anthology: In all Their Glory. It’s an alternate history about the Vietnam War. The hero, Cade Owen is a selke (a Scottish faerie who is a seal, but can shed his skin and become human) who is also a Navy SEAL. He’s assigned to an aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Tonkin and has to...well, you’ll have to read it to find out.

I’ll be at Balticon over Memorial Day weekend for the launch party. I’m also teaching a seminar during the convention on How to Submit Short Work for Publication.

I have a non-fiction chapter coming out later this year in the book “The Complete Guide to Writing Paranormal: Undead, Cursed and Inhuman.” It’s a piece about joining or forming a critique group, and how to give a good critique.

Jason: You recently re-published your short story The Dragon’s Clause as a single on Kindle after it appeared in the anthology Black Dragon, White Dragon. How did you go about doing that? Is this something you would recommend for other short story authors?

Kelly: Amazon is smart. They make it very easy for anyone to publish to Kindle: just format your story how you want it to appear and upload to their servers. I spent a few hours trying to make it perfect, but could have done a decent job in far less time.

When I was satisfied with the way it looked, I published it. The hardest part (for me) was waiting 48 hours for the file to wind its way through their servers and into the Amazon search engine.

I did have the cover artwork professionally done by an artist named Crystalwizard. Good artwork is important. It functions the same as the cover of a book in a traditional book shop: A good cover will catch someone’s interest and, perhaps, lead to a sale.

Do I recommend other authors do it? I think it depends on the situation. For me, it was a no-brainer: I’d written a one-off story (dragons not being my usual cup of tea) that I was having no luck selling on the re-print market. I could have held it for a while until the rights of some of my other shorts reverted and packaged them all as an anthology...but those stories are so different...I’m not sure that would have worked.

I’ve got several short stories under submission to various markets right now. If they don’t sell, I won’t put them on Kindle. I like the “legitimacy” of the story having had an editor’s approval first. Just like some buyers won’t purchase a self-published book, I think there will be some Kindle owners who won’t purchase a self-published e-book. But, the line is blurring. I may change my mind later.

Dragon’s Clause is also available at iFiction as HTML. I wanted to offer non-Kindle owners the opportunity to buy it, too. Since a large factor in selling books is “discoverability,” I’m looking for other venues to sell it, too. I think that makes smart business sense.

Jason: What about writing do you find the most challenging, and how do you deal with these issues?

Kelly: Since I work full time and have more than a two-hour commute daily, finding time to write is my biggest problem. I’ve learned to use those little bits of loose time that crop up during the day. For instance, while waiting in line at the post office yesterday, I was able to write a few pages of prose in a small notebook I carry. I scribble away while pumping gas. The moments I love the best are when I’m waiting for someone else to arrive...because I like to arrive early for meetings, and most people I know are usually late. Lots of “found” time there!

I do get a chunk of time late in the evening to write. It’s hard to ignore my inner nag: Put in a load of laundry, dust the bureau, check your email. I turn on music and try to focus on the project at hand. Most of the time, I’m successful.

That’ll wind things up for now. Thanks Kelly for giving us some very interesting insight into your writing and creative process. Feel free to stop by any time. Good luck to you on all your future writing endeavors!

Feel free to check out all things Kelly at the following web locations:

--Twitter: @kellyaharmon
--Facebook Fan Page:
--Amazon Author Page:


  1. Hi Jason!
    Thank you for having me here today.

  2. My pleasure Kelly. Stop by any time!