Author Interview — Kelly A. Harmon

KellyAHarmon03172010eI’m pleased to welcome author Kelly A. Harmon to the world of Poseidon’s Scribe.   Kelly writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction.

A former newspaper reporter, Kelly says she “used to write truthful, honest stories about authors and thespians, senators and statesmen, movie stars and murderers. Now she writes lies, which is infinitely more satisfying, but lacks the convenience of doorstep delivery, especially on rainy days.”

Among her many enjoyable stories are “The Dragon’s Clause” and “Blood Soup.”

cover_dragonsClause2The Dragon’s Clause:” For hundreds of years, the city-state of San Marino has paid tribute to the dragon living beneath their mountain city. But humans are forgetful, and no one alive has ever seen the dragon. Though a contract exists, the people feel they are just throwing their money away. Find out what happens when the city residents renege on their contract with the dragon.

cover_BloodSoup2012_Final_250Blood Soup:” Danger awaits the Kingdom of Borgund if a woman fails to take the throne. When the pregnant Queen finally gives birth, the king faces a terrible choice. Will he choose wisely or doom the kingdom to ruin?

I read and loved both these stories, and posted reviews here and here.  And now for the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe:  When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Kelly A. Harmon:  I’ve been writing all my life. Seriously. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing a story.

As for the why of it: because I can’t not.  I’ve taken little vacations from writing, but, like some crazy illness, I can’t get away from it.  There’s actually a Latin phrase for this: Cacoethes Scribendi.  The phrase comes from the Juvenal’s Satires, wherein he states, “Tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoethes.” “The incurable desire for writing affects many.”  My first Web site was called Cacoethes Scribendi.

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

K.H.:  It’s all easy…and it’s all hard. Some days are just easier than others.  Writing is easier when I know where the story is going: words just seem to flow. The difficulties come when I want to write about something, but don’t have a clear picture in my mind. When that happens, I put the story away and work on something else until I have time to think about it.

P.S.:  What inspired you to write “Blood Soup” and “The Dragon’s Clause?”

K.H.:  “Blood Soup” is the product of the 3-day novel contest. I wanted to see if I could write a story in three days.  The rules allowed you to plot the novel before you started, so I had a little cribsheet—a postcard actually—with a series of scenes I wanted to write. I got all the way to the last day, when you’re supposed to mail it off to the judges…and a thunderstorm rolled through the area and blacked out my power for over an hour. I was devastated!  But it came back on before the deadline and I was able to submit.  I submitted a finished novel, but it didn’t win one of the big-three prizes. However, “Blood Soup” did go on to win first place in the Fantasy Gazetteers contest and was published later than year by an unaffiliated publisher.

“The Dragon’s Clause” is one of my favorite short stories! I wrote it on spec for an anthology, and was tickled pink when it was accepted.  It was clearly a case of, “I want to be published there…what can I write?”

P.S.: What is the audience you’re trying to reach in your stories?

K.H.:  Honestly, I write for myself. I strive to write well, and I’m always looking to improve, but I’d write whether or not there was an audience. (See: Cacoethes Scribendi). However, I hope my novels appeal to anyone who enjoys escape. I’d like to entertain more than anything.

P.S.:  What are your favorite genres to write in?

K.H.:  Six months ago I would have said epic fantasy unequivocally. However, I’m starting to write some contemporary urban fantasy, and it’s a lot of fun.  Look for a book or maybe two by the end of the year.

P.S.:  In your opinion, why does the fantasy genre seem to have such staying power?

K.H.:  I think there are a lot of reasons people like fantasy: most of the tropes are familiar—old English settings, for example, though a lot of really good fantasy breaks out of that mold—and people are comfortable with it. It’s easily relatable with a lot of magic and excitement tossed in.  It’s definitely escapist.

P.S.: Every Friday, your blog features prompts for fiction writers; do you find you need a prompt to get going with a story?

K.H.: I find that I don’t need a prompt to write, but I sometimes like to use one.  I have enough story ideas to write for a lifetime, but a prompt is very useful in sidetracking my brain to think in a different way. I might use a prompt or two to see where it might lead me in my current work in progress or to start a short story. I find prompts especially useful for creating short story plots.

P.S.: What is your current writing project?

K.H.: I’m busy, busy, busy!  I’m in the process of getting all my previously published short stories back into print and electronic—including a collection or two which will contain some stories not yet published. I’m finalizing edits on a novel—which I’ve received an offer on. If I decide to sign the contract, you’ll see it in early 2015.  I’m also working on the third book of a sexy urban fantasy.  The first in the series is on the desk of an editor right now, and I’m working on edits of the 2nd.

P.S.: What advice can you offer to aspiring writers?

K.H.: Write every day. Don’t wait for inspiration. Listen to criticism, but be true to your voice.

Thank you very much, Kelly!  The entire staff at Poseidon’s Scribe wishes you every success.  My readers can find out more about Kelly A. Harmon at her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Her author site at Amazon.com is here.

                                                                         Poseidon’s Scribe

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September 29, 2013Permalink

Cure: Writer’s Block

Earlier I blogged about writer’s block, but focused on symptoms and causes.  Today, let’s talk about getting over it.

Writers blockAs before, I’ll limit the discussion to minor writer’s block (minWB), the short-term state of being stuck while in the middle of a writing project.  I’ll blog about Major Writer’s Block (MajWB) another time.

My many fans—both of them, actually, including my Dad—will recall that I stated there are several types of minWB, which I divided as follows:

  • Story-related problems
  • Writing-related problems, but not about the story
  • Personal, but non-writing, problems

I also stated that if you pinpoint which problem you have, that suggests a cure. For story-related problems such as plot, character, setting, or others, here are a few things you can try:  (1) set the story aside awhile and let your subconscious (your muse) work on the problem, (2) try sketching a mind-map of the problem and creatively come up with multiple solutions, then select the best, or (3) ask your critique group or beta reader for help.

The craft-related problems all boil down to matters of attitude leading to negative mental associations, leading to stress.  Since one type of craft-related problem is the pressure of the audience seeming too close, I have to point out what some might consider a contradiction in the advice I, Poseidon’s Scribe, have given out.  In this blog entry I suggested, if you’re feeling the ‘presence’ of the reader too intensely, just forget about that audience and write freely for yourself.

However, just two weeks ago I urged you to keep the reader in mind, always.

Which advice is right—ignore the reader or be ever mindful of the reader?

(Aside:  witness the clever way I get out of this paradox.)

I was right both times.  In general, it is always wise to acknowledge that you’re writing to be read by others.  Therefore, you should write with precision, avoiding ambiguity, so as to be understood.  But if the fear of being criticized or disliked is paralyzing you into inaction, if the anticipation of bad reviews leaves you trembling before your keyboard, then forget about those readers for a while.  Ignore them during your early drafts and focus on getting your story done.

Then in the later drafts, I suggest you visualize yourself as a sort of super-editor, far more critical of your own work than any reader could be, and yet able to fix every problem you find.  In this way, you minimize your fear of the reader and substitute confidence in yourself.

That ‘visualization’ method may work for many of the minWB craft-related problems, by imagining a near-future version of yourself having already overcome the problem and working steadily on the story.  Visualize yourself being in the flow, and once again gripped by the same enthusiasm you had when you first conceived the story idea.  In this way you can change the mental linkages you’ve developed and re-associate writing with fun, success, and confidence rather than stress, fatigue, and inadequacy.

As to the last category of minWB, that of personal problems such as illness, depression, relationship difficulties, or financial woes, you need to confront those problems head-on first.  Until you have a plan for solving them, and start to execute that plan, it will be tough to concentrate on writing.

Do these suggested cures work for you?  Do you know of others I should have recommended?  Unblock yourself and leave a comment for—

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

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September 21, 2013Permalink

When Your Protagonist Meets You

It saddens me to report that author Ann (A.C.) Crispin died a few days ago, on September 6.  Before I discuss my connection with her, I should give you a brief bio.

ac-crispinA.C. Crispin was a science fiction writer who established herself with “tie-in” novels delving into the characters of established universes of Star Trek, Star Wars, the V miniseries, and others.  She also created her own Starbridge series of novels.

Angered at how some agents, editors, and publishers cheat beginning writers, Crispin co-founded a group called Writer Beware in 1998 to both warn writers and to help law enforcement agencies prosecute scam artists.

I don’t know exactly when, perhaps ten or fifteen years ago, I enrolled in a creative writing course at my local community college.  A.C. Crispin taught it.  I recall her being a tough teacher, direct and honest with those whom she thought should consider non-writing pursuits.  She usually said encouraging things to me about the homework I submitted, though.

A.C. Cripsin’s lectures contained references to the great works of literature, and she’d look around the class for flashes of recognition.  When she didn’t see any, she admonished us to read the classics if we wanted to write well.

She asked us all a question on the first day of class that has stuck with me.  None of us answered it correctly, and she’s written about the question in her essay, “The Key to Making Your Characters Believable.”

If the protagonist of any of your stories saw you walking along the street, and recognized you as the writer, what would he or she do upon meeting you?  The answer, if you’ve done your job properly, is  the protagonist would punch you in the nose.  After all, your story drags that protagonist through bad and progressively worse situations.  You’ve challenged that protagonist with tests of character that force him or her to confront deep, inner beliefs or fears.  Perhaps in addition, you’ve pitted the world against your protagonist, multiplying the external problems that character must face.  No wonder that protagonist is furious with you!

While you cowered from the rain of your creation’s blows, your nose bleeding, you’d be blubbering that you had to do it, you were forced put the protagonist through Hell for the readers’ benefit, to make a compelling story.  That would probably sound pretty hollow to your character, I suspect.

Luckily, your fictional creations won’t be meeting you on the street or in any dark alleys.  You are free to force them to crawl through mud and gore, to confront giant monsters, to face their deepest terrors, to suffer the despair of lost love.  All with complete impunity.  Go ahead; they can’t strike back, and your readers expect you to write stories like that.  That was A.C. Crispin’s message to the class.

Goodbye, Ann Crispin, and thank you.  Not only did you touch readers with your novels, you protected budding authors through your Writer Beware group, and inspired many beginning scribblers, like—                                            

                                             Poseidon’s Scribe

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September 15, 2013Permalink

Readers on My Mind

Just a few thoughts today about the relationship between writers like you and the readers you aim to delight.  Much of this will sound simplistic, but if you hang with me, perhaps we’ll both learn something.

writer-reader 2Years ago I took a classroom course in communication.  In essence, all communication is an attempt to convey one or more ideas from one mind to another, the trouble being that there are all sorts of filters in between so communication is never perfect.  In the class they asked, “Given that there’s a person transmitting and a person receiving, who is responsible for the quality of the communication?”

It’s not necessarily the transmitter, nor the receiver.  The Zen-like answer they were looking for is you.  Whether you are the transmitter or receiver, you need to strive toward a clear conveyance of the idea from one mind to another.

When we consider writing, it’s different from other forms of communication.  Some forms, like talking, dramatic plays, stand-up comedy, or musical concerts have an advantage in that the receiver is present in the room with the transmitter.  The transmitter gets instant visual feedback about the quality of the communication, allowing her to alter her approach in real-time to improve it.

Obviously that’s not the case with writing.  The writer and reader are almost never present in the same room.  In fact, thanks to the permanence of the medium, the writer need not even be alive when the communication takes place.  The writer gets no immediate feedback from the reader, and certainly cannot adjust the communication on the fly.

So the measure of your success as a fiction writer is how well you transfer emotionally appealing ideas from your mind to the reader’s with minimal loss of clarity.  Using written words alone, you must convey the following things I’ve discussed in earlier blog posts:

It should be apparent, then, that you must keep the reader ever in your mind as you write.  Form a mental picture of someone reading your story.  That clever turn of phrase you’re so proud of—would a reader stumble over it?  That little plot detour you stuck in to show off your knowledge of some arcane fact—will it bore the reader?  You must be willing to sacrifice them all for the reader.

In the end, only readers can determine the quality of your story.  Editors can’t; reviewers can’t.  Certainly you can’t.  Readers are your customers, and the customer is always right.

I mentioned that fiction writers don’t get immediate reader feedback, and that’s true.  However, you will get valuable delayed feedback that is useful for altering your approach in later stories.  This feedback comes in several possible ways:

  • Virtual feedback from the reader you’re imagining as you write, the one looking over your shoulder
  • Feedback from members of your critique group
  • Feedback from an editor
  • Feedback from reviewers
  • Sales figures from your earlier stories

All of these can be useful for improving your writing, making that mind-to-mind communication as clear and enjoyable as possible.  Speaking of feedback, I’d welcome some concerning this blog post, so feel free to comment.  With my mind full of imagined readers, I’m—

                                                  Poseidon’s Scribe

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September 8, 2013Permalink

Ay, Now the Plot Thickens

When George Villiers, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham wrote those words for his play “The Rehearsal” in 1663, I believe he had today’s blog post in mind.  For, ay, I intend to discuss how to plot a story.

First, what is a plot?  It is simply a series of connected fictional events.  Here are two rules about these events:

1.  In a non-humorous story, the connections between events should be logical, with a minimum of lucky coincidences; the events should be related by cause and effect.

2.  To make your story appealing to readers, there should be a certain structure to these events.  That is, experience has shown this particular plot structure (sometimes called a “dramatic arc”) to have a maximum emotional impact.

But how are rules 1 and 2 related?  What does it mean to have a cause-and-effect chain of events that rises and falls?  Think of it this way.  Your story must have a protagonist with a problem, a conflict of some kind.  Often there is both an external and internal conflict.

I’ve said before that stories are about the human condition.  More specifically, stories show human ways of dealing with problems.  It may seem strange to generalize that way, but without a problem or conflict, you have no story.  Even if there are no humans in your tale, your non-human characters are really just standing in for people.

Plotting diagramsBack to plotting.  Think of the series of events (Rule 1) as events showing your protagonist encountering an initial obstacle, overcoming it, then encountering a worse one, overcoming that one, etc.  Each obstacle thrown at her causes her to struggle against it.  Her struggle causes the antagonist (which may be a person or nature or anything) to oppose her even more.  That’s what Villiers described as a plot thickening.

Think of the dramatic arc (Rule 2) as a portrayal of the increasing difficulties for your protagonist as she contends with her problems. Tensions should increase in this section, culminating in a climactic turning point.  There she must confront both her external and internal problems.  The remaining events convey the resolution of the conflict and represent a decrease in tension.

Although I’ve geared this discussion to short stories, all fiction is similar.  Screenwriter H. R. D’Costa has written a wonderful blog post providing the secrets of movie plot structures.

Oh, one more thing about problems and resolutions—if you have a problem with what I’ve said in this blog post, leave a comment and I’ll try to resolve it.  I also accept praise by the heapful.  I’ll close by saying, Ay, now the plot’s been thickened by—

                                                          Poseidon’s Scribe

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September 1, 2013Permalink