Monday 19 April 2010

Kelly Harmon Serves Up Advice And Blood Soup

 Welcome Guest Blogger Kelly Harmon, who is treating us today with some sage advice regarding "Writing Crutches".  Also, she's sharing a sneak peek at her new book, Blood Soup, as part of her whirlwind virtual book tour.
So, with no further ado...

Letting Go of Writing Crutches

Are you that guy on Friday night, looking for your lucky Hawaiian shirt, before you sit down at the poker table? Maybe you have a lucky bowling shirt?

Or perhaps... you’re a writer that needs a particular pen to write with? One that glides effortlessly across the page. Maybe the words flow only when your favorite band is jamming through the speakers? Or the door is closed, or open. Or you’re drinking tea (not coffee) or you’re in front of your PC in your writing cave...

Did I hit a nerve there?

I’m going to step out on a limb and opine that if you’re a writer who needs:
  •  the right pen - gel, erasable, India ink, ball-point, fine point, wide point, felt-tip
  •  the right notebook - moleskin, snakeskin, lined, unlined, college rule, wide-rule, spiral on the top, composition
  •  the right laptop, netbook, PC, hand-held, split keyboard, IBM Selectric, Royal manual
  •  the right music: jazz, metal, classical, country, new-age, new wave, punk
  •  the dark
  •  the light
  •  the morning
  •  the evening
  •  a large chuck of time
.... or any other such crutch, in order to write, you’re not living up to your potential.

Let it go. Let it all go.

I believe that having the right pen, notebook, whatever–can hinder you in the long run, like creating a bad habit. Year after year of writing only with Bic fine-points in Mead wide-rule notebooks creates in your brain an imprint of how the writing process needs to be for you.

After a while, you may not be able to write any other way. Your muse will ignore you if you try to break the routine you’ve established.

In Booklife, Jeff VanderMeer calls this need for the right “whatever,” “fetishizing the process.” He says (and I agree) that doing so, instead of simplifying the writing process, costs writers moments of creativity.

I think they cost more than moments: they toss huge roadblocks into the writing process, particularly if you happen to be in a place with some time to kill and you’re not toting your notebook.

I have my favorite pens, a preferred style of notebook and my favorite laptop (yeah, I’ve got more than one). I’m not advising anyone to chuck these favorite things into the trash. I’m just advising that you don’t let any of them influence how or when to write.

I advocate writing in the moment, with whatever means you’ve got, to capture the idea. The trusty laptop won’t always be by your side. There will be times when it’s inconvenient to carry your notenook.

Are you in a fast-food joint? Use the napkins. Taking a walk? I’ll bet you’ve got a receipt in your wallet you could scribble on. If not, use currency. I have. (VanderMeer carries index cards for just such found moments.)

Writing doesn’t mean you have to be typing the words or printing them along the blue-lined spiral. Are you driving? Call your home phone from your cell and dictate into the answering machine. Don’t wait until you get home and you’ve forgotten all that juicy prose.

How about texting yourself a message to your email? (Please, not when you’re driving.)

The key is to not care about:
  •  where you are
  •  who you’re with
  •  what time of day it is
  • or what you’re using to write...
... so long as you’re getting down the words or ideas.

Seek little moments, with whatever’s at hand, to watch your progress grow.

But what do you do when you don’t have your favorite pen, notebook, laptop, whatever?

Not only that, but needing these things to write can be wasteful. How much money does the perfect pen, notebook or laptop cost? And, if you keep having to upgrade that laptop...

...with the spiral on the top?
For instance, you’re at a concert or on a date or at a party, and you see something or hear something which triggers that writing response....where’s your notebook?

For more on the author visit Kelly Harmon's Website:

Blood Soup:
A tale of murder, betrayal and comeuppance.

King Theodicar of Borgund needed an heir. When his wife, Queen Piacenza, became pregnant, he’d hoped for a boy. His wife, along with her nurse, Salvagia, knew it wouldn’t be so: with each cast of the runes, Salvagia’s trusted divination tools yielded the same message: “A girl child must rule or the kingdom will fall to ruin.” The women were convinced that the child would be a girl.

When the queen finally gives birth, the nurse and the king are equally surprised. The king is faced with a terrible choice, and his decision will determine the fate of his kingdom. Will he choose wisely, or will he doom Borgund to ruin?

Excerpt One:
    Theodicar looked down at the mewling infant in his arms, and felt the anger rise up. Even in death his wife defied him, the nurse ensuring her success. Women did not rule. He would not allow it. They had created a male  child, and that child would take the throne upon his death.
    “You can save the boy,” he said to Salvagia.
    She slitted her eyes at him, her stare mutinous. Her words were loud and hard in the wake of Pia’s death. “I have the power to save one at the expense of the other, Sire. The girl is stronger. And eldest. She was born to rule.”
    Theodicar watched the girl curl up in his arms, her birth fluids staining a brown patch on the dyed-yellow wool of his tunic. She burrowed into the crook of his elbow, trying to achieve the comfort of the womb.
    “I will not hear those words again,” he said. “That absurd idea died with my wife. My son will rule.” He reached for the boy, thrusting the girl child back into the nurse’s hands. “There’s no need for a daughter. And no need for anyone to know of her.”
    “So be it,” Salvagia said, wrapping the weary girl in a square of wool, covering her face. She reached for her basket.
    “Kill her now,” said Theodicar.
    Salvagia looked stricken.
    “Sire, if we kill her now, she will be of no use to her brother. Once dead, the blood won’t flow, and we need her blood to strengthen his.
    “Then drain her now,” he snapped. “I will not have her crying out when we call the witnesses back to cut the boy’s cord.”

Excerpt Two:
    “Do you want to learn about your sister?” King Theodicar asked.
    “Go on.”
    “Salvagia had a set of runes, and she cast them over and over and over as Pia’s pregnancy advanced. Always, the answer was the same: ‘A girl child must rule or the kingdom will fall to ruin.’”
    “Do you believe that, Father?”
    “Your mother did. And so did Salvagia. They came from Omero, where the eldest born ruled, not just the eldest male. They believed your sister should rule.”
    “But, did you believe?”
    “I think your mother wasn’t meant to bear children. She was little and frail. Her labor arrived early—almost too early for you to survive. Your sister was born first. She was tiny, and just as delicate as your mother. Pia died the moment she was born, without even seeing her. Salvagia cut the girl’s cord and handed her to me. Then your mother’s belly contracted, and we realized there was another babe: you.”
    “So, you killed my sister so she wouldn’t take the throne.”
     “It wasn’t like that at the time.” Anguish washed across Theodicar’s face. “The girl was
frail, but you were worse. Salvagia could only save one of you. She was certain you wouldn’t last through the night, and she tried to convince me that your weakness fulfilled the prophecy. I wouldn’t listen to her. I told her to sacrifice the girl so you could live.”
    “The girl, the girl, the girl. Has my sister a name?”
    “Her life was given for yours before she was named. I’d asked Salvagia to remove the body afterward, so there would be no question about who would rule after me.” He looked down at his feet. “I’m fairly certain Salvagia named her, though she never told me so.”
    “How did my sister save me?”
    “Her blood, Amal. You drank of her blood to strengthen your own.”
    Amalric’s hand tightened on the glass in his lap. He swallowed hard, imagining he could taste the tinny flavor of blood on his tongue. It was worse than he first thought: not only was he winner by default, but he was beast—some variation of an incestuous cannibal—alive only because he drank his sister’s blood.

Excerpt Three: (This is condensed from a much longer passage...)

    Almaric didn’t know what he had expected to see—what he expected to feel—once he pushed aside the curtain. But it certainly wasn’t the empty void he experienced. Surely, these two women should mean something to me, he thought. He should feel sad for their passing. Or relief at his own existence. Or anger at his sister’s senseless murder.
    But he’d never met them, and they meant nothing.
    “Mother,” he whispered, trying to feel the relationship. He touched her loose brown hair, satiny in death, as if it had been oiled. Mummified flesh clung to her skull, her mouth hung slack with decay. But he could make out her features, even in abstract.
    Piacenza’s arms crossed her chest, holding onto the baby she’d died birthing.  The child lay on her stomach, her face turned out to the corridor. Smooth in death, the babe’s skin  was stretched taut across her skull, her tiny mouth open as if searching for a breast. He couldn’t picture this small babe as his twin.
    “Sister,” he said, failing to convince himself of an emotional connection to the babe. He smoothed a thumb across her forehead, touched a finger to her puckered lips.
    A scowl wrinkled his forehead, and he felt a tightness behind his eyes.
    Now that he knew about them, how long would he continue to feel the emptiness that knowing them should have filled?
    Had his father confirmed his sister’s existence in order to wring sympathy from his heart? Didn’t he realize that a man who had never known the loving touch of his mother nor felt the bond of his long-deceased sister would find nothing but apathy amid these moldering bones?
    Amalric gazed at the wispy hair, the withered skin, and suddenly, he made a fist and drove it into his mother’s side. He felt her ribcage shatter beneath his knuckles, and saw his sister’s small frame sink as the bones of his mother failed to support her. A puff of dust rose above his sister’s head like a small halo in the torchlight.
    He laughed, finding sudden humor in the situation. He should be rejoicing, he thought. Perhaps he should feel some harmony with his sire—the man who removed all obstacles from his path to the throne.
    How pathetic of him, thought Amalric, if he felt any pride at all for getting rid of these women. Women! Who should be seen and not heard, who should do the bidding of their husbands without fail, who are required to take the brunt of a man’s anger and return it threefold with a submissive demeanor. Women, he thought, who are frail beyond measure and easily subdued. How pitiable that Father should take pride in such an achievement. And worse, how contemptible that he might think my seeing the mortal remains of these women would create in me a sudden change of heart.

You can find Blood Soup at Eternal Press:

All of Kelly Harmon's tour stops:


Kelly A/ Harmon said...

Thanks for having me aboard today! I'm looking forward to the conversation...

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Great post. Best of luck, Kelly. Your advice is so right on. I can't write without my computer. If I had to pick up a pen, I'm not sure how long my hand would last. But really, I need to be prepared for any condition.

Blood Soup sounds intriguing.

A. F. Stewart said...

I see the party has started, but a welcome to Kelly Harmon anyway. Nice to see that you stopped by Joylene.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Joylene! Thank you for the kind words.

I don't find myself writing by hand for any long periods of time these days (I think my hand would cramp!) but definitely I hand-write for many short periods in the day.

I've even put a clipboard in the car which I use if I'm sitting at lights or stuck in traffic.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Thanks, A.F. It's nice to be here.

Pauline said...

Great suggestions, Kelly. My brain teams with ideas until I sit down to write and then it turns lazy. I've had to learn to just start and eventually it gets in the game with me. LOL.

wow great excerpts, too! Congrats on the release of your book!

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Pauline! Nice to see you over here. Thanks for the kind words.

Pauline said...

Hi, Kelly, look forward to your visit to my blog! :-)

Buttercup said...

Great advice and no argument here. I need to remember that I need to write even if I don't have a clear four hour stretch and a good half hour beats nothing written.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Buttercup: I hate cracking open the computer for any length shorter than a half an hour. That attitude used to paralyze my writing.

Now that I try to scribble down things whenever there's a free minute, I've found my productivity (and my creativity) increasing dramatically.

If you can get past the need for long moments of time to write, I believe you'll see the same. :)

Pauline: Looking forward to it!

James Baron said...

After reading your article I realized that I have no writing crutches. I can write in just about any place, any time. When I was dating my wife back in university, I had to wait in lobby while she was getting ready in her dorm room for our date. So I was sitting near the pay telephone, and I happened to have a pen in my pocket. So I grab the yellow pages, flipped to the back page where there is a place for notes—and started writing a short sci-fi story with a hero named Lockjaw. It was a pretty good story I thought, and managed to finish it before my date came down. A week later I was in the lobby again and checked the yellow pages. Somebody had torn the sheet out with my story…I figured they wanted to read it at their leisure.

A. F. Stewart said...

James, I've never written in a phone book, but I have used envelopes and scraps of paper.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi James...

Oh, boy! You wrote an entire story...and you LEFT it in the phone book? Points for having no crutches, but demerits for leaving your work behind! :)

Thanks for stopping by.

Sheila Deeth said...

I think my notebook's in my head. I never learned to keep writing paper handy, never kept a journal... never got organized enough I guess. But if a story's been telling itself too long in my head I get really ratty until I get chance to write it down.

A. F. Stewart said...

You have a better memory than I do, Sheila; I need to write down ideas immediately or they poof out of my head.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Sheila~
I'm with A.F., I can't keep a good idea in my head. If I don't write it down, I'm liable to forget it even a moment later.

Anonymous said...

It has to be said.

The choice of font and colour against that image is a total distraction wich makes it near impossible to read the screen I gave up on it.

A. F. Stewart said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry you feel the background is that distracting;

Perhaps you might want to read the post where I discussed the changes to my blog appearance. Your comment would have been more appropriate to that post.

James Baron said...

To Kelly:

Sometimes you need to set your stories/ideas free and let them wander...

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi James!

Do you mean let them percolate a while...gather more detail?

Kelly A. Harmon said...

James: Until they come back to you...idea fully realized?

You're right. Sometimes the story just isn't ready to be written.

Unknown said...

boy followingyou has let me see alot of blogs

and im glad to , im really think your book is great

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