Thursday, April 29, 2010

Special Guest: Kelly A. Harmon

Today Cozy hosts special guest author Kelly A. Harmon on her virtual book tour for fantasy novel 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?

Hi Kelly! How would you define Blood Soup in terms of genre?

My non-fantasy-reading friends have called it a "suspense." But I like to think of it as a dark fantasy or medieval fantasy.

I guess it all depends on your perspective.

What inspired you to tell this story?

Blood Soup was conceived of craziness, not inspiration.

I'd been asked to participate in the 3-Day Novel contest with a friend and I needed a story idea quick. I've always got ideas to choose from, but my style tends to run long, novel-length. I needed to write something shorter than that because the thrust behind the 3DNC is that you need to finish your novel in three days.

So, I brain-stormed. I decided I wanted to write something medieval, I wanted a prophecy, and I wanted a witch. I threw those elements together and came up with the idea. I created a few characters, offered them motivation, and determined how I wanted to end the story.

Most of the dark elements, and the blood theme, came around as I wrote.

Do any of this book's themes mirror contemporary issues?

I suppose you could make a case for addition, but I didn't plan the story that way.

Who would you say is the main protagonist? Why?

There are a few key players in this story, so it's hard for me to choose one initially. By the end of Blood Soup, however, Prince Amalric is definitely the lead.

Poor Amalric, whose blood lust is thrust upon him by a determined father, must come to realize that he’s not the rightful heir to Borgund. Everything he's done, planned for, experienced, lived is all a lie. Watching him realize that, and decide what he's going to do about it, makes for interesting reading, I think.

Why the title Blood Soup ?

I'm an avid genealogist. At the time I was writing Blood Soup, I was researching the Polish side of my family and putting together a family-recipe cookbook. One of the recipes was for a special-occasion (usually a holiday) soup called "Czarnina" (char-NEE-nah). In English, it’s referred to as Blood Soup. I knew I wanted the soup to play a pivotal role in the book.
But if I could have a do-over, I'd change the title. Coupled with the cover art, which is quite sinister–and definitely not what I would have chosen (although it's very good!)–it seems to imply horror. There are some horrific elements to the book (it is about murder and betrayal, after all) but not as much as the combination seems to imply.

This story won the July 2008 Fantasy Gazetteer s Novella Contest. Why do you think it has been so well-received?

I think people find the story intriguing. There's a bit of a mystery at the beginning due to the prophecy: a girl child must rule, or the kingdom will fall. So you have to wonder: will the queen have a son or a daughter? The king is certain it will be a boy, the queen and her nursemaid are certain it will be a girl. Each of them is surprised when the queen finally gives birth.

Then, there's the blood aspect of the story. Prince Amalric craves the taste of blood so much, that it's like an addition (though not in a vampire-like manner)...he almost can't control the way he acts sometimes when he doesn't get his "fix" of blood. It's interesting to watch this "addiction" unfold. It doesn't help that Amalric's life is a train-wreck you can't help watching.

As a writer of both, which format do you prefer: novel or novella?

Novel wins hands down. I like to tell grand, sweeping stories with lots of room for subplots.

Blood Soup was written under a deadline, and I deliberately pared down the story, excising several subplots before they were written, to be able to finish it on time.

You were a reporter for some time. What compelled you to switch to fiction?

I never intended to make a career out of reporting, it just seemed the most pragmatic choice for someone who only ever wanted to write. I knew if I couldn't sell my fiction right away, I could at least be doing something I liked. While I worked, I could still write in the evening.

It turns out I liked reporting lot...but I didn't like the hours or the pay.

So, I went back to school for a Systems Analysis and Design/Computer Science degree. Now I work full-time in tech, and I still write fiction in the evening. The great thing about this situation is that I can afford all the little techy gadgets which make my life easier.

Can you share an excerpt with my readers here at The Cozy Page today?

I'd love to, thanks!

Here's an early scene in the book:

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.”

Here's a late scene in the book:

Amalric 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.

Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Kelly! Readers, learn more about Kelly at her website. If you would like to read Blood Soup, it is available now from Eternal Press in PDF and hard copy. Follow Kelly's virtual blog tour and comment here today to be entered to win a $25 Amazon or Barnes & Noble Gift Card. To view tour locations, visit Goddess Fish Promotions.
Readers, sound off: What's your favorite fantasy novel?


Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Amber!
Thanks for hosting me here today. I'm looking forward to the conversation.

Mysti Holiday said...

I cut my reading teeth on fantasies like The Dragonriders of Pern and the Chronicles of Prydain, but one of my fave all time series is the Valdemar series by Mercedes Lackey.

I think writing fantasy may be one of the hardest genres. Do you feel that way?

TheWaldos said...

I'm very interested in genealogy as well. I didn't even know I was from a long line of Scots until I used an online service to delve into my past. Incredible stuff.

Question for you...if you could describe Blood Soup in just one word only--what would it be and why?

Late to the party but enjoying the blog tour!


Julie said...

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and the His Dark Materials trilogy still hold a place in my heart. :)

Those excerpts are fascinating, thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I have been eager to try some blood soup since reading this novella. I hope I don't develop a craving for it. It is something I have read about in other historical stories and it has sparked my interest. We love to cook, so I will look for a traditional recipe.
I loved this story and bought the book for my Book Club friends. It is a very different genre for them and it has generated some interesting discussions.

angie said...

I have heard such great things about this book. I like how she said her friends call it suspense but she calls it more dark fantasy or medieval. Thanks for the interview!!
email bangersis(at)msn(dot)com said...

i wlove the interview and was interested in your books

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Julie!

I loved LW&W, too...but haven't read his Dark Materials. I'll have to check it out.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Mysti!

I read those books, too. The Chronicles were great!

I find fantasy very easy to write, but writing is a very personal experience...everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses. I have a hard time writing romance...

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi JC...I've been thinking about your question for a while now. Tough one! I've considered, and tossed out, half a dozen words already. I won't say them here, because I get a feeling that would be cheating... :)

I think I'll go with "Stubbornness." If King Theo hadn't stubbornly refused a daughter on the throne, perhaps there wouldn't have been a story to tell. If Prince Amalric hadn't been so inflexible, perhaps things wouldn't have been so bad...

(skirting around spoiling anything here...)

How's that?

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Anon:

There's a recipe for Blood Soup on my Blog:

Let me know what you think if you try it.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi BlackRoze! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I appreciate the kind words about the interview.

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Angie

You just made my day, saying, "I have heard such great things about this book."


Amber Leigh Williams said...

Thank you to everyone who visited for yesterday's special guest spotlight! It was a great discussion. And thank you to Kelly for bringing Blood Soup to Cozy. It definitely sounds like a book I want to read :)

Okay, now for my fav fantasy: I love Narnia and Lord of the Rings. I recently read Robert's Jordans New Spring and look forward to immersing myself in the Wheel of Time series!

Kelly A. Harmon said...

Hi Amber!

Thanks for having me. It was a lot of fun.