Chocolate, Serials and Zombies: An Interview with A.M. Harte + Giveaway!

The Lovely Ms. A.M. HarteA.M. Harte is the London-based independent author of Hungry For You, a collection of Zombie love stories, that I just loved. She also publishes her own serials Above Ground and DarkSight, is the editor of  Web Fiction Guide, and runs her own review blog. Her energy source, I plan to steal it when she isn’t looking. Or not.

She very kindly offered to have a chit-chat with me (hey, she fully admits she’s insane, so why not?) and answer some questions. Please welcome the very charming, very lovely Ms. Harte…

1. How is that “sampling chocolate from every country in the world” aspiration working out?

Not as well as I’d like! I’ve tried chocolate from most of Western Europe whilst in the actual countries (including Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland). I’ve also had friends bring me chocolate from Sweden and Poland. From further afield, I’ve tried Canadian, American, Argentinian and Japanese chocolate. I’m dying to try more, although so far I think the Mediterraneans do it best.

I’d say you’re doing very well! Would offer to send you chocolate from my part of the world but I’m not even sure we make our own so it would pretty much just be “American chocolate”.

2. What prompted you to write a collection of Zombie love stories? Did you just have so many ideas for them to begin with or was this more of a challenge for you to see how far you could go by tweaking the mythos?

I suppose it was a personal challenge to see what I could come up with in a limited time frame, and on a subject matter I am not too keen on to boot!

You read that right: I am not a fan of zombies. They terrify me! I didn’t even finish Melanie Edmond’s “The Apocalypse Blog” because I started having nightmares. So, like any insane author, I decided to tackle my fear head-on and challenged myself to write a zombie story. The end result was “Promises”, and from then on my brain was warped and I began to see zombies everywhere. The collection grew organically from that.

I couldn’t make it through 28 Days Later (am hoping to try again some day, it will be my third attempt). So the thought of you writing “Hungry For You” to face a fear seems commendable, especially since you did such a fantastic job.

I haven’t seen 28 Days Later. Scary books, I can just about handle. Scary films give me nightmares for weeks. Even writing DarkSight episodes (a horror serial I kind of write on and off) makes me uncomfortable.

Zombie Love Stories, Who Knew?3. Did you have a favorite of the collection or one you had the most fun writing? You’re “The Perfect Song” made me real glad that I don’t drink tea. Which is pretty much the reason I got kicked out of every home I stayed at when I was in England a bit and a half ago.

You don’t drink tea!? How is this possible? I’m speechless. Shocked. I think I will have to ignore that comment and focus on your question, although it’s rather difficult to pick a favourite story.

If I had to choose, I guess it would be a toss up between the title story “Hungry for You” and “Dead Man’s Rose”. Both feature strong female characters who are fighting something greater than themselves, women who are survivors. They both also have rather unusual takes on the zombie mythos which were very fun to explore.

4. How would you survive the zombie apocalypse?

I don’t think I would! Zombie apocalypse survival is almost impossible — I’ve spent many hours pondering over different survival tactics instead of working. One of my favourite solutions is to live on a boat, because I think you’d be out of zombie reach at deep sea. But you’d need to have a self-sustaining ecosystem on the boat to grow food, and some kind of water filter process as well, which would be fragile and likely to fail. In any case I doubt I’d notice the zombie apocalypse in time to build my ark — I’d probably be too busy reading!

5. When did you decide to go Indie?

I don’t think I can pinpoint an exact date. I began publishing “Above Ground” (my first novel) online the summer of 2009 because I had decided I didn’t want to submit it to traditional publishers — I doubt it has the mass-market appeal so essential to getting signed today and, to be frank, was rather disillusioned about my chances after interning at a literary agency.

I think publishing online was the right choice. I so enjoyed the experience of interacting directly with my readers that it seemed natural to continue down the same path, and retain full rights over my work. It certainly helped that in the last two years, I’ve met a number of amazing indie authors whose success stories encouraged me to follow the same route, and of course I wouldn’t have gotten far without 1889 Labs (the publisher of Hungry For You).

6. You run your own online publishing project for your Above Ground serials. Which I’m dying to dive into because I really like Werewolves. Does this take up a lot of time though? I love the idea of serials but what happens if “the plan” for the story changes? It’s not as easy to go back and edit what’s already been published. Or do you wait until you have the whole story down before you began publishing them?

It’s all a bit manic! I have a rough plan in my head, which generally involves the beginning, a few key middle scenes and the end. The rest is mostly invented on the spot when I realize I’ve fallen behind on my update schedule and kick myself into gear. It took about a year to finish Above Ground (Book 1) and I’ve been working on-and-off on the sequel, Between Worlds, for a couple months. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to dedicate as much time to my serials lately as I would like to.

I have to say, though, that what is posted online is very much a first draft! I love the freedom of writing a serial and never go back to edit, so the story can be a little rough in patches, but I think that’s part of what readers enjoy about the experience — seeing the work in progress, and then being able to influence the storyline through their comments. I often end up cameo-ing those readers who comment the most, just for fun.

I am not going to leave it up as a rough draft forever, though. Right now I’m currently rewriting Above Ground and will release an expanded, edited and much improved edition in September.

Which means I need to go read Above Ground. Yesterday.

7. Which authors inspire you the most? Both indie and trad. pubbed.

Argh, this is a tough question! All-time favourite traditionally published authors include Neil Gaiman and Philip Pullman. I’ve also enjoyed several titles by Scarlett Thomas and Margaret Atwood. When it comes to indie authors, I very much inspired by writers such as MCM (of 1889 Labs), Merrilee Faber (her writing is simply superb), Zoe E. Whitten (incredibly prolific!), and many, many more besides. The indie writers’ community is very supportive and has been a great encouragement.

8. What’s your “process” like? Are you a pantster or plotter or a bit of both?

I always find it difficult to answer this question. Superficially, my methods are very much that of a pantser, particularly when I am writing my serials. I would rather write three drafts of something, and shape it that way, rather than spend hours getting the first draft right. However, even if I don’t keep many written notes, I have a rather over-organized mind, and always know what will happen next in a story, and where the story is headed. I like to think of it as horse-riding: you keep your eyes on the destination and use a few nudges now and then to keep the story moving.

9. What genres do you read?

A lot of genre fiction, mainly urban fantasy, dark fantasy, romance and science fiction — out of the 100+ books I read last year, half would fall into those genres. Now and then I dip into blockbusters to see what all the fuss is about, and these tends to be thrillers/mysteries. I also run a book review blog, and so receive a lot of random requests through there. For the most part though I read pretty much anything I can get my hands on, whether it’s literary or pulp, and will give anything a try, except maybe hardcore horror. Right now I’m reading “The Boy With the Striped Pyjamas”.

10.You seem to like writing speculative dark fiction, are there any other genres that interest you are a writer?

I like to brand myself as a speculative fiction author because it leaves me very open to writing what I want, whether it be urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic tales, science fiction, horror, contemporary paranormal, and so on. I would say nearly all my writing contains a paranormal or fantastical element. Eventually I’d like to write something along the lines of Scarlett Thomas’ style perhaps, moving more towards magical realism. I’m up for trying anything at least once, though!


11. Is there anything you absolutely wouldn’t write?

Ha! Now you’re forcing me to go back on my word about trying everything once. There are a few things, I suppose: Christian fiction and historical fiction are the first two I can think of. I would also be highly unlikely to write erotica or anything with excessive gore or disease (yuck!).

12. You’ve been writing “longer than anybody’s been paying attention”-totally know the feeling. What sort of things did you first write about?

Errr… Well, I started off with fanfiction when I was about 11. That was pretty awful. Then after a few years I moved onto angsty short stories which were but pale imitations of my own life and/or shameless copies of stories I loved, and then in my mid-teens I embarked on an autobiography of sorts (it was written in four parts, the same scene from four different points of view, absolutely dreadful).

I went back to fanfiction as my writing matured, and received enough positive feedback to keep writing, and then eventually after several false starts I branched off into my own worlds and never looked back. I like to think my teenage years were the time to get all the bad writing out of my system… or at least a good proportion of it!

13. Ha! I loved me some fan-fiction back in the day, wrote a dozen horrible ones myself. Who am I kidding? I’d probably still enjoy the better written ones now. Would you mind sharing what fanbase you wrote the fanfics for?I do go through indulgence periods of reading fanfiction still (shhh, don’t tell anyone!). I used to mainly write for anime series — my main fandoms were Saiyuki and Yu Yu Hakusho, and I dabbled a little in Weiss Kreuz. I also wrote a few Harry Potter pieces, although I have always been more of a HP reader than writer. 

14. Do you have any other creative endeavors besides writing?

Does singing in the shower count?

I get restless sometimes, filled with the urge to make things with my hands, to draw or paint or construct. Sadly my technical ability never lives up to expectation, although I do end up making quirky things like earring holders or Christmas cards. I went through a stint of jewellery making and a deviantArt phase where I photoshopped a lot. But — as with any creative, I think — I’m never happy with my work.

God bless Photoshop.15. Do you have favorite words? Most of mine tend to be censored on Television and the others make me question my sanity.
 

Not really, but now I want some! I do like the sound of certain mellifluous words… such as “mellifluous”. 🙂 I also get daily ‘word of the day’ emails and try to work them into my vocabulary. Sometimes I find favourite words in other languages, such as when I find an Italian or Spanish word that doesn’t translate well to English.

I have favorite words in Russian-all clean. Sadly don’t know the naughty ones.16.If you were to write an autobiography, what would the title be?
 

I have no idea! Generally I think of a title after I come up with the main focus of a book, and the idea of writing an autobiography is too nebulous to give much inspiration.

I did enjoy M.E. Kerr’s autobiography, which pulled me right in because it was titled “Me Me Me Me Me: Not A Novel”. I am drawn to unusual titles, like “The Girl Without Anyone” (by Kelli Deeth) or “What My Mother Doesn’t Know” (by Sonya Sones). The rather dire autobiography I began writing in my mid-teens was called “Homes of Houses” — I would still like to use that title one day.

17. Do you have a muse? Do you even believe in a Muse and if so, what do you believe about them?

When I was younger I believed in a muse as a separate entity, a spirit-presence in the shape of a tiny dragon on my shoulder. Now I don’t believe in muses any more, or at least not in the same way. I can’t afford to rely on an indistinct, unreliable external source of inspiration; if I really want to succeed as a writer, I need to write every day without fail and not only when the mood strikes.

That said, I certainly Iove writing the most when I’m in the ‘muse’ mental state — that tightly balanced tension, that almost emotional overload, when words spring out of your mind effortlessly as if someone else was writing them.

18. What would be your ultimate writing environment? Mine would include Cat-hair free furniture, a decent laptop that doesn’t lag, EVER, a view of the ocean, art supplies, a bottle of Mystic, and a chocolate fountain or two. Just sayin’.

A tidy room with a large, clear desk, good lighting, and comfortable seats. I like moving around, too, so having a desk, bed and sofa would be great. We both agree on the decent laptop part, but I would also need scrap paper and pens for doodling. It has to be quiet and still — I tend to write very late at night because it is the only time I do not get interrupted. Having some snacks and juice would be handy, too, as I always forget to eat when I’m deep in the flow of writing!

19. Do you have a WIP on the backburner or any ideas for future books you wouldn’t mind sharing?

Far too many to mention! Right now I’m deep in editing Above Ground, for release in September, so that is taking up the bulk of my time. I have a idea for a paranormal romance/murder-mystery set in London which I’d like to write at some point soon, and another male-directed YA novel about a boy who gains the power to save lives by sacrificing others. And, and, and….

20. Is Above Ground so far going in a vastly different direction than it’s serialized version? Your YA idea sounds very intriguing. I always wished that there had been darker fiction for Young Adults back when I was a teenager.

Not really — the essential storyline for Above Ground will remain the same; I am mainly tightening up the prose, fixing plot holes, and inserting some much needed world-building I skipped over the first time around. I’m also adding in two more storylines, which will bulk out the book quite a bit: the version online only follows Lilith Gray’s adventures, whereas the final version will interweave three character storylines. It’ll be good (I hope!).

It is going to be a pretty dark YA — I actually worry it might get too dark, but we’ll see. I have an issue with writing happy stories for some reason! So obviously I’ve challenged myself to write something uplifting. I’m pretty much insane.

Thank you so much, A.M., for letting me subject you to my many inane questions.

A.M. is kindly insanely awesomely offering a chance to win a copy of Hungry For You. All you have to do leave a comment  and share with us where in the world you have sampled chocolate from. ( Or, for those of you who are chocolate deprived, just toss your name into the hat). I will select one name at random and announce a winner on Friday March 4th, 2011 and mail you a coupon code for Smashwords to download in whatever format you desire.

Oh, and I’m not supposed to tell you, but if you go over to my other blog and comment on the post that looks JUST LIKE THIS ONE (it’s magic, or plagiarism…can I plagiarize myself?) you get ANOTHER chance to win. Only there you have to tell me how you would survive the Zombie Apocalypse… I like to keep things interesting.

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Beginnings, Creepy Searches and ROW80 Update

“sj is mine wordpress.com”

That, ladies and gentlefolk, is the one and only Top Search listed for this blog. I’m slightly flattered horrified by it.

You may or may not have noticed I didn’t do my scheduled update yesterday. I did not purposefully avoid to do so out of laziness, however. I avoided doing so out of progress and a bit of fear that astonishingly had nothing to do with the creepy way people are finding this blog. (Hello, you freaks, pull up a chair and sit next to me. But please keep your hands to yourself. Here, try this lovely straight jacket. They’re kind of in this year.)

No .My fear, like it usually tends to be, is completely illogical. Having no basis in actual facts and everything to do  with my own insecurities. Mainly about my ability to string words together in an effort form not just coherent but “pretty” sentences. Oh yeah, and tell a story while I’m doing it. Nobody said it would be this hard! Don’t look at me like that, you can’t even imagine the immensity of my pain. My sad raincloud of woe and despair.

Gag me.

Actually it’s kind of funny because I had the most insanely productive week ever. I worked on 6 scenes. That’s like unheard of. Sure, they’re all in various stages of WIPitude, and some are barely more than 300 words. But the scenes, they are there! Except part of the reason there are new scenes is because I started over-thinking, and worrying that my beginning isn’t really my beginning but that the new beginning isn’t as hooky but if I don’t keep it no one will understand Helena’s motivation and OMG I SUCK.

It go to the point where I was propositioning my writerly peeps on twitter to stand over my shoulder and tell me I don’t suck. I offered to pay them in baked goods. Because baking is the kind of thing I do when I’m having a creative melt-down….*nibbles on a brownie*

It all started when Holly Lisle sent out an e-mail about her new course, How To Write a Series. And  lo, she wept, for she recognized it as the gift from the heavens that it was. And with haste, she clicked on the holy linkage and received her blessing with thanks and good tidings while a choir sang in the background a thunderous “HALLELUJAH”. And she watched in awe and learned many things.

And then it started to fuck with me.

In a good way. Because it made me really stop and consider what I want to be writing, what I want people to take away from this story, and what I want to put into it and the best way to go about doing that.

And then I got many ideas. Amen.

Thing is? None of this is a BAD thing. In fact, this is the best creative melt down I’ve had in the history of ever because it’s totally lighting a fire under my ass and pushing me to go the distance. I’m ENTHUSIASTIC, which is totally blocking my Blank Page Fright Syndrome. And while my offer for the exchange of baked goods for reassurance of unsuckitudinous writing still stands, (because I’m a horrible approval-seeking strumpet and baking-whore) I think I might just know what I’m doing.

I have to write the story that wants to be written and worry about things like being a “happy hooker” later. I have a real opportunity to raise the stakes for my character and put her through hell-er, I mean, really make the story matter.

So that’s what I’m going to do.