A.M. Harte: A Conversation and a Giveaway

A.M. Harte is a London-based, chocolate-addicted, passion-fuelled webfiction enthusiast and indie author. My first encounter with her work was a postapocalyptic biopunk story in the webfiction anthology Other Sides, and I recently relished and reviewed her collection of zombie love tales in Hungry For You. You can (and should) check out most of her fiction online, as she publishes it on her blog where you can read it for free.

Anna graciously subjected herself to my curiosity about her writing, the world of indie publishing, and the grossness of zombies. She’s also giving away one of the brand new print editions of her book, so without further ado, I give you the talented Anna Harte.

Zombies and love are a rather… strange combination. What possessed inspired you to write on that theme? Especially since you don’t actually like zombies?.
Funnily enough, I’ve actually included an afterword in the print edition of Hungry For You musing on the inspiration behind the collection. To cut a long story short, it’s all thanks to fellow author Lori Titus for introducing me to the Zombie Luv Flash Fiction Contest last summer. I thought it would be a fun challenge to take part in and it would push my limits as a writer since zombies terrify me; I never realised I would end up possessed by the idea.
I don’t particularly like zombies because of the gore factor (I have a weak stomach). But writing Hungry For You pushed me into thinking about zombies differently, as metaphors for loneliness, obsession, lust and desire. They stopped being mindless, terrifying machines to me, and I think that really shows throughout the collection.

Hmm, I actually found the intimacy just as gross as gore! Decaying people kissing, the zombie boner in the title story… shudder.
I thought the zombie boner was hilarious when I wrote it. 🙂 The bit that grossed me out the most was Michael’s nail ripping in “The Perfect Song”. Yuck!

The stories in Hungry For You and on your website are all on the shorter side of short story. What is it that you like about this writing style/format? What are the challenges?
I’m a commitment-phobe. If you compare writing to a relationship, short stories are the hot summer flings and novels are the long-haul relationships.
Writing a novel can be pretty lonely and frustrating; at some points you’re certain you’ll never finish writing and you begin to wonder why you’re bothering. On the other hand, writing a short story is very intense, exciting and inspiring, because it’s all crammed into a very small space. And, of course, in today’s world of instant gratification, it’s addictive to get that satisfied sense of completion so quickly.
Not to say that writing a short story is easy. It’s tough to cut down, to tighten your prose and make sure only the essential elements are included. In fact, writing short stories has improved my writing far more than any other format.

I’ll confess that “Arkady, Kain and Zombies” was my least favourite story. I was intrigued, but I also thought it was the one story that really did need a bit more development, as I didn’t understand the connection between the two main characters. However, I noticed that a book entitled Arkady and Kain is listed among the upcoming releases for 1889 Labs – are you planning to turn the story into a novel?
Argh! I was worried about that. As a matter of fact, my fellow 1889 Labs author MCM wrote Arkady & Kain (a full length novel) last year – the story follows longtime CIA agent Kain as he is assigned to protect and control air-headed celebrity Arkady, who is affiliated with a terrorist organisation. The novel was available to read online for several months, and was then taken down for revision/editing and eventual re-release. It was actually supposed to come out February, at the same time as Hungry For You, but the plan flopped somewhat!
I assisted MCM on the editing process, so his characters took over a small part of my mind. I began to wonder how Arkady and Kain would be affected by a zombie apocalypse, and that was that. So what you have left is… Err, well basically a piece of fanfiction with added zombies, for a novel no one can read yet. Oops?
I feel the story stands well enough alone to be enjoyed by those unfamiliar with MCM’s novel, but in either case the revised edition of Arkady & Kain will be coming out this year and I highly recommend it!

You have several other writing projects going on at the moment – the Above Ground postapocalyptic fantasy series, the Darksight horror serial novel, and various short stories, all of which are published on your blog. Can you tell us something about those?
I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve been neglecting my other writing! Eep.
The Above Ground series is set in a world where humans live underground and monsters live on the surface. The story follows Lilith Gray, a human girl who is trapped above ground and must learn to adapt… or die trying! DarkSight is a horror serial set in London about a small-town Irish girl, Maeve, who discovers that she can see demons, and they can see her. It’s a haunting, gory tale about possession, loneliness, and fighting against evil.

I’m an active member of the online fiction (or webfiction) community, a great group of writers who post their work online, often in instalments. Both Above Ground and DarkSight are serial stories in that way, posted chapter-by-chapter over on Qazyfiction. It’s a wonderful way to connect with readers — and many times the comments readers leave on each chapter influence the storyline! Of course, what is posted is very much raw and unpolished; I will eventually re-release the serials as edited ebooks.

I’m also a member of the #fridayflash community on twitter. On Fridays, authors post short stories (under 1000 words) on their blog and tweet about them using the hashtag. I don’t take part every week, but I do love the creativity of the community as well as the chance to test plot ideas in a small format. It’s also a great way to meet new authors and procrastinate at work on lazy Friday afternoons!

You’re an indie author, which basically means you do everything yourself, not just the creative stuff, but the business side of it too – selling, marketing, etc. According to your guest post on The Inner Bean, it’s a labour of love. I find that amazing – it shows such incredible commitment to your craft! But how do you manage it? And do you ever feel that “being a business” as you’ve said, can disrupt the creative process?
Oh, most definitely! Every now and then I realise that I’ve neglected my writing in favour of doing marketing work or admin jobs like formatting. Then I start feeling frustrated and become cranky, until eventually I realise what the problem is. It’s a constant juggling act, really — I write and write until I realise I’ve neglected my marketing, then I focus on that until I realise something else is slipping, and so on. I rather enjoy the challenge and variety, to be honest — I work best under pressure.

You’ve obviously found some kind of cure for sleep – are you willing to give up the formula/spell/recipe? Please tell me it’s all in the chocolate…
My cure is just oversleeping ridiculous amounts on weekends! And having no social life, ha. I always notice that the more I go out, the more my writing suffers, so I tend to write less during the summer when the weather is good. Oh, chocolate definitely helps too!

Most of your fiction is available for free online, and Hungry For You costs only $0.99. Clearly you’re not in this for the money, but that’s not a decision most writers would be willing to take; they’d want some kind of financial compensation for their efforts. So how is that you (and other webfiction writers) have had the determination to do it?
As you mentioned, writing is a labour of love. Whether or not I make money, I want to write — and for me the more important thing is to be read. I’d rather have thousands reading my books for free than ten people paying me to read it. Webfiction also has its own rewards: direct communication with readers, instant feedback, flexibility, a strong online community….
From a business point of view, however, offering free samples of my work is a great way to hook in readers and create an audience willing to eventually pay for something – Hungry For You is my way of testing the waters. 🙂

Hungry For You was published by 1889 Labs a publisher with some unusual initiatives, like Livewriting and allowing people to read all their publications for free online. Can you tell us more about them?
1889 Labs is an independent publisher dedicated to producing the best strange fiction conceivable by the human brain. Catering to a specific demographic of men and women between the ages of 3 and 97, they print everything from kids books to serious stories for adults.
I believe 1889 Labs is one of the most cutting-edge indie publishers around, willing to try new business models and experiment with the online format (livewriting being a prime example). I highly recommend checking out Dustrunners: Typhoon!

Hungry For You is being released in print this month – are there some extra stories exclusive to this edition?
Yep! As I mentioned earlier, there is an additional afterword which includes a little more insight into the stories, plus three extra stories which are all broadly more on the humorous side. We’ve also included a non-zombie story by 1889 Labs author MCM, which is drawn from his short story collection Kidney Disease Gave Me Brain Damage. So oodles of extra content!
It’s lovely to see my work in print. As much as I am a big fan of efiction, there are some things that only work in print, such as having cool stylized chapter headers and other formatting flourishes. I am actually holding the proof copy in my hands right now – it’s very surreal to have tactile evidence that I’m an author!

Congrats Anna, you certainly deserve the pleasure of seeing your work in print! And thank you so much for taking the time out for a chat 🙂

If you’re keen to see the book Anna’s so excited about and with which I was suitably impressed, then don’t miss your chance to win a copy of her unique zombie story collection. To enter, subscribe to Violin in a Void using either the email subscription or the WordPress one and leave a comment on this post. This giveaway is international, and entries will close on 28 March. Good luck!

Hungry for You by A.M. Harte

Title: Hungry For You
Author: A.M. Harte
Publisher: 1889 Labs
Publication date: 5 February 2011
My Rating: 7/10
Source: ARC provided by author

Buy Hungry For You

if there’s anything a zombie understands
it’s desire
–  Gabriel Gadfly

Who would have thought zombies could be so… tender? To me zombies are gross and scary, sometimes funny, but not much else. Then webfiction author A.M. Harte surprised me with Hungry For You, her collection of short zombie fiction which transcends the typical zombie mythos and uses the hungry, decaying monsters as metaphors for love and obsession. It makes zombies less scary, more revolting, but also morbidly fascinating.

The premise for this collection is that

Love is horrible. It’s ruthless, messy, mind-altering, and raw. It takes no prisoners. It chews you up and spits you out and leaves you for dead. Love is, you could say, very much like a zombie.

In Hungry For You couples are faced with the dilemma of what to do when the zombie apocalypse comes – do you part at death or stay together forever in decay and dismemberment? One lucid zombie takes the latter option, biting his wife so that he doesn’t lose the love of his life: What was it we had promised? For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health….Together forever. I’d made sure of it.

In one of the quirkier stories – “A Prayer to Garlic” – a very mortal zombie is faced with the existential angst of losing love to decay, as well as the amusingly mundane problem of what to serve a conservative mother-in-law for dinner:

Mog had known about my alternative eating habits for months. But it was something we’d hidden from his mother, who was a traditional zombie to the core. She scoffed at the mere suggestion of pork. Not to mention how she’d react whenever she met the chicken-eaters down the road.

“Vegetarians, the lot of them,” she’d say. “I survive on human and marrow pie, and if it’s good enough for me then it’s good enough for them!”

Then there are obsessed-lover zombies, ready to kill (and sometimes feed) for love:

She’d been chasing them with typical zombie hardheadedness for days, her previous lust and love transformed to hunger.

Zombies also act as apt metaphors for depression, loneliness and addiction. A lonely girl living a dead-end life lets infection consume her, perhaps because her existence is already zombie-like. A grieving musician shuts himself in his apartment, writing lyrics, missing his dead girlfriend and getting addicted to some rather dodgy tea.

These imaginative tales take place in a variety of contexts, from isolated incidents, to apocalyptic plague outbreaks, and post-apocalyptic scenarios where zombies rule. Because these scenarios are so familiar now – the outbreak of infection, the dwindling human resistance – that Harte is able to toy with convention and manipulate your assumptions about zombies and human beings. In addition, she is able to focus on her characters without being held back by explanatory details.

With the freedom to explore character, Harte has several different takes on the zombie. Among the classic mindless, flesh-eating creatures, are zombies who think, love and lust, a zombie who manifests as a monstrous rose, even killer zombie swans. In fact, symbols and concepts typically associated with love and romance – roses, swans, promises, hearts, kisses, sex – all get twisted, mutilated, devoured.

Because of the theme, the gross-out factor is pretty high, although in a manner different from normal zombies. There isn’t that much gore, but there’s a lot of intimacy – zombies kissing, implied sex, sexualised descriptions of zombie bodies. But then again zombies are supposed to be really disgusting. Plus, I think the ick-rating of kissing someone with a rotting tongue prevents these stories from degenerating into romance. When I read the blurb of Hungry For You I was worried it would be a bunch Twilight stories with zombies instead of vampires. It’s anything but. Instead it’s smart and spunky, bringing together horror, tragedy, romance and dark humour.

It’s a lot to pack into this very short collection (a mere 84 pages) of short short fiction, but Harte does it admirably and playfully. I enjoyed all the stories, except the last – “Arkady, Kain and Zombies”. It’s a more conventional zombie story and feels underdeveloped; perhaps more like the seed for a novel than a complete story in itself. But other than that I was happy. The stories are so short and punchy you devour them quickly, decide to read just one more, and before you know it you’ve read the whole book.

Hungry For You is recommended snacking for zombie fans, especially thrifty ones – you can buy the Kindle edition for $2.99 on Amazon, £0.71 on Amazon.co.uk, or choose from a selection of digital formats for only $0.99 on Smashwords. And if you’re spending every cent on preparations for the zombie apocalypse, or you just want a good quick read, check out Harte’s fiction for free on her blog.

Other Sides: 12 Webfiction Tales

Other Sides: 12 Webfiction Tales My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Other Sides is the first anthology to be published by Ergofiction, an online magazine and gathering place for readers and writers of webfiction. I’d not heard of webfiction before reading this, and in a slightly daft moment I thought it might be fiction about the internet. Not that that couldn’t be interesting, but no; webfiction, says editor Jan Oda after assessing the definition scuffle that naturally develops in any genre, is fiction “written to be published on the internet” in any form “as long as it tells a tale”. Novelr notes that it’s “always original; never derivative” – in other words, no fanfic. Webfiction is also known as webliterature, weblit or webfic, but some authors dislike the latter term because it’s a little too close to fanfic, which besides feeding off other people’s ideas, is also known for being rather crap. The point that I’m pleased to make here is that webfiction take writing and storytelling seriously; at least, that’s the impression I got from this entertaining little collection of bite-size short fiction, which you can download for free on Ergofiction’s site.

Honestly, I was sceptical about the quality of the anthology, but with good reason. The internet is undoubtedly a source of weird and wonderful things as well as a powerful means of defying the mainstream but it also allows people to make their drivel available to the world (actually, regular publishing is guilty of that too, but that’s another rant). I really shouldn’t have worried though – while the quality of webfiction no doubt varies, Ergofiction has skilfully cleaved signal from noise and compiled a very good collection that uses the “dwindling” form of print publishing, as Oda puts it, to introduce readers to authors who have “built worlds in their own little corner of the internet” (introduction). Each story is accompanied by a short bio on the writer and their fiction, as well as details of their website(s) should you wish to keep reading.

Other Sides starts out strong with Walking Home with Strangers, Zoe E. Whitten’s tale about an ex-thief’s encounter with a vampire. A proper, monstrous vampire, not an uber- sexy one who seduces said thief. Whitten uses an inventive narrative for her story, telling it with only one half of a conversation between two people. Dalston Junction by MeiLin Miranda is another gem, but it’s best enjoyed without a plot summary so I’ll just recommend that you not miss it. The Little Problem by MCM is probably my favourite – a very funny sci fi tale about a pair of intergalactic narcotics cops investigating some drug-smuggling alien gnomes.

On the more serious side, New Stories by M.C.A Hogarth uses a family drama with gender-changing aliens to strike a blow against tradition, religion and sexual inequality. Mifflin County Coke Blues by Isa K also criticises social convention, while M. Jones turns emotional and physical clutter into horror in The Junk Drawer.

Unfortunately some stories are a bit weak, resulting in my overall 3-star rather than a 4-star rating. It’s not that any of these stories are bad or boring, but that feel too much like sample chapters from a novel, instead of complete stories in themselves. All of Other Sides’ tales are on the shorter side of short story, but for some a few extra pages and a bit more world-building or narrative would have been very welcome. Both The Psionics: On the Road by G.L. Drummond and Sixth of November by Nancy Brauer feature teenage or twenty-something individuals with psychic powers, feeling a lot like scenes from the latest YA sci fi movie. Not really my thing, but I think it’s something YA fans would really enjoy and want more of. Ditto Poaching by Lyn Thorne-Alder and Chris Childs, which would appeal to older YA fantasy fans. It’s set in a highly competitive and hierarchical magic school, where some students are actually owned by others, seemingly as sexual pets. Told from the perspective of one of these ‘pets’, who thinks of herself as her owner’s girlfriend, it shows a glimpse of a twisted romance with the hint of social rebellion.

Two ‘less complete’ stories whose universes I personally would have preferred to explore more were In the Court of the Peacock King by Erica Bercegay and Charissa Cotrill (about a spy in a fantasy kingdom), and The Spaces in Between by T.L. Whiteman, where a beautiful assassin and her student argue about Creationism over dinner in a French restaurant while waiting for the opportunity to kill their demon target. The latter also won points with me when the student says of his target “It deserves to die worse than any of the others; it watches romance films for God’s sake” (78). Luckily, Whiteman has more fiction in this universe available on her website.

The collection rounds up nicely with Belonging by Ergofiction editor A.M. Harte, a biopunk story told at the moment the world becomes post-apocalyptic. It also has a nice little reference to the anthology itself, when the narrator spots a “slim volume called Other Sides” (113). Like the genetically engineered narrator, webfiction is fiction from ‘the other side’, independent, experimental, unbound by the demands of publishers or markets.

One thing I have to mention, because I was very impressed by it, is the quality of the writing, which is consistently good. Any one of Other Sides’ authors writes far better than some of the authors being paid millions today just for typing out what seem to be the first sentences to float lazily through their heads. But in Other Sides writing is respected as a craft, not clumsily wielded like some blunt storytelling tool.

I would certainly like to see more anthologies from Ergofiction. Lacking the time and patience to fully explore webfiction, I appreciate the passion that the editors have put into compiling this collection, giving new readers an excellent sampler, and hopefully winning the authors the attention they deserve.