As Narrelle M Harris, I’m a writer of crime, fantasy, horror and non-fiction. My first book was Fly By Night (2004), containing the novellas Fly By Night and Sacrifice, about Frank and Milo, musicians who are also a couple and get caught up murders. The book was nominated for a Ned Kelly Award for best first crime novel, and was translated into Croatian. In 2013, my vampire novel Walking Shadows (Clan Destine Press) – sequel to The Opposite of Life – was nominated for a Chronos Award for SF and fantasy, and shortlisted for the Davitt Awards for crime writing. Other books include Witch Honour and Witch Faith and the short story collection, Showtime. When Clan Destine Press invited me to submit stories for a new erotic fiction imprint, I accepted the challenge. Now writing as NM Harris, I have two series currently underway with the Encounters imprint and a third on the way. My short story, Sky High, Bone Deep was published by Escape Publishing in July 2014. My new romance blog is Adventurous Hearts (http://harrisheart.wordpress.com/). My other current project is an online novel about a rock band that saves the world from monsters, at http://www.kittyandcadaver.com. I’m preparing the manuscript for submission and embarking on a research trip to London for the second in the series. Find out more about all my work at http://www.narrellemharris.com
1. You’ve recently finished up Kitty and Cadaver, your online novel about family and vampires and music. Did the novel itself accomplish what you hoped, and what was it like to publish it as a serial?
In terms of the book itself, I am pretty happy with how it turned out. I’d structured most of it in advance and I think apart from one week, I posted a new update of the book each Monday for the duration. I’m happy with the result – I got some lovely comments on the story posts – and am currently editing and polishing it for submission to a publisher.
It was slightly terrifying publishing it online in this way – but it kept the push on to keep writing, to keep ahead of the deadline. It’s as well I did plot it all out in advance. It could have been a disaster, story-telling wise. I used to laugh in a slighty panicked way about having seen a cliff-face, deciding ‘fuck, yeah, I can fly’ and flinging myself off into space – only to spend the next 12 months flapping my arms like crazy and hoping I won’t crash too hard.
In terms of the bigger project – it was much harder than I’d expected. I really should have thought that through a bit more! I was trying to write a book, promote a book, maintain the related blog, develop creative partnerships for the music, comic and jewellery side projects (and when you’re working with others, you just don’t have the control over the output) – all at the same time as holding down a day job, working on other writing projects, maintaining two other blogs and just getting through the challenges of everyday life as well.
No wonder I’m tired.
But seriously, even just looking at the Kitty project by itself – that’s a lot of stuff to be doing, and while I feel I have the capacity within myself to do all of those jobs, given time to learn, the fact is that they take separate skill sets and a lot of time, so I set that bar a bit high.
Having said that – the jewellery project side is underway now and we have an Etsy store set up. I’m still working with Jess on music and we’re going to bring in some more musicians to complete the songs, so I still plan on getting the album done. It’ll just take time.
The same is true of the comic project – the artist will need money up front to pay for his materials, but he’s busy establishing his career in another comic project and as a tattoo artist. When we have time, we’ll do costings and look at a Kickstarter or Pozible fundraiser to get the comic done.
In the meantime, I’m about to head off to London for a few weeks to research the second book of the series. If all goes well, there will be even more to come, each book set in a different city.
2. Much of your work in speculative fiction tends towards the darker side of things, while also including significant amounts of humour. What appeals to you about this combination?
It’s just life, isn’t it? Full of darkness and light, and often simultaneously. I have always enjoyed juxtapositions – the humour in dark situations, the darkness in the mundane. All of that. In story telling terms, it’s where the meat is, too – the exploration of what it is to be human, and to suffer, and to seek hope and redemption, and we do that through our self-kknowledge and in the way we form relationships.
Basically, people are fascinating, and what makes us tick is fascinating, and I doubt I’ll ever get tired of poking into all of that with a pencil (or a keyboard) and trying to unravel it all.
3. You’ve got at least one more Kitty and Cadaver story in your head – do you think you will go the web-novel route again, or go for a more traditional approach?
It may depend on what happens with finding a publisher for the first book, Not the Zombie Apocalypse. My intention at this point is to find a publisher (either web or print) to take them both on, but continue with the blog site to post related stuff, things about the ongoing projects and short stories. I have more than one Kitty story idea in my head, you see – I have ideas for a story in Montreal as well, and some stories set along the band’s 700 year history. The concept has legs and I want to see how far it can run.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
*quickly checks Goodreads to see what I’ve read this year*
I’ve just finished The Rosie Project, which was terrific. Nobody told me it was a romance novel, and it really was among the very best of its genre. Kate Hendrick’s The Accident was also fantastic. I caught up on some of the anthologies on my bookshelf too, so loved the variety of Australian talent showcased in collections like Worlds Next Door, After the Rain and Australis Imaginarium (all Fablecroft books I think). And I loved Marianne de Pierres’s ‘Aussie Sf Western’ Peacemaker. She’s always a good read.
5. Recent changes in the publishing industry have obviously influenced the way you work, having explored the web-serial option. What other changes do you anticipate in the future? What do you think you will be writing in five years from now?
I think it’s really hard to see how the future will shape up – the whole industry is still very much in flux. Bookshops haven’t quite died out in the way predicted, and there remains a place for print and digital books, both. Maybe that will change as a generation used to reading on screens grows up without the nostalgia for print.
I expect that, rather than consolidating, the way books are presented will remain diverse. We’re in the age of ‘mass customisation’ after all – with small press and small print runs having a place alongside people trying online multimedia projects, and everything in between. The idea of ‘artisan books’ has grown, too.
The internet has shown that people like to engage more actively in their entertainment – though there are plenty who are happy to just consume. But cosplay isn’t limited to fan conventions any more, and online reviewing and discussion is lively. People are keen to support interesting, niche publications through crowdsourced funding models. There’s a lot going on!
Self-publishing through digital has brought a huge number of books into the arena and in ways that makes it harder to sort through the volume to find work you like – but there are huge numbers of reviewers and blog sites too, and people share their favourite finds through word of mouth (or type of tweets) so I think that quality will continue to be found. (After all, as I’ve said before, not all books that make it to print are that good either. Excellence and dross are equally to be found everywhere.)
I think while the methods of distribution will remain diverse (print as well as digital) perhaps the main changes will come in the ways readers are encouraged (or choose to take on) different channels for engagement with the work. Those ways have existed for decades, at least, of course (as any fan can tell you – from 19th Century Holmesians onward) but the technology and opportunities for doing so have increased.
So in the end, five years from now I hope to still be writing stories that interest and excite me, and I hope that I’ll have found the time and expertise to better engage with readers using the tech at our disposal, whether those stories are published on paper, as digital books, in serial form on a blog or in a weekly engraving on a thin sheet of tin to be found at hidden locations all around the Melbourne CBD…
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:
Disclaimer: I am friends with the publisher of this book, Alisa Krasnostein.
I’m not a big fan of horror, so I am not the ideal reader for this collection which, although not overwhelmingly scary, uses horror tropes to tell its stories. Nonetheless, it is a quite readable quartet.
The first story, “Stalemate,” is probably the scariest, and that’s because it is the most mundane. Which is saying something, because three out of four of these stories are defined by being set in domestic settings (by which I mean only non-exotic, like another planet or a medieval castle). It’s a suburban kitchen, with a mum and her grown-up daughter, arguing over all the tired old things that parents and grown-up kids argue over, with the added bitterness that Mum is there to help the daughter while she is sick. Of course, it turns out that things aren’t quite as mundane as they seem – and this revelation makes things all the more awful because of the very setting, and the consequences. It’s terrible.
My favourite story is “Thrall,” because it does the most clever things with the horror ideas it’s working with. It’s the story that is least obviously ‘domestic’, involving as it does a Hungarian castle; but even then, it opens in a dingy suburban cafe, and the castle is a tourist trap. Dragomir is a vampire, returned to Hungary to get a bit of rest. He has called a thrall to him – a woman whose ancestors pledged their allegiance to him many centuries before – to help him get ready. The narrative is fairly simple and straightforward. What really makes the story intriguing though is people’s reactions to Dragomir, and his reactions to them. Harris has gone with a much more ‘realistic’ vampire, in that he is very much a man of his times – his original times. He is shorter than the average 21st century man. He despises much of the modern world. And, in return, much of it despises him, too.
“The Truth about Brains” makes the reader into zombie territory, and the heady days of summer in the suburbs. Again the characters revolve around the family, this time an older sister impatient with her brother who, as the story opens, has kind-of sort-of accidentally been turned into a zombie. The narrative backtracks to explain how that happened, and then explores the consequences for the sister, the brother, and the other people involved. I think I found this the least convincing of the stories, mostly because the characters didn’t work for me. It could also be that I just don’t like zombie stories.
The last story is the longest, and relates to Harris’ novel The Opposite of Life, which I’ve not read. “Showtime” involves Gary – a not-that-happy-with-it vampire – and his friend Lissa, a librarian, heading to the Melbourne Show, location of rides, craft, wood-chopping exhibitions… and a haunted house. Harris does well to bring those unfamiliar with this version of Melbourne up to speed, with crafty hints at Gary and Lissa’s shared past of dealing with less-than-friendly vampires, and how this friendship manages to exist at all. It captures some of Gary’s angst and rue at not being alive, and suggests an interesting take on the implications of being undead (sunlight isn’t deadly but more like a beta-blocker; he has no adrenaline so rollercoasters are pointless). However, in the end the story fell a bit flat for me, and I think that was partly because I wasn’t as invested as I could have been in the lives of Gary and his vampire brethren existing (as it were) in the shadows of Melbourne.
Overall, this is generally an interesting look at how horror tropes can be used in familiar settings, and it’s certainly a neat addition to the Twelve Planets series.