Author Highlight: Kathrin Hutson
I vividly remember being captivated by the cover of Daughter of the Drackan when it was shared in a readers group. It was on sale at the time, and I greedily snagged a copy and gobbled it up. I signed up for Kathrin's newsletter and ended up reaching out when I realized we'd both be signing books at the Imaginarium Book Festival in DC this May!
I've since learned she's also a Dystopian Sci-fi writer, and her book Sleepwater Beat is an international bestseller and Award-Winning Sci-Fi Finalist in the 2019 International Book Awards. This is just awesome! The second book in the series comes out this May.
How did you come up with the story concept for the Blue Helix series? The entire inspiration for the Blue Helix series (and more specifically Sleepwater Beat, before I knew it was going to be the first of a series), came from nothing more than a scene popping into my head—a rough-around-the-edges chick working as a bounty hunter punching a guy in the face (and accidentally killing him when he falls over the edge of a frozen waterfall). That scene did actually make it into the original “Sleepwater Beat” as a short story, but it had no business being in the book.
Beyond that, my inspiration for the entire Blue Helix series comes from my own experience, the struggles I’ve faced in my relatively short life, and the fact that I want to bring so many things to light for readers out there, for other people. The series is an entertaining story, absolutely, and the characters are so much fun. Sleepwater is so much fun. It’s also a reflection of society, what started as a preemptive interpretation of our current world with only a few minor changes tipping it into Dystopia. Now, we’re facing a lot of the same things that I wrote into Sleepwater Beat a year or two before they happened. Sleepwater Static and the rest of the series have been and will be written in response to what I’m seeing in the world around me today. Clear-cut messages (hopefully) turned on their heads to put story first and awareness as a close second.
What do you love about writing dark fantasy and dystopian sci-fi? What do you hate or maybe just dislike about them? I really don't have a bad thing to say about writing dark fantasy (it's kind of my fave all around), but I'm focusing on the Blue Helix series right now, which is in fact LGBTQ Dystopian Sci-Fi. So I'll talk about the loves of this genre. Dystopian fiction in and of itself is almost (almost) impossible to separate from socioeconomic and/or political observation. Dystopian = everything that could go wrong actually does. (This is my own personal definition). Why do I love it so much? For that very reason. As I consider writing fiction to be my superpower, with Dystopian fiction, I get to say the things I want to say about the world, about people, marginalized communities (many of which I belong to myself), spotlights that need to be shed and credit given (or taken away) where it's due (or undeserved). And I get to do it all through creating engaging story with real characters and (so I've been told) a surprisingly eerie reflection of our own current society through a group of people in this series that are completely fictional with a completely fictional ability. Plus, I only write dark fiction, so Dystopian was just a given when it came to Sci-Fi as a larger genre. And why LGBTQ? As a queer author, I've been wanting to see more LGBTQ+ characters with widespread representation in speculative fiction (beyond the mass amounts of LGBTQ erotica that just... doesn't interest me in the slightest). Not where the story is focused on a queer romance (nothing romantic about the relationships in my book) but where the main characters and/or supporting characters with larger roles are queer and at the same time are not defined by and relegated to that queerness and nothing else. It felt right to mash these two together for the Blue Helix series.
The thing I despise the most about writing in general is research. Absolutely hate it! It's not that fun (thought I learn a LOT), and yet it's still remarkably essential for so many genres, even dark fantasy (I learned how to make homemade candles for one of my dark fantasy novellas). A lot more research went into Sleepwater Static (Blue Helix Book 2) than any of my other books, and that's because I chose to weave in a lot of history throughout. The timeline, in a roundabout way, spans from 1978 - 2031 in the South, more specifically South Carolina for most of the book. I learned a lot about history too, but I do not enjoy looking things up, even when I know exactly what I'm looking for. Mostly because it's a drain of my time when I could be writing instead ha! And perhaps this isn't why I've yet attempted more hardcore Sci-Fi like a space opera or military Sci-Fi. I'm well aware of how much research I'd feel obligated to perform for that.
When it comes to world-building do you have any particular tricks or techniques? In this series specifically, yes! Both books so far in the Blue Helix series (Sleepwater Beat and Sleepwater Static, releasing May 26th) have small "interludes" woven throughout the story, which also moves in and out of the present timeline and the main character's past before we first meet them. In Book 1, these interludes came in the form of news snippets, i.e. news reporters reading off their teleprompters to give the audience (and the reader) a clearer view of what's currently happening in society re: the IT industry, pharmaceuticals, rampant consumerism, the 24-hour news cycle, "fake news", the whole shebang. Readers have said it's remarkably effective (though perhaps a bit strange in the beginning) for world-building, which makes me one seriously happy author. So I decided to repeat the structure in Book 2. Except for instead of newsclips, Book 2 has interludes of hand-written letters (and later emails) to the main character from one of her closest friends. This friend has the same ability as the main characters--called "spinning a beat" where certain words elicit physical responses in those who hear them--and this lends a wider view into the first unknown and later discovered and fear/marginalized group of individuals with this inexplicable ability. Much of it brings to light how the organization Sleepwater was formed. And why. And that's where SO MUCH of the history came in... with a bit of a twist.
What was the most difficult part of the publishing process for you? Oh, boy. The most difficult part with this newest book, Sleepwater Static, is literally just waiting to hear whether or not I messed up the entire thing LOL. With this series specifically, I've found myself biting my own nails over a number of scenes that I felt were SO IMPORTANT to write and write well. So far, all of my ARC readers and my phenomenal editor have left nothing but glowing feedback, many of them even praising the very same scenes I was worried about without having been asked about those specific scenes beforehand. So the nervousness of wondering with this book has faded a little. We'll see what happens when the book is actually out in the world and being seen by so many more people than those I already know enjoy what I create.
What does your writing space look like? Messy and disorganized AF. That's the simple answer LOL (things got complicated after we had our kid. She's three now. Complications shall continue, I think). But I do have my own in-home office, with a door and everything, so the mess can only be blamed on me. It's an organized chaos: I know where everything is despite everything being all over the place. Got my desk and standing desk, super comfy chair, cabinet full of journals and stationary, and a giant bookshelf that was my husband's first Christmas present to me before we were married (soul mates). And that, of course, is so full of books that they're literally spilling out onto the floor. So it's a messy, chaotically organized, brightly colored office of an author who's not trying to pretend to be anything else!
What are your tricks for juggling writing while maintaining a personal life? Honestly, it's more like juggling my personal life while maintaining my writing. I write fiction full-time for a living, which fully supports my family of three and our two giant dogs. It's hard sometimes to work from home for myself and to also separate that from family time the other facets of adulting. Therefore, I also don't spend much time out of the house, which is perfectly fine with me. Major introvert over here. And I spend my time doing what I love more than anything in the world (professionally). I've found a good pattern, though. I wrote from 7am to 5pm Monday through Friday, and as a stay-at-home dad, my husband handles most things around the house and getting our kid to and from preschool, running errands, shopping, cooking (he's always been the cook, even before he chose to be a stay-at-home dad, so that's just nice to still have). I help my kid get ready for school in the morning and am out of my office AT 5:00, and then the rest of the night is just to relax and not think about writing/work/deadlines/checklist, woah! I've only recently been able to consistently force myself not to write on weekends (I break the rules and write anyway when my kid's napping), but for the most part, weekends are completely family night, with the occasional date with my husband thrown in for fun.
As far as I'm concerned, I'm living the (my) dream! Confession time: the hard part is not sneaking away to write every chance I get, even beyond the 50 hours a week of dedicated writing time.
What's the best piece of advice you've received about writing? Just keep writing. It sounds cliche and overused, but I can't even stress enough how true it is. Writing is a craft and a practice, just like anything else. The only way we get better is with practice. Lots of practice. And I'll tell you right now, the first million words I wrote are still not suitable for anyone else to see. It might blind people. But I kept going (with a few minor hiccups and a rather large break in there during my own "personal development" years), and each time I write something, it just gets better and better. And if I ever get to the point where I've just plateaued with my skills and my craft... well, I'd just be lying to myself LOL. There is ALWAYS room for improvement, as long as we put in the time and the effort to reach for our potential as writers.
What is the best book you’ve read recently? So I am a die-hard Dark Tower (by Stephen King) fan and will always be such. Currently, I'm reading the seven-book series for the 10th (yes, the tenth) time since I first picked it up in high school. So right now, I'm knee-deep in Book 4, Wizard and Glass. I can't recommend this series enough for anyone who enjoys multiple worlds, dark magic, epic quests, the hands of fate (ka), and irreversibly flawed yet wholly noble characters. Wild West meets King Arthur with a Stephen King twist (I could go on forever). Beyond that, I just finished reading The Curse Merchant (The Dark Choir Book 1) by J.P. Sloan. Really fantastic take on urban fantasy and "witchcraft", and I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the main character (a man) and the storyline as a whole. It's super rare that I enjoy anything written in first person, but this was, and it hit all the sweet spots for dark Urban Fantasy, tortured characters, a little bit of horror, definite magic, blood and gore, mystery, a tiny bit of romance, and Happily Never After (a basic requirement in everything I write). So if you're a fan of dark fiction and Urban Fantasy, check that one out. I'll be reading the rest of the series after I finish this massive King book currently on my desk ;)