The Scribbler is pleased to do a series of guest appearances in conjunction with Creative Edge Publicity of Saskatchewan, Canada. (See below for more of Creative Edge)
This week’s guest is International best-selling author, Kathrin Hutson.
When you visit Kathrin’s website, you are greeted by the words “Exquisite Darkness”. If that isn’t enough to lure you in, there are the gorgeous covers of all seven of her novels.
The Scribbler is most fortunate to have her visit and answer a few questions. On the plus side, she is sharing an excerpt from one of her novels. Read on!
International Bestselling Author Kathrin Hutson has been writing Dark Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and LGBTQ Speculative Fiction since 2000. With her wildly messed-up heroes, excruciating circumstances, impossible decisions, and Happily Never Afters, she’s a firm believer in piling on the intense action, showing a little character skin, and never skimping on violent means to bloody ends.
4Q: Your website tells us most of your work is Fantasy (the dark kind) and Sci-Fi. What draws you to these genres?
KH: I’ve always been a fan of dark fantasy in general. That was the genre I got into reading at an early age (though it’s not dark fantasy per se, I was reading Stephen King’s It when I was ten, if that paints a better picture). Beyond all the fun and imagination-inspiring tropes of magical worlds, grand landscapes, sweeping quests, and the kinds of people, places, and creatures not of our own world, I’m just particularly drawn to the darker side of Fantasy. Dark magic, seedy characters, terrifying consequences, and the struggle characters must endure in order to prevail (or not). It’s the richness of that kind of magical darkness that really gets to me, the “not shying away from” what’s terrifying or heavy or maybe even cringe-worthy on the gruesome side.
As an author, it’s just so much fun to let my imagination run wild with the terrifying possibilities of things going wrong in a magical world. It also helps me let out my “inner darkness” when I write these things. At one point in my own life, things were pretty dark for a while. I struggled in a lot of ways, made a few poor choices, and found myself facing the end once or twice. Now, I am incredibly fortunate to have found my calling with writing fiction and spinning up these other worlds for readers to get lost in and enjoy. I’m married to the coolest guy in the world, and we have a pretty fantastic three-year-old daughter, and life is good for me these days. In a way, I think I’m drawn to writing Dark/Grimdark Fantasy because it lets me inhabit the darker sides of myself without drawing any of it out into the pretty awesome life I managed to put back together after my own struggles.
The same thing is true for the Dystopian Sci-Fi I write. Science Fiction in general (as I perceive it) has a lot more rooted in technology and science, yes, but also serves as a reflection of “what may be possible for us in the real world”. With my own Dystopian Sci-Fi series, Blue Helix, I get to play with real-world topics and issues in a reality close to ours but twisted just enough into the speculative realm to make it more about a good story and poignant characters. Writing that, for me personally, feels more like showing the world what might happen if we don’t pay close enough attention to our own actions and everyday choices (much like what happened to me when I chose not to be aware of the ripple effect of my own choices, once upon a time).
And, of course, speculative fiction in general is just such a fun escape from the real world, which can often seem particularly mundane. Of course, I read and write a little bit of almost everything (Romance as a genre is completely out, though), but my heart will always be with dark speculative fiction.
4Q: I know this is a tough question but one that I find compelling. Which of the novels was your favorite from beginning to published work and why?
KH: Yes, that’s definitely a tough question! I love all of my novels completely, for very different reasons. But if we’re looking at the entire scope of from beginning to end, first line to publication and beyond, I’d have to say Daughter of the Drackan was my “favorite”. And that word can be interpreted so many ways! And it might be better for me to list why this book takes the “all around favorite” award, so here we go.
1) This was my first completed novel, which I finished my junior year of high school on December 31st, 2007 at 11:52 p.m. (I declined New Year’s Eve parties with my friends to finish the monster). At the time, it was roughly 210k words, which was eventually split up into the Gyenona’s Children duology.
2) I learned so much about writing strong, independent, fierce, wild female main characters who are not particularly friendly or easily likeable—and how to create their interactions and the world around them to make their prickliness essential (and for which readers end up loving them even more).
3) I learned how cutting 11k words nine years after finishing the first draft only improves the story.
4) I queried the bajeezes out of Daughter of the Drackan, racking up 116 rejection letters from traditional publishing agents. That taught me so much about the traditional publishing query process and having a thick skin.
5) This book started my Indie Author career.
6) I learned that even an epic Grimdark Fantasy book rejected by 116 traditional agents can become an Amazon Bestseller in Dark Fantasy within its first year of publication all on its own.
7) I definitely learned my lesson (three times over) about what not to do with book covers and how important it is to find the right cover designer.
8) I taught myself (using some fantastic references for Indies) how to format ebooks to look exactly how I want by building them at the CSS HTML level. Just for this book first.
9) This book has been a reader favorite and a perfect glimpse into the darkness of my writing for the last four and a half years of my Indie career. Fans still love it, and it was a Quarterfinalist in the 2019 Epic Fantasy Fanatics Readers Choice Awards.
10) This was my first attempt (unknowingly at the time) to include a piece of my own social commentary in an epic work of fantasy. This gave me the confidence to step it up a notch with the Blue Helix series (very different, far less subtle commentary, and for very different reasons).
|Photo credit: fanart.tv|
4Q: Please share a childhood memory or anecdote.
KH: This qualifies as both a childhood memory and an anecdote, and I think right now, in the current times and everything this world is facing, that it’s an incredibly poignant snippet for me to remember and, of course, for me to share.
My dad is one of my biggest role models for so many things, and I’m so fortunate to be able to say that I have an incredible relationship with him in my adult life. We are so alike, and I find it funny and still endearing that I see myself reflecting him in even more ways as I keep growing as a person (and especially a parent).
When I was small, it brought me comfort. When I was a teenager, it made me roll my eyes. When I went through some of the roughest, lowest, darkest days of my life, it served as an anchor. And now I find myself saying it to my three-year-old, with the addition of, “That’s what Papa used to say to me every day when I was a kid.” But it’s so true, and I think it plays a huge role in my eventually shift from being a night-owl (working bars and restaurants from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.) to absolutely being a morning person and waking up at 4:00 a.m. every morning (which also helps my writing brain).
4Q: Lets talk about your latest novel, Sleepwater Beat and the Blue Helix series.
KH: Sleepwater Beat turned out to be one of the most important and definitely the most well-received (so far) of my novels. It’s the first in the LGBTQ Dystopian Sci-Fi Blue Helix series and has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for me in both the genre and my Indie career.
I published Sleepwater Beat in November of 2018 after a grueling four years of workshopping a short story with my writers group at the time, turning that short story into a novel, bashing my head against the wall because I wanted to “get it right”, querying traditional publishing agents and getting rejected by all of them, and finally deciding to put it out there as an Indie book with my other five novels at the time. Four and a half months later, this book became an International Bestseller on both Amazon and Kobo within the following genres: LGBTQ Fiction, Lesbian Fiction, Noir Sci-Fi, LGBTQ Sci-Fi, and Genetic Engineering and Conspiracy Sci-Fi (in the UK, Canada, Australia, Thailand, Japan, New Zealand, Denmark, Cyprus, Finland, Greece, Lithuania, Germany, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, and India. There may be a few others).
Long story short, this book got big, and when I signed an agreement with my publicist, things got even crazier. Sleepwater Beat is also an Award-Winning Sci-Fi Finalist in the 2019 International Book Awards, and I’ve been on live local news in Vermont (broadcasting also to Canada), as well as more podcasts, blogs, and magazines than I can list right here and not bore everyone to pieces. All to talk about Sleepwater Beat.
This book has such a special place in my heart—my first time writing Dystopian Fiction in general, my first time writing LGBTQ Fiction and queer characters, my first “big” release, and one heck of a nail-biter when I finally published it. The main character, Leona “Leo” Tieffler, has more of Kathrin Hutson in her than any character I’ve written to date. The book draws directly from so many of my own experiences during the much darker period of my life (in which I didn’t write any fiction at all), and it was a bit of a terrifying experience to write so much of myself into a story, only slightly intentionally, before releasing it to the world. Apparently, I didn’t have to worry about it nearly as much as I did!
Beyond being a fast-paced, heart-pounding page-turner crossing the line between Dystopian, Noir, and Thriller, Sleepwater Beat was written in large part as a fictional discourse on what I was seeing in the world and what I wanted to illuminate for others. I actually finished writing it just before the US Presidential Elections in 2016, and so many elements of the fictional world I created (our world set in the 2030s but with a Dystopian twist and a new “power” some people have developed called “the beat”) started to reveal themselves in our world. This book became a timely discourse on the opioid epidemic, late capitalism, the 24-hour news cycle, technology and pharmaceuticals, and ended up going so much deeper, too. What I really wanted was to shed light on a slew of marginalized communities (many of which I belong to myself), all through the lens of this fictional community of “beat-spinners” who are feared, hated, hunted, ostracized, and discriminated against purely because of their “beat”. I worked with LGBTQ characters, drug addicts and addiction survivors, survivors of abuse and broken homes, the homeless, the destitute, “black-market” dealing, and the generally seedy underbelly of society that does in part exist today and could potentially exist (the point of Sci-Fi, right?). And the point was to touch on these topics while simultaneously making them accessible to a much wider audience purely for the fact that it is very much fiction (while still reflecting the current times).
Needless to say, it was a huge step forward for me as an author and for my entire Indie Publishing career. I’ve been told it reads like a thriller, and it’s even been compared to work by Peter Straub, which absolutely blew me away. I also realized this story and this world was in no way finished with Sleepwater Beat and Leo’s story, which prompted me to turn this into a series and write the next book, Sleepwater Static, which is set for publication on May 26th, 2020.
Sleepwater Static is a whole different animal, and while it continues the story on a broader scale, it dives a little deeper into supporting characters from Sleepwater Beat to tackle the same topics with an additional view into race, racism, transracial families, biracial people, and the climate of racial discrimination (and discrimination in general) still so prevalent and destructive in the world today. And I can’t wait to see how people respond to this second book in the series. (I thought writing Sleepwater Beat was so hard for being so close to home. Sleepwater Static can with its own set of trials, tribulations, and nights of really hoping I’ve done this right. So far, advanced readers and reviewers have told me I’ve succeeded).
The Blue Helix series will be at least three books (if not more), and I do think this is some of the most important work I’ve done for my own personal growth, as an author, and for potential readers of the Blue Helix series.
4Q: Have there been any favorite authors or persons in your life that has inspired you to write?
KH: I’ve been a fan of Stephen King for a long time (I read It when I was ten, and maybe I shouldn’t have… ha). My particular favorite is his Dark Tower series—a mash of Horror, Dark Fantasy, Arthurian Legend, and Western. He’s called it his magnum opus, and I agree (currently reading the series for the 10th time right now). In my earlier years of writing, before I had enough experience writing in different voices and styles to come up with something more uniquely my own, I think I reflected (or tried to emulate) King’s writing style. Which is definitely not for everyone (I had one reader tell me the only fiction he read before finding my books was Stephen King. What a compliment!). The way King leaves Easter eggs throughout almost all his work touching on his other books and series fascinates me. I decided to do something a bit like this between The Unclaimed trilogy and my upcoming Vessel Broken series, and On Writing was a favorite read in high school.
Beyond that, I might be able to credit Jacquelyn Carey (author of the Kushiel’s Legacy series) for inspiration with my own Vessel Broken series and Stieg Larsson for helping to inspire the Blue Helix series and Leo Tieffler’s character (I’ve called Sleepwater Beat “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets X-Men). Really, I could also credit all the fantastic fiction I’ve devoured over the last few decades and all the ideas they’ve sparked in my head. I don’t want to write like my favorites, but I do hope to take what I’ve learned from enjoying their stories and put my own unique twist on it to the same effect.
4Q: In your opinion, what makes a great story?
KH: I am a firm believer in round, complex, flawed, and exciting characters being the driving force behind all great stories. Of course, the plot, action, intrigue, world-building, and a high quality of crafted writing are all very important as well. But when the characters surprise you, when they feel so real that they could almost leap off the page and smack you in the face, that’s when I believe the story is at its best. Written the right way, these types of characters can turn a mundane, everyday situation into a saga of suspense, horror, comedy, love, hope, despair, etc. As a reader, when I pick up something with characters that are flat, predictable, or have particularly cookie-cutter shapes, it doesn’t matter how intricate the plot or world is. I lose interest. It’s the characters that bring us closer to the story, closer to ourselves, and in some cases closer to each other. In my personal opinion, that’s the point of fiction in the first place.
4Q: What’s next for Kathrin, the author?
KH: Like I’ve said, I’m really gearing up for Sleepwater Static’s release on May 26th. I have a feeling this might be an even bigger release than when I published the first in the series, and the end of May couldn’t come fast enough (it’ll be here before I know it).
I also have a severely dark LGBTQ Dark Fantasy series bordering on Horror in the works, Vessel Broken, and if all goes well, the first book Imlach Fractured will be out in October of 2020. Beyond that, I’m whipping up a fun little dark Urban Fantasy series, but I’m keeping that one under wraps for now. It’s so much fun to delve into so many different genres and put my own flavor on them, and as far as I can see, the tales will just keep coming.
4Q: Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
KH: Nothing immediately comes to mind. I’ve pretty thoroughly captured everything 😉
An Excerpt from Sleepwater Static, Book 2 in the Blue Helix series:
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)
“Well it’s not like I can just go around South Carolina asking if people have some freak thing inside them they can’t explain. You know what’s about to happen with that anyway. They’re about to make what I do…” Bernadette shook her head and forced herself to whisper. “They’re about to make it a goddamn felony, Darrell. I saw a draft of that new bill. Nobody’s gonna just start steppin’ up and claiming they can do this, all proud and brave.”
“Come on. Destroyin’ government property ain’t exactly legit, either.”
They both turned toward their daughter, who looked like she’d gotten something stuck in her throat. Olivia’s hand had moved from her chest to her neck now, rubbing at something there none of them could see.
“What’s wrong, baby? You need to get a glass of water or somethin’?”
“I don’t…” Olivia blinked and stared blankly at the table.
“Go get her some water.” Bernadette nodded into the kitchen. “We shouldn’t be talkin’ about this right here anyway.”
“Oh, sure. Just keep brushin’ me off like every other time I try to have the real hard conversations with you.” Darrell smacked a hand down on the doorway into the kitchen. “Damnit, B, I don’t even know when you’re gonna be home half the time. We ain’t sayin’ what needs to be said when you’re gone, and I’m not interested in pretendin’ you can’t do better with that thing you’ve been given.”
“You think I’m just wastin’ it, do ya?” Bernadette patted her own chest and stepped toward him, her neck craned back so she could hold his gaze. “Think there’s some perfect job waiting out there for me where I’m not doin’ somethin’ folks would generally frown upon? I’m not gonna sit behind a desk all day and kill myself for somethin’ I don’t believe in—”
“Yeah, you’re gon’ kill yourself, all right. Y’all are just as bad as—”
“Stop it!” Olivia lurched up from her seat, sending the chair clattering back against the wall behind the door. “Stop yelling at each other. This isn’t what y’all do! I know y’all love each other, so can’t you just act like…”
Her daughter’s words fizzled away somewhere in the back of Bernadette’s mind. As Olivia shouted at them from behind the kitchen table, Bernadette found herself focusing only on the tightness in her chest. Her throat closed, like some invisible hand had wrapped around it and squeezed. She tried to take a breath and choked on the effort. Her own hands went up to her throat, trying to free it from the sudden pressure. The burning in her lungs now was nothing like her own beat and everything like suffocating right there in the hall. When she staggered backward and thumped against the hallway wall, she looked up to see Darrell doubled over, holding himself up with a hand against the doorway while he coughed and tried to suck in a full breath that just wouldn’t come.
He dropped to one knee, and Bernadette’s awareness scrambled to find an answer. The carbon monoxide detectors would’ve gone off a long time ago, right? And what about Olivia?
Bernadette pushed herself off the wall, gasping and wheezing, and found herself on her hands and knees a second later. She looked up into the kitchen, reaching for her daughter. If this was it for her, fine. But she had to get Olivia outside. She had to get her child out of this before all three of them were—
“What’s… W-what’s going on?” Olivia stared at them and lurched out from behind the table. “Mama?” The girl froze there in the middle of the kitchen, her lower lip trembling as she stared at her parents falling over themselves in the hall.
The grip around Bernadette’s throat let off just enough for her take in a raw, searing, desperate gasp. Behind her, Darrell fell into a fit of coughing and sat back against the wall. Now she could breathe again. Now she could think, and the light in the kitchen seemed brighter than ever.
“Are you okay?” Olivia’s voice cracked, her eyes quickly filling with tears. The curls bursting from her pigtails shivered as a wave of trembling washed over the ten-year-old girl who’d just done what none of them had expected. What none of them could have ever known until it happened, just like this.
And that was exactly what it was. Bernadette was certain of it. She stared up at her daughter and for a moment just couldn’t move.
Olivia’s shaking hand returned to her own throat, as if she had to double-check that she was still inside her body. Still there. This was real. “Mama, I… I didn’t mean to—”
“Oh, baby.” Bernadette leapt to her feet and raced across the kitchen toward her daughter. The girl’s tiny, solid frame fit right into her arms, and Olivia let out a strangled sob.
“I couldn’t stop it—”
“No, no. Shh. It’s okay.” She wanted to squeeze her daughter tighter than she ever had, to press the girl so closely against her that it would suck all that horror and shame right out of Olivia and into Bernadette herself. “You’re okay. We’re all fine.”
“I’m sorry, Mama…”
“You didn’t know. We didn’t know, baby. Everything’s okay.” She stroked those dark, shivering curls and felt two small hands clutching at her jacket. Olivia bucked in her arms with silent tears, her entire body still trembling with all the reactions Bernadette had had to teach herself to rein in. But no one in Bernadette’s family had known what to do with a child who could make them feel something just because of the words she’d spoken, whether in rage or terror or spite or just because she fucking could.
But Olivia didn’t have that problem, did she? Bernadette might have considered her daughter lucky on that count and that count only. The girl wouldn’t have to go through this alone, because Bernadette was there, and Bernadette knew what this was.
A shadow passed over them in the living room, and she looked up to see Darrell standing behind them. Tears swam in the dark pools of his eyes too, and he bit his bottom lip as he studied his child and her mother—two-thirds of their family who now belonged to a world he accepted but could never fully understand.
She didn’t need to explain to him what had just happened. He already knew, and he didn’t have to say that he still stood by them no matter what. Darrell set a hand on the back of Bernadette’s neck. Olivia lifted her head for a gasping breath, her light-brown cheeks flushed and glistening with a layer of her own tears. When she saw her father standing there, the pain on that face—a face too young to have to feel anything like this—broke Bernadette’s heart. It was a pain that started right here with hoping her daddy still loved her, despite what he’d just watched her become. And no matter what Darrell did now, that pain would stay with Olivia for the rest of her life.
“Come here, baby.” That was all he had to say, and the girl threw herself against him. He lifted her up into his arms and ran his hand down her tight curls before burying his face in them. When he met Bernadette’s gaze again, everything he might have said but didn’t was right there in his eyes. They’d get through this too, just like they were getting through everything else. But where the rest of the world could see them and make their own judgments—a white woman and a black man raising their daughter in the South in the twenty-first century—no one would ever see the other legacy Olivia carried with her until it was too late. And how the fuck were they supposed to make sure that things never got that far?
Darrell sniffed and turned away, carrying their crying child out of the kitchen. Olivia had looked so damn grown up sitting at that table with her head in her books and a sharp, witty defiance against anything that got in her way. But in her daddy’s arms, she was still so terrifyingly small.
Bernadette stepped back against the counter beside the kitchen sink. Her own body trembled now too, and she clapped both hands over her mouth so they wouldn’t hear her crying beside the fridge. But her hands just weren’t strong enough to keep it all down.
Thank you, Kathrin, for being our featured guest this week. Wishing you continued success with your stories.
For you wonderful readers and visitors wanting to discover more about this talented author, please follow these links:
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