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Interview with Kathrin Hutson


Kathrin Hutson

The Witching Vault


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.

 

In addition to writing her own dark and enchanting fiction, Kathrin spends the other half of her time as a fiction ghostwriter of almost every genre, as Fiction Co-Editor for Burlington’s Mud Season Review, and as Director of TopShelf Interviews for TopShelf Magazine. She is a member of both the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the Horror Writers Association. Kathrin lives in Colorado with her husband, their young daughter, and their two dogs, Sadie and Brucewillis.

 

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?

A. When I was five, I started taking piano lessons (apparently, as my parents told it, I taught myself how to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on the piano at my preschool, and I guess that was impressive?). I stayed with the same piano teacher twice a week for twelve years of classical piano training.


Of course, as a junior in high school, I got bored with the routine and decided to stop so I could focus on writing my own music and lyrics. I even played a handful of live shows when I lived in South Carolina (during a hiatus from writing). My whole family expected me to go to college for music, but I went for a Bachelors in Creative Writing Fiction instead.


Q.2 When should we expect your next book? What will it be about?

A. My newest book, The Witching Vault, Book 1 in the Accessory to Magic series, releases December 10th, 2020! This is a Dark Urban Fantasy series about an apprentice witch with a criminal past who inherits a magical bank that can think for itself. 


I’m really excited for this series, as it’s a new genre releasing under my name (I’ve been ghostwriting UF for a little over two years now) but of course, still has my own dark flavor spun into it. Advanced readers are already leaving phenomenal reviews, which is definitely a good sign.


Q.3 What made you write the Blue Helix series?

A. The first book in the Blue Helix series, Sleepwater Beat, was originally supposed to be a standalone and not part of a series at all. There were a lot of things I wanted to say with this book-to shed light on social injustices and societal issues I felt strongly about and to support marginalized communities and their voices in a way I felt was (and still is) still sorely lacking in speculative fiction today.


In Sleepwater Beat, I approached marginalized communities including the LGBTQ+ community, the homeless, drug addicts and survivors of drug addiction, broken families, those living on the fringes of society. These types of characters also helped me to approach larger topics within the framework of this fictionalized group of people with the “beat” ability facing discrimination on all fronts-the 24-hour news cycle, rampant capitalism, suicide, human trafficking, and experimentation, abuse, neglect, finding “found family”. This was also a story with a main character who drew more from me and my own personal life experiences than any other story and/or character I’ve written to date.


Originally, Sleepwater Beat was only meant to be one novel as a standalone. But then I realized the story wasn’t finished, the characters had more to experience, and my readers wanted more. I also realized that within my attempts to highlight the afflictions and injustices of discrimination through marginalized groups, I never touched on race, racism, and racial injustice. This is what I then focused on in Book 2, Sleepwater Static.


Q.4 Do you feel any competitive pressure from fantasy films? If not, why?

A. None whatsoever. I can’t do with my own writing what film and TV can do through visual storytelling, and vice versa. Would I love to see film/TV adaptations of my work? Absolutely. Do I feel I need to create a story as good as or better than film and TV? No. There are pros and cons to every genre and artform. I can’t do the same thing in a short story as I can do in a novel, and I can’t do the same thing in a standalone novel as I can do in a series. I also have no experience in writing for film or TV, and it feels like a completely different world to me (though I appreciate them both for what they have to offer just as much as I appreciate reading works by other authors). I think the only competitive pressure I ever feel when writing comes from myself. What I write next should be better than the last thing I wrote. So far, I think I’ve accomplished that, and I hope to see that trend continue as I learn and grow as an author myself.


Q.5 What is one stereotype about fantasy writers is absolutely wrong? What one stereotype is dead on?

A. I’d say one of the wrong stereotypes is that all fantasy writers are nerds, play D&D, go to fantasy/sci-fi conventions, and have a secret “nerdy double life”. For some of us, that’s true (I can check the box next to each one of those items I just listed lol). But fantasy nerdiness and “a social life” are not by any means mutually exclusive.


One of the stereotypes that might be dead on (and it’s hard to stereotype such a large range of people, just like with such a broad overarching genre), is that fantasy writers get sucked into the world-building aspect of creating fictional stories, characters, worlds, lore, etc. I’m not the kind of writer who sits down and maps out an entire world with its customs, laws, history, etc. I don’t do that with my characters, either. Rather, I let those pieces unfold organically as I’m writing, and I’ll occasionally go back in to fill in a few missing links if I find that inconsistency within the story. But one of my favorite parts of fantasy is that I can create a fantastical world in whatever manner I see fit-however, it feels right to the story overall and to the characters themselves. I don’t have to research historical facts or draw from anything in reality if I don’t want to, though there is always something to draw from when writing epic fantasy versus urban fantasy (i.e. a medieval feel versus magic in our current world).


Q.6 Do you ever research real events, legends, or myths to get ideas?

A. Not usually, no. Maybe it stems from the fact that I just read so much anyway, and the ideas are always churning in my head. I will, however, research real events, legends, or myths when I’m trying to base something new on something pre-established (and by that point, I already have an idea of what I’m looking for, so I research what “might be like it” to find a common thread). This really only happens when I’m writing urban fantasy, which is already within a mostly established world. Ours. It makes far more sense to base aspects of an urban fantasy world on the lore that already exists because that’s what draws the thread of believability throughout the piece.


Q.7 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

A. Honestly, I’ve never experienced many difficulties at all when writing different sex, gender, sexual orientation, or age. With an emphasis on real and raw characters in everything I write the thing to remember is that we all want the same things-to belong, to feel like we are seen and heard, to have a sense of purpose, and to be treated as if we matter.


I have to think that if I wrote romance from the perspective of the main character with sex, gender, or orientation different than mine, this might be more difficult. And yet, when we’re not writing stories whose backbones and driving plot rely on sex, gender, orientation, religion, creed, race, age, etc., it’s not that difficult to enter those different mindsets and create characters as unique and complicated as real humans.


Q.8 Where do you as an author draw the line on gory descriptions and/or erotic content?

A. Gory descriptions, for me personally, have much less of a “line” to cross in the first place. It all depends on the character experiencing it and the overall flavor of the book in general and more importantly the specific scene. I can get ridiculously gory, and I have. But it serves a purpose.


My grimdark fantasy duology, Gyenona’s Children, is one wave of gore after another, described as The Jungle Book meets Kill Bill… with dragons! Blood and violence everywhere, but its purpose is to juxtapose the physical gore of nature (and nature can be so devastatingly bloody) with the far more hidden “atrocities” beneath a race that calls itself civilized. The human race.


On the other hand, in The Unclaimed trilogy (still dark fantasy but not grimdark), my characters get stabbed, beaten, tortured, and the heavy description is far more glossed over because that’s not the point.


It’s much the same when it comes to erotic scenes. I’m a firm believer that less is more when it comes to description and drawing out the details of any interaction, and this holds especially true for romantic and erotic content. It is absolutely possible to write an erotic scene without any mention of body parts or actual sex taking place-its all about the tension. I don’t write erotica or romance as genres (two of the only genres I know for a fact I can’t write when the romance or the heat levels are the driving force behind the plot). But all my work has romantic threads woven through, and yes, sometimes even a few erotic scenes here and there. But I promise they’re nothing like you might expect.


Q.9 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?

A. This is a simple question with a complicated answer, as I both write my own fiction and ghostwrite for larger names with larger publishers. How many of my own books have I written? 8 novels and one novella. How many books have I written in my lifetime? Last week, I completed my 70th novel (which was for a ghostwriting client). While that’s a bit of a number gap, I look at it all as an opportunity to hone my craft, to improve the quality of writing and my speed, to push myself harder to find new ideas and new ways of telling the kinds of stories readers want to see.


Choosing a favorite of my own books is definitely a difficult task. Sleepwater Beat was the most meaningful to me personally. Sleepwater Static was the most intense and nail-biting because I had so much to say and was not at all ignorant of the thin line between saying it in a way that resonates with readers and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time for the right reasons. The Witching Vault, releasing this December, was just a load of fun and probably the most entertaining thing I’ve written. The first chapter of Imlach Fractured, which I’m planning to release in the next year, was everything I love about grimdark occult fantasy-dark, grueling, bloody, where everything that could go wrong about a powerful ritual does, and everyone dies (no spoilers!). Everything I write has pieces of “my favorite” in it. So, it’s hard to choose.


Q.10 Among all the protagonists of your titles, who’s your favorite, and why?

A. I’d have to say Keelin Kaht-Avmir, the protagonist in my Gyenona’s Children duology, is my favorite. Granted, I would never want to meet her in person. But for a story, she may just be the most iconic lead of anything I’ve written so far. Fierce, loyal, feral, flawed. Keelin doesn’t need anyone or anything to step in and “pick up the pieces” for her. She doesn’t need a man to save her (and often ends up saving men in epic battles). She is a strong, unapologetic female character who doesn’t take crap from anyone and is on her own path purely because it’s hers, and she never gives her power away to achieve her goals. Keelin might be a favorite among my readers, too.


Q.11 What about the supporting characters? Who does think is dearest to you?

A. This would probably be a tie between Karl from Sleepwater Beat and Tabitha from The Witching Vault.


Karl is a stoic, protective, big-hearted man with a lot of mystery around him and the weight of the world on his shoulders. He’s trying to redeem himself through acting as a sort of guardian or guide to Leo, the main character. And yet, there’s really nothing from which he actually needs to redeem himself.


Tabitha is a scryer witch, the owner of the magical bank Winthrop & Dirledge Security Banking, and Jessica Northwood’s new boss in. She’s in her sixties, eccentric, hilarious, and can see the future but can’t remember Jessica’s name. This character was so much fun to write because she had such a complex back story that showed through in bits and pieces through her constantly surprising display of what looks like insanity interspersed with perfectly lucid clarity.


Q.12 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?

A. I know that writer’s block is absolutely a thing. I haven’t experienced it in quite some time, because I just write so much. What I do experience these days is a “lull” in my ability to write as quickly as I’ve trained myself to write, when a “low word-count day” is only 10,000 words instead of 15,000 or 16,000. But there was a time when I didn’t write a word of fiction for four years straight, and I’d definitely call that writer’s block.


Only the block, for me personally, wasn’t with any sort of disconnection from an ability to write but from my own ability to give myself permission to continue writing. There’s always something holding us back when we feel stuck, no matter if it’s with writing, exercising, communicating freely with loved ones, or working a job we don’t enjoy but continue to pursue. Most of the time, that thing holding us back is fear. I’ve found myself up against both a fear of failure and a fear of success, especially when it comes to my writing.


The only real way to get past that is to do it anyway. Whatever it is. When I don’t feel like writing-which does still happen sometimes, even though writing fiction is my full-time job and pays the bills-I sit-down and force myself to do it anyway. Sometimes it can be brutal. But then I get past it, blow through that “block”, and the rest comes on its own.


Writing continuously and overcoming these obstacles is just like exercising a physical muscle. If I haven’t worked out for a week, getting back to an exercise routine can be grueling. But the more frequently I do it, the easier it becomes. Writing well and writing in large quantities doesn’t happen overnight. Neither does writing “without blocks”. It’s a process of honing craft and discipline, just like a professional athlete hones their skills and physical abilities with constant practice and training. There are bad days and good days, but the more you write, the fewer bad days you’ll have.


Q.13 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?

A. Yes. I read all my reviews! Of course, glowing reviews feel amazing. They’re a validation for any writer of what they’re doing write and what should be repeated and even improved upon in future works.


Bad reviews have a wealth of inherent value too. It goes without saying that bad reviews are inevitable, and some of them just don’t make sense (readers can leave bad reviews for anything, like “I don’t enjoy this genre. 1 Star.” And it doesn’t make sense, but it happens.


I’ve learned from the very beginning that having a thick skin as an author when it comes to constructive and especially negative feedback is essential to continued growth and improvement and to keep my belief in my own abilities strong. I love the “negative reviews” that give me the reader’s reasoning for leaving them. The best example that comes to mind is a 2-star review of Sleepwater Beat I received from an international reader. They said the writing was wonderful, they loved the gritty feel, and that “some people may like reading about the seedier side” of society. But they left two stars because “it wasn’t happy enough” and they would not read the sequel.


This review made my day. Why? Sleepwater Beat was never supposed to “be happy enough”. I write dark fiction. It’s rarely happy. I don’t do happy endings, either. There’s always a vein of hope, but I write my own fiction with the intent of illuminating the darkness, fully drawing it to the surface, to explore places I know very, very well. Dark places, seemingly without hope, but never without promise.


This can be summed up with a quote from one of my favorite authors’ books in one of my favorite series (which I’m reading again for the tenth time currently). It is the possibility of darkness that makes the day seem so bright.- Stephen King, Wolves of the Calla (The Dark Tower V).

 

Q.14 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?

A. Unique and quirky writing habits? I’ve honed my process so much to be able to write as much as I do that, I’m not sure any of it comes down to habit so much as the process. But I do have to listen to music. I find instrumental playlists of music that “sets the mood” for whatever I’m writing. The only thing I can’t do is write to music with lyrics. The words distract me from my words. I also can’t write in public places. That used to be what I did all the time when I was in high school and college. I’d write at the park, in the classroom, in coffee shops and bookstores. Now, the only place I can really write is in my home office, just because I have the perfect setup and all my “tools” around me (ergonomic chair and keyboard, desk, dual monitors, privacy, my planner right beside me). I’ve tried writing in public on occasion over the last few years, and I just can’t get into focus and flow when there are other people around.


Q.15 Outside of your family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author?

A. I had an incredible mentor in high school, David LeNoble. He was an English teacher, though never mine, but he was the girls’ basketball coach and my coach when I played basketball my freshman year. He also mentored me through a final essay in my junior year, and I was his student assistant for one class, simply because I could be (and chose to). This man was one of my favorite teachers in the school and continuously encouraged my love of writing and my ability to write fiction even back then (I finished my first novel in high school and took nine years away from it before finally publishing it). His insight and support were invaluable. And oddly enough, eight years after graduating high school and just a few days after my husband proposed, we got to meet with David for coffee and catch up on everything that had happened in the interim. I wasn’t yet published at that time (it was during my four-year “writer’s block”). But I still am so grateful for the influence he had on my life at the time and the support he offered through just being there as a mentor.


Q.16 Do you think Americans are reading less than they have before? Why or why not?

A. Right now, in 2020, no. I think Americans and people all over the world are reading more now, not less. When the first emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic became clearer in late February and early March, I did worry about it. As a career author and ghostwriter, I wondered just how much people would be willing to spend on fiction when there were so many other “necessities” to focus on (and so much fear and confusion spreading). As it turned out-much like other historical times of war, famine, crisis-people did turn and still are turning to fiction as a way to maintain sanity and help them through such a difficult time.


This was especially true during “lockdown” and social distancing, when people had so much more “free time” (though I hesitate to call it that, because it didn’t and still doesn’t for some carry the same easy, laid-back, peaceful connotation). But people are reading more now, I believe, both to escape into other worlds where there are hope and beauty and to educate themselves on perspectives and experiences and topics, they may not have previously felt a call to explore.


In late March, I offered all six of my novels at the time to readers for free. It was only for a week, but I shared the heck out of these free reads on social media and with my subscribers and “gave away” almost 2,000 copies of my books. The personal emails I received after that only reaffirmed my belief in the power of storytelling. Readers were contacting me to tell me how much they appreciated new worlds and stories to explore without having to spend a dime. That my books were helping them through one of the toughest periods of their lives. That they wouldn’t know what they would do during this pandemic if they didn’t have fiction to help them carry through.


I believe good stories are one of the most important avenues for connecting with each other, for learning about ourselves and others and the world around us, for teaching and validating and inspiring. I’m so glad to see people reading more. I’d be far more concerned if we weren’t.


Q.17 What three things readers should expect from your books?

A. 1) No happy endings. I try my best to make this perfectly clear through every aspect of my branding and marketing. Exquisite Darkness Press publishes just that-exquisitely dark fiction that doesn’t necessarily leave you “feeling good” at the end but will take you for a wild ride. Many of my readers have left reviews saying, “This is not for the faint of heart.” It’s very true. And yet those who are willing to take that dive into the darkness with me are, for the most part, glad they did.


2) I don’t hold back. I strive in everything I do to avoid harmful stereotypes, to be respectful of different experiences and viewpoints, and to lend a voice to different perspectives and ideas in ways that are accessible to everyone. One reader called my writing “fearless and unapologetic”. Another-a long-time fan-has called it “essential”. But I don’t skirt around issues, whether they’re larger societal issues or shocking moments of violence, gore, sexuality, action, or strong language. I’m a huge fan of cursing, epic fight scenes, and explosions. And yes, a fair amount of bloody deaths.


3) There will be tropes. And these tropes will be turned on their heads. A hero’s journey where the hero is really nothing special and continues to be bashed over the head at every turn. A 71-year-old protagonist with arthritis whose “beat” ability stokes sexual arousal in her “victims”. A witch tasked with saving the world who removed her own magic because it got her into too much trouble. I write to tropes to break through them, and it makes for quite the adventure.


Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?

A. I would probably melt into a quivering puddle if I ever stood face to face with Stephen King. I have serious fangirl issues with that one. The other person I’ve always wanted to meet, though he’s no longer living, is Johnny Cash. Listening to his music-and covering it on the piano with my own musical style-makes I want to sit down on a porch with him at the end of the day and toast each other with a glass of whiskey. We wouldn’t even have to talk. I’d be perfectly happy.


Q.19 What is your favorite book and why?

A. This is an impossible question to answer, as I’m sure any bibliophile can attest. My favorite series is Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series (in case anyone hadn’t picked up on that by now). Closely followed by Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series, and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series (of graphic novels). I could go on. I won’t.


What all of these have in common in their supreme darkness within the wildly vast scope of the worlds and what the characters must sacrifice to achieve their goals, most of the time without much of a clear idea at all of what they’re trying to do. In some parts, the end seems unattainable and impossible. Sometimes, it is. I love it.


Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?

A. My journey so far has been more than I ever could have dreamed. It’s taken me through some of the darkest points of my life-depression, anxiety, heroin addiction, recovery-to get to some of the highest-meeting my husband, getting married and becoming a mother, publishing that first and second and third book and more, again and again, discovering ghostwriting, and finally being able to do what I love for a living that supports my family and allows us all to do what we love together. And I get to share these stories with the world. My journey is far from over, but I am so excited to continue growing and learning and improving, as an author and a person, and can’t wait for what comes next.


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