Catherine Haustein - Sci-Fi set in an Authoritarian Society
Born under a half-illuminated quarter moon, Catherine Haustein is never sure if she favors light or shadow. Her Unstable States series contains ample portions of both. The author and chemist lives and teaches in a tidy town in Iowa on the shores of a lake which sometimes is cited for elevated fecal coliform levels. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Catherine weaves the passions and optimism of science with the absurdities of the present and dark possibilities of the future throughout her books. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Mixed In.
Please give us a short introduction to what Mixed In is about.
Catrina moves to an authoritarian city-state to pursue her dream job as a scientist. A chance meeting and deep involvement with rebellious bar owner Ulysses has her questioning the value of science to humanity. But it’s what she’ll need to save him.
What inspired you to write about someone who moves into an authoritarian society?
Along with several other scientists, I was visited by the governor at my workplace. She spoke about Iowa needing more scientists in purely economic terms without any recognition of the joy of science, its optimism, and its commitment to making life better for as many people as possible. From my perspective, she was basically saying she supported science because it could make more money for the super-rich and that was to be its focus. I found it chilling but inspirational. I developed a fictional society ruled by a profit-driven family.
Tell us more about Catrina. What makes her so special?
Catrina carries the optimism of science and its love of problem-solving to the extreme. No problem is too big for her. She solves problems she maybe shouldn’t. She’s a little naïve. If you’re longing for a protagonist with a can-do spirit, like Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, or Hermione, you’ll love her.
In Cochtonville, just about anything that is fun is outlawed - why did you create the story this way?
Many people have told me that they think it has something to do with my hometown which is pretty buttoned up. That might have been a part of it. I envisioned a joyless place where there’s nothing to do but go to work and eat ham—and even that gets ruined. I based this on the Comstock Act of 1873 which declared many things to be lewd. I like to have mild sex scenes in my novels to help Mr. Comstock roll in his grave.
Even though your characters live in a strange society, readers found them relatable and real. How did you pull this off?
I think we all can relate to the tension between private life and work life, to the complexities of love, and to being an outsider.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’m small and walk quietly so I can sneak up on people. Since I’m a chemist, I can make potions. And my last name rhymes with Frankenstein.
This is the first book in a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
Yes, it and other books in the series can be standalone. The location is the same but the events and characters don’t depend on the other books. The series can be classified as Milieu, place-based. In each book, different people are fighting a similar battle.
Among the wealth of characters in Mixed In, who was the most difficult to create?
The male lead, Ulysses. He’s not the best choice for Catrina, he’s made questionable decisions, but I needed him to be likable.
What are you working on right now?
I’ve just finished up the second book in the series, Lost in Waste, about falling in love with a GMO man.