Kathrin Hutson - Messed-up heroes, Excruciating circumstances, and Happily Never Afters
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. With Sleepwater Beat, she became an international bestselling author on both Amazon and Kobo. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Sleepwater Static.
Please give us a short introduction to what Sleepwater Static is about.
Sleepwater Static is the second book in my LGBTQ+ Dystopian Sci-Fi Blue Helix series with a new main character and a bit of a different trajectory after the end of Book 1, Sleepwater Beat. But the story of Sleepwater as a group of people continues, and it's not over yet.
The Blue Helix series takes place in a world where certain people have developed a supernatural ability to physically affect people with their words using a certain kind of storytelling, which I call "the beat". And this world, as was only slightly my intention when I first started writing Sleepwater Beat in 2016, is a dark and eerily accurate reflection of our current world today. Set in 2031, Sleepwater Static follows a group of these people with "the beat" ability - members of an underground organization called Sleepwater, all the members of whom have their own unique versions of this particular ability. Bernadette Manney - a seventy-one-year-old white woman from the South with flaring arthritis and a dark past of her own - now shoulders the responsibility of leading this small Sleepwater chapter to safety. Government agencies are hunting them down, private companies and military corporations are on their trail, and the fear, xenophobia, and discrimination aimed at people with "the beat" is now coming out of the woodwork across the country. Really, Bernadette's just trying to protect her newfound family - one of whom is about to give birth to her first child - and takes them back to her childhood home in South Carolina, hoping that this is the one place no one will think to look for any of them. But it's impossible to live in a vacuum, especially with a baby on the way, and Bernadette has to face a lot of her own demons and everything she abandoned twenty years before.
In a lot of ways, Sleepwater Static is my way of highlighting society's darker underside, racial injustices, discrimination and acts of hate against marginalized communities everywhere, and humanity's tendency to "always find the other on which to place the blame for its fear of diversity". Only in the Blue Helix series, the most discriminated-against and marginalized community is Sleepwater and those with "the beat". And this entire series is about the experiences of those facing discrimination in all its many forms, with the intention of highlighting the disparities there and helping readers understand or even think differently about these issues through a fictional lens and good storytelling.
On a deeper underlying level more specific to Book 2 in the Blue Helix series, Sleepwater Static is a love story. Which is odd for me to say, because I don't generally write love stories or Romance at all, and I definitely don't write happy endings. This "love story" doesn't necessarily have a happy ending, either, but it showcases one interracial relationship between a black man and a white woman who have held each other's hearts over a span of fifty-three years despite spending the last twenty of those years out of contact and separated by time and distance. And it's a story about finding hope during dark times, love wherever you can get it, chosen family when blood-tie relations fall short of what we'd hoped, and the ever-present opportunities for redemption despite overwhelming odds against us.
Why do you write in a dystopian setting?
The Blue Helix series is my only dystopian series so far, but the setting and time period were incredibly intentional. Dystopian fiction is there to highlight what a "worst-case scenario" might look like in our world - where all the things we as a society fear, reject, strive against, or hope never come to pass actually do within the context of the story. When I wrote Sleepwater Beat, I ended up pouring a lot of myself, my own life experiences, my knowledge of often unexplored "darker" aspects of life situations and relationships, and a few societal issues I feel very strongly about into the main character and the story as a whole. I wanted to see what would happen to a world that had been mostly created for me already but with a few minor changes, mainly adding a few minor technological advances and then an entire community of people who have this supernatural storytelling ability. And I tried to set it far enough in the future (2030-2031) that it felt as if it could be real but obviously wasn't. As it turns out, so many of the things I wrote into Sleepwater Beat (which I finished in 2016 and which was published in 2018) had already become a reality in our world in eerily similar ways when the book first released.
Apparently, I did the same thing with Sleepwater Static. I finished writing this book in March of 2020, right when the Coronavirus Pandemic was becoming fully transparent. And the book released over two months later on May 26th, one day after George Floyd was murdered. Launching a novel that can, in a nutshell, be described as a book about genetic mutation and racial injustice during the height of a pandemic and the start of rising protests against racial injustice gave Sleepwater Static an almost prescient timeliness, though I can't in any way take credit for seeing the future and knowing any of this would happen when it did.
That's one of the dangers of writing dystopian fiction, I suppose. Sometimes - and unfortunately all too often - the "worst-case scenario" does actually come to pass. Sometimes it's within a few months, years, or decades, and sometimes it's days later. But for me personally, dystopian fiction seemed like the best avenue to take as a genre for this series, because it was absolutely my full intention with both books and the entire series to highlight the "worst-case scenarios" for readers who might not otherwise have had any insight into these aspects of society and modern life that are really very real for so many people. And it also serves as a poignant setting of connection and relatability for people who have lived through similar experiences. I continue to hope that all types of readers enjoying the Blue Helix series find new perspectives and as much hope as can be provided by the simple realization that none of us are alone in our struggles.
Tell us more about Bernadette. What makes her tick?
Bernadette's just a badass, but in a "live and let live" kind of way. She doesn't have any tolerance for bigotry of any kind, will stand up for what's right to protect those she loves and is a firm believer in second chances. Just not for herself. I think a lot of her complexity comes from that saying, "We are our own worst critic." This is Bernadette. She has fought for so many things: freedom from fear and being hunted as someone who can "spin a beat"; freedom to love whom she wants made particularly difficult by being a white woman in a relationship with a black man during the late 1970s and 1980s in South Carolina; freedom to have peace, quiet, comfort, community. And yet when she finds herself making mistakes she hated seeing in others, that shame drives her away from her home and her life for twenty years. By the time we truly meet her in the present storyline of Sleepwater Beat and focus on her as the new main character in Sleepwater Static, she's a hardened shell around a tired, empathetic, compassionate woman with persistent arthritis and a refusal to let anything stand in her way because of it.
Bernadette, as many of your heroes, has a troubled past. Why did you create her this way?
When we think about it, honestly, who doesn't have a troubled past? Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone learns who they are by walking through their own transformative fire. And I do think "troubled past" is relative. We all have our own baggage. Bernadette's past isn't all doom and gloom, though. She was in a loving relationship that didn't really fade away over the course of twenty years without seeing each other. She had friends, a community, a family, a daughter, a good home and a purpose. And somewhere along the way, she just got lost, which is easy enough for anyone to do and especially easy for people being persecuted, like those in Sleepwater.
Is there something that compels you to write? And do you find that writing helps you achieve a clarity about yourself or ideas you've been struggling with?
Writing compels me to write. If I take more than one day off in a row from writing, I get itchy and irritable and become a generally not-very-fun human (source: my husband). I do write full-time, 50-60 hours a week, and I also take two days off. But those two days are split up in the week for the aforementioned reason. I've been writing this way, full-time, for a little over two years now, and I can't see myself stopping any time soon.
As far as the idea of writing helping me achieve clarity is concerned, I don't write the content of my fiction for myself. I write it for others - to share ideas, offer insight, inspire, illuminate the dark spaces readers may not otherwise be willing to explore, and in a very roundabout way (as is often the case with writing dark fiction in general) provide a modicum of hope for the future. I can't say I know everything there is to know or have had every experience under the sun, but at this point in my life, I've experienced enough "achieving clarity", "personal transformation" and "struggling with ideas" that writing fiction is no longer an emotional or psychological outlet for me (which is very much how it started twenty years ago). I write for the love of the craft, because I'm literally a better person when I'm writing, and because this is what I genuinely believe I was born to do. Though I sincerely hope that my writing helps others achieve clarity about themselves or ideas they've been struggling with. That is the ultimate goal.
Do any of your characters take off on their own tangent and refuse to do what you had planned for them?
Yes. All of them. Which is very rarely why I try to plan anything for them. Now that I think about it, though, Bernadette's character trajectory in Sleepwater Static was probably the closest any of my characters have come to "sticking to the plan". Don't get me wrong. She threw her own curve balls at me a time or two, but she did end up in the end exactly where I wanted her to. Or maybe I'm just getting better at predicting my characters from the start!
This is book two in the Sleepwater series. How does it tie in with the first book? Can it be read as a standalone?
We have pretty much the same set of supporting characters in Book 2 as we have in Book 1, with a slew of extra "newbies" who come in when Sleepwater Static explores areas of Bernadette's past to show us how she came to be who she is and in a lot of ways how Sleepwater as an organization was born. Sleepwater Static picks up six months after the end of Sleepwater Beat, though I've had plenty of readers who picked up Book 2 without even knowing Book 1 existed. They've told me the books can be read as standalones and in any order (which was very intentional on my part, so points to me!). They're also very different in terms of pacing and actual physical-violence levels, though the suspense and grittiness stay very true throughout both books. My goal is to make Book 3 (and any others, if it goes beyond three books) a standalone as well, though these are all within the general framework of moving the storyline forward for Sleepwater as a group of people and what is happening to them around the United States and around the world.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
So I always need three things with me: headphones playing "genre-mood" music without lyrics, a giant bottle of water, and a snack. If I hear any outside noise (such as our dogs barking at the wind or my husband trying to corral our three-year-old, or the neighbor kids playing in the room right beside my office...), I get whisked out of the writing "zone" immediately. And the water and snacks help me keep up with the writing for hours on end (I write 10-12 hours a day straight through and tend to forget about necessary bodily functions, so these are helpful).
Typically, I wake up at 4:00 a.m., give myself an hour to make coffee for my husband and me, do my whole morning ritual thing, make sure everybody's set up with what they need for the day, and then sit down at my computer to start writing at 5:00 a.m. I'll come out for lunch and one or two 20-minute breaks during the day. I usually meditate and take a short power nap around 2:00. And then I'm done at 5:00 p.m. and spend the rest of the evening with my family. My two days off a week are completely for them, and I don't even touch the computer on those days.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I'm working on a new Dark Urban Fantasy series, Accessory to Magic, which should be out in the next few months. An apprentice witch with a criminal past inherits a magical bank that can think for itself, and the clientele is almost as dangerous as what's inside their safety-deposit boxes. This series is snarky, full of action, dark, sometimes bloody, and so, so, so much fun to write. I learned as a ghostwriter that I actually have a knack for writing Urban Fantasy, so I wanted to bring those skills into my own fiction. So far, it's going very well.
I'm also working on an LGBTQ+ Dark Fantasy series, Vessel Broken, that takes place in the same world as The Unclaimed trilogy but is way darker and far more geared toward the occult. Blood and gore, sacrifices, being consumed by dark forces on purpose, and a balance between pestilence/plague and the nurturing of life (or are they one and the same?).
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
Everything about my books (and a budding blog that centers more on my personal life and "behind the scenes" goodies) can be found on my website: kathrinhutsonfiction.com. I'm probably the most active on my Facebook page: facebook.com/kathrinhutsonfiction, and can also be found on Instagram @kathrinhutsonfiction and Twitter @exquisitelydark.