I’m delighted to be welcoming Kathrin Hutson chatting to us today about LGBT Science Fiction novel, Sleepwater Beat.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword. In Sleepwater’s world, words are literally more powerful than bullets.
Leo could always make people believe anything she says—really believe. When her chest burns and the words come from her mouth, her targets’ eyes glaze over, they forget their own thoughts, and they’ll do anything she says. It’s what keeps her alive after being on the run and living on the streets for years. But after using it on her girlfriend and her dad’s drug dealer, it’s also what got her here on the streets in the first place.
Then Sleepwater finds her. When Leo discovers there are others out there with similar powers, scattered across the country, she can’t say no to the underground organization. After all, what’s a little sit-down with the only people who may ever understand her? What she doesn’t expect is to be thrust into Sleepwater’s guerrilla war, hunted by government agencies, and used as a weapon. Worse than that, she might be more valuable not for what she can do but for who she was before they found her.
Now an international bestseller and Award-Winning Sci-Fi Finalist in the 2019 International Book Awards.
Sleepwater Beat by Kathrin Hutson is published by Exquisite Darkness Press and is available to purchase in digital and paperback formats.
Hi Kathrin, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
How do your characters come into existence Kathrin?
My characters usually start out as a particular attribute I see in someone else, whether it’s a physical characteristic, an interaction I’ve witnessed, a value I admire, or something that struck me in another book I’ve read or a film or TV show I can’t get enough of. Then, when I’m convinced that that particular something needs to be a part of my fiction, the scenes start percolating in the back of my mind.
I honestly haven’t ever done a character profile or character sketch, mostly for the same reasons that I usually don’t write an outline (there are a few exceptions to this, but I call myself a 95% pantser). That, to me, is where the magic happens in writing—learning who my characters are through the plot and the conflict and their interactions with other characters. I get to learn who they are and grow with them as their stories, big and small, past and present, unfold on the page. And then my readers get to go through the exact same process themselves when the book hits their hands.
I’ve also learned over and over again that the characters I envisioned when I start writing a book very seldom turn out to be that same character at the end of it. I have actually had what I thought would be supporting characters actually become antagonists and what I thought would be infuriating villains transform into loving, compassionate guides just because of the different twists and turns the story takes as I’m crafting it. It gets to be whatever it wants to be at that point, and so far, that’s worked for me in terms of creating characters who don’t feel forced, static, cliché, or “overthought”.
I could say that my characters do have bios, yes. But only the important and relevant parts of those bios make it into my fiction, and at that point, if I’m doing it right, everything I need to know is everything the reader gets too know too.
Was there anything about your protagonist that surprised you?
I honesty thought that Leo Tieffler, the main character in Sleepwater Beat, would be a lot “tougher” than she turned out to be. At least on the inside. She tries to play it tough and act like she doesn’t care about much at all, but she grew into a person with a lot of social insecurities as a result of her rough childhood and the fact that she doesn’t know who to trust anymore. Having the supernatural ability (one might call it a superpower) to make anyone who hears her beats believe absolutely anything she says definitely takes its toll on her. Leo finds herself in a place where she wants to trust people but can’t, because she doesn’t trust herself not to make them do or say whatever she wants. It’s something I used to struggle with a lot when I was younger—whether or not people really meant what they said, whether they would actually keep their promises, whether they believed my experiences/emotions/opinions were relevant or true or valuable (I’m going way back to the dark ages of teenage angst, here).
Sleepwater Beat originally started as a 30,000-word short story made of a few dozen scenes spliced together without any apparent order or meaning (there was none; I cut up the scenes into strips and slid them round on the table until the order “felt right”. It was a failed experiment, to say the least). In the long short story, Leo and her “mentor” Karl actually had a bit of a romantic relationship going on. A fling, you might say, as they hopped from town to town on their own and made money off of Leo telling stories with her beat. When I starting turning that short story into a novel, though, I realized both the story and Leo as a character were completely different than what I’d intended (or perhaps there was no intention at all) in the short story. It was less of a conscious intention to write Leo as an LGBTQ character and more a case of it “feeling right” for both her and the story as a whole. It was definitely surprising at first, and the more I just rolled with it and let her do her thing as I wrote, the more it just made sense.
What scene did you enjoy writing the most?
The scene that stands out most in my mind is when the organization called Sleepwater (the other people like Leo with beat-spinning abilities who takes her in as one of their own before she ever learns why they came together and what they really do) is gathered in a house in the mountains to watch a movie together. It starts that simply—movie night with a bunch of people Leo wants to believe might be her friends. Maybe a new family. Then they get a knock on the door by an anxious, apologetic acquaintance who warns them that someone ratted them out to the government agency founded for the sole purpose of finding, detaining, and effectively kidnapping anyone with a beat-spinning ability.
The house bursts into action, and everyone knows the drill and has a part to play except for Leo. They forgot to tell her about this little downside to being a part of Sleepwater. It’s one of many high-octane scenes in the book, with a lot of gunfire in the dark, people running through the woods, a near-fatal escape, and Leo’s first discovery of the only thing that renders the beat completely ineffective. Plus, there’s a little blood.
I do have a soft spot for heart-pounding action scenes with weird, paranormal twists to them and an “uh-oh” moment for the main character.
What has been the best part of your writing journey so far Kathrin?
The best part of my writing journey so far has definitely been the realization that I still have so much more ahead of me and that there is still so much potential for growth, improvement, and new opportunities. If I’d known when I first started my author career four years ago what I know now, of course I’d be in a very different place. But I wouldn’t have gone through all the amazing journeys and experiences that have led me to where I am right now (which I’m absolutely loving, just to make that clear).
That’s probably also tied with the realization that, once I started really putting myself out there—as a real person who’s into very nerdy things and who likes to be energetic, enthusiastic, and always a little goofy—people hopped on board as readers, fans, potential readers, and fellow nerds way faster than I ever expected. What I do is create story, and I’ve been fortunate enough to make a full-time career out of it. That was just a series of taking one step at a time, again and again, and letting it take me where it did. That’s an important thing to remember. And at the same time, the heart of what I do doesn’t stop on the page or with a published work or even at the marketing level. The heart of what I do, why I write what I write and why this is such a fulfilling thing for me personally, stems from that human connection with other people out there who love the same things I do. Of course, that does include my books, but not always. To be honest, the connections I have with my readers are probably 20% around my books. The rest of it is a shared sense of humor, a love of dark fiction, the biting hilarity of sarcasm and weird topics, all the Fantasy and Sci-Fi, and some all-time favorites (Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, anyone?). Learning that I can bond with my readers in the same way I bond with my own friends was such an eye-opening and freeing experience personally, and it also has done more for my author career than any amount of books sold.
… and the hardest?
The hardest part has probably been the fact that it’s taken me four years to get where I am today. Not that I’m regretting any bit of it, because I’ve learned from every single facet, including the mistakes I’ve made (and anyone who says they haven’t made mistakes and still don’t is most likely just trying to hide them). I only just found the cover designer of my dreams, who created new covers for my first two books, the Epic Grimdark Fantasy duology, Gyenona’s Children. Four covers in four years is a lot, but it took me four years to get to the point where I could even find let alone afford the designer I wanted (and to know exactly what I wanted for these covers and what definitely wouldn’t work).
Yes, it’s always so exciting when that first book is written, when the edits are returned, when the cover comes in, and when that first “book baby” is published and finally out in the world. The important thing, for me, is that it doesn’t stop there. I knew I wanted to make this my career, and I knew it was going to take a lot more than that first book. The hard part is taking it one day at a time, not getting ahead of myself, and letting the whole process build on its own in the way it was meant to. It’s like buying all the ingredients at the grocery store and expecting the cake to already be made the minute you walk into the kitchen. There’s a process. I love the process, and the hard part was being patient with it until I finally managed to pull the cake out of the oven. Now it feels like I get to have fun with putting on the frosting and all the decorations (how’s that for an analogy?).
Also marketing. Marketing used to be my worst nightmare. I still hire other people to take care of most of my marketing for me, now that I have the means to do so. And that’s only been fairly recently. I didn’t do anything to market my books when I was pregnant and for the first few months after my daughter was born, which I know is absolutely a valid reason. The commitment to “get back on the horse”, as it were, was also difficult. But after that first exciting, terrifying, gut-wrenching leap, it’s pretty much been smooth sailing (knock on wood). I love it.
Does your book tackle a social barrier Kathrin?
On an incredibly overt level, Sleepwater Beat tackles so many social, economic, and political issues, which I’ve been told time and again are particularly relevant to the current climate in the US, maybe even elsewhere: “…the same political and regulatory conflicts as drug dealing or sex work, and Pointera is a timely comment on the crisis of late capitalism–like the opioid epidemic, the pressure of the 24-hour news cycle, and the destructive aspects of the tech and social media industries all rolled into one.” (This came from a reviewer, and I literally couldn’t have said it better myself. Except for in the actual book.) I incorporated these things as an underlying theme through Leo’s experiences, her conflicts moving forward in the story and some scenes from her past between the ages of four and eighteen. The most striking and blatant device I used for world-building in this book came in the form of news clips, anywhere between one and three pages long, written as transcripts of live news reports. This is where I tied in those “timely comments on the crisis of late capitalism”, which was the only “bigger picture” glimpse I could give in Part 1 of Sleepwater Beat for the simple fact that Leo—as a woman living on the streets by choice who also happens to have this “storytelling superpower”—has no real access to the news or the current affairs within this dystopian version of our own world. Mostly, she doesn’t want to. But it all comes together in the end to show how much a part of these issues she’s always been.
In a much subtler way, I wanted to explore the general issues of discrimination through the lens of a marginalized community of people that doesn’t actually exist in our world. Leo and a few other characters in the Blue Helix series are LGBTQ characters, which, like I said, felt right to her character and for the overall story. But gender and sexuality specifically aren’t approached in a direct way (I wanted to bring more LGBTQ characters to the forefront of speculative fiction where romance was not a main plot point). There are some characters who may be considered mentally ill, and there are and will be other minor POC characters throughout the series. I’m hoping that through the Blue Helix series, I can draw these parallels between multiple marginalized communities and sort of bring them together in a way that doesn’t particularly distinguish one over the other. I have and will explore them, of course, and my goal through this is by creating another community of people who are discriminated against, who are the victims of senseless violence, who are literally hunted by government agencies and forced to be the brunt of societal mass hysteria and bigotry simply because of the ability they have—the beat. This is something the characters were born with, something in which they had no choice, something that defines them but in a perfect world wouldn’t limit them. The world in this series is not perfect, though. And the traits these characters possess absolutely limit them in that they are automatically marked as “other”, “dangerous”, “to be feared”, “unworthy of humane treatment”.
So far, I think Sleepwater Beat has opened these doors very well. I hope I can further explore them through the rest of the series in a way that feels as timely and relevant as the other issues approached in the first book.
Sleepwater Beat is the first story in the Blue Helix series. What’s in the future?
This is a great way to follow up that last question! Book Two in the Blue Helix series, Sleepwater Static, is scheduled for release in May, 2020. And I am so excited to continue the story of Sleepwater and its myriad characters who make this story so exciting.
I didn’t plan for this to be a series when I wrote Sleepwater Beat, which is why it works so well as a standalone. But then I realized that I wasn’t finished telling the story, and I had to keep it going. There will be at least three books, maybe more, and I’m completely content to let that play out as the story unfolds.
This is what I do know—each subsequent book will be written as a standalone, as a full story within the overarching story. And each of them will have a different main character, all of them minor characters from previous books who the readers already know well and want to see more. The storyline will be cohesive and connected, and I’m so excited to be able to explore the bigger picture of this world and these characters by giving each of them their time in the spotlight. I don’t want to give away any more than that, because I find surprises way too exciting!
Thank you for being my guest today Kathrin. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Kathrin Hutson has been writing Fantasy and Sci-Fi since 2000. She can’t get enough of tainted heroes, excruciating circumstances, impossible decisions, and Happy Never After.
In addition to writing dark and enchanting fiction, Kathrin spends the other half of her time as a fiction ghostwriter of almost every genre, as an Independent Editor through her company KLH CreateWorks, and as Fiction Co-Editor for Burlington’s Mud Season Review. She finds just as much joy and enthusiasm in working closely with other fiction authors on their incredible novels as she does
in writing her own.
Kathrin lives in Vermont with her husband, their young daughter, and their two dogs, Sadie and Brucewillis, and is constantly on the lookout for other upcoming authors, great new books, and more people with whom to share her love of words.