Friday, 21 September 2012

Author Interview: Alex Hughes

Novel: Clean

> What is Clean about? 

Clean is about a recovering addict telepath who helps the police in future Atlanta solve a series of murders where the killer kills with the mind. Author James Knapp calls it “a fun blend of Chinatown and Bladerunner.”

> What drew you to writing about a telepath, and why give him a drug addiction?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of telepathy, of knowing what someone else is thinking. It would be a shortcut to knowing someone, really knowing someone at a deep level, but you might not like what you find… or understand it correctly. I also like the idea of someone starting over, of making a brand new life through hard choices, and the two ideas went together nicely, I think.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I was a big reader as a kid; there was nothing I loved better than disappearing in the pages of a great book. In my early teenage years it occurred to me that you could do that for a living – write books for others to disappear into, sharing your own joy and sorrow and everything else. When I met my first science fiction book, I knew for certain that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

I’d love to be Kara. She’s a strong teleporter who’s managed to transition from courier work to the responsibility of representing the Guild to the public. She’s an intensely ethical and loyal person and she’s known great love. She’s also known great heartbreak and responsibility, but that’s real life.

> What were your literary influences for Clean?

Joan D. Vinge’s Catspaw was a huge influence. I’m also a big fan of TV police procedurals, particularly The Closer.

> Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?

For me, it’s much easier writing novels. A good novel is like an oak tree, with branches and ideas growing out in many directions to build one whole. A good short story is more like an oak sapling with a few branches – tightly focused. Making that focus happen in a short story, to me, requires a lot of pruning – a lot of ideas I can’t include. With a novel, though, I can let things grow to their full potential.

> What's the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

My first novel was a fantasy/fairy tale starring a silent assassin and a rebellion against an evil prince. It’s terrible. It took me five years to write, and although there’s a lot in it I still love, there’s far more in it to make me wince. Maybe someday I’ll bring it out and polish it up, but not any time soon.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

In Clean, the hardest scene for me to write was actually the first crime scene with Mindspace, which originally opened the book. I tried draft after draft with no success. I think I was just trying to do too many things in one place; it felt muddled and odd. So eventually I split it up into several scenes a little bit into the book, and it feels much cleaner. (No pun intended :) )

 > When and where do you write?

Whenever and wherever I can. A lot of Clean’s first draft I wrote at a college library. I did hard-core revisions years later in a small apartment sitting on the floor. And the final set of revisions I did sitting at a computer desk, feet propped up, coffee cup getting cold to the side. I’ve written late at night and early in the morning, in coffee shops and at my desk, in stolen spurts and longer, dedicated blocks. All I need is quiet and a sense of inspiration.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The worst? The empty page. And the fact that sometimes, for no reason, I go from writing thousands of words a day to sitting there, staring at that empty page mocking me, until I can figure out what’s wrong. Sometimes that takes awhile, and it’s always frustrating.

The best thing is exactly what got me into this thing in the first place: that feeling of disappearing down the rabbit hole of a great story, the moment when it all falls away. When it’s not work, but pure, tangible joy.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

The publishing industry is slow. And there’s a lot of what my dad calls “hurry up and wait.” You can’t take it too personally, and you have to do your best to make deadlines even if they’re last minute, because some opportunities don’t come up again. But the core of it – no matter what people say – is still words on a page. If you start and end there, you won’t go wrong.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Get a day job that you enjoy but that doesn’t take up your whole life. Getting published takes a long, long time, and you’ll need the income. Then write. Write consistently over time, write some more, and study craft until your fingers bleed. Then send it out. Don’t get upset when people reject you, but as the editor of Apex says, “become more awesome.” If you don’t give up and you don’t stop getting better, you will make it. And what you can do at the end will amaze you.

> Any tips against writers block?

Writer’s block is a signal that something is wrong – and usually what’s wrong is you’re afraid you’re going to mess it up. The thing is, you’re going to mess it up – that’s what revision is for. So, go ahead. Mess it up. Do it badly. Splash amateur words all over that page and get it done. Then, tomorrow, come back, and make it better.

On the other hand, if there’s something else going on with either you or the story, be honest with yourself, deal with whatever it is, then start over. Do it badly again. Then make it better again. Writers write. Talking about writing is not writing.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I make myself sit down to write at a certain time whether I feel like it or not, and if I mess up or get distracted I pick myself up again. I also promise myself treats at various stages of the project and stay accountable to other writers for my progress. The muse is like an adorable 5 year old, receptive to chocolate, praise, and peer pressure.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

Honestly? I don’t know. I never counted by project, and I stopped counting total rejections somewhere around two hundred. Rejection is part of the process.

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