Special treat for y'all today. In a joint venture with very talented author and all around cool lady Alex Hughes, we're doing an interview swap! It's always so interesting to see how other authors work, and I absolutely loved her first novel, Clean, a terrifically smart near future thriller with a killer magical system and a great voice. Getting to bug Alex with questions was a huge treat for me, and I hope you enjoy it, too!
My part of the interview where I talk about Paradox, writing, self pub, and all sorts of other fun stuff is already up on her blog, so I'd better get the lead out and post my part. So without further ado, here's Alex Hughes!
RA: Thank you so much for doing this!
AH: Thanks for having me on your blog! I'm excited to swap interview questions.
RA: I really, really enjoyed, Clean, the first novel in your Mindspace Investigations series. I especially loved the way you depicted telepathy both on the personal level (where the power is deftly shown as both a gift and a curse) and in how society would react to the sudden appearance of telepaths among them (badly). Can you tell us a bit more about your telepaths and why you decided to write about them?
AH: I'm so glad you liked the book :). I've always loved telepathy, from Babylon 5 to Anne McCaffrey's Pegasus and Rowan series, to a plethora of books, TV series, and films besides. Telepathy is a way of talking about the double-edged swords of human relationships, our desire to be truly known and to experience true intimacy and yet our deep fear of vulnerability and need for privacy. Telepathy blurs the lines of relationships and boundaries, and adding it to a world makes the world work on a different level, which I love. It also adds power and restraint to the conversation, which is interesting. My telepaths work in a physics-based system, where telepathy is weaker the further you are from a person, and where thought-waves propagate across Mindspace. Emotions leave ghosts behind in Mindspace for a few days, and that's useful for crime scenes, for example. Adam, our hero, is a very strong telepath which a tortured past, working with normals who dislike and distrust him because of what he is as much as who he is. The Telepath's Guild, a strong organization which has earned its neutrality from even the normal governments, has an agenda which they work towards throughout the series. This agenda isn't consistent with the ethics Adam grew up with, and he has to decide which side to take, if any.
RA: I know your work is often shelved under Urban Fantasy, and the police investigation-centric story definitely fits in that genre. To me, though, your books feel much more near-future Science Fiction in the vein of Phillip K Dick or David Brin's Kiln People. Do you see yourself more as a Science Fiction writer or an Urban Fantasist?
AH: I can certainly write either or both, as I love both genres. The Mindspace Investigation series is more truly near future science fiction with a dystopian trend in my opinion, though for simplicity I've taken to calling them telepath police procedurals. I end up shelved in urban fantasy because my characters are strong and personal, my tone is approachable and not given to blocks of worldbuilding, and because some people consider any kind of psychic gift (no matter how well explained) to be fantasy. I also have a strong element of the real current world impacting the paranormal (telepathy), which is a hallmark of urban fantasy. But I take my science very seriously, and the political backdrop of the world will get bigger and more important over the course of the series, which takes away some of the personal emphasis that puts me in UF. (I just gave a talk on urban fantasy this weekend and on why my books both are and are not in the genre.) Still, UF is popular right now, and if the label means people love the work and consider it approachable, then I've met my goals for the series. I just still love my science :)
RA: I read in the interview you did with My Bookish Ways that Clean, which was originally intended as a stand alone, is now the first in a 9 book series. That's awesomely ambitious! Are you still aiming for nine books, and what kind of bigger story should we look for in future installments? Also, what sort of planning goes into building the infrastructure for such a long running series?
AH: Thanks! I've always loved long series, as they let you as a reader get really deep into a world. But I also believe in a series with a definite arc and end; I've read too many series that fizzle towards the end because the writer ended up without a plan. I'm about halfway through my original notes that I did in 2012 when writing Sharp and I have the feeling I'm going to have to restructure now. So, 9 books may grow into 10 or 12, or drop back to 8. We'll see. The bigger story is the playing out of threads I've already built in, with the Guild's agenda and the chess-style long-term plans of Garrett Fiske, who plays a bigger part in Book Four. Book Four is a turning point in a lot of ways. This is the first series I've planned out, and I literally have a chart with different threads (the Adam and Cherabino thing, Fiske, Swartz, the Guild, Adam's addiction, etc.) and how they evolve over the course of the books. But, at this point I'm off-book, meaning due to editorial and beta reader input I've made some choices radically differently from the chart for individual books, which means I'll likely need to go back and rechart the thing. The other planning piece I have is a series bible, a list of all the worldbuilding and character building I've done up to this point, but I'm not very successful at using it yet, and I'm already making mistakes, sigh. Bransen in Book One is Branen (no "s") in Book Two, for example. But the overall story and character arcs should still hold together by the end.
RA: It's not exactly a radical statement to put forth that the publishing world has changed dramatically over the last few years. If you were starting fresh as a new author today, would you do anything differently? And on that note, do you have any advice for someone just beginning the publishing process?
As a new author, I think I would do more intensive work on writing quickly, and have a better career plan. I would have chosen my first agent very differently (chiefly, taken more time asking questions, etc.), and likely started as a hybrid author out of the gate. The best advice I have to someone just beginning the publishing process is that you are the CEO of your own career and that you should feel empowered to fight for yourself and your long term interests rather than just going along with "what's standard" in publishing. Publishing has no standards right now; everything is in flux, and it's no longer viable to just blindly trust a system the way many writers do. Contracts and many other things are negotiable, and it's wise to negotiate. Also, many writers now jump too soon; work on your craft and get very, very good, so that you're confident in your abilities and the value you're bringing to the table. Write quality work, and learn to write it quickly, or at least quicker. The ability to do good things faster than average will serve you very, very well in this business. I myself am working on doing that myself.
Alex Hughes, the author of the award-winning Mindspace Investigations series from Roc, has lived in the Atlanta area since the age of eight. She is a graduate of the prestigious Odyssey Writing Workshop, and a Semi-Finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novels 2011. Her short fiction has been published in several markets including EveryDay Fiction, Thunder on the Battlefield and White Cat Magazine. She is an avid cook and foodie, a trivia buff, and a science geek, and loves to talk about neuroscience, the Food Network, and writing craft—but not necessarily at the same time! You can visit her at Twitter at @ahugheswriter or on the web at www.ahugheswriter.com. Or, join her email newsletter for free short stories at www.ahugheswriter.com/email-signup.