Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Interview with Kathrin Hutson, DAUGHTER OF THE DRACKAN


Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book? Is it part of a series?
 ‘Daughter of the Drackan’ is the first book in the ‘Gyenona’s Children’ series. The second, ‘Mother of the Drackan’, will be out in the next few months.

I had one reader describe it as ‘The Jungle Book’ meets a Fantasy ‘Kill Bill’ with dragons. That made me so happy, and he kind of nailed it on the head.

Keelin is a human fledgling, stolen by the mythical drackans as a child and made a drackan herself in all but physical form. She has reoccurring blackouts, always returning to her home in the High Hills covered in blood. Her search for what actually happens to her during these lost moments of time leads her to older, deeper secrets she never wanted to know.

The drackans and humans have loathed each other and warred for centuries, and Keelin is caught in the middle. Among the drackans, she’s an outcast, an abomination of their kind. Among the humans, she’s a terrifying vision of fury, mystery, and deadly skill. Eventually, armed with her drackan blood, she travels to the other side of the world to stop the thing controlling her blackouts and to ensure the same never happens again to her own drackans. But everything along the way makes her question her loyalties, the things she was always taught, and she has to forge her own path for a place among both worlds in which she doesn’t really belong.

It’s dark, violent, bloody, “a beautiful blend of tenderness and ferocity”, and explores loyalty, tradition, greed, double-lives, and defining oneself in a seemingly impossible endeavor. Plus, Keelin’s just pretty badass. She doesn’t listen to anyone, never takes no for an answer, and would rather cut your hand off than shake it. I’d never want to meet her in person, and I love the fact that she makes for a strong protagonist, hated and loved by the readers, those around her, and herself.

Have you ever had a minor character evolve into a major one? Did that change the direction of the novel at all?
Aloran, the first human Keelin meets and her ‘guide’ within the human world, originally started as a very supporting character. He was the initial bridge between her and the humans, and was supposed to show her just a few tiny secrets in the beginning. It was not my plan to have him fall in love with her, nor to give him such a huge role as the leader of the underground assassin group, the King’s Knives. But it happened.

And when that happened, he invariably makes a second and possibly greater appearance in ‘Mother of the Drackan’. We get a little bit of a deeper look into his own life, where he came from, and when he meets Keelin again, he finds a connection to his past he never knew existed. It’s pretty important for the ending, too—Aloran has a huge role in the final epic scene.

Making Aloran a bigger character definitely changed the direction of the story, and added for a lot more depth. He might be the only human in these books (the only true human) who is affected by Keelin so profoundly. At first, he finds her and uses her as a tool for his own ends. Then he falls in love with her, and when she constantly pushes him away, he has to number himself all over again in order to use her one more time.

What factors influenced your decision to self-publish your book(s)?
What really did it for me was having queried, and subsequently been rejected by, every agent and publisher I could find. For two years, I bought the updated editions of ‘The Writer’s Market’ and scoured the pages. I made spreadsheets of every agent and publisher who took any type of Fantasy, and I sent my fifty-billion-times-revised query letter, summary, and short synopsis to all of them. My rejection folder is substantial, and oddly enough, each new rejection only gave me more determination to send to all the others.

When I finally reached the end, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. Not relieved that nobody found an interest in my book at the time, but a relief that I had done absolutely everything I could possibly think of to get ‘Daughter of the Drackan’ out there and look for responses.

That was when I decided, ‘Okay, I think it’s time to go ahead and self-publish this. Because there’s no way I’m going to let traditional publisher rejections keep me from putting Keelin’s story out in the world!’ And four months later, I became a published Indie Author myself.

If you used a graphic designer/publisher’s designer, how involved were you during the creative process for your cover?
I am so fortunate to have had the experience I did with designing the cover for ‘Daughter of the Drackan’.

My amazingly talented artist friend, Chandler Steele, had read Keelin’s story after printing the document and taking it with him everywhere he went. We had lots of conversations about Keelin and how frickin’ awesome she is (I think it’s hard not to admire her in some way), and once I decided to finally self-publish, I asked him if he would like to create the cover illustrations. He jumped at the chance and was right on top of it. I can’t deny that he did a fantastic job.

I found my cover designer by chance, really. Michelle Rene Goodhew had commented on one of my blog posts on my editing site, and I went to go check out hers. I was impressed with her work, and I originally just asked her to put me on her list of beta readers. She made a great banner for my editing site to help advertise my business, and I asked her about designing packages. As it turns out, she was in need of an editor for her upcoming ‘How to Build Your Indie Author Platform’ and ‘How to Design Your Author Brand’ books. So we worked in trade—I edited her books, and she designed my book cover and all the promotional material.

I had complete creative control with both these artists—everything was okayed by me, and if I didn’t agree with any particular aspect, they were more than happy to accommodate me. Of course, I didn’t make every decision; I’m a writer, not an artist. But both Michelle and Chandler are absolute joys to work with, and I’ll be keeping them for as long as I can.

Do you belong to a critique group? Have they helped improve your writing?
My first ‘critique group’ honestly, was the class of fellow students who had been accepted into CU Boulder’s Creative Writing—Fiction program. The program was selective enough that I had almost all of my classes with the same fifteen students. That was the first time that I ever was surrounded by others as dedicated to their craft as I was, and I learned so much from them. That’s also where I first started editing, because editing and critiquing each other’s work was the other half of our curriculum.

When my husband and I lived in Charleston, South Carolina, I was part of Charleston Writing Group (founded by Christy Strick, who had started Writer’s House in Charlottesville, VA). There were only five of us in this group, and we met every Monday to critique each other’s work and discuss short stories or novel chapters. This group was phenomenal—meeting face-to-face is such a huge plus, if you can do it. They opened my eyes to the types of descriptions I tended to over-use, and I have since cut all of those out of my writing. I couldn’t be more grateful to them, and when we moved to California, I was definitely sad to have to leave the group.

I have yet to find an in-person writing critique group in our small mountain town that suits me. But the online writing community is just as helpful, if not more in some ways. I’m amazed by the magic that takes place in these circles. An Author’s Tale is a fantastic Facebook group that focuses entirely on writing prompts, sharing new writers’ successes, and critiquing each other’s work in a kind, supporting, encouraging environment. I’ve always been impressed by the way this group is run, and I recommend it for any new writers looking for a safe place to get some great feedback.

Currently, I stick to my small circle of ‘writing buddies’, who are always more than willing to take a peek at my work, whether it’s finished or not. I find this is more helpful to me, as the kind of feedback I’m looking for is more along the big-picture questions—does the scene progressions make sense? Does the tension build in the right way? Does the structure of chapters work for the plot and overall story ark? These handful of writing buddies have given me invaluable feedback, and I always make sure I take the time to repay them in kind.

What is your writing process? Do you listen to music or do you like silence?
My writing process is very simple. 1. Have a clean desk. 2. Have a giant bottle of water (or steaming cup of coffee or yerba matte with honey) at the ready. 3. Turn iTunes on shuffle (I can’t stand listening to the same band or genre of music in a row. I need eclectic chaos). 4. Turn off all Social Media and the cell phone on silent. 5. Tap into the creative universe within my mind.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
I did not. As a professional editor myself, I felt comfortable enough with my own editing work to give my novels what they deserve. Of course, this means I went through twelve revisions of the dang thing (one of them included cutting out an entire 11k words) in order to make sure it was ready for anyone else to see.

I did, though, give it to three beta readers (who have since become my circle of writing buddies) and one fellow editor, Cayce Berryman (who started and mediates An Author’s Tale on Facebook—we swapped novels and I edited hers in trade). Once I got back all their suggestions and advice, I did lucky revision number thirteen, and it was ready to go.

What have you’ve learned during your self-publishing journey?
There’s no possible way I can write everything I’ve learned here without boring you all to death and making you drop your heads right into your soup. So I’ll stick with the most important things.

  1. Absolutely anything is possible. It sounds cliché, but I mean it. You can become a published author, you can find people out there who’s services are professional, beneficial, and probably should cost more than they do. You can reach readers with your words and make an impact on the world with your writing.
  2. Trial and error is your best friend. I’ve tried a lot of different things in the last four months, and have found what works, and what I’ll never try again. But you won’t figure any of that out if you don’t take a few risks and try it out for yourself.
  3. Listen to the advice of others who have gone before you and have been successful. I definitely didn’t know how to do everything myself when I started this journey. There was no way I could have. But I talked to tons of Indie Authors who had large followings and great sales, and I asked them what they’d done. Most of them say, ‘Just keep writing,’ but I already knew that. I searched around for books on Indie Author Publishing, and have found a list of five that I think are essential for any Indie Author starting out. ‘Indie Author Survival Guide’ and ‘For Love or Money’, by Susan Kaye Quinn. These are incredible for pointing out the different routes you can take as an Indie Author, and what it takes in each route. ‘Let’s Get Digital’ and ‘Let’s Get Visible’, by David Gaughran follow up the first two with a lot more detail about how self-publishing can benefit you as an author more than traditional publishing, and he really goes in depth into the industry, the specifics of how to launch and run promotions, and the technical aspect of self-publishing. The last book is a ‘holy bible’ for me, and I turn to it constantly (because I also help my editing clients format their works for paperback and ebooks). ‘Zen of Ebook Formatting’ by Guido Henkel is the only resource I’ve ever read that makes HTML CSS formatting understandable and a heaping load of fun. Don’t let that scare you away from it—seeing that would have scared me, too. But I took the chance in reading it, and I’ve since figured out how to format a remarkably perfect ebook every time at the code level (and for somebody who doesn’t consider herself ‘code-savvy’ or more technologically knowledgeable than the average person, that’s saying a lot). Get these books, read them, study them, and there’s almost nothing you can’t do.
  4. Network! Reach out to others. Say hi. Ask other writers what they’re working on. Start conversations with people about anything and everything (mine are mostly either editing topics, or total geek-out sessions about fiction in general, and more specifically Fantasy and Sci-Fi). It’s amazing how easy it is to make friends with others when you open yourself up a little, willing to share your work with others, to bare your soul, and to participate with others on their own work.
  5. Okay, I’ll wrap this up. Last one—promoting yourself does not equal being a pain in the ass. you have to do it if you want to make a name for yourself, but if you’re gracious, kind, and help others out in their own endeavors, promoting yourself as the awesome person you are will inevitably bring the rest along with it.

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
Yup. But I would much rather market my own work than pay someone else to do it…because that someone else is not me. I think it’s super important to put my own touch on things, market with my own voice, and control exactly what I do, when, and how. But that takes time, and so does writing. I try to give myself equal amounts of time on each (and with series, marketing the next book with the one before it kills two birds with one stone). It’s important not to get wrapped up in marketing and only marketing, because if I never write that next book, it won’t exist.

Besides writing, do you have any other passions?
Admittedly, writing is my greatest passion, and I think it always has been. This is followed very closely by reading (hmm…funny how they’re so closely related). I’m also a fairly musical person. I started taking classical piano lessons when I was five, and continued them for twelve years. After that, I moved on to writing my own music and lyrics, and I’ve spent some time rolling around at open mics and grabbing a few solo gigs here and there. Music is something I turn to when my emotions run way too high to focus on anything else, and I have to expel them through that channel. It’s always been a part of me, and that will never go away.

My husband and I love to travel whenever we can. Vacations, visiting our family and friends (because we live in California and no one else does), and scouting out new, fun cities to explore is one of my favorite things. My husband and I are the Super A-Team when it comes to long road trips. Put us in two separate cars driving across the country, though, and it’s a whole different story (learned that when we moved all our stuff from South Carolina to California…)

Thank you so much for hosting this stop today. I’m thrilled to be here! —Kathrin


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