Author Spotlight: Alec Hutson
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Alec Hutson!
Alec lives in Shanghai, China.
The Crimson Queen is his first novel.
Today’s spotlight takes place deep within a series of spider-infested caves. It’s taken many twists and turns to get here, and the disorienting nature of the place means it would be impossible to find one’s way back out . . . even without the unnaturally large eight-legged spinners closing off the exits with their thick, sticky webs. Only by answering our questions will Alec get access to the magical Hiveguffin Scenario Randomiser™, and possible escape.
Will he survive? Keep reading to find out!
Let’s start small. Alec: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’ve been on a bit of a roll recently with books. I’ve read and really enjoyed Red Rising by Pierce Brown, Paternus by Dyrk Ashton, and Blackwing by Ed McDonald. I’ll focus on the most recent book I’ve read: The Woven Ring, by MD Presley. It’s a fantasy reimagining of the American Civil War, with glass swords and telepathic spies. Very well-written and plotted – a jewel of a book.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
It’s very boring, I know, but I’d be the fighter out in front swinging his longsword into the owlbear’s beak.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
Type! For some reason I was never taught how to grip my writing implement correctly, and I can only write for a few minutes before my hand starts to cramp up. It made essay tests in universities extremely painful!
Ouch! And how do you like to work, Alec – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
Silence . . . although I find the first album by the XX to be almost hypnotic, and if I put it on the flow of the music merges pretty well with my writing.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
I don’t really know what’s normal and what’s not. I think of stories as kind of orchestral scores – at certain points the plot builds up to a crescendo and then subsides, and these crescendos I can see very vividly. I have to admit that sometimes the journey from peak to peak isn’t as firmly fleshed in my mind, but a lot of the fun of writing for me is sitting down and discovering something new while slogging through the troughs.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
I’ve always liked Homer’s poems, particularly the Iliad. Heroes and gods clashing in an epic struggle, neither side truly heroic or villainous . . . great stuff. I also enjoy the old Romantic poets like Keats and Shelley and Blake for the sense of wonder they impart. My favorite painting – which I have framed in my bedroom – is The Giant by NC Wyeth. The feeling I get looking at this painting is the same emotion I want to instill in others. If you’re curious you can check it out here.
I don’t think there have been too many great fantasy movies, but some of my favorites include The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Lord of the Rings, Spirited Away, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Scott Pilgrim vs The World.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
Stranger Things 2. I loved the first season, and although the second wasn’t quite as good I still devoured it in two days.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
Playing Ultimate Frisbee. By far the most fun thing I’ve ever done.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Good question! Coordinate commas (these are commas that are placed between two adjectives that modify the same noun, and could be replaced by ‘and’ in the sentence). I find that in many instances these commas ruin the flow of a sentence. In the prologue of my book The Crimson Queen I wrote ‘Light flared in the darkness. Not a warm, golden glow, but a harsh, pale flickering that painted the room in shades of charcoal and bone.’ To me, the cadence of ‘warm golden glow’ and ‘harsh pale flickering’ just sounds so much better than when commas are inserted.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
I read somewhere that no beginning writer should jump into the deep end of the pool and have their first books be a sweeping epic fantasy series. I have confidence that I can pull the story off in the manner I want to tell it, but I’m going to take some lumps along the way as I attempt to wrestle this beast of a storyline into submission.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
I’ve never really had the desire to write in someone else’s world. I suppose I’d love to try and do a story set in China Mieville’s world of Bas Lag. He is the greatest genius writing fantasy today.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t be a perfectionist the first go-round. I have a habit of writing and re-writing the same sentences over and over again searching for the perfect combination of words, and sometimes it’s simply better to move on and hope distance brings inspiration or perspective.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I think it would be amazing to wander around one of the great civilizations at the height of their splendor. Rome while one of the first few Caesars ruled, or China during the glory years of the Tang, Song, or Ming dynasties.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
If I know I have to write I simply sit down and force myself to churn out something. Applying the writing lesson I referenced earlier – it doesn’t have to be perfect – has helped me greatly with this.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
KJ Bishop’s The Etched City. Reading this book is like experiencing a waking dream. One of my top five favorite fantasy books. She published the one book (which was nominated for the World Fantasy Award) and never wrote another. Now she lives in Bangkok and fashions surrealist bronze sculptures.
My absolute favorite fantasy book, China Mieville’s The Scar, is also criminally underappreciated relative to how amazing it is.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
The Crimson Queen, like most epic fantasies, is fairly long. Certainly better than most other books for bludgeoning threatening sharks while trapped in tight quarters. Aim for the nose.
Solid advice! But Alec . . . the spiders are moving in. The cave echoes with arachnid chitters and skittering, and you’re covered from head to toe with goosebumps at the sound. They’re not normally team players, but they seem to be making an exception for you. Thankfully, having now answered our questions, you may activate the magical Hiveguffin Scenario Randomiser™!
. . . Fluffy kittens! You just turned every single spider into a fluffy (eight-legged) kitten. Let’s hope one of them can lead you out of there. Apparently they can see very well in the dark, though I hope you’ve got a sword to hand to break through some of those pesky webs!
Alec Hutson lives in Shanghai, China. THE CRIMSON QUEEN, book one of The Raveling, is his first book.