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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Interview with Alex Hughes, author of 'Clean'

From the BLURB:


I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.

My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary.

Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

How were you first published, agent or slush pile?
Actually, neither. I entered the book in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and made it to the Semi-Finals – turns out Penguin reads all the Semi-Finalists, and they gave me a call with an offer. I nearly had a heart attack – I didn’t know they even read the manuscripts!

How long did it take you to write “Clean,” from first idea to final manuscript?
All told, about ten years from start to finish, and at least eight rounds of revision. This was my learning book – I had to really learn how to revise and polish a book from scratch on this one. It was a lot of work. But this story – this difficult, interesting, complex story – just wouldn’t let me go. I had to do it justice.
Are you a plotter or a ‘pantser?’ – That is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you “fly by the seat of your pants” and let the story evolve naturally?
By nature I’m a pantser. For years I sat down at the computer with the gem of a story and no more – and let it speak to me as it came out on the page. I still get some of my best stuff that way. But I’m also trying to teach myself to write to an outline, as it’s a bit more efficient and gives a lot better result structurally. Depending on the project, I can be either or both – but with novels, usually a hybrid.

Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall?
As a reader, I’ve always been obsessed with character. I’ll follow a great character anywhere – even through something as germane as cleaning his shower. So when I sit down to write, I always have characters first. I know who they are and what they want… and the rest works itself out from there.

Were you already a scifi reader before you had the idea for “Clean,” or did your interest start the moment you had the story spark?
I was a big-time scifi reader for years before I sat down to write this project. I watched every television show and movie in the genre I could, I raided the bookstores’ scifi section, and I checked out every book in the library with anything vaguely fantastic about it. 

You’re a female writing from the POV of a male protagonist called Adam. Can you walk us through what that’s like, and how you worked to find an authentic male voice?
I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy and good at math and science. In high school physics, for example, it was me and one other girl in a room of thirty guys. If I was quiet, they’d forget I was there or treat me like one of them. So I had a lot of opportunity to observe the guys interacting without feeling like they’re being watched, and that continued as I hung out with engineering and computer types in college. Still, to feel authentic, very character I write has to have something of me, so figuring out how to put myself in that headspace – while still being true to what I knew and had observed – was really challenging in the beginning. These days, though, Adam and I have come to an understanding and I know him well enough to just write.

Not only is your protagonist male, he’s also an ex-junkie and possibly his own worst enemy. How do you even get into that sort of tortured mind-space, and why are readers (and writers!) drawn to such flawed characters that are full of moral grey-areas?
Flawed characters have always been interesting to me – Edgar Allan Poe and Shirley Jackson write great flawed characters, and I’ve always loved that about their work. There’s a lot of uncertainty and drama in a deeply flawed character that you just don’t get from somebody completely healthy. To write Adam, I started by pulling from people I knew and had observed, fictional characters, research I’d done, and tried to milk my own lesser struggles and experiences with getting in my own way to make the moments feel more real. The biggest building block and inspiration for the character, however, has always been a friend of mine who struggled with recovering from anorexia and bulimia. She’d “give me her tricks to use against her” and was very open about her struggles.

There’s also a small romance in the novel, between Adam and Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino. This is not your typical romance, nor is Isabella a stereotypical female character. Can you speak a bit about writing strong women, and why flawed relationships (like flawed characters?) are just so darn interesting to read & write?
Cherabino is as flawed in her own way as Adam is in his. That’s part of what makes the tension between them work, and it’s part of what drives them apart. She’s a woman working in a man’s world, and succeeding – and she is strong. But she also struggles. That’s part of the interest and attraction as a writer and a reader; we don’t know what she’s going to do and that’s interesting. About writing strong women – there are strong women and weak women out there as much as there are strong men and weak men. People step up to the plate and do amazing things – but they also crush under the pressure. Writing a strong woman means addressing her as a person under pressure – and then addressing the cultural and emotional aspects that make her a woman. But the person part comes first.

‘Clean’ is the first book in the ‘Mindspace Investigations’ series. Can you tell us a little bit about second novel ‘Sharp’ and when we can expect it to hit bookshelves?
Absolutely. Sharp picks up where Clean leaves off. One of Cherabino’s criminal nemeses is back in town and killing again – and Cherabino needs Adam’s help to catch him. It’s going to be out in April 2013, and is already available for preorder.

Favourite book(s) of all time?
I love books, and I love books of all kinds, so this answer changes depending on the day you ask me. Today I’ll say The Ship Who Searched by Anne McCaffrey and Mercedes Lackey, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, and Poe’s short story The Pit and the Pendulum.

Favourite author(s)?
As above, I love so many it’s nearly impossible to choose. Today, though, I’ll give a shout out to Dick Francis, C.J. Cherryh, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Patricia Cornwell.

What advice do you have for budding young writers?
It’s going to be a much longer, harder, more interesting road than you realize, but if you keep getting better and you don’t give up, you’ll make it. The prize goes not to the smartest or the most innately talented, but to the one who doesn’t give up. If you love this and you keep working, anything is possible. Don’t let rejection bother you, and keep writing.

'Clean' is available from September 4th

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