International Bestselling Author Kathrin Hutson has been writing Dark Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and LGBTQ Speculative Fiction since 2000. With her wildly messed-up heroes, excruciating circumstances, impossible decisions, and Happily Never Afters, she’s a firm believer in piling on the intense action, showing a little character skin, and never skimping on violent means to bloody ends. Kathrin is an active member of SFWA and HWA and lives in Colorado with her husband, daughter, and two dogs.
Kathrin is a lady of incredible strength and humor. We discussed characters, inner demons, and real-life horror.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Kathrin! Thank you for joining me today.
KH: Thanks for having me, Naching!
NTK: How old were you when you became interested in the darker side of things?
KH: I was ten. It probably started before that, but I’m not sure I can remember much before then.
NTK: What got you interested?
KH: I think the interest first came about as a way to process and orient myself within some fairly heavy changes in my life at the time. When I started reading and writing dark fiction and horror, my parents were going through a divorce that… well, we’ll just say it wasn’t exactly pretty. I’d just moved up to a log cabin in Pine Junction, Colorado, which was where my dad lived for years after that. I was isolated from friends (the few I had) and far removed from school and really any other kids. I don’t know if I can say exactly why, but going through my own darkness and “ten-year-old horror” made me turn not to the happier, fluffier side of fiction but to the complete opposite. I also went to a Catholic elementary school at the time, which also wasn’t very pretty. And I managed to sneak It by Stephen King into the school in my backpack and read that thing every chance I got.
I think it was more of an escape from my own life at the time and all the things I didn’t want to think about as a ten-year-old. A lot of the time, reading dark fiction and horror makes the scariest parts of real-life seem pretty okay in comparison.
NTK: Is Stephen King your favorite author? Who has influenced you in your writing?
KH: He is definitely on my list of favorites. Come on, it’s impossible to just pick one, right? His Dark Tower series is definitely my all-time favorite series. It would have to be since I’m reading it through for the 10th time right now. And I can definitely admit that his writing has seriously influenced my own. Beyond Stephen King, I’ve gotten a lot of influence (content more than style) from H.P. Lovecraft, Anne Rice, Neil Gaiman, and Jacqueline Carey. I definitely include those authors on my favorites list as well.
NTK: What is your favorite horror novel?
KH: When I’m thinking about my “favorite” horror novels, I end up going straight for the ones that creeped me out the most! Which, oddly enough, are books that I’ve then set aside and said, “Okay, I made it through. What a ride! Probably won’t pick that one up again.” The first favorite in that regard – and still a favorite horror novel all around, if we’re not mashing genres – would probably still be It. And coming in at a close second is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. That one made me feel so gross when I finished it – in the best way, of course – that I considered giving it away immediately lol! Yet it remains on my bookshelf. Maybe I’ll work my way up to revisiting it one day. Who knows? I also really, really loved Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, which I know is a lot different than either of the others. That book was definitely my first foray into psychological horror where I actually very much rooted for the main character, despite him being the “horror”. The same thing goes for You by Caroline Kepnes. Yes, I read it before it became a show. No, I haven’t seen the show. But I love an author’s ability to show the insanely dark side of a main character, of a villain, and make the reader enjoy, appreciate, and feel empathy for them even when knowing how awful they are. That’s also something I try to emulate in my own work with morally gray – or completely blacked-out – characters of my own.
See? It’s way too hard to just pick one!
NTK: Do you have a favorite horror movie?
KH: For the longest time, my favorite horror movie was The Ring. I saw that when I was ten or eleven. I remember walking around the gym during PE class and trying to tell my best friend about it. I got goosebumps, and my eyes started watering, and I just couldn’t shut up about it. Which I’m sure she really appreciated…
I honestly don’t watch horror movies – or movies in general – nearly as much as I read. But more recently, I really fell in love with this year’s remake of Invisible Man. Thankfully, I watched it at home with my husband, because I was shouting so loud at the screen that the movie theater would’ve been an awful experience for everyone else around me. That might take the prize for favorite horror movie. I thought it was fantastic.
NTK: (Laughs.) Do you have a favorite television show?
KH: Oh, yeah! Come to think of it, I actually do watch way more shows than movies. Maybe it’s the 45-50 minutes that I can handle one at a time and still have more to look forward to!
I just finished watching the Netflix Original Dark. Oooohhh. That was incredible. Very creepy and dark and nihilistic in so many ways. And right up there with it is Amazon’s War of the Worlds. I know that’s more commonly considered Sci-Fi, but it has a lot of horror elements too. And then, of course, because I’m also a huge fan of Dark Fantasy – and I mean Grimdark dark bordering on Horror, or maybe just Horror in fantasy worlds – Netflix’s Witcher just got me on every level. I’ve read those books as well and played the videogames and I binge-watched that series like I haven’t watched anything in a very long time.
I also have to give props to Castle Rock and The Outsider. Stephen King’s just hard to get away from, right? By why would you want to?
NTK: Indeed! (Laughs.) What inspires you? And what inspired you to write Sleepwater Beat and the series it originates from?
KH: What inspires me? A little bit of everything. Not really an answer though, right? I just love the places that dark fiction allows me to explore – or enjoy when I’m reading and watching shows. There’s that sense of taboo, of wondering how far I can really go in putting vivid characters first, fantastic story second, and then all the horror, despair, blood and gore, surprise, and chaos I can fit into one book. It’s a balancing act, which is super fun.
I guess I can say I’m inspired to write into such dark places by the fact that I’ve lived through my fair share of them personally. My parents’ divorce was just the start, but it eventually stretched down a long road that can to a head with heroin addiction and almost not making it out of that one. I know what it’s like to struggle with internal demons. I know what hopelessness and terror feel like on a very real level. And I draw from that in everything I write, no matter what level of horror the story contains. It’s usually quite a bit
The Blue Helix series, Sleepwater Beat and Sleepwater Static so far – there will be more – came from a desire to expose some of the darker, less-explored, marginalized communities in our world through a fictional lens and a noir, Dystopian flavor. That’s especially important with Dystopian Sci-Fi as a genre, and this series went to a place I never expected when both books released with incredibly eerie timeliness – when our reality was already so closely reflecting what I’d written months beforehand in each book. And these books are only set 11 years in the future! I can’t take credit for what happens in our real-world But I wanted to shed light on the fears, struggles, pain, and injustices faced by so many marginalized communities, hopefully, to open up more discussion about these things. In a way, I’m writing about what may seem “scary” to others in order to show that it isn’t actually as scary as they may think. At least not in the way they think it is.
And there’s plenty of psychological horror in this series, fistfights, explosions, creepy interactions, and chaos. My favorite combo
NTK: It’s amazing how those things formed and shaped you and your writing. Since your stories are character-driven, do you allow your characters free will? Or do you plan their every move?
KH: (Laughs.) I’ve given up on trying to plan my own every move. My characters wouldn’t make it very far if I tried to hold them in an iron grip. They have as much free will as I can offer them while keeping on the general path of the story. Sometimes they learn their lessons quickly. Other times, I have to bash them over the head repeatedly. And even then, it takes a lot for them to climb back out of the pits I throw them into. Some of them never do. Or they make it out again and are completely changed, not always for the better. My characters are always surprising me, and that’s part of the fun. I rarely outline books, and even then, it’s a loose few thousand words from beginning to end. I definitely don’t sketch out my characters before I write them. That’s just my own best method for letting them grow organically, and it keeps things interesting. I get bored fairly easily if I already know exactly what’s going to happen.
NTK: You’ve talked about many of the real-life horrors which have shaped your life. Do you believe in curses? And if so, which is your favorite?
KH: That’s definitely one of the coolest questions! As far as whether or not I believe in curses, I’ll say that the only curses we truly live through are the ones we cast on ourselves. Knowingly or unknowingly. Just like with any curse, it takes a lot of work and dedication to “remove” said curse. I guess I’m living proof that it can be done.
And then that might be my favorite kind of curse to write or read/watch, too. The kind where the character’s greatest strength is also their greatest downfall. Where their own personal “hero” is also their “villain”. The scariest demons to face are the ones that have always been a part of us.
Okay, and there’s also Murphy’s Law lol! That feels like a curse, and when done the right way, it’s just so much fun.
NTK: Do you have a favorite curse word?
KH: Fuck. Always and forever, FUCK.
NTK: Kathrin, what does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?
KH: This is super exciting. I have at least one more book in the Blue Helix series coming down the pipeline. Book 3 will be a wild ride and probably the most violent out of all of them, if I’m being honest.
I’m also working on a new LGBTQ+ Dark Fantasy series, Vessel Broken, that is way darker and bloodier than any of my other fantasy to date with an insane occult influence. I’m aiming to have the first book, Imlach Fractured, out in November 2020, so there’s not much longer to wait. I’m so thrilled with this series, though. It’s brutal. I mean, the first chapter is a demonic ritual turned epic bloodbath, and everybody dies! Except for the main character. I swear that’s not a spoiler And I’m so excited to keep going deeper and darker and really let it take over with this series.
NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Kathrin! You’ve been a wonderful guest.
KH: Thanks so much for having me! This was a lot of fun.
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