A creator of fictional worlds since the age of ten, Kathrin Hutson has been a science fiction and fantasy author for the majority of her life. Wanting to learn about her life, her career, and her latest novel Sacrament of Dehlyn, I was able to interview Hutson for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing as a kid? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Kathrin Hutson: I grew up reading Fantasy and Sci-Fi, and the earliest “chapter books” I remember loving were the Animorphs books by Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant. Those and the Goosebumps series were the only fiction books available in the library of my super tiny school (as in I was one of thirteen kids in the whole grade) that weren’t super girly or Christian—neither of which I particularly enjoyed then. I still don’t now.
Then I graduated to stuff like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, the Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust, and His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. Granted, it was a really quick progression; I was then reading Stephen King’s It and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe when I was ten. I read voraciously and far above the average proficiency of the other kids my age, and it gets hard to remember everything I consumed before getting to high school and… well, that was a completely different world.
I’d say His Dark Materials are probably the most enjoyable books for me to revisit from what I read as a kid. The Vlad Taltos series actually sparked the very first seeds of what became my first two books, the Dark Fantasy duology Gyenona’s Children (Daughter of the Drackan and Mother of the Drackan).
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Was there a moment in which this career goal crystalized for you?
Hutson: I knew on my tenth birthday. I’d been having this reoccurring nightmare for weeks, which was really nothing more than a lucid dream about me being inside my favorite movie at the time, knowing it was a dream, and still being unable to change the ending to be the way I wanted it. When I woke up on my birthday, I had the sudden epiphany that I could just rewrite the ending, and maybe that would stop this mother of all nightmares.
They did stop, but I didn’t rewrite the movie’s ending. I started writing a monster of a book about fairies and treacherous families and the death of whole races (my darkness started at an early age, I suppose). I got up to something like 130 pages of double-spaced, printed pages. The book was never finished, and it will never see the light of day, but it taught me how to type as quickly as I do now. And it started my passion for writing fiction.
Finishing my first novel in high school—which was a whopping 210,000 words and later became my Dark Fantasy duology, Gyenona’s Children—was the first time I actually felt like I’d accomplished something with my writing. I’d written plenty of short stories, but they never really felt right. Novels, though…novel are my jam.
I knew when I finished that project in high school that this was what I wanted to do professionally. My family didn’t quite know what to do with me when I said I was going to college for a bachelor’s in Creative Writing Fiction. But I did anyway.
Yanes: You have lived in Colorado, South Carolina, and Vermont. How has living in these states shaped the stories you tell?
Hutson: I love this question, and I’ve never really thought about this before. I also lived in Northern California for two years, but it felt very much like living in parts of Colorado, so I’ll lump them together for fun (nobody hit me, please). I grew up in the Rocky Mountains and their foothills, lived on the flat plains, and met my husband in southern Colorado where it’s dry and hot and sometimes pretty sparse. I know coniferous forests and mountainous rock and snow-sun-dry-snow-freezing-warm-storm weather very well. South Carolina, of course, introduced me to the warm Atlantic Ocean, the salt air, the stink of pluff mud, the lazy days and crazy nights, sweat, heat, humidity, gasping for AC, and the kind of Southern-living hospitality I haven’t seen anywhere else. In Vermont… well, I’ve learned how to not die in February. Two years in a row.
Thinking about it now, there’s actually a little bit of all that in The Unclaimed series, which makes sense for the kind of broad, sweeping travel Kherron undertakes across Eldynia. And at one point in the third book, Sacrament of Dehlyn, Kherron steps out of a balmy, sun-filled grove and literally right into what I grew up seeing every winter in the Rocky Mountains—pine boughs heavy with snow, the world whispering to wait, observe, let things take their course.
I’m in love with all the climates in which I’ve lived (maybe not Vermont winters… yet). Each of them brings a different flavor to a story’s pacing and action. Apparently, I’ve incorporated all of them in The Unclaimed series, so thanks for bringing that to my attention. Nature and the natural world are a huge part of Kherron’s story—of who he is, what he can do, and what he must become as a Blood of the Veil. It’s only fitting that he gets as much of a taste as I’ve had—if not more—of the kinds of places Mother Nature has to offer in all her glory and devastation.
Yanes: In regards to the profession of being an author. How has your knowledge of this industry grown? Specifically, was there anything about this industry that surprised you?
Hutson: On a broad spectrum, my knowledge of the literary world as a whole never stops growing. Ever. I learn something new every day, which just tells me I’m headed down the right path. The fact that I’ve been writing for almost two decades and only just last summer managed to make writing fiction my full-time career astounds me. Not because it “took so long” (yeah, two decades sounds like a long time) but because I’m finally doing what I’ve always wanted to do, every day, for a living. And every day, I’m so humbled by and grateful for the fact that I can do this and that I still have so much ahead of me to learn and improve and create. It blows my mind.
Specifically, the thing I’ve found most surprising is how involved readers love to be—not just with a story and its characters but with the actual authors who create them. I spent a really long time “hiding” behind my books, so to speak. They were published, they were available, I told people what I do and where to find my work, and that was about it. I always carried with me this certainty that nobody would give a crap about who I was beyond being the author of my books. How hilarious of me.
No, I’m not saying I’m the coolest person in the world. People like Jason Momoa and Ellen DeGeneres definitely have me beat, there (okay, I really like them both. Never met either of them). But this proves my point: I admire and appreciate both these people even more for the authenticity in which they present themselves to the world outside their professional capacities as well as within them. And what? Yes, I do believe this also applies to authors (I have author crushes, and I’m not afraid to admit it). When I finally decided to grow a figurative pair of my own and put myself out there to my readers, potential readers, and even people who just really like the same things I do, my entire outlook on being an author beyond just writing changed completely. I basically just screamed, “Hey! I’m a weird person who likes goofy things and can’t get enough of them in my life. Who’s with me?” And “I also write books” was only in the fine print. Boy, has my engagement and presence as an author exploded as a result of that. It’s still exploding—one long, drawn-out, slow-motion burst of how awesome it is to connect with people on a daily basis just by doing what I love. And being fairly good at it.
Being an honest, wacky, sometimes embarrassing person who happens to be an author is so much more fun than pretending to be a purchase link. Go figure that most people tend to respond to the former with a lot more enthusiasm. I love it.
Yanes: The first volume of The Unclaimed is Sanctuary of Dehlyn. What was the inspiration behind this series?
Hutson: The very, very first spark of the idea came from listening to Evanescence’s Fallen album and the track “Hello” specifically. I discovered her in high school and am still a fan. That one song was the basis for the character Dehlyn—the woman-child who is simple, pure, and unjaded yet transforms into this ancient, powerful, omniscient creature seemingly without warning in front of Kherron, the main character.
Hello, I’m the lie living for you so you can hide / Don’t cry
Only both these sides of Dehlyn are a lie, and at the same time, they’re not. So if that doesn’t get anybody interested to start reading…
I actually started writing what became Sanctuary of Dehlyn also while I was in high school. But I dropped it because it never felt right. When I came back to it in 2017, I rewrote all three chapters I’d amassed and realized the story—and my ability to connect with it—had grown so much larger in all that time. A casual conversation with my teenage cousin sparked both of our excitement about Kherron’s story and the character of Dehlyn specifically. My cousin asked, “How could would it be if Dehlyn’s transformations were a curse?”
Oh, yes! Not a curse on Dehlyn herself but on the entire world of this story. The fragile creature became the world’s punishment and its redemption all at once. Now how does one navigate that? Kherron bumbles his way through the whole thing, and it breaks him over and over until he realizes he was never meant to save anyone in the way he’d always assumed.
Yanes: As the story of The Unclaimed has evolved, are there any characters or plotlines that took on a life of their own?
Hutson: Of course! There always are, I think, in any book during its creation. For a pantser like me who loses interest in a story if it’s outlined first, everything takes on a life of its own. I get bored if I know what’s going to happen next. All of my work starts with one idea, one character, one scene, and the best part is the surprise of discovering these new characters and plot lines and seeing how all the pieces fit together as I move through the story.
The biggest change in what I’d perceived about a few characters I knew would exist happened when Kherron meets Zerod Ophad in Hephorai, the City of Thinkers. I’d always known that the immortal warriors/guardians called the amarach would have their “weakness” tied into relationships with humans. If a human touches an amarach’s flesh, the immortal is bonded to that human forever—unless they are released—and are compelled to do as that human commands without fail. So the most powerful creatures in this world are at the mercy of a human’s whims if that bond has been forged, willingly or not.
The amarach Mirahl is bonded to Zerod when Kherron meets them. Originally, I’d assumed before writing these characters that Zerod would be “one of the bad guys” and that whichever amarach he’d bonded would be more or less a slave. As it turned out, this is what Kherron assumes as well when he wakes up in Zerod’s home and meets the old man and his bonded amarach. What I never expected was for Zerod to be an ally for Kherron and his quest, and for Zerod and the amarach Mirahl to actually have a deep, enduring, purely loving relationship—not as a result of their bond but in spite of it. As their backstory goes, Mirahl and Zerod met as scholars trying to “fix” a world broken by the Unclaimed’s existence (no spoilers…). They fell in love, Mirahl sacrificed her freedom to be with the young Zerod, and after fifty years with him, she won’t even let him release her.
Theirs is actually a really beautiful story, though Kherron only sees a small glimpse of it. I may write something about them in the future. But it only strengthens Kherron’s realization that nothing in this world as he moves through it is what it seems to be—and that he basically knows nothing.
I also never expected Kherron to find another love interest in this series after Dehlyn. But when Aelis the Nateru came into the picture… well, I just couldn’t keep them apart.
Yanes: The trouble of writing a story that has magic in it is how do you make sure that magic isn’t used to solve every problem. How did you go about making sure magic in your stories had limits?
Hutson: In The Unclaimed, the magic is the limit. Centuries before this story, the amarach punished themselves for what they considered to be treachery against their own kind and the world, thus creating the Unclaimed—a vessel of all their omniscient knowledge and power and magic, stripped from the world and poured into one immortal being. The rest of this world hasn’t been able to tap into that magic since… until Kherron unwittingly brings the Unclaimed closer and closer to the imminent end, and in anticipation of this end, the magic starts to seep back into the world in terrifying ways no one can comprehend. The fact that the “masters” of this magic have banished themselves and that no one else alive has mastered any of the magic remaining is a fantastic way to limit it.
Kherron himself has abilities, which he always assumed were trying to kill him when they’d actually been trying to guide him instead. He just never had anyone to explain to him what was happening. There’s a pretty big repeating theme through this series that the true magic running through this world can only be harnessed through sacrifice—not of another living being, as some of the characters wrongfully believe, but of oneself. One’s preconceived notions of what’s important, what’s right, who they are. Kherron has no concept of any of these when his story begins, so knowing what he has to sacrifice is especially hard for him to comprehend, leading to three books’ worth of frustration, failure, and rage on his part. Those consuming emotions will keep anyone’s powers at bay, even outside of fiction and fantasy and without magic.
Yanes: With Sacrament of Dehlyn being the final chapter for your protagonist, Kherron. What notes did you want to hit for Kherron during this story?
Hutson: The biggest thing for Kherron, I think, was his full realization of what it means to be a free man—free of his enslavement at the Iron Pit, free of his magically binding vow to Dehlyn to protect her, free of his fear of failure and his shame, and free of his consuming need to be free. That kind of release from his inhibitions and misunderstood sense of duty leads him to discover that the kind of freedom he claims over the course of this series isn’t about him at all. It’s about everyone else and the responsibility laid on his shoulders—the freedom to choose either a selfish path of least resistance or the hardest course of fully stepping into the role of what this world desperately needs him to be as one of the last remaining Blood of the Veil. Neither choice is particularly easy; one leads to shame, despair, and isolation while the other leads to hardship, loss, and yet a vein of hope for the future. For moving beyond the pain of what has to be done in order for things to one day be brought back into balance.
There really is no happy ending for Kherron in this series, but there is hope. There is a fresh start and a new path cleared on top of the foundation of learning from the world’s mistakes. It’s not his job to keep anyone safe or save the whole world from an all-consuming evil (which doesn’t exist in this story). Kherron’s purpose is to share his knowledge in the way the Blood of the Veil were always meant to do and guide others toward learning how to overcome the harsh truth that the world is only what we make of it.
Yanes: When people finish reading Sacrament of Dehlyn, what do you hope they take away from it?
Hutson: I think the biggest thing I hope to be taken away from this series is the understanding that all the most shameful, despairing, totally destructive mistakes we make in our lives never define who we are. This was a huge personal hurdle for me before I started writing The Unclaimed, after a period of darkness and destruction and despair in my own life. When I came out of it on the other side, I didn’t write for almost four years, simply because I had this astounding misconception that I didn’t deserve to do something I loved so much when I’d screwed up so massively in the past. How ridiculous is that? I poured a lot of that self-discovery into Kherron, and a lot of that shame which, at that point, I’d already learned to release. At the end of Sacrament of Dehlyn, Kherron doesn’t “fix” anything. He doesn’t defeat the evil. He doesn’t “win” in the traditional sense. But he does keep going, looking to the future instead of the past and focusing on what he can do personally to keep his world from breaking again.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Hutson: I am really excited about the new series I’m currently writing. The Vessel Broken series takes place in the same world as The Unclaimed and is a much darker, much more intense exploration of parts of the world that were only briefly mentioned once or twice in The Unclaimed. It starts pretty much at the same time as the ending of Sacrament of Dehlyn, when the world changes again and everyone in it is trying to figure out how to survive what Kherron unleashed.
Kherron may or may not appear in this series, but the main character of Vessel Broken, Rahlizje, is the kind of character I love to write more than any other. She’s brutal, vicious, deadly, deceitful, and cunning, and this new series opens with everything she thought she knew and all the power she thought she had crashing down on top of her in pieces—literally and figuratively. And she cuts a swath of destruction and death in her journey to get it back. Or so she thinks when she starts out, of course. How much fun it is to screw with my characters’ unwavering certainties!
The first book in this series, Imlach Fractured, is scheduled for release in September 2019. I also have a prequel to the Vessel Broken series, The Summoner Thief, appearing in a boxed set release of some fantastic stories by USA Today and International Bestselling Authors coming out in October 2019. The set is called Playing with Fire, put out by Fire Quill Publishers, and is going to be absolutely phenomenal. So once again, just like everything else in my life, autumn is going to be crazy busy and excited and loads of fun.