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Words as a Physical Weapon

Kathrin Hutson Author Interview

Kathrin Hutson Author Interview

Sleepwater Beat follows Leo as she is thrust into Sleepwater’s guerrilla war, hunted, and used as a weapon. What was the inspiration for the setup to this thrilling novel?

The inspiration as a whole came from what actually became the tagline for this book: “They say the pen is mightier than the sword. In Sleepwater’s world, words are literally more powerful than bullets.” As a writer, I’ve always been a firm believer in the power of the written word. The thousands of books I’ve read have all impacted me in various ways. The written word has the power to incite plenty of action, or positive change, or emotional awakening not just in individuals but on a broad scale. I actually have the phrase “The pen is mightier than the sword” in Latin tattooed on my arm above a feather quill. So I’ve always loved the sentiment behind it – words and ideas are more powerful and lasting than the physical scope of an experience (and yes, in many contexts, “peaceful discourse over violent acts”).

I can’t remember exactly why or how the thought occurred to me, but I do remember wondering what things would look like if “the pen is mightier than the sword” were translated into something more literal. What would the world look like if the spoken word wasn’t just a means of expression but an actual tool for physical effect? What if a traditionally unarmed person stood up against someone with a gun or a knife or even just a raised fist and could not only physically defend themselves but also attack and maybe even hurt that other person with nothing more than their words? Or words as a physical weapon, “literally more powerful than bullets”?

And that’s where the premise of “the beat” began. The rest of this Dystopian world and especially Leo’s part in it was a long process of not knowing what I was doing until I workshopped the original short story in a writer’s group in Charleston in 2014. The group’s love of that short story (also originally titled “Sleepwater Beat“) and their honestly ravenous desire to know more about the world on a broad scale when faced with the issues I only brushed on in the short story inspired me to flesh this thing out and create what later became the novel. And now, after having written it, that short story of 30,000 words has fueled an entire trilogy, at the very least, and maybe even more books beyond that.

Leo is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some ideas that drove that characters development?

In all honesty, I’d say about 75% of Leo is me. And the other 25% is partly who I feel like on the inside without anyone else seeing it and partly who I wish I could be in certain situations. I think that plays a really big role in why she feels so well-developed and fully rounded. Leo and I share so many of the same experiences, background, and struggles (in different variations, of course), and I found myself writing certain scenes in this book for Leo that came directly from true, real-life experiences I’ve had myself. I could go on and on about the similarities, but it would be a very long list. I can say that the supporting characters Alex, Carlos, Kaylee, and the twins Tony and Don were all modeled off of people in my own life as well. The garage where Sleepwater stays for the night and where the group of beat-spinners are interrupted by one of those intense action scenes (I don’t want to leave any spoilers) was based on what I remember of a real place in Denver, Colorado. So many of the dark places Leo experiences in this book come from my own dark places, some of them very, very real. That wasn’t my intention starting out, but the more I wrote, the more I realized I could funnel my own life experiences into this character and make her that much more perfect for the role she inhabits. It was also the first time I’d done this with any of my characters, so it was a little nerve-wracking, to say the least.

The unique ability that Leo has is something that was well developed and fascinating. How did you balance this to ensure things were believable throughout?

In speculative fiction of all sub-genres, whenever there’s a “great power”, there always has to be something to balance it out – a “catch”, so to speak. With the beat in general, Leo learns very quickly that the ability she’s used most of her life to get her out of sticky situations (and sometimes into them) doesn’t work at all when heard through technology: radio, audio devices, recordings, intercom systems, etc. That’s the one thing Sleepwater has to combat, too. A group of people with an ability that could wreak devastation if using their ability for the wrong reasons find themselves up against shady organizations who know what will render the beat “ineffective”. There’s also the fact that being inebriated with any substance kills “the beat”. There’s a certain sharpness of mind necessary for “spinning a beat”, which we also find out quite quickly.

The balance in keeping it believable lies with the truth behind this idea of the proverbial pen being mightier than the sword. There’s also a lot of commentary on social media use and technological advancements in this book, where “hearsay” and “fake news” are oftentimes believed and hyped up and perpetuated beyond reason. This comes from something I’ve always valued in my own life: the importance of hearing all available sides of the story not through gossip or what’s “trending” but straight from the source itself. Hence the balance of technology and any kind of mind-altering substance wiping out the beat’s effectiveness. I also touch upon the idea that people with this ability must be very careful with how they use and what they’re feeling when they do. Emotional outbursts (a common trope with “powers” in speculative fiction) can trigger the beat without a person intending to use it in the first place. It’s my way of shedding light on a warning I try to always keep in mind in my daily life too: letting our emotions get the better of us comes with its own set of unintended consequences.

Really, while “the beat” is completely made up and definitely the most “improbable” aspect of this book, it’s just another reflection of society and how we conduct ourselves individually and as a whole. People with this ability are normal, everyday people. Yet they have something the rest of the world doesn’t understand and are summarily feared and hated because of it. That theme doesn’t change throughout the rest of the books planned for the series.

This is book one in your Blue Helix series. What can readers expect in book two, Sleepwater Static?

Sleepwater Static may just be the most emotionally charged project I’ve worked on (for me personally, and hopefully for my readers). It has so much to say, just like Sleepwater Beat does, but in a very different way. We see the same characters for the most part, but the main character of book two is Bernadette Manney. I know readers fell in love with Leo (as did I), and while she’s still a part of things with Sleepwater, I wanted to explore a few other characters I didn’t get to dive as deeply into as I did with Leo in the first book. Bernadette fascinated me when I wrote her, and she’s got an incredible story to share.

Book two definitely takes it down a notch on the “explosions, fist fights, and running for their lives” scale, but the suspense is still there throughout. Through Bernadette, we get to see much more of how Sleepwater started, of what people with this ability went through before Leo ever came into the picture. And there were incredibly important topics I wanted to touch on with book two that I didn’t get to explore in book one. The story continues, but the focus doesn’t turn nearly so much onto the “seedier underbelly” of Leo’s world. Instead, I explored the way this Dystopian world has changed and what’s headed down the pipeline through the lens of race and racial tension, transracial families, bigotry, isolation, motherhood, age. Bernadette undergoes a surreal and uncomfortable return to her “Southern roots”, all while trying to protect her new Sleepwater family from the nationwide hysteria turning the people she once knew and trusted against her. It may be as heavy as book one, just in a different way.

I’m so excited to share Bernadette’s story when Sleepwater Static releases on May 26th this year. And I’m even more excited to dive into the next book after that. There will definitely be at least three books (maybe more, if the story begs me to continue it), and the endless possibilities have me itching to keep going.

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Sleepwater Beat (Blue Helix Book 1) by [Kathrin Hutson]

Leo could always make people believe anything she says—really believe. When her chest burns and the words come from her mouth, her targets’ eyes glaze over, they forget their own thoughts, and they’ll do anything she says. It’s what keeps her alive after being on the run and living on the streets for years. But after using it on her girlfriend and her dad’s drug dealer, it’s also what got her here on the streets in the first place.

Then Sleepwater finds her. When Leo discovers there are others out there with similar powers, scattered across the country, she can’t say no to the underground organization. After all, what’s a little sit-down with the only people who may ever understand her? What she doesn’t expect is to be thrust into Sleepwater’s guerrilla war, hunted by government agencies, and used as a weapon. Worse than that, she might be more valuable not for what she can do but for who she was before they found her.

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Sleepwater Beat

Sleepwater Beat (Blue Helix Book 1) by [Hutson, Kathrin]

Leona has had an irregular life. She has a secret. Spinning beats gets her out of situations. It helps her survive on the cold hard streets. Until one day Karl sees her for who she really is. He knows because he can do it too. He knows other people who might be like her. Sleepwater is not what she thought it would be. She expected days lived with people who understand and maybe finally, some peace. However, her life becomes chaos when she starts being hunted. She will have to run from something worse than what she had run from before. Will the agencies catch up with her? Will Leo catch a break? Can she finally understand her abilities?

Kathrin Hutson has combined so many fan-favorite elements in this book. There is an LGBTQ romance that is well developed and refreshing. Sleepwater Beat provides a suspenseful story filled with surprising twists and a lot of emotion. The plot seems like the author let her imagination run wild. The plot is peppered with escapades and exciting events.

The characters are artfully sculpted. The way Leo is described and introduced to us complete with her attitude is so vivid and detailed. You can almost feel her tangled hair between your fingers. You can smell the cigarettes on her clothes. You hear the slight tobacco-induced rasp in her voice as she gives sass and ‘beats’ people. You will almost fall for Karl’s intentions as he picks up Leo and offers her exactly what she needs. The author has done a great job with the characters. They make you look forward to following them through the Blue Helix series.

The style of writing in this book is a bit gruff. It has a certain quality that puts you right in the street. Maybe it is the wording of the dialogue. Maybe it is the way the words are delivered and by whom. The words just help build the scene for the reader. It is the kind of writing that perfectly fits this kind of story with these kinds of characters.

The alternative throwbacks are especially lovely. They help you compare then and now and give you some insight into the why of now. They give you a better understanding and enhance the connection between the reader and the characters/story.

Sleepwater Beat will bring you face to face with unconventional situations. You will wonder how to handle a clever Leo who maintains a flirty crust while having a broken center. Kudos for successfully thrusting the reader right into the thick of it and keeping them gripped enough to resist leaving.

Pages: 410 | ASIN: B07JZXBRLC

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