Sourcerer’s 11: Questions for Author Alex Hurst

Welcome to the September edition of Sourcerer’s 11, our monthly interview series. I’m chatting today with fantasy, science, and speculative fiction author Alex Hurst. You can find her on WordPress at Alex-Hurst.com and on Twitter @AlexHurstTweets.

Meet Alex. She's cool.

Meet Alex. She’s cool.

Welcome, Alex!

Thank you! It’s an honor to be here. I’ve followed your blog for a long time, and was pretty chuffed when you asked to interview me.

Yay, us!  (Alex is the one speaking in boldface, just so you all know. I am speaking from here on out in italics. And I am pretty stoked about the fact that the word “chuffed” has just been used on my blog for the first time ever. Let’s do this thing!) 🙂 Q&A time!

Q.1: Earlier this summer, you released D.N.A., a serial, illustrated novella. As you know, we love illustrated fiction, sci-fi, and superheroes around here, so I’m intrigued. Can you tell us a little bit about D.N.A. and how it came about?

Art by Kevin Nichols

Art by Kevin Nichols. We almost went with the cover image, but thought the better of it and decided to do something special. We have more art from Kevin Nichols today 🙂

D.N.A. came about sometime in the latter part of last year. The fiction writing group I belong to had a call out for superhero-themed fiction, and that being a genre I’d always loved as a kid, I simply had to try to get a story in. D.N.A. was accepted into that anthology (Writers’ Anarchy III: Heroes & Villains), but is re-released now with minor alterations and a handful of illustrations.

I started the story with a concept (Alta’s “power,” but then decided to also use the world that rapidly developed as a vehicle for discussing feminism, LGBT, and social issues. Alta is a woman, a person of color, and a lesbian, and the story and characters all amount to the big question I hope to ponder with the series: What does it mean to be human?

Q2. Do you have another fiction project in the works you’d like to give us an early teaser for?

I have a few projects on the back burner right now, mainly because I don’t have the knowledge to move forward. My current novel-in-progress is a non-European epic fantasy told from the perspective of the villain, but it’s on a stall because I need to do some serious world building in regard to military and poverty functions within the regions.

Q.3 Since you live in Kyoto, I can’t pass up the opportunity to ask you about Japan. I’ve always had a fascination with Japanese culture, but I think we often get an overly-simplistic view of other cultures in the U.S. Can you tell us something interesting about life in Japan that the average North American could never learn from the television and travel literature?

Hm, I’ll have to think about that one for a second. There are a lot of things that many people find shocking or surprising about Japanese culture, but it really depends on how much the person has studied or what kind of person they are in general.

That being said, I think that most of the world would have the impression that Japan wastes very little. Just last week, I saw a NYT article that discussed the philosophy of “mottainai” or “Such a waste!” In theory, this is inline with what we learn about Japan. They recycle, they take care of their things, etc., etc. So, it was very surprising to me to find out, when I came here, that there are a lot of micro-wastes in the culture, like individually wrapping every cracker or cookie in a package, or triple shrink-wrapping electronics. Even books, when you go to the book store, are all shrink-wrapped with paper “obi,” or belts, which are all thrown away, generally.

Likewise, many restaurants don’t offer a doggy bag option for food that you can’t finish at the restaurant. Grocery stores won’t stock food that isn’t absolutely perfect, and tons of food simply gets thrown out every year. What it comes down to is that they are very good at not wasting some things, but not others, and I think that’s true of any country in the world.

Q.4 Let’s talk about blogging for a bit. Your Archetypes series is one of my favorite blog series of all time, and it seems to be generally well-received. How did you come up with that idea? And if you don’t mind sharing, how long do those posts take to produce?

There's an archetype to be found in this image, or a few. :-) Image by Kevin Nichols for D.N.A.

There’s an archetype to be found in this image, or a few. 🙂 Image by Kevin Nichols for D.N.A.

Well, thank you very much! I have a lot of fun writing those posts. I can’t actually remember much how it happened. I think I was looking at critical analyses of fairy tales and came across the terms “anima” and “animus,” and thought it’d make a good blog post. Then, because I was there anyway, I decided to have a look at Jung’s twelve archetypes, because I find them way more flexible than traditional stereotypes used to fill a cast.

The posts themselves don’t take long at all to introduce, but I did spend two days before starting the first one building the graphics. I decided ahead of time what sort of look I was going to go for, prebuilt the wheels and made a template for the featured banner. Since the images are done, it’s just a matter of filling in the text once a month. I usually start thinking about who I want to use for each archetype a few days before the post, and find the images on Google…. The actual writing of the posts takes about 4-6 hours, give or take, though the Creator post only took me one hour to churn out. I’m definitely a seat-of-the-pants blogger; shame my fiction writing doesn’t work the same way!

Q.5 Everyone who’s blogged for any length of time has favorite posts, and in my experience, bloggers’ favorite posts are rarely their most popular. In your own opinion, what’s the best post you’ve published so far?

Another hard question. I think my favorite post is another series that hardly got any love, Tackling Poe. I made that series my first year of blogging, though, and didn’t know anything of what I know now. I’m actually going to be repackaging the whole series over the next couple of years, now that I know how to push it properly.

Q.6 Most bloggers make a lot of mistakes in the early going, so those of us who have been at it for awhile usually have a list of things we’d do differently if we could go back to the beginning and start all over again. Do you have any tips to offer bloggers who are just getting started and want to be successful?

If I could do anything again, it would be deciding FIRST if I want a self-hosted domain or WP.com domain, because I switched three months in to self-hosted, and lost so many of the followers I’d struggled to gain in the beginning. 

I would also say participate in a couple, but not too many, weekly memes in order to meet people. However, the most important thing, to me, for any blog, is that your blog have something personal to say. Personal not just in the stories you tell, but in the voice you use to get them out there. Don’t be afraid to offend people, or not be interesting… just be you, and be honest.

Q.7 Since you write both fantasy and sci-fi, I’m curious to know which you prefer as a reader. Which do you read/enjoy more of, and do you have any favorite stories you’d like to share with us?

I’ve gone in and out with the genres I like. I was heavy into fantasy when I was younger, but I ended up finding so many problematic themes (mythical creatures as pets/pedestals, women having no other conflict than to be raped, etc) that I simply stopped reading the genre after 14. I’ve picked up some science fiction novels since then, but I mostly enjoy science fiction in short stories (see: Lightspeed: Women Destroy Science Fiction)

As far as my favorites, those are also variable. I’ve come to really enjoy the idea of Roger Zelazny’s Book of Amber, even if I found the writing ineffective. Right now, my heart is more with speculative fiction, as in Gaiman’s Neverwhere, or with fantasy, Brust’s Jhereg or Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, though I didn’t like the entirety of the end in the latter!

Q.8 You mention in your WordPress profile that you volunteer as an admin for the online community Fiction Writers Group. Since many of our readers are fiction writers, I think some of them might be interested to know what that community is about. Would you give us a brief run-down?

Sure, I’d be happy to! Fiction Writers Group is a Facebook community of authors from all around the globe. We currently have over 8,500 members, and we produce 2-3 anthologies a year that are only open to those in the group. I admin, I keep up with the website (writersanarchy.com) and do the proofreading and interior design for the anthologies. Definitely check out the website, because there’s way more information there, but my favorite part about the community is how generally helpful everyone is, and the mock publishing process we have for our Writers’ Anarchy series, which boasts no form rejections and the opportunity to resubmit after feedback. I think it really helps people take baby steps to a thicker skin!

One more from Kevin Nichols. If this ain't good art, I don't know what good art is.

One more from Kevin Nichols. If this ain’t good art, I don’t know what good art is.

Q.9 Any advice for writers, artists, and other creative folk who are struggling to break in and find a large audience for their work?

Have an idea for your audience, but don’t write with the intent of reaching a large audience. Write first with the intent to tell a good story, and have that story edited — not just proofread, but truly edited. Indie and self-published does NOT mean do everything yourself! There are a ton of resources out there. 🙂

Once you have your story the best it can be, then think about platform. I think there’s nothing for it but blood, sweat, and tears. Unfortunately the work isn’t over once you type The End. There will be many, many more hours of marketing and reviewer searching ahead of you…. but, don’t give up!

Q10: Give us your best elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your stories?

I like to write about the human condition, and what it means to be human in an unhuman world. My works, no matter the genre, are character-driven more than plot -driven, but that doesn’t mean the plots are lacking! I like diversity, not just in skin tones and gender and disability, but also in personality, and the reactions and actions people who aren’t me would take in any given situation. If you’d like a free set of stories to read, check out my works on Out of Print. “Scalawag” and “Passing Over: The Handbook” are, I think, the best stories to read to get an idea as to my range. 

Q.11: If you could own one magical artifact or piece of out-of-this-world technology, large or small, from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star, what would it be?

I think Jim C. Hines answered this best with his Libriomancer series (imagine, pulling any loved item from any book ever written!), but If I had to choose one, and it couldn’t simply be a magical or supernatural skill, I’d want a wand from Harry Potter… a common answer, but there’s so much you can do with it! (As long as the Ministry of Magic isn’t on my trail, too!)

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36 thoughts on “Sourcerer’s 11: Questions for Author Alex Hurst

  1. This is such a great interview!
    It did not occur to me that so much food is wasted in Japan, I have heard that it is all presented perfectly and rather expensive, but I did’t think any further…
    The wands… But you’d have to extract the skills too in order to use them 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, there’s a huge movement in the younger generation to not throw away less than perfect food, now, but it’s pretty shocking. I also learned yesterday that there is no compost garbage in Kyoto, at least (taken away by the city)… which boggles my mind, but it must be because I’m from California.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on Alex Hurst and commented:
    I made it to Sourcerer’s 11! We talk about Japan, the art for D.N.A (special preview of the interior art!), and blogging. I also talk about Fiction Writers Group, which is currently accepting horror story submissions for this year’s anthology. 🙂 Have a look!

    Liked by 1 person

        • My only regret is that I did not ask you a question this good about your early years in the South. But you know. Only 11 questions, and three are set pieces. I was more interested in Japan, because at least I’ve seen the south. Never seen Japan, but would love to.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ah, a story for another day, maybe! 😉 But I was a bit of a Tarzan in my youth. Lived next to the Little Bogue Falaya in Louisiana… caught snakes and turtles and fish to show my dad. Swung from vines. Good memories. 🙂

            Like

    • Hi Susan!! Hope you’re doing well! 😀 Japan is quite multi-faceted, for sure. I think a lot of countries with strong cultural heritages tend to be over-simplified by default, but Japan definitely has its share of quirks!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great interview! I also enjoy Alex’s Archetypes series. It’s neat to not only see where certain fictional characters fall into Jung’s categories, but also to see how your own personality fits in there as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Yeah, I’m a fan of the Jung archetypes.

      Just because concepts have limits doesn’t mean they can’t be useful.

      Jung was quite an out-of-the-box-thinking guy.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Exactly. I’m also a fan of MBTI personality types, so it’s interesting to compare the two “systems” and find the similarities and differences, and which types you fall into on each.

        Any idea where you think you might fall in the Jungian archetypes?

        Liked by 2 people

        • Hard to say. I like to think of myself as the Trickster, but that’s not right. I’m neither that clever nor that devious.

          Perhaps the Wise Old Man, if you keep in mind that he’s using “wise” as a stand-in for “knowledgeable” there.

          I aspire to Magician, but I’m not there yet. I may be mysterious, but I’m not that powerful.

          What fun!

          Liked by 2 people

        • It occurs to me after I wrote that last response maybe you were referring to the archetypes depicted on the wheel. In which case, my answer is unequivocally Outlaw.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Cool. 🙂 Alex had pointed me a while ago to Archetypes.com, where you can actually take a quiz that helps you determine your archetype range. No one really fits any one archetype 100%, so the results show the three areas where you test strongest.

            Like

    • Hi Sara~! I finally took that Archetypes.com quiz and landed exactly 33% in Caregiver, Creative (Creator), and Intellectual (Sage). So, yay for being balanced? Haha.

      I hope more people will check out your series on character arcs. It’s really amazing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nice! We have two results in common, then. When I took the test, I was just above 50% for the Creator, and then 24% or 23% each for Caregiver and Spiritual.

        Oh goodness, thank you, Alex. I’m in the middle of drafting File No. 03; hoping to get it up before the end of the month.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Couple of things: The world building of poverty and military is difficult, but what I struggle with most is the religions. As in, how to not just make them expies of familiar religions. I wish you well with that project.

    Developing a thick skin is absolutely critical. The fact that I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) develop it in my 20s is one of the reasons I left journalism entirely instead of moving from community newspaper editing into a big newsroom and working my way up from reporter to copy editor to editorial page editor, etc. all the way to publisher.

    Journalism is a job in which, if you’re producing the content and your phone doesn’t ring off the hook every time you go to press, you’re doing it wrong. As long as you don’t commit any factual errors and you make an effort to be fair, superiors generally back you up, but you still have to take the calls. And the advertising department has all the real power anyway.

    My thin skin has held me back as a writer for my entire life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t have that much trouble with religions, but mainly because I grew up in a household of Eastern spirituality in America, so my knowledge is pretty rounded out. I have fun making deities (rarely a one god, for some reason)… but my family is uber pacifist, so learning anything about the military was just skipped in my education. Luckily I have a blogger friend who is quite knowledgeable in the field, and he’s offered to help me iron out the details. Yay blogging community!

      I’m sure you would have been a really good journalist, Gene’o. I understand, though. I didn’t get a thick skin until a couple of years ago, and that was after a decade of shunning creative writing because my father “dared” to mark my story with red pen when I’d just wanted him to read it…. I’ve since learned the ego can get pretty butt-hurt, so prepare myself for all negative feedback, and get surprised when a positive trickles in. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll talk about my work for a moment. I run a large collegiate writing center that was designed with writing anxiety in mind. It has colorful walls and curvy furniture and stuff.

        There are only two red pens in the whole shop. One for me, one for my boss. We use them when we need to do financial paperwork which requires red ink to distinguish the originals from the photocopies easily for auditing purposes, and that is all we use them for.

        We do not mark up papers or stories or corporate documents we’re working on together with red ink. It is forbidden. On the extremely rare occasions we find it necessary to write on physical copies of things other writers have written, we use pencils, and we ask first.

        Sound pedagogy there, to my way of thinking.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, but you have to be so careful with creative projects and criticism. I’ve even changed the default “red” comment color in Word to a sunny marigold, because I don’t want it to look like “WROOOOOONG” every time I make a comment.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes that’s true. Good job on that color change. I prefer a cool green or light blue, or just a professional yellow highlighter and marginal notes in black ink for markups.

            Writers, especially inexperienced writers, notice every little detail.

            Red is the wrong color for that sort of work.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post! Just last night my son, who just returned from working in Tokyo for four months bright it gifts he brought fire is. The books were shrunk wrapped and each has several (4 or 5) passports inside that could be ordering info or add for other books (post card sized) that just get tossed. A tall waste!
    And add far as a magical item I would want, I would turn to Harry Potter to but I think I might pick the Invisibility Cloak!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the book waste is intense! And then, when you buy anything that might be considered a gift, they individually gift wrap each item, and then give each item its own plastic bag, custom-made for the store. These are durable bags — they could be used for months, but most probably just get thrown away.

      Yet somehow Japan has a 100% plastic bottle recycling rate. 😛

      Like

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