Today I’m happy to welcome Beth Hudson, another Iowa writer, to In the Spotlight. Beth’s most recent fantasy novel was featured here on Second Run Reviews back in 2015. I’m glad that Beth is joining us this week for an interview so fans can learn more about her and her writing.
In the Spotlight with Beth Hudson
Welcome to Second Run Reviews, Beth! Thank you for being In the Spotlight. I appreciate you stopping by and answering a few questions. So let’s get things started.
In a tweet (140 characters or less), tell us a bit about yourself.
Mom of three, musician, poet & writer, grew up on Lloyd Alexander & Tolkien. Loves Celtic music & beautiful artwork. Reads vociferously.
I love Celtic music as well. I’m quite stuck on the Outlander and Braveheart soundtracks right now.
Please tell a bit about your journey to becoming a published author. What’s been the best things about it and the worst?
I have been writing since the third grade, and decided to become a writer in 7th. I wrote a novel in high school, and another two in college, and though they weren’t very good, I learned a lot. I’ve been in fiction classes or writer’s workshops since college, trying to learn how to take the vision in my mind and transfer it to paper.
In my early 30’s, I noticed that I was well on my way to becoming a writer who didn’t write, and rededicated myself to the art. A great deal of that involved working around my wish for perfection and my fears of criticism, as well as figuring out what was the best writing strategy for my particular mindset and talents. That led to my first small press short story publication when I was thirty-nine, and I’ve been getting published in small press venues since. I was very excited to turn out my first novella in 2011, but I feel like I’ve come a long way even since I wrote “The Herd Lord”. I don’t ever want to think that I’m finished learning, or that I’ve gotten so good that I don’t need to improve.
The best thing about this journey has been learning how to be precise in my words and learning command of my art so that I don’t simply have to hope that my passion is reflected in my writing, but can be sure I’m saying what I want to say. I hoard my inspirations so that I don’t need to sit down in front of a keyboard and hope lightning strikes. I also do a lot of slogging through lack of inspiration, keeping myself constantly moving. This does several things for me – it stimulates my creative mind so that I’m actually getting more ideas, and it keeps me in practice. My mantra has become, “I can always revise.”
The worst part of the journey has been trying to keep myself writing despite lack of self-confidence, depression, and anxiety. Depression tends to whisper that I’m not good enough, that even if I am good enough, I will get passed over and ignored. That I’ll never sell what I write. That people will hate my work, or worse, have no interest in it. Anxiety intensifies all those depressive thoughts. It can be devastating to my ability to write anything at all. I fight against those thoughts constantly, as they are the enemies of creativity.
That is quite a journey. I’m happy that you rediscovered the craft and dedicating yourself to it. I know from the other authors I’ve spoken to that being an author has its upsides and downsides.
Your latest book is titled Etched in Fire and I was lucky enough to feature a short excerpt from it this past September. Tell us a little about the book and where you drew your inspiration for writing it.
Maelen was a character I originally conceived of and explored as an adult; a character whose past focused her on a path to destroy evil with her magic in a very single-minded way. But as I explored her adult self, knowing the general outlines of her backstory, I started wondering about the specifics, and what forces might have taken a child with a normal, happy upbringing and chiseled her into a powerful magical weapon. That caused me to think about what it would be like to be a civilian in a war, lacking information, resources, and even the most basic guarantee of safety. There were a number of implications that popped up almost immediately, and I followed many of them down their respective alleys. I didn’t actually start the book with a cohesive plot, but I went back and did a lot of tightening after I finished it in order for me to be comfortable feeling it was a complete story from beginning to end.
I love Maelen as a character. In a genre where often characters end up one-note or stereotyped, I think I’ve succeeded in making her a character with a complex set of motivations and reactions, many of which are contradictory. I prefer to write messy people, with internal conflicts and multiple motivations, many of which can’t be bundled into a simple character type. The part of writing – or reading – I love the most is how the characters evolve, and seeing how they get through difficulty or terror or pain.
Though it’s a pretty dark book, I tried very hard to make sure that it wasn’t simply depressing without any letup; I think having good to offset evil shows both up more intensely.
My current workshop, made up of some very good friends, was immensely helpful in pushing me to excellence in working on Etched in Fire, calling me on my tendency to get bogged down in my prose, reminding me to keep my characterization tight, and building me up when I got frustrated.
Wow! Maelen sounds like a wonderful character.
What types of books do you enjoy reading the most? What three books to you find yourself recommending to your fans over and over?
Though I started out my reading life absorbing all the science-fiction, fantasy, and mystery I could get, I’ve settled much more on fantasy in recent years. I love sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, or any other type that can catch and hold me. For me, the qualities make a fantasy novel good are:
- Do the characters feel real, and can I empathize with them?
- Does the magic feel “magical”, or is it simply a prop that could just as well involve lasers and starships?
- Is the world well-realized?
I already said I grew up on Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander, but there are so many authors who have influenced my writing: Patricia McKillip, Charles de Lint, Ursula LeGuin, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones…I could go on, but there are really too many to list.
As for recommending books? It really depends on who I’m recommending them to. I’m unlikely to recommend the Lord of the Rings series to a friend who dislikes extraneous detail in prose, and I would be unwilling to recommend some of Charles de Lint’s work to someone who wanted light fantasy. Three sets of books I personally love would be The Lord of the Rings series, A Riddle of Stars by Patricia McKillip, and the Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander.
I’ve tried Tolkien and for the very reason you stated (extraneous detail in prose), I gave up after The Two Towers. I’ll have to give de Lint a try. I do like my fantasy somewhat light!
What is your current obsession? Any secret obsessions you would like to share?
I don’t know about obsessions, but I certainly have passions and hobbies. I write and perform music; my real instrument is my voice, but I also play guitar, and some piano and harp. I have a lifelong fascination with Arthurian mythology and Celtic mythology, and have studied Middle Welsh, Old Irish, and Old English. I also do some jewelry making, and have dabbled in a ton of various crafts (my current interest is in polymer clay sculpting). I fool around with Photoshop (and have created a mythical bestiary, among other things.) I also play RPGs.
The multi-talented Beth Hudson! Three…no wait…four instruments counting your voice. Impressive!
Any last thoughts or wise words you want to pass along?
I don’t know if I have any great pearls of wisdom, but I do have a couple of thoughts. Writing is something I do because I can’t not do it. If it doesn’t go down on paper or into a computer, I’m still constantly writing stories in my head. But being an author is more than just making up stories; it’s about self-discipline and striving for excellence. I don’t think I’ll ever reach the top, because there is always something new to learn. But as long as I keep climbing, and writing, I’ll be going in the right direction.
That is a powerful pearl of wisdom, Beth. I hope others will take that to heart.
Thank you for stopping by this week. I wish you luck on all your future projects and look forward to seeing you at ICON.
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Synopsis: Just as a barge enters Kaelennar, the city is attacked by an army of bloodthirsty esch. To protect fourteen-year-old Maelen Saltbearer, Gannet dresses her as a boy, and they take refuge with another family. Maelen wants to fight—she has some untested magical powers—but instead the children are to flee the city.
The occupation of Kaelennar continues, and the children eke out a meager existence, unable to better their lot against the esch . . . until one day Maelen Saltbearer is caught, along with her friends, while smuggling children from the city. Tortured and left for dead, Maelen snaps.
Torn between personal revenge and saving her people, Maelen has a decision to make . .