Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Interview with Alex Hughes, author of Clean - September 5, 2012

Please welcome Alex Hughes to The Qwillery as part of the 2012 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Clean (Mindspace Investigations 1) was published on September 4, 2012. You may read Alex's Guest Blog - Crossing Genres - here.

TQ:  What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Alex:  Oddly enough, I seem to write better with a scented candle or aromatherapy oil warmer going. A strong smell is very focusing for me, and I tend to change the smell depending on mood and what I’m writing.

TQ:   Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?

Alex:  This is a very tough question because the list would be so long. As a teenager I read Robert Heinlein, Mercedes Lackey, Dick Francis, David Weber, C.J. Cherryh, Andre Norton and Anne McCaffrey, and their books definitely have influenced how I approach fiction and what I think makes up a good novel. I ran into Laurell K. Hamilton’s books in college, and the way she uses language, with long sentences and lush description, has influenced me greatly. As far as writing teachers go, my big three influences would be Dan Marshall (writing professor at my college who mentored me for many years), Holly Lisle in the form of her incomparable writing classes online, and the amazing Jeane Cavelos at the Odyssey Writing Workshop, who should be given sainthood for her patience, teaching, and detailed critiques. I was self-taught as a writer for many years, learning from books and from studying other authors, so finally having teachers who could show me the craft I was missing was extraordinary.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Alex:  Great question. Traditionally, I’ve been a total pantser, to the point where I’d sit down at the keyboard knowing nothing but the first sentence or a strong image or character. The last few years, though, I’ve been trying to train myself to be an outline writer, but it hasn’t stuck as well as I would have hoped. The result is that I tend to sketch things out before I write, but many of the plot points, characters, and details change as I go. For me, I think that’s part of the fun; I get to discover the world and the characters as much as the reader does. So the answer is – perhaps halfway in between.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Alex:  The blank page, especially when I’m not sure where I’m going and the outline feels wrong. Emotionally, that’s the hardest spot, to back up and figure out what my brain is trying to tell me is wrong and figure out how to fix it. In terms of craft, probably the biggest thing I had to work on – other than revision in general – is structure and pacing. It’s still the first thing I work on in a draft.

TQ:  Describe Clean (Mindspace Investigations 1) in 140 characters or less.

Alex:  “A recovering addict telepath helps the police in future Atlanta solve a series of crimes where the killer kills with the mind.”

TQ:  What inspired you to write Clean?

Alex:  I read the book Catspaw by Joan D. Vinge, which is a cyberpunk book about a tortured telepath. One of my good friends at the time was a recovering anorexic/bulimic, and seeing her struggle to try to reach health really made a deep impression on me. I grew up on Star Trek and cop shows – my family would watch the television together and talk about the shows long after they were over. So when I sat down to write the short story that would eventually (many years and drafts later) become Clean, I wanted to write a tortured telepath struggling to recover from an addiction while solving a police case in a cyberpunk world. The result was mostly what I wanted – but I couldn’t quite manage the cyberpunk, so I ended up noir, which is a lot more me anyway.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Clean?

Alex:  I’ve done many interviews of an older AA sponsor, the man who became a model for Swartz, and visited an AA meeting with him talking about the program. I’ve read some of the literature, done research online, and pulled from my experience with my friend and others I’ve known with addictions. I also did a lot of reading on neuroscience, the brain and behavior (go read Oliver Sacks, he’s awesome), and some of the up and coming science ideas, such as air conditioning as a side effect of the right kind of magnetic field. That stuff’s so cool.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?

Alex:  Oddly, the narrator of the book ended up being pretty easy. He showed up one day and started talking, and for awhile there he wouldn’t shut up; as much trouble as he’s given me at times, he likes telling his story, and for that I’m very grateful. On the other hand, Cherabino gave me fits in earlier drafts. She was originally Irish, and blonde (yes, I know), and did a lot of hitting my hero for no reason. After a while, we sat down together, she grew up, and I figured out the trauma in her backstory that makes her who she is. She also picked up a better name and family, and told me in no uncertain terms she was far too serious to be blonde.

TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Clean?

Alex:  I love the location of the final showdown, which (I think) is clever and interesting. I love the scene at the graveyard. And I love the pigeons on the roof in one of the crime scenes; those pigeons are cool.

TQ:  What's next?

Alex:  Next I keep writing more books in the Mindspace Investigations series, and start working on other ideas.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Alex:  Thank you for having me. It’s been an honor.

Mindspace Investigations

Mindspace Investigations 1
Roc, September 4, 2012
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 352 pages


I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.

My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary.

Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

About Alex

Alex has written since early childhood, and loves great stories in any form including scifi, fantasy, and mystery. Over the years, Alex has lived in many neighborhoods of the sprawling metro Atlanta area. Decatur, the neighborhood on which Clean is centered, was Alex’s college home.

On any given week you can find Alex in the kitchen cooking gourmet Italian food, watching hours of police procedural dramas, and typing madly.


  1. Hi Alex-- Congrats on your release!! I really enjoyed reading this, especially the part where you describe the research you did for CLEAN. I'm always interested in hearing about other author's methods. Best wishes for your release week!

  2. Thank you so much! Good luck for you on release week too :)

  3. I enjoyed the post and have added CLEAN to my wish list. I look forward in reading it.

    Tracey D