Alec Hutson is a 2003 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He lives in Shanghai and is the author of the epic fantasy trilogy The Raveling. The first novel in the trilogy, The Crimson Queen, was named one of Booknest’s Top 100 Fantasy Books of Our Century.
You attended Odyssey in 2003. Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep?
I had none! I had just graduated college, and although I’d dreamed of being a writer, I hadn’t written more than a few short stories.
What made you decide to attend the Odyssey Writing Workshop?
I’d been on the law school track in college but took a year off to work and decide if that was really what I wanted to do with my life. I attended Odyssey to discover if writing was something I wanted to take more seriously.
Can you describe your Odyssey experience? What surprised you most about Odyssey?
It was wonderful, for the most part. I’d never been surrounded by so many like me. I loved science fiction and fantasy and writing, but those interests had always been solitary passions.
Congratulations on the publication of the final book in The Raveling trilogy, released in November 2019! Did you know how the series was going to end when you started it? How much outlining did you do before you started writing the trilogy?
I don’t do too much outlining, but I have a strong sense of beginnings and ends and also major plot points. The discovery I do when writing occurs on the journeys between those important events.
The Raveling is self-published, and the first book in the trilogy, The Crimson Queen, won the 2017 Readers’ Favorite Award for Epic Fantasy. What were some of the challenges in self-publishing a trilogy? What advice would you give yourself back when you were just starting your self-publishing journey?
I actually didn’t find self-publishing challenging at all. I think there’s a bit of a misconception out there that self-published authors need to be experts in many disciplines and also marketing geniuses to find success. But there are many very talented professionals ready to help with covers and typography and editing and formatting. In all honesty, with an investment of $1,500 or so, I think a writer can put forth a book that compares favorably with what the Big 5 publishes.
I suppose I did struggle to produce my second book in a timely manner. I’m a slow writer, and I had spent a few years writing and refining The Crimson Queen, including a very helpful stint at TNEO (The Never-Ending Odyssey, an eight-day program for Odyssey workshop graduates), where I had a draft workshopped. To build a career as a self-publisher, though, you really need to publish fairly quickly. My speed has improved as I’ve shifted to being a full-time writer, but I still need to write faster.
If I could answer a slightly different version of your last question—what advice would I give myself if I was just starting my writing journey—I wish I’d known about and decided on self-publishing years earlier. That would also involve finishing my first book earlier than I did (2016), but I feel now like I wasted so much time when I could have been writing and publishing my own work.
What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?
I would say that I struggle with characterization more than any other aspect of writing. I don’t think my characters are as memorable as in my favorite fantasy books. I’m trying to be more aware of how my favorite authors build their characters, the small details and mannerisms that make each unique and vibrant.
What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?
I’m currently writing a science-fantasy standalone (think something in the vein of Spelljammer, for those who know D&D), and I expect to be finished with that by late summer. Then I can turn my full attention to a follow-up trilogy I’ve planned out that takes place five years after the events of The Raveling.