Asking for What We Want in Our Lives – And What We Deserve in Literature
We are not defined by our mistakes, and we deserve to reach beyond our dreams until they become reality.
This is a pervading theme in everything I write, morphed into various forms through story and character but no less poignant from book to book. It’s an incredibly important message I strive to offer my readers in whatever different flavor each story brings, because it’s a message I have lived through personally. And I know I’m not the only one.
As a wife, a mother, and a queer female author navigating the literary world and supporting my family solely by writing fiction, I’ve struggled for some time to find the balance between meeting needs and fulfilling wishes. For years, I operated under the belief that what I needed, what I wanted, and what I deserved were three very different things within my personal life. Trying to visualize and actualize all three was a feat tossed even farther to the winds when I struggled through an active heroin addiction in my late teens and early twenties.
I’d drawn reality and dreams so far apart from each other that only the idea of meeting my immediate needs seemed even remotely attainable. I needed to recover and rebuild my life. I needed food, shelter, comfort, community, sanity.
What I wanted and what I thought I deserved after moving through one of the roughest patches of my life over ten years ago now were two entirely different things. I wanted to be successful. I wanted to write. And I believed I no longer deserved to lose myself in the magic of writing fiction because of the mistakes I’d made, the people I’d harmed, the fear and heartache and discouragement I’d sown in myself and in others. For four years after finally getting clean and on my road to recovery, I carried with me the immense weight of wanting to write—of dreaming about writing again to my heart’s content the way I had when I first discovered my passion for it—and simultaneously believing that what I wanted was no longer within the realm of what I’d earned. What I deserved.
I hardly picked up a book to read for pleasure when I was an addict. I’d turned away from the healthy outlets I’d honed by necessity as a child and an adolescent and a teenager. And while it took me four years to start writing again, it still took me almost a year to allow myself to pick up a book and start reading again purely for the enjoyment of it.
What I found when I dove into fiction again might as well have been a newly discovered world, as if I’d just learned to read for the first time and was seeing everything again with brand-new eyes. I rediscovered the brilliance of my previous favorite authors in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman graphic novels. And I found others who stoked a new curiosity in me about myself and the way I wanted to operate within this world after having been given a second chance at life and working so hard not to squander it.
Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel Legacy series carried with it the new possibilities of diving into one’s purpose and fluidly acclimating to it without giving up or giving in. “That which yields is not always weak” (Jacqueline Carey, Kushiel’s Dart).
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale illuminated a deeper understanding of what personal strength entails, when an individual’s needs aren’t anywhere close to what a human being deserves and are in fact pitted against basic human rights. “I am not your justification for existence” (Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale).
Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster revealed my first glimpse of awareness that I wasn’t alone in my inability to mold myself to any number of binary definitions—as a recovering addict, as a writer who hadn’t touched a word of fiction in years, as a queer person, as an adult struggling through life without the experiential knowledge of how most people perceived a “natural progression” without having screwed it all up first. “Most people who ask want me definitely on one side or the other” (Octavia E. Butler, Patternmaster).
When I did finally start writing again, I did so with zero expectations and a hesitant shyness, not of what others might think of me for writing again but of how disappointed I thought I would be in myself. That if I strived for what I wanted and it wasn’t in fact what I deserved, I would have lost the single defining aspect of myself I’d carried with me since I was ten years old—Kathrin as a writer and nothing more.
What I found when I dove back into a freshly unexplored wealth of experiences I now had to draw from was that I could more easily create what I wanted to see in fiction than what I felt I deserved to receive from a life worth living. The first book I wrote after my four-year hiatus, Sleepwater Beat, became not only my first venture into LGBTQ+ fiction with queer characters at the forefront but also the first truly raw piece of fiction that exposed to myself and the entire world who I really am. As Dystopian fiction so often does, this book highlighted the things I saw in society, all while I wondered if I was the only one who saw them and simultaneously hoped I was not.
I wanted to see strength and hope blazing beneath a gritty top layer of darkness, despair, bigotry, xenophobia, and injustice. Just as I’d seen it, somehow, through the darkness of my active addiction and the underbelly of society exposed to me as a result. I wanted to see characters like myself—those who were not defined by their mistakes, their pasts, their upbringing, their race, their sexual orientation, or their truest identity but who did not hide from the value each piece of themselves provided to the whole. Those who had absolutely no idea what they were doing beyond the fact that giving up simply wasn’t an option. Those who could stare their own demons in the face—either by choice or by necessity—and carry on no matter the consequences.
After Sleepwater Beat became an international bestseller in 2019 and then what is now the first book in the Blue Helix series, I realized how much easier it was for me to ask for what I wanted in fiction than what I wanted in my own life. The more I realized I was not the outlier in wanting to see more characters like me within the pages of speculative fiction, including Dystopian Sci-Fi and Grimdark Fantasy, the more I came to understand that this stretched so much farther beyond myself.
Yes, I write what I know. So much of what I know is a long line of having defined myself by all the “wrong decisions,” the “bad mistakes,” the “inability to conform.” And the more I heard from readers who picked up my stories, the more I learned that I was writing what we deserve to see of ourselves within the context of fictional worlds, or eerily paralleled versions of our own reality, or the “unexposed underbelly” of society. Within the context of identity, shared experiences, real and raw interpersonal relationships, and the too-often glazed-over horrors of isolation and alienation instead of belonging.
As a result, I’ve grown so much more aware of what it means to pursue what I want and need and deserve as an individual person within my own life. These things aren’t mutually exclusive, and one is not more important than the other when we’re navigating the obstacles tossed into our paths. Now, I write because I want to and because I deserve to fulfill that desire with the gifts I was given and my own obstacles turned opportunities. I write because I want to see the types of stories, darkness, struggle, pain, hope, and breaking down of barriers and stereotypes that people like me deserve to see reflected from within such stories.
It’s so much easier to write what I dream of in fiction. But when I do, asking for the things in life that bring me abundance, joy, peace, and a sense of purpose through the one thing I know I was born to do becomes that much less difficult along the way.
International Bestselling Author Kathrin Hutson has been writing Dark Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and LGBTQ Speculative Fiction since 2000. With her wildly messed-up heroes, excruciating circumstances, impossible decisions, and Happily Never Afters, she’s a firm believer in piling on the intense action, showing a little character skin, and never skimping on violent means to bloody ends.
In addition to writing her own dark and enchanting fiction, Kathrin spends the other half of her time as a fiction ghostwriter of almost every genre and as Fiction Co-Editor for Burlington’s Mud Season Review. She is an active member of both the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the Horror Writers Association. Kathrin lives in Colorado with her husband, their young daughter, and their two dogs, Sadie and Brucewillis.
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