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Writer Chat: Our Books & The Friends We Made Along The Way

Three authors and their books: Claire Winn (City of Shattered Light), Kate Murray (We Who Hunt the Hollow) and Ren Hutchings (Under Fortunate Stars)

If you've ever heard me talk about my road to publication, you know that one of the best things that happened to me was meeting an incredible new community of writer friends. If you're a writer just starting out in your career, this is something I'll never stop recommending: Find. Your. Community. Making connections with other writers who are at a similar point in their journey, whether that's drafting, revising, querying, going on submission, or heading into debut year, is absolutely priceless.

A few years ago, I was launching into a massive overhaul revision on the manuscript that would become Under Fortunate Stars. I had some amazing critique partners (who had by then read several iterations of the book), but I was also ready to share the latest version with someone new. I wanted to share it with someone who had no preconceptions about what the story used to be and could give me a fresh perspective. More than that, I wanted to connect with someone else who was ready to pursue publication in the near future, and who I could share the journey ahead with. I didn't know any friends who had queried agents before or who were traditionally published, and I was honestly a little bit lost. In January 2018, I met Kate Murray and Claire Winn through #CPMatch, a pitching event on Twitter that's aimed at connecting writers with critique partners in similar genres. I messaged Kate first, intrigued by her post about an adult sci-fi manuscript that she was working on at the time. Separately, Kate had also connected with Claire, who was working on a neon-drenched cyberpunk adventure story. Over the next few weeks, the three of us joined a group chat, exchanged our first chapters... and the rest is history.

We Who Hunt the Hollow by Kate Murray, Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings, and City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn
Kate & Ren's ARCs hanging out with Claire's book!

In the past four years, we've been together through the highs and lows of the journey. We've exchanged memes and commiserations, and given feedback on each other's work from first-draft messes to shiny finished pages. And we achieved our goals side by side. 2020 was a rough year, but an incredible thing happened: all three of us sold our books! Claire debuted first in 2021, and my book and Kate's were scheduled to come out in 2022. I can't wait to finally see them all in a bookstore together!

As we look back nostalgically on our road from then to now, we got together to talk about our publishing journey and what we've all learned from each other.

Claire Winn / City of Shattered Light

CITY OF SHATTERED LIGHT (Flux, 2021) + upcoming sequel CITY OF VICIOUS NIGHT (Flux, 2023)

Claire, give us a bite-size pitch for your book!

City of Shattered Light is a graffiti-smeared, neon-drenched cyberpunk adventure about an heiress who flees home to save her test-subject sister, only to be kidnapped by a smuggler girl and her crew of queer disasters. As an A.I. monster pursues her and locks down their city, she must team up with them to survive.

What called to you about this story when you first started writing it?

Aside from dreaming up the gritty-and-glowing imagery, I was so compelled by the idea of a monster that could control any tech in an isolated, high-tech city. How would it manipulate the main characters, if it were smart? Plus, the contrast between Riven and Asa was so much fun to write. There’s dark secrets and depths that they need to accept in each other to achieve their goals.

How has giving feedback on other writers’ work improved your own writing?

So many ways! Reading unpublished work provides a completely different perspective on the writing process—you’re seeing an unfinished product with potential, and you learn to identify the strengths the author should lean into, as well as aspects that still don’t feel right. The process of looking critically at other writers’ work has really helped me recognize my own weaknesses and how to improve.

What have you learned from Kate as a writer?

Kate’s stories are so brilliant and imaginative, with lots of heart. Her MCs are relatable and determined, and her stories always remind me just how important it is to have that emotional core.

What have you learned from Ren as a writer?

Ren is brilliant at subtle world-building and strong characterization. She does an amazing job at grounding complex concepts using interesting and relatable characters, and that’s something I seek to emulate. Plus, as a critique partner, she has the sharpest eye for detail I’ve ever seen.

What has been the most fun about sharing your writing with other people?

I love my CPs because they’re a safe place for my writing to be messy and imperfect and full of potential. It’s great to share inside jokes and memes and our favorite parts of each other’s stories—a place where the harsh publishing landscape can’t dampen that enthusiasm.

And now, having my published work in the world, it’s been surreal connecting with people who’ve enjoyed my work, some of whom have surprised me. Publishing a book is breaking off a little piece of your soul, hurling it into the aether, and seeing who it resonates with. It’s been amazing to see which characters and scenes resonate with different people, and getting reactions and DMs from readers all over the world. Find Claire online: WebsiteTwitterInstagramTikTok

Kate Murray / We Who Hunt the Hollow

WE WHO HUNT THE HOLLOW (Hardie Grant, 2022)

Kate, give us a bite-size pitch for your book!

We Who Hunt The Hollow is a YA urban fantasy about a young monster hunter desperate to live up to her family legacy. But when a ritual to enhance her superpowers goes wrong, she might have to save everyone not just from monsters, but also from herself.

What called to you about this story when you first started writing it?

Simply that it was so much fun to write. I hadn’t planned to write it - the idea just flew out of the universe at me - and wow did I chase that joy. Because I hadn’t planned to write it, I had this freedom to do whatever I wanted, and I threw in all these things that I was excited to write about (like monsters and monster hunters, powerful women, superpowers, animal familiars, a rainy futuristic city, lots of delicious food) without caring if I was writing something that I could pitch or market or query.

How has giving feedback on other writers’ work improved your own writing?

I think it’s something about how, to review someone else’s writing, I have to switch on this analytical part of my brain that then carries into when I next sit down at my own writing. I’m better at looking at my own scenes critically, and gauging how well they work. I also feel so inspired when I see how other writers can edit a story into its final shape!

What have you learned from Ren as a writer?

It blows my mind how Ren can craft these incredibly complex stories with all these interwoven connections and clues and multiple POVs. She’s the master at pulling off a brilliant reveal. I want to learn how to build a complex plot like Ren!

What have you learned from Claire as a writer?

The way Claire will take feedback and use it to write an even more incredible next draft is so impressive! She’s a master at somehow continually elevating a story I think is already elevated, and her pacing is out of this world. I want to learn how to pace a story like Claire!

What has been the most fun about sharing your writing with other people?

There’s this real delight in sharing a story you’re working on with other people, especially when they love the same things you love. And they get to see it evolve, and shape that evolution, and then a little bit of that story belongs to them forever afterwards too! Writing is such a solitary endeavour, it's so important to find your team and be mutual cheerleaders.

Find Kate online: WebsiteTwitterInstagram

Ren Hutchings / Under Fortunate Stars


Ren, give us a bite-size pitch for your book!

Under Fortunate Stars is a space opera about accidental time travel and the perils of meeting your heroes. A science ship encounters an anomaly in deep space, and rescues an old freighter that seems to be carrying members of the legendary Fortunate Five, a group of heroes who ended an interstellar war 152 years ago. But some things about the crew don't match the historical record, and the fate of the peace itself could be at stake.

What called to you about this story when you first started writing it?

I love stories about space adventurers and superheroes and brave captains as much as anyone, but my very favourite kind of story involves average, regular people getting thrown into fantastical situations. I write about characters who never thought they'd be called upon to do anything heroic or historically significant, but who have to find incredible strength and courage inside themselves when faced with impossible odds. Also, I'm just so intrigued by time travel and messing with time in my stories! This book is a love letter to all the tropes and themes I adore in sci-fi.

How has giving feedback on other writers’ work improved your own writing?

Giving feedback on someone else's work is a fantastic way to climb out of your own head, and to become more aware of what hooks you about a story, even in its earliest form. What kind of tension makes you want to turn the page? What makes you get emotionally invested in a character? I think giving loving, detailed feedback on another writer’s "messy" early draft also primes you to come back to your own work with a different lens, thinking less about what's "wrong" with it and more about what wants to be amplified, what pulls you in, what makes you say more, please!

What have you learned from Kate as a writer?

Kate's attention to the visual and sensory details in a scene is exquisite. (If you come across a particularly detailed description in my book, there's every chance it's because Kate left me a comment saying "can you describe this more?") Her worlds feel incredibly real and lived-in, and her writing always reminds me to pause and let the reader absorb the details.

What have you learned from Claire as a writer?

Claire writes the most amazing action sequences, full of vivid movement that can immerse you in a scene without losing focus on the characters and what they're fighting for. Reading Claire's writing reminds me that you can keep the reader firmly grounded in a character's mind and emotions, even while a lot of chaos is going on around them.

What has been the most fun about sharing your writing with other people?

No matter what stage of the process a manuscript is in, I love discovering that the character journeys resonated with a reader, especially if they connected with a particular character. And I love talking about which characters from our books share similar qualities or would be friends! There are definitely fun little things in my writing that are nods to jokes I shared with a critique partner, or details that I've added in response to a writer friend's question or feedback. Also, I have to mention the memes, BECAUSE I LOVE THE MEMES. It's difficult to describe the level of delight I experience every time I see a UFS meme someone made.

Find Ren online: WebsiteTwitterInstagram

Under Fortunate Stars will be out on May 10, 2022!


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