Garrett, welcome to Lavender Lass Books, and thank you so much for agreeing to this interview!
Garrett Hutson writes upmarket mysteries and historical spy fiction, driven by characters who are moving and unforgettable. He lives in Indianapolis with his husband, four adorable dogs, two odd-ball cats, and more fish than you can count. You can usually find him reading about history, and day-dreaming about being there. This is where his stories are born, and he hopes they transport you the way his imagination transports him.
An accidental casualty of battle–or murder?
August 1937, the Japanese have invaded northern Shanghai, and a fierce battle rages across the city, but the International Settlement is an island of safety. When an American seaman is found shot on the edge of the urban battleground, Doug Bainbridge is assigned to investigate for the navy. But what seems a case of foolhardy drunken daredevil sightseeing gone wrong becomes more sinister when Doug learns it wasn’t a Chinese or Japanese military gun that shot Seaman Nick Bonadio. His was no accidental death.
Book 3 in the Death in Shanghai series of historical mysteries, No Accidental Death continues our journey with Doug, Lucy, Jonesy, and the rest of their friends in 1930s Shanghai, plus a few new faces you’ll love. While Doug works to solve a murder in a war zone, new chapters will be written in their lives and relationships, and nothing will ever be the same. What twists and turns lie in store? Read No Accidental Death and find out.
This is a traditional mystery, with crossover appeal for fans of LGBT fiction.
And now to the interview:
1. What do you want to share with us about this story? What really stands out about it and made you want to write it?
Shanghai in the 1930s was a fascinating place, with a diverse population and thriving nightlife. I was immediately drawn to it as a setting I wanted to write about, and once I learned about the rampant corruption and crime, I knew I wanted to set a murder mystery there.
I also love spy fiction, so I knew I wanted to make Doug Bainbridge an intelligence officer—which is different from a spy, BTW. Doug certainly doesn’t think of himself as a spy. His position offers him both opportunities and challenges in his life in Shanghai. There are a lot of contradictions to work through for a principled person like Doug.
One of the pleasures in writing an on-going series is being able to watch the characters change and grow over the course of the books. I write so that each book stands on its own, but there is a definite arc for the characters that carries through from book to book—so I think it’s helpful to read them in order, but you don’t have to. You can pick up No Accidental Death and enjoy it without having first read The Jade Dragon or Assassin’s Hood. But readers who progress through the series will build a deeper connection with the main characters.
2. Why do you write in this genre? What makes this genre particularly appealing to you?
I have always loved mysteries, and I’ve always loved historical fiction, so historical mysteries combine the best of both. I love reading books that transports me to another time and place, and I get that same experience when I write historical fiction. I love finding little-known aspects of history, and I’m particularly passionate about unearthing LGBT history. We were always there, even if we were ignored or suppressed. In my fiction, I hope to educate readers about little-known LGBT history in an entertaining way.
3. What made you decide to become an author? Can you tell us a little about that journey?
I’ve known I wanted to be an author since I was nine years old, when I participated in a Young Authors competition at school. We had a local author come speak to our class (I wish I could remember her name), and that was the first time I knew that someone could actually BE an author. I was already a bookworm, and I already made up stories all the time, but this was a major epiphany. I started writing books—by hand at first, then on a typewriter as a teenager, and eventually on word processors.
My journey to publication was a long one, with lots of fits and starts. As an adult, real life tends to get in the way, and we have to really work to fit our dreams into our daily routine of work and family. I started going to writers’ conferences in 2012, and I pursued traditional publishing for the next four years (trying to get an agent) before I decided to publish my books myself.
4. Why did you choose to self-publish? Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
My initial reason for self-publishing (in 2016) was to just get it done–cut out all of the middle-men in traditional publishing (agents, acquisitions editors, acquisition boards, etc.) and shorten the process. Querying literary agents is a slow process, and once you have an agent your book might still spend months or even more than a year on submission to publishers—and even after it’s accepted by a publisher (a big IF), it’s typically 18 – 24 months before it will be released. What a waste of precious time!
After self-publishing my second book in 2017, I came to really appreciate the creative independence we have going the indie route. Individuality is important to me, and it’s amazingly freeing not having to worry about whether an editor is going to insist on changes I don’t agree with. As an indie author, I take the feedback I agree with, and disregard the rest.
The challenge was learning how to do everything! Formatting was particularly difficult with my first book (especially the print version), and only slightly easier with my second and third books. I eventually got the hang of it. Formatting is still not my favorite part, but I know what I’m doing now. All of it is learnable, if you apply yourself to it. But know going in that you will have to learn to do things that trad-published authors don’t have to do.
5. Where do you get ideas for your stories? Do they come to you over time, or do you suddenly think of an idea and realize it would make a great story?
Some of both. I’d say most of my ideas come to me gradually, but occasionally I will be struck by something, and it takes shape quickly. The Jade Dragon was like that. One day I read about some American musicians who were reviving the Shanghai jazz scene, and the article including some historical background. This led me down a rabbit-hole of research that very night, and I knew right away I wanted to write a book set there. The basic plot came together really quickly.
Most of my books aren’t that way, though. I’ll have some kernel of an idea, and it plays in my head for a long time—often for years—before I ever get around to writing anything down.
6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
Right now I only see myself writing historical fiction. But within that genre, I can see myself writing a lot of different sub-genres: mysteries, suspense/thrillers, action/adventure, or even epic sagas.
Will I ever write contemporary fiction? Maybe, but I doubt it. I’m just too drawn to historical settings, and really exploring what it was like to be there, and to live at that time.
7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in your genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, research, etc.?)
Character development and world building are definitely the most important aspects of a story IMO, both as a reader and as a writer. As a reader, I want to feel immersed in the setting, and in the main character’s life. As a writer, I find it really fun to dive deep into setting and character. I learn a lot that way (I find research fun), and the settings and characters start to feel real. I find that it also illuminates philosophical or psychological concepts for me, and I love sharing some aspect of the human condition with my readers that they may not have been familiar with.
8. What is one thing you wish you’d known when you first started writing?
How long it takes to be any good at it! As a kid, of course I thought everything I wrote was great. My teachers said so, for one thing. As an adult, it was initially discouraging to hear negative feedback. You get a thick skin, though, and you learn. That’s the key, taking everything as a learning experience.
9. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
As of summer 2021, I’m working on something new, a standalone novel not at all connected with any of my previous stories. It’s set in 1920s New York, in Greenwich Village. I’ve long loved the Jazz Age as a period of history, and Greenwich Village at that time was a really interesting world of bohemian writers and artists, and other nonconformists. I would have loved being there, so this story gives me the chance to imagine what that was like.
I’m also doing research for Book 4 of my Shanghai mystery series, and I plan to start writing that book in November for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It will be set in 1938—each book in that series takes place in consecutive years. All I can promise right now is that it will be a mystery, and your favorite characters from the series will be back for more adventures.
10. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish?
Do a lot of research on self-publishing, and weigh the pros and cons of going indie vs. traditional publishing. I’m a big advocate of going indie, but it’s not for everyone. Whatever you don’t want to learn to do yourself, you’ll have to pay someone else to do, so set a budget and stick to it. There is a LOT to learn, and you will make mistakes. But the good news is, by going indie, every mistake is fixable! Edits/revisions can be done at any time, and a new file uploaded within minutes; mistakes with marketing can be put in the past by just trying something different starting now.
But my biggest advice to all writers is to have fun with your writing! Remember why you wanted to be a writer in the first place, and embrace that joy.
You can find Garrett Hutson’s book at Amazon and many other retailers! https://www.amazon.com/No-Accidental-Death-Shanghai-Book-ebook/dp/B09C6NN5XF/
Thank you so much for sharing all this with us today, Garrett! Here are the first two books in the series.
You can find out more about Garrett and his books here:
Twitter – https://twitter.com/GarrettBHutson
Website – http://www.garretthutson.com/