Alex Hughes, author of the Mindspace Investigative Series, stopped by to chat her novels, biology and actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
First things first, who is Alexandra Hughes and how did she find herself writing novels?
Alexandra Hughes is a shameless nerd, history buff and physics person who loves great food and great stories. I’ve always loved books. I was the kid in the library reading contest who ruined it for everyone else—I’d read more books in a summer than anyone else, every year. My grandfather was a huge science fiction fan and a bit of a packrat. His entire house was literally covered in bookshelves—every room except the kitchen and living room had two long, deep shelves of books along the tops of the rooms, thousands and thousands of books. When I was thirteen he handed me my first copy of a science fiction book—Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, as it happens—and I was hooked. Thereafter, every Christmas and the summers I spent there, he turned me loose on his collection. With the exception of about three books, I could read anything and everything my heart desired. I’d already poured through Encyclopedia Brown and Boxcar Children, but now this entire other world opened up. I fell in love with other worlds, new people and alien races, and a universe bigger and wider and more interesting than anything I could ever have imagined. I’d already done some writing by then (it seemed natural) but after those moments I couldn’t think of anything better to devote my life to than making the stories that I loved. I was hooked.
Having a detective struggle with addiction is nothing new when it comes to crime fiction. That being said, with the Mindspace Investigation series, this isn’t an ordinary detective nor is it an ordinary addiction. What’s the story behind the character and the choice to make him a slave to the drug Satin?
Adam showed up in stages, from the first time he introduced himself to me, and the character has changed a lot over the ten years I’ve worked with him. Originally I was trying to write a tortured telepath character like the one from Joan D. Vinge’s Catspaw, who is someone from the street in a cyberpunk world—very gritty. Unfortunately, the more I tried to write cyberpunk, the more it turned out noir. And I’d always loved television detectives and Sherlock Holmes, so I let that feel guide me. I wanted to write an anti-hero, a guy you wouldn’t like in person but you couldn’t help rooting for. I wanted to write something like Shirley Jackson and Edgar Allen Poe, with strong characters and a dark world full of hard choices. And like Sherlock Holmes has his cocaine habit to bring him down, Adam’s genius is constrained and blocked by his own drug habit.
One of the coolest parts within the Mindspace Investigation series is the integration of “mindspace”. I loved the “fishbowl analogy” that is often used to explain how mindspace operates. Is envisioning a fishbowl how you initially arrived at the concept of mindspace?
Oh, thank you! Actually, that wasn’t the beginning at all. I was sitting in physics class being taught by the very entertaining Dr. Clark when he began talking about the inverse square law. It was in the context of why he felt astrology couldn’t possibly be a thing. Every force in the known universe (according to him) followed the inverse square law, where the larger the distance got between objects, the exponentially weaker their influence got on each other. So, according to Dr. Clark, if there was an astrological force at work in the universe, the midwife, being closer, should expend a much larger influence on your fate than any star. But we don’t have midwife signs. (As an aside, Dr. Clark wasn’t entirely right about the inverse square law being universal; there are quantum effects that break all the rules. But I didn’t know this at the time.) This discussion got me thinking about telepathy, since I was reading Anne McCaffrey at the time. If telepathy were a real thing, wouldn’t it follow the inverse square law as well? And if it did, I could describe it in terms of three dimensional space and vectors in the same way I was learning to describe the other forces in physics class. I started picturing a space in which forces acted, like electrical fields or gravity. The fishbowl came later—mostly to explain the ideas to someone who hadn’t had to sit through all that math.
In your bio, you describe yourself as a science geek, which I suppose makes perfect sense given how it’s front-and-center in the Mindspace Investigation series. Did you struggle with any aspects of the research process or did your pre-existing geekdom fill in many of the blanks?
The science part was the easy part in terms of research, since I was reading Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other fun things at the time. I love brain & behavior, and I read several magazines on the topic just because. My mom is a major biology geek, so I had a good foundation there, and I was three classes short of a minor in physics before I swapped to history, so I’ve got a good foundation there as well. (Note: I’m rubbish at chemistry, sigh.) The hardest part for me was getting out of my comfort zone and talking to people in AA. I’m a bit of an introvert, so introducing myself to a random stranger and expecting them to talk to me is not easy!
In your bio, you stated that you’re a history major and have also been taking in some neuroscience material – have you any interest in venturing into non-fiction?
I’d love to do nonfiction at some point, especially if I can use the medium to tell stories (such as the way that Malcolm Gladwell arranges his information), but I have the feeling I’ll need to introduce myself to a great many more strangers to do it correctly. We’ll see how brave I become!
Any author or book recommendations you’d like to throw out there?
This answer changes depending on the day. Today we’ll mention Dick Francis, Linnea Sinclair, Lois McMaster Bujold, Gail Carringer, and Sharon Lee & Steve Miller. For nonfiction, check out Atul Gawande (excellent medical writing that’s easy to read) and Biomimicry by Janine M. Benyus, which is a collection of ideas pulled from nature that will blow your mind.
What’s next for Alexandra Hughes?
I’m releasing a short story in the Mindspace universe in early March, and the next books in the series are out in April and December 2014. I’m also working on a collaboration with a writing friend, and building ideas for new worlds and new characters in new series. Stay tuned 🙂
Finally, I wanted to get your thoughts on casting. While the Mindspace Investigation Series works great as a series of novels, I could honestly see this also working as a week-to-week TV show. Have you ever considered any actors or actresses in mind when writing the novels?
Oh, thank you! I get that a lot, and it’s always exciting to hear. I have thought about this, actually. I’d love to get Benedict Cumberbatch as Adam (Ed. Note: This is exactly who I pictured from the get go). On Sherlock, he’s shown he can do annoying and difficult and still make you like him and root for him. For Cherabino, my current favorite is Jo from Eureka, Erica Cerra. She doesn’t look anything like what I had pictured, but the strength she brings to that character is something to see. I’d love her to bring that strength (and vulnerability) to Cherabino as well. For Paulsen, I’d love to get Alfre Woodard, who played Lt. Tanya Rice on 2010’s Memphis Beat. She has that mix of kindergarten teacher and tough-as-nails cop that would work beautifully for the character.
I want to thank Alex for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.
You can also pick up all of her work over on Amazon.