Author Interview: Courtney Hunter

Courtney P. Hunter

1. We’ll skip the “tell us about yourself” because coming up with something on the spot is, truly, the bane of an author’s existence. So, let’s start with something a little easier! Tell me what you’re working on at the moment.

Right now, I’m taking a little creative break to figure out my next step. My novel, Sentience, took almost three years to write, and before it was a novel, it was actually a dance performance. I’m a lifelong dancer, and I learned story-telling through dance, so the plot and content started on the stage before the page. When you add the two projects together, I spent almost five years learning and creating the characters and subject matter. So now, I’m just trying to figure out what kind of subject I want to tackle next and what different ways I want to let myself explore it. However, my creative goal shortlist has a sequel for Sentience, a new stand-alone novel, and a horror movie screenplay on it.

2. In as much detail as you would like, tell me about your book(s) that are already out/on the way.

Sentience is my debut novel, and it explores the ethics of AI through a re-imagined Turing Test. It’s been described as genre-bending by readers, and I think that’s a really accurate summation. It’s obviously a science fiction novel, but there’s lots of thrills, romance, and some darker elements baked in. I love anything Promethean, and it was heavily inspired by the A24 Film Ex Machina and HBO’s Westworld. As I mentioned, the novel started as a contemporary dance performance that was showcased in the 2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, and from there, I took the world that I built on the stage and transformed it into the world of Sentience.

Sentience follows twenty-four individuals as they travel through a contained natural preserve to participate in a Turing Test conducted by a tech corporation willing to do anything for monetary gain. Throughout their journey, they face obstacles designed by the experiment controllers to elicit human response and emotion. However, four of these individuals are not human. Romance falls together as the world around them falls apart, revealing the lengths people will go to protect those they love, achieve success, or simply survive. While the humans involved wrestle with where they stand on the polarizing issue of artificial intelligence and its applications, the AI in the experiment must prove their humanity to leave the experiment unscathed. The experience of those within the experiment is juxtaposed against those running it, some of whom struggle with the corporation’s intentions for the AI that pass the Turing Test. All of this leaves readers wondering what truly defines humanity and consciousness.

3. As far as the writing process goes—including such things as conception of idea all the way through to money in the bank—what is the least favourite bit? (Everyone has one!)

EDITING! My goodness, I am a creative writer, but I am NOT a technical writer. I think editing is the most challenging part because it’s the total opposite of creative flow. You need to be attentive and incisive, and reading your own work requires this weird level of vulnerability with yourself. Emotionally, it’s a really taxing process.

4. Conversely, what is the bit of the writing process that gets your writery brain grinning?

I really love character development, which I do almost exclusively in my mind before even getting to writing. So earlier, when I said I’m on a creative break, I have actually been testing out some new characters in my head. I like to spend time acting like them and thinking like they would think. I’ll come up with different scenarios in my head to throw them into and work out how they’ll respond. I think it’s important to know your character’s character and code of ethics before you throw them into the world that you’re creating. Otherwise, they can just become a function of the story rather than them having the ability to own their choices.

5. If you could steal any author’s ability to improve your own work, who would you steal from and why? (e.g. Tolkien’s language skills, Douglas Adams’ humour, etc.)

This is probably a bad answer, but I really envy any author or any creative that’s prolific. I look at people with these big, robust portfolios of work. Every project I’ve done, be it writing or a dance production, takes a while for me to execute, and most times, each project is a huge mental battle. I wish I had the ability to create more rapidly, even just to stretch my creative muscles more. I think I think about things too much to create like that right now, which is something I’m definitely working on.

6. Now for some fun! The main character of the book you’re working on (or have recently finished) has kidnapped you for ruining their life. How will you explain that what you’re doing is for the best?

Oh man, poor me. First things first, Leo, my protagonist, probably kicked my ass for all the things I’ve done to her in Sentience. However, I would tell her that one day I want to write a sequel where she does things that could change the shape of the future forever, and unfortunately for her, I had to push her to her breaking point for that to happen one day.

7. You, your main character(s), and the protagonist of the last book you read are playing poker. What are the stakes? Who will win and why?

Okay, so my most recent read was Long Bright River by Liz Moore, and if Leo Knox and Mickey Fitzpatrick got together to play poker, it would be so bad ass. It also strangely makes a lot of sense, like I feel like those two could totally have their own little fucked-up, sad girl poker club. It would extremely broody and probably whiskey fueled. If anyone unwanted interrupted their game, there would be hell to pay.

8. Let’s face it, writing is hard. What do you think are some traps to avoid in your particular area of expertise? (Whether that be your genre, your knowledge of plot, your character building, your world building, etc.)

I think when it comes to speculative science fiction like Sentience, it’s really important to not over complicate things. It wasn’t “hard science fiction,” so I wanted it to be really readable and understandable to people who weren’t versed in terminology and theory surrounding Artificial Intelligence. I’m also just a science fiction writer and not an AI expert. I had to walk a fine line between making sure the tech I wrote into the story made sense, but also that I wasn’t showing my lack of expertise. A really helpful tip for me was writing those scenes in a way that I felt like I would watch them unfold on television. Trade technical terminology for vivid imagery!

9. Anything else you’d like to add? Plots to take over the world, for example. Upcoming release dates, links and things, maybe even your favourite chocolate cake recipe.

I’d just like to stress the importance of remembering that writing doesn’t always look like hours sitting at a computer pumping out words. Brainstorming and daydreaming is writing. Researching is writing. taking care of yourself so that you have the energy to write is writing. Take care of your mind.