Interview with Alex Hughes, author of Clean

Publisher: Roc

Publish Date: September 4, 2012

Order From:  Amazon / Barnes & Noble


I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.

My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary.

Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

Mindspace Investigations Series: Clean (1), Sharp (2)

Author Bio: Alex has written since early childhood, and loves great stories in any form including scifi, fantasy, and mystery. Over the years, Alex has lived in many neighborhoods of the sprawling metro Atlanta area. Decatur, the neighborhood on which Clean is centered, was Alex’s college home.

On any given week you can find Alex in the kitchen cooking gourmet Italian food, watching hours of police procedural dramas, and typing madly. 

Interview: Q. How did you come up with the idea for Clean?

I had just read Joan D. Vinge’s Catspaw, a book about a tortured telepath in a cyberpunk world. And a friend of mine at the time was a recovering anorexic/bulimic. Seeing her struggle towards health and going through that with her really touched me. I wanted to deal with some of those issues in fiction, but I knew I’d need an addiction that was easier to understand. I sat down to write a tortured telepath detective in a cyberpunk world dealing with addiction, but the tone ended up more noir than cyberpunk. I guess I’m not dark enough to write cyberpunk effectively!

Q. Is there a message in Clean that you want readers to grasp?

It’s a book about starting over and the struggle to make healthy choices even when it’s hard. Healthy choices pay future dividends, though, and are always worth the struggle.

Q. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about the book?

This was my learning book, the project that I struggled over as I learned about story arc, structure, scene, revisions, and a whole bunch of other writerly things that matter a lot on the page. All told, from first draft to last, it took me about ten years. If I had it to do all over, I’d learn faster! :-)

I am, however, extremely happy with the final product.

Q. What was the hardest part of writing Clean?

Like I said, this was my learning book. A few years into the process I realized to get where I wanted to get the book, I had to literally throw out more than half of what I’d written. Seeing all that hard work left on the cutting room floor was brutal – but it made the book much better.

Q. Did you learn anything from writing Clean and what was it?

Characters, like people, evolve over time. My hero was originally a bit of a chauvinist, and Cherabino was originally blonde and prone to hit first, ask questions later. Over time they sat me down and told me they were really a lot more mature than all of that and had deeper problems than I had known. My characters teach me a lot about life, actually.

I also learned a great deal from my research and my interviews with the man who served as the model for Swartz. Seeing his life and dedication to helping others really touched me. He also took me to a few AA meetings, and I walked away actually sad I don’t have a drinking problem; there’s a sense of community there that’s incredibly powerful and authentic. I think we all need more of that kind of supportive community in the modern world.

Q. Did you have a musical playlist you listen to when writing? If so, what kind of music?

I love music of all kinds, and what I listen to changes depending on my mood. I like eclectic international like the Gutan Project and O-Zone (very different styles) as well as really great jazz, electronica/lounge, classical, classic rock, big bands, funk, the indefinable Trombone Shorty, and whatever else floats through my playlist. Lately, though, when I’m writing I’ve been listening to movie soundtracks and video game soundtracks. There’s a drama to a great soundtrack you just don’t get anywhere else; it’s a piece of music (and a group of pieces) designed to tell a story and evoke a strong mood. The movement you get in a good soundtrack almost compels you to write.

Q. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I was a shy, socially awkward kid and spent a lot of time deep in a book. Over time, I started to think it might be fun to do that for a living – to spend time deep in a book, writing it from scratch. But the moment really crystallized when my grandfather handed me a copy of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight. I fell in love and decided to be an author. My parents were foolish (and brave) enough to encourage this idea, and a long struggle to write began.

Q. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Do I have to pick just one? Um, well, today I think I’ll pick Robert Heinlein. The way he builds a world and fills it with vivid characters and interesting adventure really captured my imagination as a teenager. He was the first sociological science fiction I’d ever read, and he makes arguments so unselfconsciously – and it works. I’ve since moved on to other sociological science fiction with more depth (C. J. Cherryh is particularly notable in the field) but there was something about Heinlein that gripped my imagination and didn’t let it go. To this day, I still pull from some of his techniques in my own work.

Q. Tell us your latest news.

I recently learned that the second book in the series, Sharp, has been scheduled to come out April 2nd. That’s just six months from the first one – and it’s already available for pre-order. As a reader, I love it when series don’t make me wait a whole year, so I’m really excited about the timing.

Q. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

You guys are the best, smartest, most supportive readers in the world. Every time you recommend the series to a friend or shout it out on social media, you make Mindspace sing. Thank you.


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