Julie Hutchings: Five Things I Learned Writing The Harpy

Charity Blake survived a nightmare.

Now she is one.

Punk-rock runaway Charity Blake becomes a Harpy at night—a treacherous mythical monster who preys upon men just like the ones who abused her. Struggling through an endless stream of crappy coffee shop jobs, revolted stares, and self-isolation during the day, Charity longs to turn into the beast at night. Doing the right thing in all the wrong ways suits her.

But a Harpy’s life belongs in Hell—the gruesome Wood of Suicides, where the Harpy queen offers Charity just what she’s looking for: a home where she can reign supreme and leave behind the agony of her past. The choice to stay in Hell would be easy, were it not for a rock-and-roll neighbor who loves her for the woman she is—even when he discovers the creature she becomes—and unexpected new friends with their own deranged pasts and desires who see Charity as their savior. But salvation isn’t in the cards for Charity. Not when her friends see through her vicious attitude and fall in love with her power as the Harpy. 

Struggling between the life of an injured outcast and the grizzly champion of a blood-red hellscape, Charity must thwart her friends’ craving for her power enough to fear her corruption—and determine once and for all where her salvation lies: in eternal revenge or mortal love.

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Shying away from the real horror is SHY and shy is stupid when writing horror or anything else.

The blood, the viscera, that’s all the safe part. Even the sometime setting of Dante’s Wood of Suicides in THE HARPY—which, I mean, wow—is partly safe. I mean, you’ve probably not been there. You’ve probably not been gored by a bird broad. The real horror in writing this book was knowing that some of my readers were runaways, were abused, were scarred in every way they could be. I pushed boundaries writing this book at all, but there were points when I asked myself should I? So many people will wince at Charity’s past and what’s leaked into her present. Is it too much? Yes, it is. It most definitely is. The horror in this book is in what Charity’s past has made her think of herself, what it’s done to her mind, her heart and soul. And that’s a horror that shouldn’t be shied away from, specifically because it is real. Exploring that, knowing the emotional flaying it will cause for some scares the smoke out of me for a multitude of reasons. But I want to be the kind of creator that is afraid of what I create. I want it to open doors that have been closed too long, to pull the skin slowly when the Band-aid comes off, for the novacaine to wear off just a little too soon… I want it not to just terrify, but to make me feel. I want that for my readers.

“Too cerebral” means “too stupid” and I refuse to believe that of my readers.

Though it’s fun, THE HARPY isn’t light reading. To make it surface would be disrespectful of the subjects it treats and it’s not the way I write. I didn’t get a college degree in English to not overcomplicate shit. I’m also a grand-standing advocate of giving kids books beyond their age group if they want them, because they want them. How do we learn if we don’t challenge ourselves? And what gives anyone the right to say who’s smart enough to take interest in any book? The interest alone says the reader is smart enough. When THE HARPY was rejected by one editor for being “too cerebral” after having been pitched to many by my agent, I knew it was time to change my publishing path. I will not now or ever dumb down my work because someone else thinks it’s too involved. If a reader doesn’t get it and wants to? They’ll read it again. They’ll dig deeper. Hopefully it will inspire them, teach them something new about themselves. Maybe it won’t work, but hell, I will not shallow-fy ™ myself in any way because The Man or any man tells me to. Which leads me to…

There is no definition of “strong female character” because there is no end to the list of fights we fight.

Ah, the old “strong female character.” As though women are these amoeba-like crybaby gelatin molds that speak, and the examples of ones that can stand on their own should be pointed out. The strong female character needs to be defined by how much ass she can kick. She doesn’t need to be AMAZING. Charity has horrible self-esteem, does plenty to kick her own ass psychologically and physically. But not thinking she’s SUPER FUCKING AWESOME DOES NOT MAKE HER INTRINSICALLY WEAK. She can call herself a dirty Hell-whore, but you can’t. Is it self-demeaning, self-flagellating, unhealthy as fuck? Yes. But she faces this vision of herself head-on. This is how she feels, and she won’t hide it. Charity fights back just by getting out of bed every day. Her choices once she rolls out of bed suck. But she makes them, and she defends them. She’s a bastard on the outside to almost everyone she meets, and she’s afraid but she’ll never show it, and she’s hurt and lonely and thinks she doesn’t deserve any kind of happiness—but she keeps going. Day in, day out. That’s strength. Those of us who fight every day whether we lose more often than not, who are exhausted by existence for All the Reasons, who keep going though sometimes it might feel easier not to—that’s a hero. Charity’s acknowledgement of her dark and uglies, showing them to you whether you want to see them or not, that’s what makes her honest, and that hideous honesty is a type of strength that can’t be denied. Strength isn’t always what it looks like. Who she is isn’t up to you.

“Anti-hero” is still a label, and a real anti-hero doesn’t care what you think.

I love an anti-hero. Long live the anti-hero. But this character… This book isn’t about a hero or an anti-hero as much as it is about a woman. A woman who doesn’t need to be quirky and cute, thoughtful and kind. She can be Batman but more bitter. She can be the Crow but funnier. She can be Hannibal Lecter-esque with a sticky lipstick smile. She doesn’t have to be a nice girl, feminine or not feminine; she doesn’t have to be a rough and tumble, bitingly sarcastic bitch either. IT’S ENOUGH THAT SHE JUST IS. Like anyone who feels hopelessly beaten, she’s thrilled at the idea of release, of escape, of revenge, of winning something. Giving in to it doesn’t make her a weak woman, or a villain, or a hero. She’s a monster, but she’s human. Heroes, and women for that matter, can want revenge and still be called heroes. And she certainly doesn’t have to be everyone’s hero. She does right in the wrong ways though it doesn’t necessarily help her. And it’s not selfless. I think I like that I’m not quick to label her because she’s more than one thing. Aren’t we all? What matters is that she’s somebody, and someone who is ever-changing. Not a straight-shot change, either, but one with a lot of back-tracking and bumps and falls. If I had to say one way or the other, yes, I would say Charity is an anti-hero. But she would tell you to fuck off for asking.

Once again, there is no right way to write a book.

This is not a new statement, but it’s one that bears repeating. There are no rules to writing. I write because the rules don’t work for me. I make the rules and break my own rules pretty quickly. To write something brand new, I had to try something brand new, something I didn’t even know was possible. I can’t believe how smoothly it worked out. I say that, but it wasn’t luck either: I know what makes my writing mine, and I stuck to it; a tether to keep myself firmly in my world. First, I twisted mythology to my own devices. Second, I made the book scary on the outside, pretty on the inside. Third, I made sure that nobody else could tell this story but Charity Blake. But the weird thing I tried? I took a concept that I hold dearly and I stripped it naked. I live and breathe by the idea of building a room around a piece of art. Don’t buy the painting to match the couch; find the art you love and get the couch to go with it. The rug to go with the couch, etc… For THE HARPY I started with one sentence that came to me—I swallowed a Hell splinter—and I made it a chapter title. Who would say it? What would make her say such a thing? And what is the lie that she believes?  I built a book that way. I shaped the story around the chapter titles I created. Of course, I did all the other stuff to make a book into a wonderful thing, but this was my strategy, and it was refreshing and fun and allowed me to explore words and concepts in a way that I would never have thought of in my usual context. So, you know—try stuff. Rebel against what you know. I like to say make your passion matter, it’s kinda my slogan. What I learned from writing THE HARPY is to make your passion bigger, different, moving. Be a mad scientist with your work and you’ll get something unexpected. And don’t be afraid of the scary stuff.

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Julie’s a mythology-twisting, pizza-hoarding karate-kicker who left her ten-year panty peddling career to devote all her time to writing. She is the author of Running Home, Running Away, The Wind Between Worlds, and now, The Harpy. Julie revels in all things Buffy, Marvel, robots, and drinks more coffee than Juan Valdez and his donkey combined, if that donkey is allowed to drink coffee. Julie lives in Plymouth, MA, constantly awaiting thunderstorms with her wildly supportive husband, two magnificent boys, and a reptile army.

Julie Hutchings: Website

The Harpy: Print | eBook