AUTHOR INTERVIEW 105 – Courtney P. Hunter

Courtney P. Hunter

Age 27

Philadelphia, PA.

Courtney Hunter is a serial creator from Philadelphia, PA with experience in writing, the fashion industry, and live performance. After eighteen years of studying contemporary dance, she set out to carve herself a path in fashion and retail buying. Upon graduating from Philadelphia University and settling into her career, she turned back to dance. While working as a retail buyer for Burlington Stores, Courtney began producing contemporary dance and burlesque performances under her production company Stolen Fire Collective, aptly named after Prometheus, the fire-stealing god. Sentience, her debut Science Fiction novel, is a written extension of a contemporary dance piece that was produced for the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in 2017 based on artificial intelligence. 
A lifelong Sci-Fi fan (her favorite movie as a little girl was and still is Jurassic Park), Courtney loves anything Promethean in nature, and her favorite books, movies, and television shows are the ones that challenge the ethics of the future that we are rapidly heading towards. Some of her favorites include Jurassic Park (obviously), The 100, The OA, Westworld, The East, and Ex Machina.
She still resides in Philadelphia with her partner, Will, and her rescue pups, Rickie, Reggie and Billie. In her free time, she records a podcast called The Sentience Podcast, which started as a behind the scenes look at the making of her novel and has evolved into an auditory hub for all things science fiction, creative process, true crime, and the occult.
Running from a violent past, Leo Knox desperately decides to participate in a scientific experiment conducted by the infamous and greedy tech-giant, AlgorithmOS. Soon, Leo learns that she has agreed to take part in a Turing Test, a test that measures the ability of artificial intelligence to blend in among humanity, but what she doesn’t know is that the test set to take place is unlike any other of its kind. 
Leo enters Eden, the contained preserve where the test will occur, with twenty-three others. While everyone appears to be human, four of the individuals are an indistinguishably advanced form of humanoid AI. The task is simple: identify the AI while trying to survive. The twist? The four AI are completely unaware of their nature, causing every participant to question what they know as reality. 
The group embarks on a journey within the preserve, rigged with obstacles devised by the controllers of the experiment to elicit human response and emotion. Quickly, madness ensues and divides form, partnering Leo up with Avery Ford, a Marine who wears his demons on his sleeve. Romance falls together for the two as the world around them falls apart, revealing the lengths people will go to protect those they love, to achieve monetary gain, or simply to survive.

Back at AlgorithmOS, the story unfolds on the screens of Nathan Aimes, a scientist responsible for monitoring the experiment’s surveillance cameras. Nathan studies the humans involved as they wrestle with where they stand on the polarizing issue of AI and its applications. He watches the AI unknowingly fight to prove their humanity just to leave the experiment unscathed. All the while, Nathan is intimately aware of his company’s plans to weaponize or commodify the AI should they pass the test, and he must reconcile this with the chaos that plays out before him.

Romelia: WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF YOUR ARTISTIC PROCESS?

Courtney P. Hunter: For me, my biggest challenge is always making the time I need to let my creativity flow, and then, when I’ve made the time, my biggest challenge is maintaining focus. It’s really easy for me to go off on a path of a new idea because that’s what is exciting me at the moment.

Romelia: DOES YOUR FAMILY SUPPORT YOUR CAREER AS A WRITER?

Courtney P. Hunter: I’m not a full-time writer just yet, although I hope to be so soon. Thus, my writing career hasn’t vastly impacted my family life just yet. That being said, my fiancé is incredibly supportive, and we are in the process of trying to figure out how I can fit graduate school in so that I have the tools I need to transition into a full time writing career.

Romelia: IF YOU HAD TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY AS A CHILD OR TEENAGER TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER AS AN ADULT, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Courtney P. Hunter: I wish I would have believed in my ability and started writing sooner. I also wish I would have done a better job of saving things that I did write back in those days.

Romelia: HOW LONG ON AVERAGE DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A BOOK?

Courtney P. Hunter: Sentience, the novel I’m talking about today, is my debut novel. It took me three years to finish. Writing my first draft took a year. Editing and rewriting took a year. Then, editing again and getting it into production took another year. I consider that a part of the writing process because I had to write all my own marketing and promotional materials since I am self-published.

If we want to get technical, I could even say it took more like five years. This is because Sentience started as a contemporary dance piece for the 2017 Fringe Festival in Philadelphia. I come from a dance background, and that’s where I really learned story-telling. I choreographed that piece and produced it, and by the time the show was over, I knew I wasn’t done with the world that I’d created. So, I turned it into a book.

I’m hoping my next go is a bit quicker.

Romelia: DO YOU BELIEVE IN WRITER’S BLOCK?

Courtney P. Hunter: Absolutely. Although, I consider it more like creator’s block. If you’re making anything and you’re pushing too hard or not nourishing your brain, you’re going to get stuck.

I faced this in a major way when working on Sentience.

Romelia: AT WHAT POINT DO YOU THINK SOMEONE SHOULD CALL THEMSELVES A WRITER?

Courtney P. Hunter: As early as they want to. I hated feeling like I wasn’t qualified to call myself a writer because I didn’t have a book out. At the same time, I had an entire manuscript. The world just didn’t know yet. I think writers should call themselves by name whenever feels right in their journey.

Romelia: WHAT DIFFERENCE DO YOU SEE BETWEEN A WRITER AND AN AUTHOR?

Courtney P. Hunter: To me, a writer writes anything. An author tells a story – be it fiction or non. An author takes you on a journey from start to finish.

Romelia: HOW DO YOU PROCESS AND DEAL WITH NEGATIVE BOOK REVIEWS?

Courtney P. Hunter: Well, you have to read them. It’s important to know what people think of your writing for your future work. At the same time, you must handle them carefully. Your writing may not be for everyone. That’s okay. Have you enjoyed every book you’ve ever read?

Catalog the fair stuff, ignore the stuff that might sound mean. Remember how you felt when you consumed something you didn’t like, put yourself back in that place to understand why the reviewer feels that way rather than taking it personally.

Also, make sure your read and really soak in the good ones! It’s helpful for morale!

For me, as a new author, I was just blown away people even read my book. So when I received negative reviews, I would kind of think, “Wow, someone’s read it enough to at least FEEL something about it.”

Romelia: WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF YOUR WRITING PROCESS?

Courtney P. Hunter: I find editing my own work to be really difficult. I worked with a professional editor for my first novel. However, you still have to read and revise your own work before and after you get those edits. I’m a creative writer more than a technical writer, so the discipline it takes to edit is a tall order for me. It also requires a level of vulnerability that can be consuming.

Romelia: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING OR WHEN DID YOU START?

Courtney P. Hunter: Three years! I took creative writing courses in college, and I would play around writing short stories from time to time, but I didn’t find a plot that stuck with me until I produced the dance show that inspired my novel, Sentience.

I wrote a guest blog about my journey leading up to and while writing Sentience. It’s one of my favorite pieces that I’ve written. You should check it out!

Romelia: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A WRITER WORKING ON THEIR FIRST BOOK?

Courtney P. Hunter: Just do it, and let yourself have fun while doing it. You can’t control what others think, so why bother? You can control what you think, so be nice to yourself during your creative process!

Romelia: WHAT, TO YOU, ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF GOOD WRITING?

Courtney P. Hunter: I think the most important thing is loveable characters that you can relate to. I really like characters that are human, flawed, and imperfect. The characters of Sentience are inspired by those in Sons of Anarchy. I don’t mean this literally, but in the sense that the characters in SOA are AWFUL, and they still make you root for them. The characters in Sentience are significantly less awful, but you do root for them, or at least I did while writing them. Ultimately, it comes down to duality and dimension within characters – that’s what makes them good and makes for a strong story.

Romelia: WHAT COMES FIRST FOR YOU – THE PLOT OR THE CHARACTERS – AND WHY?

Courtney P. Hunter: Characters! You have to know who your characters are and how they think before putting them in a world. Otherwise, they can end up being functions of the plot rather than having an autonomous identity. Start with characters first.

Romelia: HOW DO YOU DEVELOP YOUR PLOT AND CHARACTERS?

Courtney P. Hunter: I honestly like to look to television for character inspiration. Being able to see a character and watch the way it moves provides a lot of color that I think is helpful to absorb. I normally start by finding characters I like on TV, and then I like to play with them, make them mine, change their backstories, plant them in different scenarios in my head to mold them into something new. Once I’ve kind of come up with a moral code for a character, then I can start putting them into a world. The world is what makes them special and unique. However, a lot of the skeletons of my characters can be derivative. Being derivative is helpful when you’re a new writer, which I am. It’s not a bad thing. It also helps readers connect because they may have encountered this kind of character before, and that sort of Nostalgia breeds connection. For example, the two protagonists in Sentience were inspired by Bellamy & Clarke from The CW’s 100s. Avery and Leo ended up totally different, but Bellamy and Clarke are in their blood.

For plots… I have no advice. I write my best when I fly by the seat of my pants. I maybe have a few different scenes that I know I want to like, a few themes, and a general sense of emotion that I want to convey, but I let the story do the work. I start writing and figure it out as I go. If I get too far ahead of myself with outlining, I don’t enjoy writing, and it starts to feel like a to-do list.

Romelia: WHEN DID YOU FIRST CALL YOURSELF A WRITER?

Courtney P. Hunter: Way too long after I finished my novel. I finished my first draft in September of 2018, and I didn’t call myself a writer to the world until like December of 2019, if that.

Romelia: HOW DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS AN AUTHOR?

Courtney P. Hunter: I like to use it to show who I am and what inspires me. I like to approach it with authenticity, especially since writing and publishing can be really intimidating. I always gravitated towards authors and accounts that were just honest and made me feel welcome. Personally, I especially want to buy something if I like the person behind the idea, so I just try to put myself out there so people can get to see the person behind the writing.

Romelia: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE AND LEAST FAVORITE PART OF PUBLISHING?

Courtney P. Hunter: For me, self-publishing required to shut off my creative brain and turn on my business brain to promote my book. I don’t like that I’ve had to spend so much time in promotion mode rather than creation mode to get the word out. Unfortunately for me, doing both at once isn’t within my bandwidth. It was certainly worth it, but I don’t like being severed from creating. It makes it harder to get back into my flow.

Romelia: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO AN AUTHOR WHO WANTED TO DESIGN THEIR OWN COVER?

Courtney P. Hunter: At the end of the day, you know your story best. If you feel like you can best articulate what’s behind the cover by designing it yourself, do it. I’m all for artists owning all steps in their process. However, I will say, make sure you learn or ask a friend for help on proper formatting.

I used a designer but came close to doing my own. It’s tough to get someone else to capture your story if they haven’t read it, and in truth, not every designer will.

You should do what feels right, don’t let yourself feel insignificant for not working with a cover designer just because others say you should. However, if you know it’s out of your range to execute something clear and strong, recognize that you may need help. Trust your gut.

Romelia: HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN AND WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE?

Courtney P. Hunter: ONE – Sentience is my first book baby, and I love it dearly. I’m so proud of it, and while we’re at it, now feels like a good time for me to tell you a bit about it.

Running from a violent past, Leo Knox desperately decides to participate in a scientific experiment conducted by the infamous and greedy tech-giant, AlgorithmOS. Soon, Leo learns that she has agreed to take part in a Turing Test, a test that measures the ability of artificial intelligence to blend in among humanity, but what she doesn’t know is that the test set to take place is unlike any other of its kind.

Leo enters Eden, the contained preserve where the test will occur, with twenty-three others. While everyone appears to be human, four of the individuals are an indistinguishably advanced form of humanoid AI. The task is simple: identify the AI while trying to survive. The twist? The four AI are completely unaware of their nature, causing every participant to question what they know as reality.

The group embarks on a journey within the preserve, rigged with obstacles devised by the controllers of the experiment to elicit human response and emotion. Quickly, madness ensues and divides form, partnering Leo up with Avery Ford, a Marine who wears his demons on his sleeve. Romance falls together for the two as the world around them falls apart, revealing the lengths people will go to protect those they love, to achieve monetary gain, or simply to survive.

Back at AlgorithmOS, the story unfolds on the screens of Nathan Aimes, a scientist responsible for monitoring the experiment’s surveillance cameras. Nathan studies the humans involved as they wrestle with where they stand on the polarizing issue of AI and its applications. He watches the AI unknowingly fight to prove their humanity just to leave the experiment unscathed. All the while, Nathan is intimately aware of his company’s plans to weaponize or commodify the AI should they pass the test, and he must reconcile this with the chaos that plays out before him.

Romelia: WHAT PART OF THE BOOK DID YOU HAVE THE HARDEST TIME WRITING?

Courtney P. Hunter: I cover some sensitive subject matter, and I think the hardest part for me was making sure that some of the novel’s darker parts were done properly. I didn’t want any gratuitous violence; however, the story naturally lends itself to violence. It wasn’t hard in a bad way, but more so just hard to make sure that I was pushing myself to write these things as respectfully as I could while maintaining the integrity of the story I wanted to tell. I had someone read things for sensitivity, and I also had to be self-critical to be aware of when I was appropriating experience or not.

Romelia: WHAT PART OF THE BOOK WAS THE MOST FUN TO WRITE?

Courtney P. Hunter: The characters, Leo and Avery, mentioned in the synopsis above, fall in love. Writing a romance amidst a science fiction adventure novel was SO MUCH FUN. Their interactions and energy was really enjoyable to develop.

Romelia: WHICH OF THE CHARACTERS DO YOU RELATE TO THE MOST AND WHY?

Courtney P. Hunter: I think I relate to the protagonist of Sentience. Her name is Leo, and honestly, I felt myself kind of letting my own personality and thought process bleed into who she is and how she thinks. I feel like it made her more authentic that way. It’ll be a challenge for the future, because I can’t do that with everyone without having monotonous protagonists!

Romelia: IF YOU’RE PLANNING A SEQUEL. CAN YOU SHARE A TINY BIT ABOUT YOUR PLANS FOR IT?

Courtney P. Hunter: I absolutely am! I’ve written about 30K words – and I’m really excited about it. That being said, I’ve put it on hold for a bit to write something new. I’m taking a dive into a new genre with a stand alone novel. It’s hard to write a sequel because the world I’m writing in has very defined rules and laws. I like getting lost in a story to figure it out, so I’m letting myself do that with the stand-alone first as a treat. Releasing the sequel is a part of my five-year plan.

Romelia: TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY ABOUT YOUR ADULT LIFE.

Courtney P. Hunter: I just recently got engaged, and I chipped my front tooth the night before my engagement pictures because I was being lazy and tried to open a pack of earrings by biting them. It was a small chip, but you can see it in the pictures.

I can be impatient and impulsive, so dumb things like that happen to me often.

Romelia: describe yourself in a few sentences. Tell us something we do not know about you and something you hate about the world.

Courtney P. Hunter: I am diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and had wicked intrusive thoughts about things going wrong with the book the ENTIRE time that I was getting it ready for the world.

I hate that the world doesn’t take mental health more seriously, although things are definitely going in a better direction.

Contact Details –

EMAIL: COURTNEY@COURTNEYPHUNTER.COM

INSTAGRAM: @COURTNEYPATRICIAHUNTER

TWITTER: @COURTNEYPHUNTER

FACEBOOK: @SENTIENCETHEBOOK

WEBSITE: WWW.COURTNEYPHUNTER.COM

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