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Monday, April 2, 2018

Read Q&A with Cass Morris

We are glad to host a special Q&A with Cass Morris and thanks to the lovely folks over at DAW books for making this Q&A possible. So please give a warm welcome to Cass Morris and read ahead to know more about her debut FROM UNSEEN FIRE. Also checkout the gorgeous cover by Tran Nguyen.

Q] How did you devise the magical elements in FROM UNSEEN FIRE?

CM: When I started writing From Unseen Fire, I knew I wanted to attach the magical system to the pantheon of gods. The ancient Romans believed in magic and petitioned the gods for it, so it made perfect sense to have the magic of Aven be a literal blessing from those gods. And it made sense, too, that different gods would bestow different gifts, based on their spheres of influence. The system of nine Elements grew out of something my friends and I developed while we were growing up, a component of lots of games and communally-told stories that we had.

I love thinking about the different manifestations and applications that can occur even within one Element: Latona’s Fire magic, for example, derives from Venus, so it’s highly emotional and a little more metaphorical -- the fire of the heart, if you will, whereas someone blessed by Vulcan would have Fire magic, too, but it might manifest as a talent for blacksmithing and a career as a Fire-forger. The overlap of elemental magic and divine blessing is just so much fun to explore.

Q] How did you go about researching the setting for FROM UNSEEN FIRE? Did you travel?

CM: I looked at so. many. maps. Which was great! I love cartography. It’s shockingly difficult to find maps of Rome from the Republic era, though; almost everything is Imperial, because so much of the Forum was destroyed and rebuilt over time, so archaeology has a much easier time figuring out what it looked like in, say, 300 CE than 30 BCE. I also scoured the internet for every picture of reconstructions I could find -- the Getty Villa has some gorgeous images of a reconstructed Roman country house, interior and exterior, and there are a surprising number of Roman legion re-enactment groups. And yes, I did travel. I’d been to Rome once before, as a teenager, and in 2016 I was lucky enough to be able to go back. There’s nothing quite like walking the very hills and streets your characters would have!

Q] Take us through a typical day of writing / editing this book / series. Any writing rituals?

CM: I’m a bit nocturnal by nature, so my best writing hours tend to be in the evening. I work at a standing desk most of the time -- now, that is. Most of From Unseen Fire was actually written on a card table, as I went many years without a proper desk in my apartment! But a couple of years ago I splurged on an electronic desk with a totally adjustable height, so it can be a normal sitting desk if I need it to be. For some reason it’s easier to focus and feel active and engaged with what I’m working on when I’m standing. Sitting feels like relaxation time.

I’m someone who abhors silence, so I have to have some sort of background noise while I’m working. That might be music -- I’ve made I don’t even know how many scores of playlists over the years, for various characters, stories, and moods -- but it might also be something running on TV. I find nature documentaries are great. Pretty pictures, nice music, often the soothing tones of David Attenborough, easy to tune out -- but then I get to learn something cool when I surface for a break. I usually have some sort of goal in mind, but it varies by the day. It might be “get 1000 words of new material written” or “edit three chapters,” but it might also be something like “stare at that scene until you figure out what’s wrong with it.” Progress is measured in a lot of different ways.

I rarely write outside of the house. Trains and planes are okay, if I’m traveling, but my extroverted nature is too easily distracted by other human beings to get much work done in a coffee shop. Every once in a while I’ll treat myself to a day somewhere really special -- Bold Rock Cidery in Nellysford, VA is absolutely beautiful, for example, so it’s a lovely place to settle in, enjoy a few pints, and write while gazing at gorgeous mountain scenery.

Q] Alternate-history and historical fantasy is en vogue for TV and film, as well as books lately. Are there any historical or alternative-historical TV / films / books that influenced your writing?

CM: Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series had a major influence on me. I loved the scope of the alternate world she imagined, flavored by the real history of dozens of nations and cultures, but interwoven with her own magical paradigm. I’ve always liked big worlds in the fiction I consume, and hers felt so fully-drawn and complete. That sense of the epic features in a lot of the stories that have influenced me over time -- Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, The Sandman, A Song of Ice and Fire -- if it has a massive map and a cast of thousands, I’m probably all for it.

As far as straight-up historical influence goes, HBO’s Rome was playing in the background during a lot of the drafting of From Unseen Fire. The creators of that show said in one of their behind-the-scenes featurettes that they were looking to re-create an authentic ancient Rome, even though they knew they weren’t being completely accurate, since they fudged timelines and merged characters together for storytelling purposes. I think they totally succeeded. Their Rome looked like a real city, so full of people, always busy, and so complex. Those images are definitely a lot of what I had in mind while crafting the city of Aven.

Q] Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for writers?

CM: First, just keep at it. Determination counts for as much or more than talent and craft in this business. You have to be able to take a hit, shake yourself off, and keep going.

Second, the best wordcrafting advice I’ve ever gotten: “but then”. When you’re summarizing scenes, you should always be able to do so with a “but then” phrase, rather than an “and then” phrase. It’s so simple, but it can make such a difference. Think about what changes for your brain between reading, “Sally got up to make breakfast, and then there was a knock at the door” and “Sally got up to make breakfast, but then there was a knock at the door.” Immediately you have a sense of stakes and drama, because that knock has become unusual and unexpected rather than routine.

Third, make friends. Writing can be a solitary business, but it doesn’t have to be a totally isolated one. The magic of the internet can connect you with so many people that are sharing your experiences, whatever stage of the publishing journey you’re on.

Writing is work, yes. Sometimes it’s painful work. The publishing process has a lot of hurdles to clear. It can feel like the goalposts are always moving on you, like everything happens simultaneously too fast and at a glacial pace, like you never know the expectations and yet feel compelled to do everything you can to succeed. It can be rough, so if you don’t still have joy in writing itself, it’s not worth doing. When things get hard, remind yourself why you love the story you’re telling.


Official Author Website

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Cass Morris lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with the companionship of two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.

Official Book Information: The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic.

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people -- if only she can find the courage to try.

Her siblings--a widow who conceals a canny political mind in the guise of a frivolous socialite, a young prophetess learning to navigate a treacherous world, and a military tribune leading a dangerous expedition in the province of Iberia--will be her allies as she builds a place for herself in this new world, against the objections of their father, her husband, and the strictures of Aventan society.

Latona's path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven's fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love?

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of the author herself.



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