Good morning, Knights! Today Cass Morris was kind enough to stop by the blog and do a quick interview with me about her upcoming book From Unseen Fire (out April 17, 2017 from Daw Books)! I think y’all are going to love this interview so make sure to check it out (below) and read more about From Unseen Fire at the end of the post!
Take us through a typical day of writing / editing this book / series. Any writing rituals?
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.
What in your own life has shaped the creation of these characters and the journeys they go on?
I didn’t realize when I started writing Latona just how much of myself and my past experiences I was pouring into her. I know how frustrating it is to feel punished for daring to achieve. You end up defensively devaluing yourself and making yourself small to avoid trouble. But bottling things up like that often leads to explosions and catastrophe, and then you have to figure out how to piece yourself back together. So, I drew on a lot of personal experience when communicating Latona’s headspace, how she talks to herself, and how she finally hits her breaking point.
Less dramatically, I’m a government brat. My family’s always been politically involved and interested, so I’ve been aware of and a part of those conversations most of my life. That awareness, decades of thinking about what the best ways to shape a government and a society might be, definitely plays into the power politics of From Unseen Fire.
How did you go about researching the setting for FROM UNSEEN FIRE? Did you travel?
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!
What was the value of firsthand site research?
One of the things I most wanted to bring across in From Unseen Fire was the sense of an active, bustling, diverse city, and taking a research trip to Rome really helped me envision the ancient city as it would have been. So much is still the same, from the pathways of major roads to the open-air markets that flourish in every piazza. My favorite part was walking home from Trastevere (which the Romans/Aventans would know as Transtiberium or the Janiculan Hill, on the far side of the river from the main city) after dinner one night and discovering a night market happening on the banks of the Tiber. Bright lights, colorful tents and stalls, wine sellers plying their wares, musicians playing festive tunes — It was not hard at all to feel like I was having a very similar experience to one I could’ve had two thousand years ago.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been a natural storyteller and a lover of books for as long as I’ve known what words were, but I can remember, clearly, the first moment I knew that creating worlds was what I wanted to do with my life. It was January, 1997. I was eleven years old, sitting in a movie theatre with a sticky floor, having just seen Star Wars for the first time. I was in utter awe. And I thought, “This is it. This is what I want to do.” I don’t know that I even knew what I meant by that at the time, whether writing books or working on movies or some other way of building worlds. That moment, though, was absolutely when I realized that I wanted to spend my life shaping universes that other people could both lose and find themselves in. I’ve been working towards that ever since.
From Unseen Fire by Cass MorrisAven Cycle #1
Published on April 17, 2018 by Daw Books
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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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?