Welcome to another installment of Authors & Inspirations! Today I am fangirling a bit, as I have fantasy author Cass Morris on the blog. Her debut novel, From Unseen Fire, is a fantasy set in a world based on ancient Rome, and was absolutely one of my favorite books that I read in 2018. That I read it while actually in Rome made for an extra-magical reading experience! The paperback edition of the book will be released on April 2nd and is available for preorder now! Welcome, Cass!
What artist (of any medium) has had the biggest influence on you as a writer?
Shakespeare. I worked for the guy for seven years after getting a Master’s degree in Shakespeare studies, so his words are sort of just always floating around in the background noise of my brain. Shakespeare is also the reason I learned as much as I have about rhetoric.
Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?
Often! I cannot stand silence, so I always have to have some sort of noise while I’m writing. It can be TV, if it’s something I can halfway tune out, but music is better for concentration. I build playlists for each project, but those are actually better for moodling over the project than for actually writing them. I prefer instrumentals for writing time.
If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:
Lately I’ve been very big on various Cirque de Soleil soundtracks.
Share some of your favorite song lyrics:
And you can’t fight the tears that ain’t coming
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
Yeah you bleed just to know you’re alive
And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s meant to be broken
I just want you to know who I am
–The Goo Goo Dolls, “Iris”, one of the best songs ever
You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?
Drums. I always thought I’d make a decent percussionist.
What are your all-time favorite TV shows?
The West Wing, HBO’s Rome, Star Trek: DS9, Star Trek: The Next Generation
What TV shows are you loving lately?
If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?
Star Trek. Any Star Trek, really. I think I could’ve written some great DS9 episodes if I hadn’t been in grade school at the time. I would love to write for a new series, twenty years on from the Dominion War… It’s possible I’ve spent a bit of time considering what that might look like. (CBS, have your people call my people). Or I’d love a piece of one of the new Star Wars live-action series that are supposedly in the works. That’s actually been a dream of mine since I was 11. (Disney, you may also call my people).
If Netflix were to option one of your books for a TV series, which book would you choose, and who would play your main characters?
I would be delirious with joy if Netflix wanted to option the Aven Cycle. Sarah Gadon, who’s probably best known for Alias Grace but who I first saw in Belle, is my top pick for Latona. I have some ideas for the rest of the characters, but mostly I’d be invested in making sure the cast was as diverse as it ought to be to reflect the ancient Roman world.
What are your all-time favorite movies?
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982), The Empire Strikes Back, Anastasia.
Who are your favorite actors/actresses?
Tom Hiddleston and Natalie Dormer
Which of your books do you think would make a great movie? Is there a book of yours you WOULDN’T want to see as a movie, and why?
I think the Aven Cycle would do better serialized. (Netflix, you may also call my people). I tend to think episodically, so the books would break down into seasons and episodes pretty easily, and a TV series would give the room to spin out all the side characters I so adore but sometimes have to trim down for the sake of streamlined narrative.
Are you a theatregoer? If so, what was the last play/musical you saw?
So much yes! As aforementioned, I worked at a Shakespeare theatre for seven years, so I’ve not only seen every single one of his plays more than once, I’ve also seen a lot of work by his contemporaries that doesn’t get performed anywhere else. (Literally. We were first-in-400-years productions for some plays). I also love musicals. My mama and I used to have tickets to the tour that came to Richmond every year, and we hit shows on Broadway as often as we can manage it. Most recently, I saw Richard III and The Man of Mode in the same weekend at the American Shakespeare Center.
What are your top five favorite musicals (if applicable)?
Chess, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Hamilton, Into the Woods, The Secret Garden
Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?
Tran Nguyen, who did the cover for From Unseen Fire, is astonishing. I love following her on Instagram (instagram.com/mynameistran) to see her works-in-progress. I’m also a huge fan of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law, who did the art for my favorite tarot deck, Shadowscapes. And then there are a lot of artists from the past whom I adore — Titian’s Venus d’Urbino is my favorite artwork of all time, Bernini was the greatest sculptor who ever lived and I will fight people on that, and there are a lot of neoclassicists I enjoy.
Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?
I do, both as inspiration and as a way of painting the world for the reader. Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Baths of Caracalla directly inspired From Unseen Fire — those women gossiping at the bath put the Vitelliae sisters into my head. The ancient Romans had so much art in their daily lives, too, that I try to mention in the book. I feel like it helps, to know how brightly painted their statues were, how intricate the mosaics in their floors and fountains, and what different styles of murals and frescos were popular.
Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?
From Unseen Fire is based on ancient Rome, so obviously I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from Rome and Italy! I went for the first time when I was sixteen, then went back on a research trip a few years ago.
You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?
Back to Rome! I could certainly find two weeks’ worth of entertainment. What I’d really like to do is take a research trip around the Mediterranean, starting in Lisbon and working my way around. Come to think of it, though, those would both be more research trips than writing retreats — so just to focus on putting words on the page, I’d hole up in a cozy cottage in Cornwall for two weeks.
Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?
Sometimes! I tend to go in fits and starts. The only ones I keep current with are The West Wing Weekly and Disney Story Origins. I loved Mike Duncan’s History of Rome (I was listening to that when I started drafting From Unseen Fire), and I’ve listened to portions of his Revolutions podcast. I also regularly enjoy The British History Podcast, Myths and Legends, Imaginary Worlds, and Spirits Podcast, as well as some NPR podcasts like Hidden Brain and Science Friday.
What authors have most inspired you in your own work?
Jacqueline Carey, Kate Elliott, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
What was the last book you read?
Chuck Wendig’s Damn Fine Story
What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?
I recently devoured Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series and absolutely adored it.
What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?
High emotions. People saying incredibly meaningful things at each other, wringing their hearts out, declaring themselves, standing up for themselves.
What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?
I embroider with middling talent, I can carry a tune in a bucket, I act a bit, and I know how to do a lot of 16th-century English and Italian dances.
What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?
I’d love to be able to draw, and I wish I’d taken up dancing early enough in life to be good at it.
Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?
Book Two of the Aven Cycle is currently with my editor, I’m working on a secondworld fantasy, and I’m putting together a nonfiction book proposal. I also post microfiction, behind-the-page snippets, random historical ramblings, and more over on my Patreon on an ongoing basis.
Cass Morris works as a writer and educator in central Virginia and occasionally moonlights as a bookseller in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. 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. Her debut novel, From Unseen Fire: Book One of the Aven Cycle, is a Roman-flavored historical fantasy released by DAW Books.