Authors & Inspirations: Cass Morris

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?

The Magicians

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.

Website: cassmorriswrites.com

Patreon: patreon.com/CassRMorris

Twitter: twitter.com/CassRMorris

Facebook: facebook.com/cassmorriswrites

Instagram: instagram.com/cassrmorris/

Advertisements

Authors & Inspirations: Sandi Van

Today on the blog I’m thrilled to have my friend and fellow Buffalonian, Sandi Van! Her debut YA verse novel, Second in Command, was released last month from West 44 Books. A brief synopsis of the book is below. Welcome, Sandi!

Sixteen-year-old Leo dreams of becoming an Eagle Scout and, someday, a police officer. He makes sure to always do the right thing and be responsible. With his mom deployed and his dad constantly working, Leo is often left in charge of his two younger siblings. Then Leo’s brother, Jack, gets caught up in a dangerous plot that rocks the community. Can Leo keep his promise to stand by his brother no matter what, or will he stand on the side of justice?

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Yes, I usually listen to music while I write, especially if I’m someplace noisy like a coffee shop or indoor soccer center. It helps me focus. It can also be great if I’m trying to create a certain mood, like if I have to write a heartbreaking scene I’ll loop a really sad song on repeat.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

Normally I’ll chose a particular artist or genre to stream depending on my mood or the mood of the story. If there’s no wifi available, I’m stuck playing whatever is saved on my laptop, which is mostly techno and electronica songs. I love the beat and energy. Two of my favorites are My Way by Calvin Harris and The Greatest by Sia. I did create a playlist for Second in Command: https://open.spotify.com/user/jcix7v3qr7zd8dhc856jummqb/playlist/2b92iRMAar9paHXFwBAlxx?si=ax1FNX6MR0WYMf7g1gHNSw

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

James. I regret not seeing them live when they were big in the US. They only tour in the UK now it seems, although I did see a date in Greece this summer. That would be a fun trip. I watch their concerts on YouTube sometimes, and Tim Booth is an amazing performer. Unfortunately, my husband hates live music, so we don’t go to many shows. I’m going to Mumford and Sons with some friends in March though, and I’m really excited about that.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’m a sucker for This is Us. The writing is beautiful and I have yet to make it through an episode without crying. I also loved Sex Education on Netflix. So smart and funny.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Real Genius. The Goonies. The Princess Bride. Better off Dead. Everything by John Hughes. Basically, I love 80’s movies.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

I used to live on the west coast and we took a road trip down to Oregon and hiked some of the waterfalls off the Columbia River. It was incredibly beautiful and inspiring. I’d love to rent a cabin out there somewhere with a view of a waterfall out my window. Get up in the morning, go for a hike, then come back and write.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

My son and I read Pax by Sara Pennypacker. It tore me apart; it was so beautiful and sad. I love books like that. My son adored it as well – he’s listened to the audiobook more times than I can count.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

Oh, the heart wrenchingly sad ones. They are not easy to write, but I tend to lose myself in them completely and really feel connected to my characters after we’ve gone through a difficult moment together. They are emotionally draining but also very therapeutic.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

Books. The language of a well written story will often kick start my creative flow. If I’m stuck in a rut, getting into nature or performing menial tasks (like painting a room or cleaning windows) will often help as well.

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

First I want to say that if it was someone no longer alive it would be Shirley Jackson. Because she wrote some crazy stuff and I’d love to have been able to pick her brain. Margaret Atwood for sure, and Emma Watson. They are both amazing, smart, trail blazing women and I am totally in love with listening to them talk.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I’ve been going back and forth between two stories lately. One is an adult novel about a young woman who gets stuck in a snow storm and her experience on the road helps her deal with the guilt of her brother’s death. The other is a major revision to a previously finished novel; that one is YA and it’s about a girl whose father gets deployed during Desert Storm and she’s on a quest to find her mother. I recently had an idea for some changes and am excited to try and weave those into the manuscript.

 

Sandi Van is a writer, counselor, and former special education teacher from Buffalo, NY. Her nonfiction piece, “Labor and Delivery” was featured in Adoptive Families Magazine and her poetry won recognition in the Elmira Star-Gazette and the PennWriters’ In Other Words contest. Sandi is also a proud Navy wife. Her debut verse novel, Second in Command, was inspired by and dedicated to military families facing deployment.

Announcing My Fourth Book, IN THE SHADOW OF SAINTS!

I know I’ve been teasing book 4 quite a bit on social media, so I am SO THRILLED to finally be able to tell you ALL about it! My fourth novel, entitled In the Shadow of Saints, will be coming in Winter 2020 from St. Martin’s Griffin!

Of course, I was always going to write a book about the Borgias 🙂 They’ve been my favorite historical family since I first stumbled on a novel about them as a teenager. They’re often referred to as Italy’s first crime family, and while historically that isn’t really technically true, their story does indeed have all the things that such a moniker suggests: scandal, corruption, politics, shady dealings, wealth, sex, violence, power, murder. It’s rich ground for any storyteller, and I am certainly not the first nor the last to cover it.

My novel, though, does take a bit of a different perspective on the infamous Borgia family. It’s told in alternating points of view, by two different characters: one being Cesare Borgia, the eldest of Rodrigo Borgia’s children, and the second being Maddalena Moretti, a maid who works for the family and is a fictional character of my own invention. My agent has been calling this my “upstairs/downstairs” look at the Borgias, and it is very much that. However, there are several reasons I chose to tell this story from two points of view, and from the points of view of these two characters in particular.

Cesare Borgia (pronounced CHEH-sah-reh – “ce” in Italian is pronounced like “che” in English; think “cello”) is the member of the Borgia family who has always fascinated me the most – perhaps because he was the most brilliant, manipulative, and wicked of the bunch. Most of the novels about the Borgias that I’m aware of usually focus on Lucrezia, as the only sister and most unfairly maligned member of the family. I wanted to really dig into Cesare as a character because, after all, villains don’t tend to start out as villains – they become so over time. I’ve been thinking of Cesare’s portion of this book as his villain origin story, and it was both a lot of fun to write a baddie and at the same time could get rather dark. I definitely drew inspiration from Walter White of Breaking Bad fame when working out Cesare’s character arc: I wanted him to be someone readers would sympathize with and root for in the beginning, then have that sympathy slowly start to erode over the course of the story as his actions become increasingly more awful. It was a challenge that I set myself, and one I embraced eagerly. I’m very pleased with how his character turned out. You all will have to let me know whether I’ve succeeded in my aims!

I had always wanted to write from Cesare’s point of view, but Maddalena’s perspective came about in something of an interesting way. I had written a few chapters from Cesare’s point of view that I showed to my agent at various times – I had actually initially anticipated this being my second book, then my third book (obviously, that didn’t happen). Each time she saw it, she liked what I had so far, but felt like something was missing, and that this project wasn’t quite ready. I agreed with her but didn’t really know where else to go with it, so it continued to sit on the back burner.

Fast forward to the fall of 2016. I had just handed in The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel to my editor and was working on drafting something new. You may have seen me refer to me “sexy opera book” on social media; well, that’s what I was writing, and I was having a blast. It was a book that I was just having a lot of fun writing, and at that point I anticipated that it would be my fourth book, as it was going really well.

Then the 2016 U.S. presidential election happened, and suddenly a fun, sexy book didn’t seem like the thing I should be writing, or the thing I wanted to write just then. I wanted to dig into something darker, something about power and corruption. It seemed like the best way for me to explore all that was to return to the Borgias book. And suddenly I found the missing piece, which had actually been there all along. In college I’d written a short story from the point of view of a maid who becomes involved with Cesare Borgia, and this, I realized, needed to be my second POV in the novel. I needed an outside perspective on this infamous family, someone who was of a completely different socioeconomic class than they, someone who could get entangled with and dragged into their power struggle, so that we might see how an everyday person could be harmed and compromised by the actions of the powerful and also by their potential proximity to that power. It all felt like something important, exciting, relevant, challenging, and interesting to explore.

So I added Maddalena’s POV, and it really was what the book had needed all along. Of course, that didn’t make any of it easier to write. Maddalena is by far the main character who has given me the most difficulty to date: it took me a long time and many rounds of revisions to really get a handle on her voice, to really get to the heart of who she was. She slowly revealed herself to me bit by bit, and as a result she’s a character that I’m really proud of. I hope you all love her like I do.

This is by far the most ambitious book I’ve written to date – I blogged a bit about getting started with it in this post. There were lots of times it felt like it was going to eat me alive. There was so much history to balance, so many tangled politics to keep in mind, dates and timelines to keep straight, lots of plot threads and character arcs to flesh out and bring to completion. I made and wrote from an outline for the first time, which I blogged about in this post.

The title has been another struggle – it had several just on my end before I ever handed it in to my editor, and then she and I changed it a few more times. We had a big Google doc going of title ideas, and would throw them back and forth to each other, but it took us MONTHS to find one we both liked and felt fit well and that the marketing/sales folks at St. Martin’s would go for. I’ve never had this kind of problem with a title before – even if I didn’t have the final title right off the bat, I usually found it without too much trouble – and boy, was it a challenge. This is such a big, sprawling book that it felt difficult to find just one title that encompassed everything, and that fit with both Maddalena and Cesare’s very different characters. I really love In the Shadow of Saints, though – ironically it was a title I first thought of a while ago, but it took me a while to see that it was the best one. I think it’s fitting and contains different layers of meaning that will inform the story as one reads on.

As difficult as writing this book was at times, though, I really did love doing it. I got to write about political dealings (shady and otherwise), a fascinating and large cast of complex characters, war and negotiations, murder, the glory and filth of Renaissance Rome, and a lot of drama that actually happened. So much of that was fun because a lot of it was new for me (especially the politics – I’ve always wanted to write a book that was very “let us sit in this room and plot politics”, and I’ve done it!). And, of course, I got to write about my favorite historical family, and my favorite era of history. I just love writing about Renaissance Italy, and I can promise you that I’m not done doing so.

Because of the many challenges of this book, in some ways perhaps it’s the one I’m most proud of. It’s something different, and it’s definitely my darkest book so far. It’s taken a lot of revision and edits and smoothing over of rough edges, but it is finally the book I always wanted it to be, the book I always knew it could be. A lot of credit goes to my editor as well, for her amazing, spot-on notes and feedback, and always being there for me to bounce ideas off of as I revised. It’s been such an amazing feeling, to keep working at it and see it improve each day. I really believe it’s my best book so far. And I can’t wait for all of you to read it.

As soon as I have a release date, cover, etc., I will be sure to share it all here!

 

Authors & Inspirations: Elise Hooper

This week I’m welcoming historical novelist Elise Hooper to the blog! Elise’s new novel, Learning to See, about iconic photographer Dorothea Lange, just released yesterday. Her debut novel, The Other Alcott, tells the extraordinary story of May Alcott, the famous Louisa May Alcott’s sister who was a talented artist in her own right. I couldn’t put The Other Alcott down, and I’m so excited to read Learning to See! Welcome, Elise!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

I don’t. Now before you start thinking that I’m crazy, let me explain: I need it quiet so I can hear the voices in my head while my characters talk. Okay, that sounds pretty crazy, but it’s how I work.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

I’ve been a “clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” full-on fan of Friday Night Lights since it first aired and recently rewatched all five seasons with my girls. I’ve also been known to binge watch Six Feet Under, Parenthood, The Wire, The Americans, Downton Abbey, The Office, Game of Thrones and I never tire of Leslie Knope’s antics on Parks & Rec.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Crown.

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

Hmmm, good question. This is incredibly dorky, but I love PBS’s American Masters and each time I watch one, I’m inspired to research and write about someone new. As a side note, the show on Dorothea Lange is terrific. I didn’t see it until after I was working on my novel about her, and now I’ve watched that documentary about five hundred times.

I also need to give a shout to The Wire for this question. Wow, talk about a story with complex characters, suspense, and fascinating moral questions. I still mourn for Omar Little, one of the most interesting bad guys of all time.

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Franck Eggelhoffer from Steve Martin’s Father of the Bride is a character I love to imitate, much to the dismay of my children. I also love all of the Indiana Jones movies, think Erin Brockovich was totally badass, and enjoy quoting lines from Election and Legally Blond.

What are your top five favorite musicals (if applicable)?

Hamilton, The Sound of Music, Chicago, The Wedding Singer, Dear Evan Hansen

Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?

I don’t even know where to start with this one! I would cast a wide net over the kinds of art that I enjoy, but I will say that the show that blew me away recently was when Kehinde Wiley’s work came to the Seattle Art Museum. I love everything about him. His process, ideology, and aesthetic, all of it.

Also, seeing the Women Artists in Paris: 1850 – 1900 exhibit last spring at the Speed Museum in Louisville was very exciting because it brought together so many women artists whose work I’d studied extensively while writing The Other Alcott. The show’s organizers went all out and put together an amazing collection of pioneering artists.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

All the time. Both The Other Alcott and Learning to See are about artists so I always study the work of my subjects and their circle. Sometimes images inspire scenes too. Many of the scenes in Learning to See are inspired by Dorothea Lange’s photos.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Wow, I love this question. So many options! Italy is one of my favorite destinations. The food, the art, the landscape, history, and people—it’s all wonderful. Plus, I could live on gelato, especially those side-by-side scoop cones. I’d eat a lot of those.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

Modern Love is a go-to podcast for me. Its episodes are usually the perfect amount of time for me to drive to the courts where I play tennis so I sometimes arrive at matches all teary which can be a little awkward, but it’s okay, I pack Kleenex. I’m also really into Last Seen right now. It’s a podcast about the infamous unsolved art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and I’ve always found that topic to be fascinating.

What was the last book you read?

I’m currently listening to Michelle Obama’s Becoming and am completely obsessed. I’ve been surprised at how intimate and relatable it feels. I’m midway through reading Jennifer Robson’s The Gown and savoring everything about it.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I turn away from all media and try to get outdoors and exercise. I’m an avid tennis player and love to run, swim, and hike. If I lived in a warmer climate, I would surf more because I love the ocean.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I’ve been sewing and knitting for as long as I can remember, but I’m mostly knitting these days because I can work on projects while I listen to audiobooks.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

I wish that I could sing and play the guitar. Sometimes I like to imagine myself as Sheryl Crow.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I’m writing a novel about three pioneering American women track stars who end up coming together to race in Hitler’s 1936 Olympics in Berlin. My Olympic history trivia is totally on point right now and I’m learning a ton. These three women—Betty Robinson, Helen Stephens, and Louise Stokes—have amazing stories and I can’t wait to share them with you. Fast Girls will be out sometime in the summer of 2020, right around when the Tokyo Olympics are underway.

Elise also provided me with some of Dorothea Lange’s photographs, which are below!

Toward Los Angeles, California

Toward Los Angeles, California

Ditched, Stalled

Once a Missouri farmer, now a migratory farm laborer on the Pacific Coast. California

Gas station. Kern County, California

Gas station. Kern County, California

Plantation overseer. Mississippi Delta, near Clarksdale, Mississippi

Plantation overseer. Mississippi Delta, near Clarksdale, Mississippi

 

Picture of Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange, Resettlement Administration photographer, in California

 

Although a New Englander by birth, Elise lives with her husband and two young daughters in Seattle and teaches literature and history.

Website: http://www.elisehooper.com

FB: https://www.facebook.com/elisehooperauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/elisehooper/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/elisehooper

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Learning-See-Dorothea-Revealed-America/dp/0062686534

Authors & Inspirations: Hester Fox

This week’s Authors & Inspirations interview is with historical fiction author Hester Fox! Hester’s debut novel, The Witch of Willow Hall, came out on October 2nd of last year – the same day as The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel. I loved Hester’s moody, gothic, witchy book (it makes a perfect fall AND winter read, when you’re cozy inside under some blankets) and it’s been fun that our books were release day sisters! Welcome, Hester!

 

What artist (of any medium) has had the biggest influence on you as a writer?

Can’t think of one in particular…I think it would have to be a combination of influences that came at the right time for me in my writing journey.

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Oh yes. I love creating playlists for different projects, sometimes down to the scene level. I find listening to the same music throughout a manuscript helps me stay in the same mood/headspace and achieve a level of cohesion throughout the months-long writing process.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

My current work in progress is set in the 1850s, so it’s loaded up with Chopin, Beethoven, Schubert, as well as some period movie soundtracks.

Are there any musicians who have had a big impact on your work?

I love the Decemberists because they are master story-tellers. Each song has such a strong sense of place and mood.

What was the last live concert you attended?

I think it was Arcade Fire last year.

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for a concert?

I saw the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform Mozart and Dvorak in Amsterdam, though I was there to visit family- the concert was just a bonus!

Share some of your favorite song lyrics:

Too many to choose from!

Your favorite band is going to write a song based on one of your books. What band is it, and what should the song be about?

It would have to be The Decemberists. I think they would be the perfect choice to write a song about a clairvoyant orphan that lives in a cemetery in 1850’s Boston 😊

What band is on your bucket list to see live?

I’m a huge Lana del Rey fan and I would love to see her perform live one day.

You are magically going to be granted the ability to be a virtuoso on one instrument. Which do you pick?

I played violin for most of my life but never even got close to virtuoso level. I always wanted to play piano, though.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Downton Abbey, The Office, Parks and Rec, Drunk History, Bob’s Burgers

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I can’t get enough of The Good Place, and I’m really looking forward to Season 3 of Harlots

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

Not one in particular that comes to mind, but often I will watch a period drama to help me get in the right head space for writing, and to mimic character idiosyncrasies.

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Downton Abbey. Two words: Zombie Sybil.

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?

Hm, I think Book 2 which I’m just finishing up now. It’s set in 1840’s rural Maine during the height of Edgar Allan Poe-mania. There’s a big cast of characters and lots of mystery. I’m rubbish when it comes to casting though!

What are your all-time favorite movies?

I don’t watch a ton of movies, but the ones I do watch over and over are usually adaptations of 19th century books and period dramas. I love Pride & Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Bleak House, and Quills. The Others is probably my all-time favorite.

Who are your favorite actors/actresses?

I’m really bad at names and faces, but I will watch anything with Matthew McFayden, Tom Hardy, Kate Winslet, or Holiday Grainger.

Is there a movie that’s had a big impact on you as a writer?

Nothing immediately springs to mind.

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 Witch of Willow Hall would make a better movie than tv series. I definitely wouldn’t turn down either, though!

Are you a theatregoer? If so, what was the last play/musical you saw?

Not usually, but I was lucky enough to see Hamilton in Boston last month.

What are your top five favorite musicals (if applicable)?

Sorry, I don’t think I could name even five!

Are there any visual artists you’re a big fan of?

Kelly Louise Judd. Her art hits that sweet spot of folksy, dark, nostalgic, and melancholy.

http://kellylouisejudd.com/

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

I will keep tabs open on my laptop with different art from the period in which I’m writing so I can reference them as I write. I’ve also found museum catalogs and websites to be helpful, especially when it comes to describing furniture or interior design.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

Traveling in general always gets the story juices flowing, but I don’t usually get story ideas about the specific locations where I travel. I started Willow Hall on a plane to Iceland, for example.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

Somewhere in the UK, probably either Yorkshire or Scotland as those are my favorite places. Maybe the Hebrides?

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

Yes! My Favorite Murder, Lore, Someone Knows Something (and pretty much anything the CBC puts out) are some of my favorites.

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

I am a big fan of Susanna Kearsely’s work. I love the ease with which she crosses and combines genres, and the beautiful romances in her stories. I grew up on authors like Hardy, Dickens, Trollope, Gaskell, and Austen, so I feel like I have a lot of 19th century literary devices and tropes imprinted onto my subconscious.

What was the last book you read?

I’m usually reading multiple books at once so I’m not sure which was technically the last! I recently read Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt which I enjoyed a lot.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

I also just finished the last book in Sandra Gulland’s Josephine B. series and have a serious book hangover.

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

One of my favorite books of all time is Sherri Holman’s The Dress Lodger. I didn’t read it until years after it came out, so I might have missed some of the hype.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

Any kind of scene where a character lays it all on the line and bares their soul to someone else. Sometimes this is a fight scene, other times a declaration of love.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I like to put on an audiobook and take a walk.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I like drawing and water coloring small scale illustrations, learning new languages, and photography. I also bake with mixed success.

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

I’ve tried sewing many times throughout my life and never been able to get the hang of patterns.

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

I’m so introverted I’m not even sure I could come up with three people!

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

I’m finishing up revisions for my second book, The Widow of Pale Harbor which will be out fall 2019. I’m also working my third book The Orphan of Cemetery Hill.

 

​When not writing and painting, Hester Fox works in the museum field as a collections maintenance technician. This job has taken her from historic houses to fine art museums, where she has the privilege of cleaning and caring for collections that range from paintings by old masters, to ancient artifacts, to early American furniture. She has a master’s degree in historical archaeology, as well as a background in Medieval studies and art history.

Authors & Inspirations: Chanel Cleeton

Welcome to my first Authors & Inspirations post of 2019! To kick off the new year, I’m thrilled to have historical fiction author Chanel Cleeton. Chanel’s most recent novel, the USA Today bestselling Next Year in Havana, was Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club pick for July 2018. I was honored to have given a blurb to this stunning and powerful dual timeline novel, which follows the story of a Cuban woman whose wealthy family is forced to flee during the revolution, and her granddaughter who returns to Havana years later. Cleeton’s upcoming novel, When We Left Cuba (which I also loved!), continues the story of the Perez family in the aftermath of the revolution, and will be out on April 9, 2019. Welcome to the blog, Chanel!

 

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Yes, music is a huge part of my writing process. I usually create playlists that fit the mood/tone of the book I’m working on and I tend to listen to those on repeat. I usually share my playlists on Spotify leading up to a book’s release. For example, when I was writing Next Year in Havana I listened to a lot of Buena Vista Social Club.

If you do listen to music while writing, share a few songs on your current writing playlist:

I just turned in a book to my editor and while I was working on it, I listened to Lord Huron’s The Night We Met, Falling Water by Peter Oren, If We Were Vampires by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, River by Leon Bridges, and Back to Autumn by Tall Heights.

What was the last live concert you attended?

I was just in Miami a few weeks ago and I saw Marc Anthony in concert. My father had never seen him perform live and he really wanted to go so I tagged along.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

That’s a tough one! Gossip Girl, Corazón Salvaje (the original version), Seinfeld, Veronica Mars, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Stranger Things, Jane the Virgin, Sex and the City, One Day at a Time, The Nanny, Frasier, Sons of Anarchy, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart are some of my favorites.

What TV shows are you loving lately?

I’ve really enjoyed Glow, Jane the Virgin, One Day at a Time, Stranger Things, Peaky Blinders, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Making a Murderer, and Younger. I also really loved the sadly now cancelled Good Girls Revolt which was amazing! I also watch all of the Real Housewives franchises.

Do you ever draw on visual art in your work?

Photography is really helpful to me and I spend a lot of time looking at photos of the places and from the time periods I’m writing about.

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

Definitely! I draw a lot from my real-life experiences. For example, I have a series set in London at an international university that was inspired by my own time at university.

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

I’d probably go to Koh Samui, Thailand. I spent a week there a few years ago and it was one of the most beautiful and relaxing places I’ve ever been.

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

There are so many. Some of my favorites include Carlos Eire, Beatriz Williams, Tana French, Rhys Bowen, Judith McNaught, Nora Roberts, Ahdaf Soueif, Elizabeth Kostova, Anita Shreve, Sophie Kinsella, and Jane Austen.

What was the last book you read?

I just finished China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan and dove immediately into the last book in the trilogy, Rich People Problems. They’re the ultimate binge books and my favorite series I’ve read this year.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

I enjoy writing scenes that are high-emotion where I really learn what my characters are made of. They’re often a bit draining to work on, but I find that when I pull back the layers on my characters I connect to them the most.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

I watch a fair amount of television, and looking at storytelling from a slightly different perspective both refills the well and often inspires me. I also read nightly and it recharges me and gets me in the mood to write.

What artistic/creative talents do you have outside of writing?

I’m not sure how talented I am, but I really enjoy interior decorating which has been sort of a surprising development in the past few years. I’ve also always been drawn to fashion. Handbags are my weakness 🙂

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

My next release is When We Left Cuba, which will release on April 9, 2019. It’s set in Palm Beach in the 1960s and highlights the tumultuous Cuban-American relations of the time period including events like the Bay of Pigs, Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy assassination, and the many assassination attempts on Fidel Castro’s life.

I just finished drafting my 2020 release, tentatively titled Our Side of Paradise, which is set in the Florida Keys in the 1930s and is centered on the lives of three heroines (one of the heroines is related to the Perez family from Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba) whose paths cross on one fateful weekend in September.

I’m currently researching a book that I will begin drafting soon which will release in 2021. The working title is The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba and it’s set during the Gilded Age and the New York newspaper wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, and features a real-life Cuban heroine who was an infamous revolutionary in her time.

 

Chanel Cleeton is the USA Today bestselling author of Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick Next Year in Havana. Originally from Florida, Chanel grew up on stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England where she earned a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master’s degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She loves to travel and has lived in the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

Authors & Inspirations: Melissa Erin Jackson

For this week’s Authors & Inspirations interview, I’m thrilled to have Melissa Erin Jackson on the blog! Melissa’s debut novel, The Forgotten Child, was one of my favorite reads of 2018. It’s a paranormal mystery that’s got a little something for everyone: ghosts, serial killers, fantastic female friendship, humor, justice being served, and a great romance. I couldn’t put it down, and also creeped myself out at one point by reading it late at night. Welcome, Melissa!

What artist (of any medium) has had the biggest influence on you as a writer?

I’m often inspired by other writers who are extremely prolific…Stephen King, Rachel Caine, Neil Gaiman, Jay Kristoff, Victoria Schwab. I would love to write books in several genres and seeing the success of others gives me hope it’s possible.

Do you listen to music while you write? Why or why not?

Yes, but it has to be instrumental. Music with lyrics is too distracting for me. I listen to a whole lot of smooth jazz. Starting to add in some Irish fiddle, too.

What are your all-time favorite TV shows?

Community, Parks and Rec, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Stranger Things, Mindhunter

What TV shows are you loving lately?

The Goldbergs, The Magicians, Superstore, Santa Clarita Diet, and I just started Killing Eve but I’m very intrigued so far!

Is there a TV show that’s had an impact on you as a writer?

I really love shows with casts of kooky characters, especially ones with complicated and long-lasting relationships. The final scene in New Girl for example had so much wrapped up in it—from the trajectory of the characters’ relationships, to inside jokes—that I was in tears. I hope to create characters who have bonds that strong with each other.

If you got the opportunity to write an episode for one show (past or present) what would it be?

Superstore or Community! Both of those shows are totally bonkers and I think it it would be great fun to work on a comedy.

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’d love to see Rosario Dawson or Logan Browning play Riley from THE FORGOTTEN CHILD. I picture Michael like Justice Joslin. Oh, you haven’t heard of him? Google his pretty face right now. I’ll wait 😊

What are your all-time favorite movies?

Shawshank Redemption, Se7en, and A Quiet Place. And because I’m still a kid at heart—Bolt, Up, Fox & the Hound, Wall-E, and How to Train Your Dragon.

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?

My WIP sci-fi would possibly make a fun movie. It’s an alien invasion novel, but quieter. Think Arrival rather than Independence Day. I have a clear visual in my head of what the alien race looks like and it would be really cool to see them on screen!

Has a place you’ve traveled ever inspired you in your writing?

While I was writing my sci-fi project for NaNoWriMo in 2017, I went on a weekend-long writer’s retreat to Fort Bragg here in California. It’s a small town on the coast, and the house we were staying in was a ten-minute walk to the beach. That town heavily influenced the town my MC, Lyra, travels to at the start of the book. I saw a lot of ravens on my walks and ravens became a big part of my book, too!

You can go on a two-week, all-expenses paid writing retreat to the location of your choice. Where would you go, and why?

As much as I’d like to say somewhere like Paris or Rome, I find that I write best when it’s quiet and I’m a bit isolated. I prefer writing retreats that are somewhere in the heart of nature—near a beach, in the mountains, walking distance from a lake. For a two-week retreat (Isn’t that the dream?!), I would probably want to hole up in a national park. Maybe Yellowstone. Somewhere where I can hike when I need to refill the well, but somewhere remote enough that I won’t get distracted.

Are you a podcast listener? If so, what are some of your favorite podcasts?

My Favorite Murder is my number one go-to for podcasts. It’s the perfect blend of humor and horrible stories of murder. It shouldn’t work as a combination, but it does!

What authors have most inspired you in your own work?

I love Sarah J Maas’s worldbuilding, Jay Kristoff’s ability to write stuff that’s as weird as it is compelling, Josh Malerman’s creepy, creepy atmosphere, and Deanna Raybourn’s ability to add humor in the most unlikely of places.

What was the last book you read?

I’m currently re-reading Cassandra Clare’s The Dark Artifices trilogy, in preparation for the third one that just came out. I just finished Lady Midnight and immediately started Lord of Shadows.

What’s your favorite book you’ve read recently?

Though I read it a year ago, Bird Box by Josh Malerman is still at the top of my recent favorite’s list. I’m so excited for the movie!

What’s a book you’ve loved that you feel more people should be talking about?

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn. It’s a somehow incredibly funny historical fiction series, plus it has a slow-burn romance that’ll turn even the most black-hearted into a puddle of goo.

What are your very favorite kinds of scenes to write?

On one end of the spectrum, I really love scenes with lots of banter. Either friendly banter between best pals, or banter between romantic interests. On the other end, I really love writing darker scenes, whether it’s from the POV of a serial killer, or a scene with a malevolent ghost.

When you need to recharge your batteries/refill the well as a writer, what forms of media do you most often turn to?

Because I’m in the car a lot for work, I listen to a lot of audiobooks (usually at least 50 a year). When I’m tapped out on writing my own stuff, audiobooks are one of my main outlets. For some reason lately, though, I get a lot out of watching my boyfriend play Fortnite. I don’t know why this works for me!

What artistic/creative talent do you wish you had?

I really wish I could draw. My mom is very talented at both drawing and painting. It was not a skill I inherited, unfortunately.

If you could have a drink/cup of coffee/beverage of choice with any three people alive in the world right now, who would you pick?

Barack Obama (he seems like the coolest dude), Maggie Stiefvater because I love her books and I have a feeling she’s got good ghost stories, and Stephen Colbert.

Let us know what’s coming up next for you: new books, new projects; what are you working on?

In addition to the Riley Thomas mystery series, I’m also working on a paranormal cozy series starring a witch. The first book is titled PAWSITIVELY POISONOUS. I hope to release the first of that series around summer of 2019.

 

Melissa has had a love of stories for as long as she can remember, but only started penning her own during her freshman year of college. She majored in Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology at UCDavis. Yet, while she was neck-deep in organic chemistry and physics, she kept finding herself writing stories in the back of the classroom about fairies and trolls and magic. She finished her degree, but it never captured her heart the way writing did.

Now she owns her own dog walking business (that’s sort of wildlife related, right?) by day…and afternoon and night…and writes whenever she gets a spare moment. The Microsoft Word app is a gift from the gods!

She alternates mostly between fantasy and mystery (often with a paranormal twist). All her books have some element of “other” to them…witches, ghosts, UFOs. There’s no better way to escape the real world than getting lost in a fictional one.

She lives in Northern California with her very patient boyfriend and way too many pets.

The Forgotten Child is her debut, the first in a paranormal mystery series.

Website

Goodreads

Twitter

Instagram

Pinterest

Amazon

 

This will be the last Authors & Inspirations post for 2018. I’ll be taking a break for the holidays, and will be back with new interviews in 2019! Happy Holidays, everyone!