Let me introduce you to my friend Cassie, we have known each other for a few years through KiwiWriter, and have been emailing each other for a few months now. Cassie is a founding member of KiwiWriters and has been writing for how long?
Hi Karen! I’ve been writing for most of my life, but more seriously over the last three years. I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo ’06 which kick started things for me again and ever since then it’s been go go go.
What was your first Nanowrimo novel? What inspired you for that first story?
That particular novel was Lifelines, though it’s gone through plenty of revision and editing since then. The idea actually came up several years before I wrote it, at a contact course for a writing paper I was taking through Massey. We had to listen to a few minutes of music and then jot down any ideas that came to us. I can’t remember what the music was but what I could see was a woman sitting on the porch of an isolated cabin, smoking, then a young boy and dog ran out of the house and came up behind her asking for icecream. Something was watching them from the woods, something that wasn’t human. Most of that scene is still in the novel, though the watcher wasn’t what I originally thought it was.
I don’t always write horror, and half the time when I do I don’t even realize it until I get to the end and read back over it. I love being scared myself, so it’s only natural that I’d want to attempt to scare others, or make them shudder and feel uncomfortable, questioning whether that tap on the window really was just a branch or something more sinister.
I think I prefer my horror to be a little more subtle, and have some depth. I want to be scared for hours afterwards, if not days and gore just doesn’t do that for me. Sure, bring on the blood, but I want to see how the events affects the individuals involved, I want to be able to make a connection with the characters.
Speculative fiction, it’s a term I hadn’t heard of until the last year or so but it seems to be growing in that there are more and more people interested in writing across genres rather than sticking to strictly horror, or fantasy, or sci-fi. I love being able to write stories that encompass a range of things yet all deal with that wonderful question: ‘What if…?’
Hmm, that’s a tricky one. About six months ago I would have told you that novels were my primary writing love, but since getting pregnant and deciding to put my novels on hold for the time being I’ve found a real passion for short stories. I still love novels, but the reality is that in the here and now I don’t have the time to commit to them. I’m really enjoying shorts for the ability to mix and match genres, to just dive into anything that pops up and gets me curious. The beauty is that you can chop and change, you can explore any idea because you only need a few thousand words with which to do that. And if you get to the end and decide it doesn’t work for you, you don’t feel like you’ve wasted too much time.
It’s only been in the last six months or so that I’ve felt like I know what I’m doing with a short though, I think reading some books of short stories helped with that, and having had two stories accepted for publication this year I can certainly say that the quicker gratification you can get from writing short stories compared to novels is certainly a nice thing!
So how do you juggle writing with motherhood?
That’s a tricky question. Some days I don’t manage it very well, and other days it seems like a breeze. I feel really blessed to be able to be a stay at home mother, but it’s a very busy job most of the time!
Now that my eldest is in school I’ve settled into a nice routine where I get the housework done with my youngest in the morning (she’s at that ‘helpful toddler’ stage), then we play and read – after that she sleeps and I get my write on because writing time might be scarce for the rest of the day. It usually nets me about an hour of solid writing time, though often I find another half hour after the kids are in bed. With number three on the way though, it’s going to be a whole new ball game.
I think the one important thing I’ve learned from becoming a mother is how to be flexible. You don’t have the luxury to wait for the muse to strike, or set your perfect atmosphere – you just have to grab hold of any time you have and make the most of it.
I do get in some reading time before I sleep most nights, though sometimes I just fall asleep straight away. I like to mix it up and read a range of things – often whatever takes my fancy from the withdrawn section at the library (that way I don’t have to worry about late fees). I read some non-fiction, and a mix of short story collections and novels from whatever area interests me at the time. Pretty random really.
I too have started reading a bit more than I used too – more time on my hands I guess. I have found that some writers have similar writing patterns. Do you find yourself comparing your writing style to others?
You know, I haven’t so far. I’d not be brave enough to say that I’m the next <insert author> here. I do find that I enjoy writers who have more character based stories than plot based though, which is how I like to write. I also prefer a more stripped down story these days than I used to a few years ago. I’m not sure how others decide who their writing style might be like – I think perhaps it’s something another reader might pick more accurately rather than the writer themselves.
Locally, I don’t read enough, unless of course you count the NZ writers who I’m friends with – I’ll often read their work and give them some feedback when asked. Internationally… well, it really depends on my mood. I recently re-read a few of Robin Hobbs series, they are fantastic. I can’t afford to buy new books, and always end up returning library books late which narrows my options down a bit. Can’t wait until e-readers become more available within NZ because I’m saving my pennies already!
Hmm, I could take that question in so many different ways! The most important thing though, I guess, is that I get to do it. It gives me a way explore all kinds of places, peoples, emotions, situations, whole worlds if I want to. I need that, I have far too much creative energy, too many ideas inside to ignore. So writing helps keep me sane, and allows me to use all that energy in a positive (well, mostly) way.
I’m not sure I try to convey things so much as explore issues, and whether I get to the bottom of them at the end of the story or not is sometimes irrelevant. Many of my stories and novels have begun from questions I have about the world, though my characters certainly explore those issues in different ways than I would, and might not necessarily come up with the same answers. I really believe in trying to create believable characters, who are also interesting. Characters that speak to the reader in some way (even a negative way), characters that evoke some kind of gut response to them.
Maybe that’s it there, I’m trying to hit readers in the gut at some point in my writing. I want to have emotional impact on them – I want to evoke a response that lasts longer than the story does.
Gosh you ask some tricky questions. I should have had a coffee before sitting down to them!
Cassie, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your writing, I appreciate you letting us explore your world. You can find out more about Cassie at her blog J C Hart.