NZ Book Month – Just Cassie

I first met Cassie through KiwiWriters and we have become firm friends, even though we have never met face to face.  I value her opinion when it comes to writing, and she is great to bounce ideas off.  She has been instrumental in Tales for Canterbury, an anthology of stories to raise money for the Red Cross in the wake of the Christchurch quakes.

She has had some of her short stories published and is a budding novelist, so here is her story in her words:


I’ve been writing for a while now, though am working on my first novel in a few years. I took a break from the longer works because I had babies, and there never seemed to be enough space in my head to sink into something as big as a novel. I used short stories as an outlet for my creativity, and as a way to explore the world, and myself, and the things I was interested in both as a writer and a person.

What I discovered was that I have a real passion for writing about relationships, whether they are between couples (potential or established), family, friends or any other kind of connection. I also love exploring new worlds and am drawn primarily to stories with speculative elements in them. 

What was it about the story idea that interested you enough to write it? I’m currently working on Sun-Touched, and when I first started getting inklings for it I had just a few words, and a character name come to me in the night. By the time morning came around, I was eager to write and it’s been my main squeeze since then. I love it because it’s set on a new world and there is more going on than meets the eye. I have put heaps of conflict into this and it seems to be paying off.

Where is your book set and why is it important? The novel is set on Diamnuro, it’s a recently colonized planet that’s been established for about 15 years. Everyone lives in Domes and can only go out of them for a set amount of time because too much exposure to the sunlight on the planet puts people at risk of becoming ‘Sun-Touched’, which makes people crazy. My main character, Madea, gets exposed and finds that there is more to being Sun-Touched than madness.

Why do you write? I’ve always used stories as a creative outlet, and don’t think I could ever stop. There is something challenging and rewarding about it that I love, not to mention seeing an idea become a book or story, that’s an amazing process.

Who do you read and why? I read just about anything these days! I remember in high school one of my English teachers told me that I needed to read more than just science fiction, horror and fantasy (She knew I loved to write, and thought that was important for writers). My tastes were pretty narrow then. I certainly still love those kinds of books, but I have more diverse tastes these days.

How do you go about writing?  Do you have a set time a day, or a special place to write in? I try and live by the ‘at least ten minutes a day’ philosophy. If I do even that little, I can get a few hundred words written and stay in touch with whatever I am working on. I find once I am in my groove, then sitting down and getting the words out is very easy. I mostly write at my desk, and sneak the words in whenever the kids are otherwise occupied 😉

How do your characters develop? It depends on the character! Some of them whack me over the head fully formed, and others develop as I write. I usually feel like I have a good handle on them by the time I am around 10,000 words into a novel. That might sound like a lot of words, but for someone who doesn’t really plan or outline (well, until recently), I can’t tell what the character will be like until I see them on the page.

Where can we find some of your work? I have two stories in print anthologies, and two online at the moment. They are ‘The Comfort of Wood’, which is fantasy, and ‘Birth Rights‘, which is science fiction.


 If you want to know more about me, or are interested in reading my meanderings, I blog at Just Cassie.


Back to the Grindstone

Now that SoCNoC 2011 is over, it is time to get back into my normal writing routine.  Not that it is normal, but at least getting back into something that resembles a scheduled time each day to allow for writing.

And this week it starts.

I have two novels that need editing, a story that needs to be written and a story now sitting on the backburner, but still requires some thought.

Each day I am going to spend some time editing both stories.  One is quick and easy to edit (KQ&N) while the other is a little bit more labourious (Bloody Gothic Novel), so I will split them up, so I don’t feel I am doing the editing drag too much!

I will also spend some time working on Blood Gold, because I really want to get this story done.  At the moment I seem to be bogged down with court details, so I might need to just step back from that part and start working on the actual story instead.  I still need to find out about what printing presses were used in 1850’s NZ – if anyone out there does know, please let me know.

I also want to brainstorm my latest story, the Ice Planet because at present it is 51k, and I really want it to be 65 – 75k, so need to add some more tension and excitement into the mix.  Just how, I am not too sure, but I will think of something, especially if I brainstorm regularly every day.

There is also another novel that I put to one side ages ago, it is a series of short stories all linked together, so I might just resurrect that and work on one of the stories at a time, because it was a deep and meaningful kind of story and I would like to tell it.  But short stories aren’t my forte.  If I can get some feedback on these stories, then I can work at putting that novel together too.

I found a publisher the other day, which would fit in with my style of writing, so I guess the big push on editing is so that I can get something submitted to them.  All going well, perhaps by October or November I will have at least one of my novels ready!

And I haven’t forgotten about Medusa.  I need to work on this one, as it is a character based story, and I need to work on this before it will be ready, but I haven’t given up on it, so never fear my fellow and supportive writers.

Full time writer?

I’ve made a rather simplistic discovery.  If I want to get work done on my novel(s), I really need to spend more than an hour a day on my writing efforts.

I know that I will never make millions writing, but if I want to have the publishing world take me seriously, I have to treat writing like a full time job – which isn’t really a viable option in my house.  So maybe a part time job.  Its not like I don’t enjoy writing.  And there is lots I can do.

There are three novels which need editing, ten short stories which need to be whipped into shape, and a novel I am currently working on to at least me finished by the end of this month.   Yes, it isn’t like I don’t have enough to fill in my time with my writing.

So starting today, I am going to use the opportunity of my son returning to school, to start in my new regime.  I intend to start with some idea creating writing (I have lots of prompts, so it shouldn’t be hard, and the more I practice, the more ideas will develop), do a little work on my novel (actual writing, not transcribing), edit part of a novel, a little more writing on my novel and edit some of a short story.  I am hoping that this will take about 4 hours – allowing for the fact that I have had three boys in my house for nearly 10 days – the floors DESPERATELY need vacuuming!  Most of the other chores, I did yesterday.  So enough yabbering, and one with my day.

And then there was peace

What is that I hear?  Nothing… quiet, peaceful, shhh, don’t spoil it!  The radio isn’t even on.

Oh, the bliss of being able to think without “Muuuuum?  Can I have something to eat?”  “Muuuuum?  Where is my lego truck?”  “Muuuuuum? Where did I leave my shoes?”  “Muuuuuum?  Can I go for a swim?”  “Muuuuuum?  Is it lunchtime yet?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love my son, and I spend time with him, but that is the problem.  I don’t get much time to myself to think, and when I can’t think or write, I tend to go a little crazy, and these holidays have been particularly bad!  Man I couldn’t wait for 7th February and now I have a nice quiet and CLEAN house – all to myself!

I have two stories I am itching to work on, one is an historical novel based in Nelson, and the other is a fantasy novel based on a dream I had the other night…  Very interesting time, first time I have had two stories wanting to be told, but I will only focus on one at a time.  So the Historical novel is in April and the Fantasy will be my SoCNoC Novel.

Amazing how liberated I feel, just having my boy back at school and some time to think!  Thank goodness sanity is coming back!

Writing Challenges

It is good to challenge yourself, and over at KiwiWriters, they have lots of challenges, catering for all types of writing.

I know this, because I have been participating in these challenges since I first became involved nearly three years ago.

The first challenge I took part in, I belatedly joined.  SoCNoC (Southern Cross Novel Competition) is the southern hemisphere version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month).  I was already writing my trilogy when this competition was on, and it wasn’t until about half way through, I realised that I could participate.  So I did.   I totted up my word count from the beginning of June to the date, which if I recall was half w

ay through, and I had quite a healthy number, about 30k words.  Not bad considering it was a 50k challenge.  And I did finish it.

Last year, I wrote a rather soppy fantasy which is probably one that will be published posthumously – because I don’t think it is really worth publishing!

This year, I wrote Medusa’s Garden, about the mythical creature from Greece.  This is a story I am particularly proud of, and I can’t wait to get feedback from my readers so that I can get back into editing it and out to publishers.  This is the one that I feel is going to do it.

Other challenges have included the Zing Thing, where first lines, last lines, names or sayings are produced and you have to incorporate them into a story.

What I am most excited about, is the challenges which are coming up, like the Halloween Challenge – writing a story about halloween, it can be scary, funny, a horror, anything as long as its theme is Halloween.

Participating in these challenges, along with other people, really extend your skills, and I would recommend it to anyone who is thinking about writing.  It can’t hurt, and you never know, you MIGHT actually have fun!

Who is Cassie Hart?

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. 

It is quite interesting where idea’s come from.  So your story for the Anthology.  Where did that one come from?

To be honest, I really don’t remember. It was so very long ago – all I know is that it started out life as a children’s story about bullying and ended up a neat little horror story 🙂

Ok, do you normally write horror genre?  What is it about horror that you like or dislike?

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. 

Yeah, I am in the subtle horror camp too, something that makes you think afterwards – oh, that was scary!  So what genre do you normally write in?

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…?’

OK, so you write short stories and novel length stories.  Which do you prefer doing and why?

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. 

So if you have such limited time during the day, do you read?  What sort of books do you like reading?

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. 

 So who do you read?  Locally / Internationally?

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!

 Your writing, what is the most important thing about it?

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. 

 What do you try to convey in your writing?

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.