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.


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.

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!

Anatomy of a story

I recently wrote a short story that meant a lot to me.  So here is the breakdown of how I came to write the story.

Over the years, I have had to deal with a lot of death – cancer, suicides, car crashes.  And while I have never had to face it personally, death of children really upsets me.

While interviewing Ripley Patton for the SpecFicNZ Blogging Week, I learnt that she writes stories about issues that she is facing in her life.  This gave me the idea for Death is Her Name.

If focuses on a day in the life of Death.  I made her a female because a woman is a lot of things to a lot of people, an angel, a mother, a lover.

The deaths are ones that I have faced, involving family and friends over the years.  I haven’t included names, but the circumstances are real.  The fiction part of the story is how each person, when confronted by Death, deals with her.  Some go willingly, others aren’t ready to go, and some a just plain argumentative.

The final one made me cry.  It is about the child and how the mother sees death and tries to bargain with her.  I have never, and hope I never have to be faced with this situation, but my heart cries everytime I read of some baby or young child who is dying from cancer.  They haven’t had a life, it isn’t fair on them.

While the story was sad, it also helped me – in a strange way – reconcile some of my friends and family’s deaths.  I feel more at peace about some of them, while others I had already accepted and moved on from.  I think it is the sudden and unexpected deaths that I needed closure with, and I truly believe that I did that with this story.

So the moral of the story, if you have a problem you are facing in your life and you are finding it hard to cope or understand it, make it into a story, with an ending that you want to see happen.  Allow your emotions into the story, because that is what truly makes a story real.  Even if you don’t get closure, you will feel better for allowing yourself the time and energy to face the issue.

Odds and Sods

It has been a while since I wrote here, only because I am busy unpacking, and desperately trying to get the house into some resemblance of normal (Just what is NORMAL???) before I embark on my next writing mission, which is sneaking up on me really fast!  I have printed out research material, but haven’t really had a good read of it yet, and I still have a short story to finish for my Writing Goal.  And I only have TWO DAYS!  How the hell did that happen!

I have my laptop all set to go, and my computer desk is tidy, but I will be writing on the laptop which doesn’t really have a battery, so I can’t really take it anywhere and use it without having AC power to connect to! (If you know of any way to EXTEND the life of a battery, please let me know!).

The house is coming together, and I have a couple of kid free days before I have all 99 kids (well three, but it feels like more sometimes!) and I was hoping to get stuff done, instead, I have a cold and desperately trying to get the house tidy, and youngest son’s room into some semblance of normalcy (there’s that bloody word again!)

I also want to have some time to myself and time with my husband in the evenings, but four days just disappears really fast!  Had a lovely massage last night from my better half when HE got home from WORK, which was a lovely and nice surprise – I cooked him gurnard fillets with salad and sour dough bread.  Tonight we are having flounders!  I spoil him, he spoils me!

While we are off the subject, just to bring us back, I have met a local young lady who is very strongly interested (OK, she is mad keen) on writing, and we will probably meet at the school once or twice a week to talk about it.  I am probably more excited about this than she is because I finally have someone to talk to about writing, the complications, the joys and the tragedies.  It is exciting.

Well, I suppose I better get back to vacuuming the lounge, and hopefully I might actually get to do some writing this afternoon… yeah, RIGHT!

SpecFicNZ Blogging Week – Interview with Ripley Patton

Ripley Patton first came to my attention through KiwiWriters when she was asking about Speculative Fiction writers and who would be interested in starting a group for Writers of Speculative Fiction within NZ.  Before long, I found myself involved in a group that moved ahead like a steam train, headed by the enigmatic Ripley.  This is a woman with a passion, for writing and Speculative Fiction, and who better to interview for Speculative Fiction Blogging Week than the woman behind the website

Where do you come from and how long have you been living in NZ?

I grew up in Southern Illinois smack in the middle of the United States. However, as an adult I lived most of my years in Oregon on the West Coast and think of that as home. The climate and landscape there is very similar to New Zealand. I have lived in my new country for four years now, with no plans to leave any time soon. Yes, I like it, though I still have bouts of homesickness (especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas) and miss my family a lot.

I suppose the change of seasons for Christmas and Thanksgiving can be hard too.  How long have you been writing and why do you write?

I have been writing since I was thirteen when my mother died of cancer. I found writing to be the only real way I could make sense of life- writing gave things meaning. And that is certainly why I still write today. Writing is how I process everything. It gives me a sense of ownership and power over my own story. Until I write something, I don’t understand it- I can’t know it-I don’t possess it. But when I can shape it into words-a poem, a story, my story- that is when, no matter how difficult or tragic the inspiration, it becomes a thing of beauty and meaning in my life. In that sense, I suppose writing is my alchemy. I’m turning my dross into gold.

How long was it from when you first started writing to when you got something first published – was it a professional publication, or a small press one?

As I said, I started writing at age 13, but I didn’t start thinking about writing for publication until I was at university. There, I joined the writing club. I won “writer of the year” my sophomore year and had some success publishing poetry in local small press journals. My first pro publication was actually in 1993 and was a non-fiction article for an international teacher’s magazine called Learning. I was paid $200 and I still have the check receipt and even the notepad I scribbled on during my acceptance phone call from the editor. That is all ancient history and seems fairly distant from the fiction career I have now, but those were the seeds that germinated over time to lead me where I am now.

When my two children reached school-age in 2005, that is when I started pursuing my short fiction in earnest. And it didn’t take long. My first sci-fi short story was accepted by Alienskin online magazine in June of 2005. Alienskin was, and still is, small press, but I was thrilled. Since then, I have had over a dozen short stories published in various print and online magazines and anthologies. And I’ve had work nominated and short-listed for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards 2009 and 2010.

Do you actively seek out submissions and write to order, or do you write and find somewhere to submit to, and where do you look for publications?

I’m actually pretty terrible at “writing to order”. For me, writing is a very personal process. I use it to grapple with the issues and ideas that are confronting and compelling me internally. I write the stories I want to see told. However, I always have a huge backlog of ideas, so sometimes I have a story idea tucked away, and I find a market I know it will fit. I love when that happens.

My process is usually to write first, and then look for a place to sell it. That being said, I do actively seek out markets for my writing. I spend a lot of time searching market lists like Duotropes and Ralan’s. I belong to several on-line writing communities- She Writes and Livejournal to name just two. I am very active on a couple writing forums and e-mail lists, and special calls for submissions are frequent on those. I watch what my peers are being published in, and I try to read those markets. And, since I’ve been published multiple times in certain markets, I know those places like what I write and are happy to see something from me again. I would say it is more time-consuming marketing a story than it is actually writing it. That used to bug me, but now I sort of enjoy the thrill of the hunt and that gut feeling I get when I’ve finally found the perfect market for a piece.

Do you think it is important to be involved in writing groups – whether it is a woman’s group or a genre group?  What sort of support do you expect?

For me, writer’s groups have been a huge part of improving my craft and growing myself professionally. Critique groups, particularly the free online Critters group, are an invaluable resource for beginning and emerging writers. I was a part of the local Willamette Writers Group when I lived in the States. Going to their Cons and events always spurred me on to the next level of my career, because I could see where my peers were, and I wanted to get there.

When I moved to New Zealand in 2006, I immediately looked on-line for a local or national genre writer’s group, but there wasn’t anything. So, for a couple of years, I networked via the internet only, meeting other writers through Livejournal and Kiwiwriters and other on-line writing communities. I have made some of my most significant writerly friends and contacts that way. However, I kept yearning for a local connection, one tied to the people around me and the country I had come to call home. I finally realized the only way that was going to happen was if I made it happen. And so I founded SpecFicNZ, the new association for writers of speculative fiction in or from New Zealand which launched on August 28th, 2010 at Au Contraire, the 31st annual NZ NatCon.

So, yes, to say I think writing groups are important is probably an understatement. As for what support I expect from one, I hope to find community and camaraderie with fellow-writers. I expect to be spurred on to greater heights of professionalism. I expect my writers association to keep me informed about the local and global industry, and to advocate for better working standards. In short, I expect them to promote me as the valuable creative resource I am. And I sincerely hope that we do all that, and more, with SpecFicNZ.

You have explained on exactly why you started this group, what do you see for its future?

Honestly, I think the sky’s the limit on what SpecFicNZ could do in the future. Of course, I have personal dreams of how that future might manifest. I’d love to see us have a cooperative publication similar to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. I think it is great to give writers the chance to learn the ropes of editing and publishing. I have a passion to see a mentorship program in place between experienced writers and emerging writers, and emerging writers and student writers. We have to think about cultivating a new generation of creative speculative fiction writers, not just readers. I’d like to see face-to-face branches of SpecFicNZ meeting in various cities throughout New Zealand. I’d love to see SpecFicNZ sponsoring writing events like retreats at Jennifer Fallon’s new place, local workshops, and Cons specific to writing. And the big dream is to have Spec Fic become more than a genre blip on the NZ Publishing Industry’s radar. If I saw New Zealand speculative fiction talent being published in New Zealand, rather than being exported overseas, I’d die a happy woman.

So what drew you to writing Speculative Fiction and do you write more “mainstream” genre as well?

As a child I was allowed to read whatever I wanted, and I quickly found that what I wanted was always something “out of the ordinary”. Why read about every day life when I was already in it? So, I devoured science fiction and fantasy. I never acquired a taste for horror, but I can understand the appeal, and I do like my fantasy woven in several shades of darkness.

What drew me to writing speculative fiction was reading it, of course. And loving it. And wanting to read the stories I hadn’t found yet, the stories no one had written because they were the stories inside of me.

Mostly, I write speculative fiction, but occasionally I write something else. Usually, I just let the story dictate what it wants to be. I have had an erotica story published – though it was also fantasy, and humor. I have also had a literary short story published. And I like to write non-fiction, especially about writing. But honestly, I’m not sure what “mainstream” genre is.

How long does it take from concept to final edit when writing a story?  And what processes do you go through?

The time question is extremely hard to answer because it is different with every project. Some story ideas pop into my head, and I immediately write them all in one go. Other ideas sit for months or years until something clicks and I know they are ready to be written. Some stories only get partly done,  then sit in my Works in Progress file forever. Or sometimes I go back to those stories and finish or rework them. I can often write a flash piece in one day. Longer short stories can take a week or so for a first draft.

My process is pretty similar for all my short fiction though. I write a rough draft straight onto my computer (no long hand for me). I do a lot of editing as I write, reading and re-reading until everything feels right. Then I usually let it sit for a few days and things will niggle at me that need to be changed. So I do a second edit. After the second edit, I send it out for critique. I used to do this through Critters, but now I have enough trusted writerly friends that I just send it out to them. When the critiques come back, I edit the story again, taking into account what my critters have said. I don’t always change what they suggest, but I often do. If I discover that the story needs major revision I may do it right then, or the story may go into the WIP file for later. And when it is finally all polished and shiny, I find a market and send it out.

If it sells, great! If it doesn’t and the editor has given feedback, I may edit again before I send it back out. Most stories get a quick re-edit anytime they get rejected.

But of course, as I’ve recently discovered, writing a full-length book is very different from writing short stories. Now that I’m working on a novel, I’m having to train myself in a whole new process.

So now that you are writing a novel, are you enjoying the process?

It took me a bit, but I am finally enjoying the novel writing process. What I am truly loving about writing a longer work is the depth and breadth of the choices I get to make. In short fiction, there are only so many directions you can go and still stay within the limits of the short form. You can’t choose things for your plot or characters that will take too long or get too complex. But, with a novel, when you come to a juncture or a crossroads in the story, you can go any direction you want. Your have time to travel any road. Of course, some roads will serve the story you want to tell better than others. And sometimes you’ll choose the wrong road and have to backtrack a few thousand words to get back on track. But, I love that I can take the long-cuts now.

Can you tell us a little bit about your novel?  What do you like about the novel over your short stories?

The novel I am currently working on is called Ghosthand. It is a YA urban fantasy about a 17-year old girl, Olivia Black, who is born with a rare birth defect known as Psyche Sans Soma (or PSS). Instead of a right hand of flesh and blood, Olivia has a mass of ethereal energy where her hand should be. Of course, there’s a lot more to the story than that, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Probably one of my biggest challenges in starting to write a novel was in choosing which novel idea I wanted to do first. I had so many ideas, and several novels started, but I kept second-guessing myself. Then an amazing thing happened. A NYC agent who had seen some of my short fiction actually contacted me via Facebook to ask what I was working on, and if she could see it. Of course, I was thrilled, surprised, elated, terrified, but I quickly put together sample chapters and synopsis of four of my novel ideas and sent them off to her. Several months and many e-mails later, she told me that Ghosthand was the one she saw as having the most potential and saleability. That ended my indecision and began the long road toward actually writing the darn thing.

Anyone interested in my short fiction can find links to my work on my website at I write updates on my novel, as well as posts about writing in general on my blog at And those seeking more information about SpecFicNZ can go to our website at Thanks so much for the chance to give this interview, and for all your great questions.

Thank you for sharing your insight and time with us Ripley.  I wish you luck with your future writing.

August Goal Reviews

August has been a month of two halves.  First half was great with steady progress being made editing.  The second half we all succumbed to various illnesses that are floating around our area and my youngest has been off school for a total of 8 days.  Without further ado, here is my monthly update on my goals.

# Get Chrystias finished off and start looking around for a publisher / agent for it. – I have had some feedback, which has been quite good so far – just waiting on the others (hint hint) and the rest from one reader, then I can really start looking at this one to get it finished by the end of the year!.

# Get Kings Queens and Noblemen edited to the second edit – with a view to getting it finished by the end of the year – This is a back burner one.  Just thinking about it now, I could use this month to really get this one sorted out.

# Create more short stories and really start to focus on developing this skill further – I started a short story this month, but haven’t got it finished.  Will work on that and try and get another one started AND finished.

# Get one short story published (in a magazine / e-zine) (something other than my own blog site!) – Haven’t pursued this month

# Finish off some story ideas and start writing the next novel – the first draft to be completed before the end of the year (2010) –  I have edited Medusa’s Garden for End is Nigh, and I got it done!  I have also formatted it and got it out to a couple of readers for feedback.  Why so quickly, well, I think after writing a few novels now, that my editing skills (and initial writing skills) have improved enough for me to get a readable version ready after the first edit.  No doubt the readers will tell me if I am right or wrong!

# Encourage some of my writing friends – I have some writing from a friend, but haven’t really done anything about this (very sorry!)  Another thing I want to concentrate on this month.

I did get a bit accomplished, even if it doesn’t read like that.  So for September, I have a short story to finish and one to write, KQandN to edit and some critiquing to get on with, and hopefully chase up those reading Chrystias so I can start working out who I can send this to.