“I witness to the times that brought them in”

Time is weird.

Yesterday was 10 years to the day since I graduated college. I’ve lived in Staunton for almost nine years now, and I’ve worked for the ASC almost seven of those years. I’ve been in this apartment for almost five years.

And at the end of this week, that will be different. I’m upending my life a bit — an instinct it seems like an awful lot of people are feeling this season. I have so many friends who seem to be using this summer to restructure their existence — moving, changing jobs, going back to school. It’s something in the stars or in the air — people are feeling a need to… to evolve.

Evolution means gaining something, but it almost always means losing something, too.

I’m starting to think part of maturity is realizing that… that’s okay.

While preparing for this move, I’ve cleared out all kinds of stuff. I’ve trimmed down my book collection by maybe an eighth — and I still have about eighteen boxes full to put into storage for the next few months. I took one box full of romance novels to the local nursing home and a sack full of blankets to the SPCA. I’ve sent off clothes to online consignment shops and unloaded a lot of costumes on the MLitt/MFA program. I finally threw away two rings given to me by The Ex, that I’ve for some reason kept in a drawer for seven years. I tossed some hair ornaments I’ve inexplicably been holding on to since college; some miscellaneous decor I’ve had since high school. I cleared out pounds of makeup that I haven’t worn in years and had to admit I never would again.

I am, as the above might suggest, a bit of a packrat. It’s the nostalgia, really. I’m a sentimental and foolish creature, and it shows in the little things I stow away.

I’m a ticket hoarder, for example — so I went through and kept the stubs for Rogue One, Return of the King, and The Muppets, because those, for various reasons, are important to me. I tossed the ones I couldn’t remember anything about. I kept tickets not just for a bunch of ASC shows, including the very first I ever saw in the Blackfriars Playhouse (pictured below), but for various musicals I’ve seen on Broadway and in London. I finally tossed some old mixtapes (mostly because I no longer have anything to play them on), but I kept notes and Valentines from high school friends. I have an incredibly large stack of cards, letters, and secret messages accumulated over the decades.

The whole process leads to quite a bit of navel-gazing. Who am I, and who have I been? I started to type a pontificating paragraph about “not being the person I was ten years ago, or even two years ago” — but I actually don’t think that’s true. I’m the same person in the ways that matter — but I am, dare I say it, a bit wiser? I’ve learned a lot — some of it for good reasons, as I’ve written a graduate thesis, held my first adult job, and lived on my own; some of it for less-fun reasons, as I’ve been hurt, gotten through a lot of heartbreak, and discovered that I apparently have an inherent tendency to give my heart to people who are less-than-deserving of it. I’ve discovered, as I think we all do, that the hangover you have at 31 is not the same as the hangover you had at 21 — but as How I Met Your Mother taught us, no matter how many times you learn that lesson and make a vow never to do that to yourself again… you still will, on occasion.

There’s the realization that, though so much has changed — nearly a third of my life, since I moved here, so many experiences, so many lessons — I still feel like something of an impostor adult. I may have had an excellent job, achieved many things, lived on my own, bought a car — but I know people my own age who have literally grown new humans. Some of them have grown two or three of them! Some of them have built families. Some of them are making a lot more money than me. Some have been braver than me. And yet — I sort of get the feeling that everyone secretly has no idea what’s going on, and suspects that no one else does either.

I’ve also realized that there are some people that I’m not in frequent touch with any more, who I wish I was — and there are people I’m definitely super glad aren’t in my life anymore. (If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be this: Life is too short for toxic friendships & relationships). There are a lot of folk who I bet I would’ve fallen out of touch with if it weren’t for the magic of the internet. And there are folk I’ve fallen out of touch with and then found again. My world is so rich with friends, even though most of them are somewhat distant from me. Hell, some I’ve never met in real life — and that’s something that hasn’t changed in the past ten years. I’m a child of the first generation to grow up online; I’ve always had friends, good and close friends, on the other side of a screen. But whether they’re internet-only friends, people I’ve loved since childhood, or newly-treasured connections made in the past year, it’s so magnificent to be able to celebrate their successes and their joys. And the support I’ve received as I enter this new phrase of my life has been absolutely incredible.

It’s good to clear out every once in a while — to figure out what you’re holding onto for no good reason. It makes the things worth keeping sparkle so much more.


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Constant Vigilance

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The theatre I work for just closed a new play, Shakespeare’s Sister by Emma Whipday, which explores the life of the hypothesized Judith. Whipday’s concept came from Virginia Woolf and her style was heavily influenced by Shakespeare in Love. I’m not sure what I was expecting going in — something lighter, more on the Shakespeare in Love side of things. What I got was an emotional gut punch.

Without giving too much away, Judith dares to write and is punished for it. So are all the women who help her. Her one male ally is temporarily embarrassed but suffers no real consequences. Some of her final monologues, responding to all of this, hit me really, really hard.

I am a woman who writes in what is still considered, in many ways, a man’s genre. And there are men in the world who wish violence upon me because I am there.

This is something that’s on my mind a lot, because of the world we live in, but it struck me particularly hard today following a Twitter exchange.

In the replies, women shared their dreams — the things I guarantee you most men take for granted. Walking home alone. Going to a bar by yourself. Star-gazing. Taking public transportation. Going for a late night run or dogwalk. Grab a snack from the convenience store. Wear high heels at night. Leave my keys in my purse until I actually needed them to unlock a door.

Simple things.

The replies also featured men who could not wait to remind us that we are not even allowed to imagine a world where we live without threat.

“You think rapists would obey a curfew?”
“Man-hating feminist bitches”
“This is sexist against men”
“You still wouldn’t be safe in the daytime.”
“Men want to be safe, too!!!”
“#NotAllMen”

And so forth.

None seemed to appreciate the irony that they were proving themselves the very threat that women fear — not just at night, but any time we dare to be female in public.

Of course not all men. But any man.

We walk with our keys between our fingers because we don’t know which man is benign and which is a threat. We look over our shoulders, we move briskly, we avoid eye contact because while we might not know which man is safe and which is dangerous, we do know that if something happens to us, we will be blamed for it. Why was she walking alone? Why was she on that street? Why wasn’t she paying better attention?

We’re not paranoid man-haters. We are living beings that have adapted to our circumstances.

Circumstances where men are so angry at a thought experiment that they feel compelled to remind us that we are never safe. That we should expect violence and harassment just as a basic condition of living.

I think conversations like this are important to have, because even good men so often don’t realize what the women in their lives go through on a daily basis. I’ve had male friends and boyfriends utterly horrified to realize how I’ve been conditioned to respond to potential threats. I know who the good men are by who listens, who modifies his behavior, who takes active measures to help women feel safe instead of threatened.

But I am exhausted of living in this world. Literally exhausted. It takes a literal and physical toll on our bodies, performing a thousand threat-checks every time we step outside (or voice opinions on the internet, for that matter). The stress and adrenaline are wearying and damaging.

So when one of the angry men came after me on Twitter, I did disengage. But not before asking him to examine himself. Asking him why women imagining their safety made him angry and violent. Asking him to figure out what poison in his soul causes him to react in the way he did.

Did it work? Of course not. I had no expectation that it would.

But if enough people speak up enough times — if enough women testify their experiences, if enough male allies call out their bros — then maybe the world gets a little better, a little safer, one dude at a time.

Meanwhile, it’s two hours later, and my hands are still shaking from the adrenaline spike.

DanyFFSmate

 

In which Cass launches a Patreon

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Cass Morris is creating epic fantasy novels and other SFF stories

What’s a Patreon? Excellent question! It’s like a Kickstarter, except instead of funding a project, you fund an artist with a monthly pledge. You start getting rewards immediately and will continue to do so at the level of your pledge for as long as you hang around.

Why do I need a Patreon? Having a book deal is a huge step, and it’s so, so exciting. But it’s certainly not the end of the road — nor a guarantee of success. I am so fortunate to have a marketing and publicity team behind me, but there’s still a lot that falls on my shoulders. Swag, website design, copies of the book for review, copies for giveaway contests, copies to send to libraries — there’s a lot about the promo that I’ll be working on, both between now and January and after the release. This Patreon will hopefully help with that, as well as giving me both the time and impetus to write more!

So what will you get out of this arrangement? Even a $1 pledge makes you an Aventan citizen! That gives you access to a special patrons-only feed which will be the first place I share any updates about the book (like the cover reveal), as well as blog posts, research materials, and various random thoughts that cross my mind.

I am so, so hoping that this will grow into an ongoing platform where I can share fun things with readers. It is no exaggeration to say that that is what made me want to be a writer: the opportunity to create worlds and invite people into them.

If you have a moment, please take a look. My gratitude will be unending. 🙂

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Visualizing FROM UNSEEN FIRE

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Tonight’s #17Scribes Twitter chat (and yes, I’m still part of that group even though my debut got moved two days into 2018 — they refused to part with me!) was focused on visualizing elements of our novels. I put together some image sets, and I thought I’d share them with y’all!

First off, how I picture lovely Latona: blonde and angular, a deceptive blend of delicacy and strength:

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Then… not really how I picture Sempronius. He’s not supposed to be ridiculously handsome! But I keep finding all these gorgeous actors who would be great at playing him…

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And the supporting cast. From left to right, the faces I imagine as resembling Gaius Vitellius, Ama Rubellia, Autronius Felix, Merula, and Vatinius Obir.

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Some pictures of Rome, the city of which Aven is my AU:

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And some of central Iberia, where about a third of the book takes place:

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And finally, how I imagine the interior of the Vitellian domus. Wouldn’t you love to recline on those pillows and share a good gossip… or a flirtation?

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A message from DAW

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Those of you who have already pre-ordered From Unseen Fire might have gotten an email today letting you know that the publication date has changed. Not to worry! I’ll now be debuting on January 2nd, 2018, and I’m terribly excited to have the chance to be “first out of the gate”, as it were, in the new year. 

Here’s the official word from DAW: 

We’re very excited to share From Unseen Fire with you! Our sales and promotional teams are just as excited, and they suggested moving the publication date back in order to give Cass’s novel the best positioning possible. The shift will strengthen tools like Advance Reader Copies and online preorders, and help this debut flourish in a competitive field. We want to give From Unseen Fire the best possible launch to build a lasting foundation for the entire Aven series.

It’s a bit longer to wait, but this year will still be full of wonderful developments. We should be doing a cover reveal soon, and we hope to have ARCs out by the end of summer.

Thanks, all!

Query Letter: A Success Story

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I’ve recently had a few friends come to me for advice on starting the wild ride that is traditional publication. My advice: Step One is, of course, finish the manuscript. Step Two: Write a kick-ass query letter — which is harder than it may initially seem. Querying was the theme of today’s #17Scribes Twitter chat, and at the end, I flung down a gauntlet: for anyone brave enough to share the query letter that landed them their agent.

So, my own challenge accepted, here’s the query I sent to Connor back in 2013:

Dear Mr. Goldsmith,

An assassination attempt forces Latona, an elemental mage, to unleash her latent powers, demonstrating potential that far outstrips her training. When the dictator who threatened her family dies, she determines to take this opportunity to change the course of her life, but she quickly discovers that ambition has a high price.

The city-state of Aven is a place where elemental magic shapes the rule of the land as strongly as law and war. In the power vacuum left by the dictator’s death, the conservative old guard clashes with the populist liberal faction over the best way to shape the nation’s future. Latona and her sister Aula, a widow whose frivolous nature conceals a scheming mind, use charisma and cunning to manipulate advances for the populists. Their paths intersect with that of Sempronius Tarren, a rising politician who dreams of a vast empire growing from his beloved city. He believes that the gods have equipped him with the necessary skills and thrown down this challenge – but in order to achieve his goals, he will have to break some of his civilization’s most sacred laws. Custom dictates that no mage may attain the highest political offices, but Sempronius, who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. Aula sees in Sempronius a man with an extraordinary vision for their nation and the greatness to make it a reality, and she pushes her sister to cultivate an alliance with him. As their friendship blossoms, Sempronius encourages Latona to learn to wield the extraordinary magical power that is her birthright – but Latona’s husband objects to the idea and the alliance, and Sempronius’s secret could ruin them both and destroy their faction’s chance to reform the city.

Aven is a completed 106,000 word historical fantasy with series potential, inspired by late Republic Rome. I write professionally for the education department of the American Shakespeare Center, where I have worked since graduating in 2010 with an MLitt. from Mary Baldwin College. My undergraduate degree is a BA in English and History from the College of William and Mary. I blog both professionally and personally, and I am active on major social media platforms.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Cass Morris

There’s a lot that amuses me about this. For one thing, the idea of addressing Connor as “Mr. Goldsmith” is now pretty hilarious. He is now, definitely, “Connor” to me, “Agent Connor” if I have to explain who he is to other people but which does make him sound like special ops or something, and often but only in my head “Cooooooonnnnnooorrrrrrrrrr” if I’m having a flail. That initial word count is amusing, too. (The tale, as Tolkien said, grew in the telling). I can’t believe, in retrospect, that I didn’t mention having found him through one of his #MSWL tweets. Fortunately that didn’t seem to impair my chances; Connor got back to me within 45 minutes of my having sent this query, requesting the full manuscript. And, of course, the title’s changed, but y’all have been with me on that crazy ride. 😉

This was the thirty-first query letter that I sent out, and the letter did evolve over time — when the first ten or so didn’t work, I did some more research and rewrote a bit. Query Shark is a valuable resource, but I also learned a lot just from following agents on twitter and watching things like the #10queries lists.

And yeah, it was a frustrating process. For all the advice that’s available out there about writing query letters, so much of it is contradictory, making it hard to know if what you’re doing is right or wrong. Ultimately the whole process just seems like inscrutable sorcery — not least because so much of success may have less to do with the letter itself and more to do with that letter arriving in front of the right eyes at the right time.

But what’s super interesting to me is that, for as much as the book has changed over the past three years — and boy howdy has it — this query letter is still a fairly accurate description of the story. The main characters and their motivations are the same — but working with Sarah, I spent a lot of time turning up the saturation levels, so that those motivations are both clear and captivating. The revisions have also focused on what gets the characters from one emotional point to another — and a lot of that has meant upping the stakes in the action to match the dramatic language that catches the eye in query letters (and eventually on book jackets). So, so much has changed — but the heart of the novel has been constant.

Reading Recommendations (while you’re waiting for FROM UNSEEN FIRE)

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Hallo! Cold, grey, dreary wintry days always have me wanting nothing more than to curl up with a good book, so I thought I would share some of my favorites with y’all. Not just favorites, but favorites that, in some way or another, I think will be enjoyable to the folk who will like From Unseen Fire. Or, if you like these books, I think it quite likely you’ll enjoy From Unseen Fire!

Some are on the list because they’re Roman historicals: Colleen McCullough’s wonderful Masters of Rome series, and the exquisite explorations of famous or forgotten women by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, and Michelle Moran. Others are classical-flavored fantasies, like Kate Elliott’s Court of Fives and Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. Some are fantasies with elemental magic or other magical systems I find delightful, such as Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series or the works of Cat Valente. A few are nonfiction resources: Tony Perrottet’s Pagan Holiday and Philip Matyszak’s wonderful Roman resources. A great many are simply wonderful epic fantasies, often with historical aspects: Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel trilogies, Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series, the tri-authored Heirs of Alexandria series, the works of Guy Gavriel Kay.

So while you’re counting down the days til September 5th (230, incidentally), give some of these a try, or revisit some old favorites!

Aven Cycle Suggested Reading

And while you’re on Goodreads checking those out, add From Unseen Fire to your “to-read” list!

A creative sort of evening

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I was apparently feeling in a rather creative mood tonight. I’ve updated the header banners on FB and Twitter:

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The old one was really only ever a placeholder, and I quite like this. The picture’s actually one I took while visiting Rome last summer! I think I’m going to redo it for the blog as well and possible adjust my overall theme to go along with it.

And then decided to try my hand at some lyrical playfulness, inspired by today’s intelligence report. I rewrote “Congratulations” from The Hamilton Mixtape in honor of the GOP’s invention of a new kind of stupid.

So yeah. It’s been an evening.

A Title… Again!

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With two years on sub, two years between sale and publication, an editor change mid-stream, and now this, the fourth title change, I’m beginning to think I might be the poster child for “don’t get attached, and nothing is certain until it’s in print” 😉

Book One of the Aven Cycle shall henceforth be known not as A Flame Arises, but rather as:

FROM UNSEEN FIRE

This was a possible title earlier in the process, and I quite like it. In fact, it’s even from the same De rerum natura quotation as the other title! But it’s the second half of the phrase rather than the start.

I know that to an outside eye, this might all seem ludicrous. How can the book’s title change? How can it change after information has been sent to distributors? Well, honestly, I don’t know much about the how on that, but my publisher certainly does, so I try not to fret about it. It’s all part of the complexity of the publishing world and the fact that surviving it takes as much patience as determination and talent. My father reminded me, when I got my book deal, that the achievement came with a condition: the book is no longer mine. At least, not mine alone.

It’s a slightly weird feeling, letting someone else not just hold your baby but dress it and feed it and decide what school it’s going to — but it’s also a feeling I’ve known was coming, have prepared for, and in many ways welcome. I knew I wanted to go the traditional publishing route rather than self-publishing because I wanted a team. I know I have a great one now, and I trust them. So when they say we need a change — a change occurs!

My Princess, My General

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I was always into princesses.

It was natural. I was born in 1985. I was the perfect age during the Disney Renaissance of Belle and Jasmine. So from the start, my heroines were women who read, women who stood up for themselves, women who did what was needed instead of what was expected.

But Princess Leia was a revelation. Long-time readers already know the story of how I found Star Wars and how it changed my life, and Leia was a huge component of that. I was eleven years old, and I wanted to be Princess Leia when I grew up. She wasn’t just outspoken and independent — she was in charge. She was ready to sass her way to her execution, if that’s what it took to protect her people. She grabbed the gun from the idiot boys who weren’t being effective with it, and she made her own escape route. She led a rebellion and she fought in its trenches, so devoted that she had to be dragged out of Echo Base while the ceiling was caving in on her. She saved the man she loved, and when a sexist creep tried to humiliate her and punish her for her daring, she choked him to death with absolutely no mercy or remorse.

She also was the proof that there was space for me in that universe. My middle school friends and I all sensed that, even if we couldn’t put the words of feminist criticism to it at the time. We just knew that the boys couldn’t tell us we weren’t supposed to play Star Wars, because Leia was in it, and not as an accessory or a trophy. She was there and active and wouldn’t have stood for anyone telling her she shouldn’t be.

Because Star Wars was what launched my determination to be a writer, Leia Organa set the mold for my heroines. The first one basically started out as a blonde version of Leia, but as I grew, so did she. For twenty years, I’ve been exploring myself through the leading ladies I write, but there’s a little bit of Leia at the core of all of them — that heart of kyber.

I did grow up — at least, I grew into adulthood. “Up” is debatable, and I certainly never outgrew Princess Leia or Star Wars, but I did discover the woman behind the legend.

Carrie Fisher was not a porcelain perfect princess.

Carrie Fisher helped me realize — continues to help me realize, because it’s a process, not a moment — that I am beautiful and more importantly, worthy, no matter what my weight is, no matter that I am, let’s face it, getting older every year. That I am clever and worth loving, even when depression and anxiety get in my way. That I need not be ashamed of who I am, flaws and all, because I am here and I am trying. That striving to be the best version of myself doesn’t mean I have to flagellate myself when I fall short. That I should be gentler on myself sometimes, and harder sometimes. That I can — and will — produce good things, good work and good art, even in the midst of personal crisis or chaos.

As Leia Organa and as herself, Carrie Fisher was the heroine so many of us needed, as girls and as women. Losing her was never going to not suck. Losing her now, at the end of this gods-forsaken dumpster fire of a year, just seems like insult to injury. Losing her when this world’s equivalent of a Hutt crimelord is taking charge of our erstwhile-democracy, to thunderous applause… I struggle to find words for the unfairness of it.

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She was only 60. She should have had so much more time, more years to create and to inspire and to love and be loved. And we should have had her, the hopeful symbol of rebellion from our childhoods, a shining beacon of “no-fucks-given” for our adulthoods. We should have had her to help us through what will be, no doubt, a dark time for the Rebellion.

But the thing is — we still do. We have her work and her words. We have Princess Leia and General Organa and Carrie Fisher, there to inspire us — and now part of the Force surrounding us and binding us together. From her enduring legacy, we can remind ourselves to fight evil wherever we see it, whether it’s a fascist regime with matching hats or the hateful voices in our own heads, trying to tell us we don’t matter.

2016 took our heroes from us.

In 2017, we will be the heroes.

Time to step up, y’all.

And may the Force be with us.

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