I’d Like To Introduce You To…

…Cassie Hart.  No, it’s not short for anything, it’s just Cassie.

I first “met” Cassie when I joined a new Guild Wars guild.  She was one other random in guild chat, but after I posted the sort of about-me page on our guild forums, she mentioned that she was also a member of SpecFic NZ.  We’ve traded a few emails over the last few months, and I became quite interested in some of the similarities in the way we work.

Don’t get me wrong.  She doesn’t have werewolves or a high body count.  Cassie writes no stories about megacorporations, or the people who live in the cracks between them.  But her stories have twist and style, and when I read them I’m left with a, “Huh.  She actually did that.”

When I wrote Night’s Favour, I wanted to write something a bit different; I wanted people to pick up an urban fantasy book that wasn’t just great fun to read, but busted out of the current mold of shirtless sparkly people running around falling in love with teenagers.  It’s putting the speculative back into the fiction, whether that’s a return to the old or a sudden trip to the left.  The way I see it is, if you like stories that aren’t quite the same as others, you’re going to be interested in her stuff.

Below, you’ll find a short interview with her, and a piece of her writing after that.  I’d encourage you to take the time to paw through it.  There’s more where that came from: you can shift on over to her site to check out other published works, including Baby Teeth – due in October.

Ok, so the elevator pitch: just who is Cassie Hart?

I often say that I am “a mother of three, and a writer of (mostly) speculative fiction”. This does a pretty good job of covering the major parts of who I am, though obviously, there is always more than meets the eye 😉

How long have you been writing, like serious writing?  What’s the stuff you’re most proud of?

Like most writers, I’ve been writing my whole life, though as you have pinpointed, writing and seriously writing are different things. I would say that I have been writing seriously since 2006, which is when I really got back into it after a bit of a break – and I haven’t stopped since!

So far I think I am most proud of the work done on Tales for Canterbury which was a benefit anthology that a friend and I put together after the Canterbury earthquakes in 2011. Within just a few months we managed to pull together a solid bunch of stories from some amazing and generous writers, polish them up and get the anthology to print. It went on to win Best Collected Work for 2011 which was a pretty awesome thing.

I really dig charity work, and am excited to be included in the upcoming horror anthology, Baby Teeth, which will be raising funds for the Duffy Books in Homes programme.

Some of your writing strikes me as part Twilight Zone, part horror, but always different.  I don’t want to put you into a style box, but can you tell me a little bit about how you create your stories?

I’ve had a lifelong love of horror, which is probably why a lot of my work has elements of it. I love making people feel uncomfortable whether in an obvious or subtle way – whatever the story calls for, really. I don’t often set out to creep people out, but some stories evolve that way naturally.

I love writing speculative fiction because so much of it embraces the question ‘What if?” I like to tap the possibilities and see where they can take me. Something random will pop into my mind and I’ll prod and poke at it until I find the story. Other times I might have an image that sticks with me and the story will unravel from there – the jump from that initial thought/image is sometimes so huge that I couldn’t explain to you how I got from one to the other, just that I did.

A lot of people want to start writing.  Be it a food memoir or the next paranormal romance… there’s a book in everyone.  What would you tell someone who was asking for advice on whether to start, or where to start?

My first advice would be to focus on what you love – what kind of stories have you reading until the wee hours of the morning? What kind of books are you just itching to escape into? Write the stories you want to read because otherwise you’ll get bored and give up.

My second piece of advice is to just start writing. It’s pretty basic, and you’ll hear it all over the world. Sit down, start putting words on the page. Don’t worry about whether the first draft is rubbish, just focus on getting it written because that is the hardest part! Once you’ve got a first draft, you can revise until it’s just the way you want it, but until it’s on the page, it’s just ideas, it’s not tangible. You can’t improve on it until you write it.

Authors create in different ways.  Some people live in a closet when they write, others are wired to the net and working in a cafe.  What’s your writing desk look like?  Got a photo to share?

Cassie's writing desk.

Cassie’s writing desk.

I do! Though the state of my desk is dependent on the day and what we’re doing at home school. I primarily work at the dining table, and it’s always piled with a miscellany of items, as you’ll be able to see in the picture (Xanthe, the cat is quite a fixture, unless we’re actually using the table for a meal).

Anyway, I typically work in the middle of everything. There are frequent interruptions and always some kind of noise around. As a stay at home, home-schooling mother, I can’t really expect much else until the kids are older and more able to do self-directed learning. Or maybe when they are all sleeping through the night I’ll be able to write some evenings 😉

I try and get out of the house one night a week, and can normally be found at the library getting some writing or study done, or if it’s rainy I will just park up in the car with my net book and get some words out in silence.

Ok, last one.  Why do you write?

Why? This is indeed an age old question, with a million and one clichéd responses, so let’s see if I can think of anything new…

Nope. Still got clichés.

I have always been a story teller, and the written word is the best medium for my stories to come out. I suck at public speaking, my attempts to paint and draw will inspire no one, I’m not the most graceful dancer in the world, and I’ve always been too constrained by trying to get it right when playing music that I’ve never been able to break out of what was accepted, what was in front of me. While I enjoy doing all of those things, I’ve never been able to make breakthroughs with them.

But when I get to put words on the page, I can do anything. I’m not boxed in, I’m not tethered by expectations – I’m free to explore what I want, in the ways that I want, and that’s pretty freaking wonderful. Writing is my art, and I love it.

Speaking of art, here’s a piece.  Below is a sample work in progress, a slice of Sun-Touched.  Please to enjoy!

The technician moved soundlessly, the only other person in the room aside from Madea and the girl strapped to the chair, ready for Hollowing. It seemed as though Janae had no-one who cared enough to be there for her last lucid moments. Or perhaps she’d killed them all. Madea should have asked before she chose to stay.

Would it have made a difference? She wasn’t sure. She squeezed the girls hand harder, pushing away those niggling thoughts.

“Where will she go, afterwards?” The question surged out her lips. She’d never thought to ask before—knowing that the Hollowed would still be useful citizens after having their autonomy erased had been enough—but for some reason, this girl made her want to know.

“She’ll be sent to one of the work farms. The good thing about the Hollowed is that they can’t get Sun-Touched again. Eases the workload of everyone else, you know, having them out there for longer.”

Madea wanted to ask after Janae’s son. Who would look after him? No family had come to see her. If she was asking a stranger to help the boy… She tried to imagine what life would be like for him. His mother Touched and Hollowed, he’d be tainted by her affliction in the minds of others, if not in reality.

“Are you sure you want to stay?” The technician paused, waiting until she looked him in the eyes.

“Yes,” Madea said firmly, giving a sharp nod of her head. Janae’s hand had become heavy. She looked down to see the other girls eyes were closed, her head lolling against the high back of the chair.

“Alright. She’s ready. You need to step back, we don’t know whether any of the process transfers through contact.”

“No-one’s ever tried?”

“And I’m not going to start now.” The technician shook his head. “Step back, please.”

“I’m sorry,” Madea whispered to Janae.

The girl didn’t seem to notice when she released her fingers. Her eyes stayed closed and her body was relaxed. The jinweed had well and truly done its work. She took a deep breath and pushed her shoulders back. She didn’t want to show the technician any sign of weakness, despite her unease. She shouldn’t have stayed, she should have left with Sullivan, the same as always. And yet here she was, watching a woman not much older than her be Hollowed.

The machine hummed and Madea stepped back a little further, crossing her arms over her chest when she unable to find something to occupy her hands. A pulse of energy blasted through the room and Janae’s body jerked, despite the restraints around her. White hands flailed in the air before dangling down beside her body again.

Madea couldn’t turn away. She could feel the energy washing through the other girl, could see the whites of her eyes as her lids flew open and they rolled back in her head. They were as full as the moon, as white, as luminescent, and Madea knew she would never forget the sight of them. She closed her own eyes in response, wishing that she was somewhere else. Safe at home. At work. Anywhere that wasn’t here.

She heard a tiny exhalation of breath. Madea’s eyes shot open and she stared at Janae. The girl sucked air into her lungs and then let out the most awful, soul crushing scream. Madea’s ear drums vibrated as her hands flew to cover them. The girls gag did nothing to dampen the noise, Madea’s fingers seemed useless too, pressed hard into her skull.

She turned and ran. Her sweat-damp fingers slipped on the door handle, but she eventually managed to open it and force herself through, dragging it closed behind her. A sob tore free of her throat and she slumped against the wall, pulling her knees to her chest and burying her face.

She could still hear the scream, it was echoing in her brain, bouncing off the soft edges of everything she thought she knew but that now seemed less certain. That girl might not remember what was done to her, but Madea would. How could the technician do that? How could their government maintain that this was a fitting treatment—surely there was something less painful, less intrusive and destructive.

As tears continued to flow down her cheeks, she wished that it would rain. But of course, here in the Domes, it never rained. She pushed herself up from the ground and headed towards home, desperate to wash today’s events from her body, even if she couldn’t eliminate them from her mind. Perhaps there was something good about Hollowing, after all.

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