Tuesday, July 15, 2014

More about the Challenges of Writing a Series

Part Two of my Interview with Christine Amsden


Dora Machado


There you have it, folks, four books and a good looking series. Last week we talked to Christine Amsden about the most important elements of a successful series. Today Christine talks about the tools in her magical arsenal, her audience and her favorite characters.

Hello Christine, and welcome back. In Secrets and Lies you make liberal use of a wide variety of magical tools and concepts to enhance the storyline. We read about seers, vampires, werewolves, blood magic, mind magic, illusionists, energy nodes, love spells, lust potions, healing potions, rituals, mind melds, magic power trafficking, you name it. Where did you get your magical arsenal and why does it work so well within the series context?

I borrowed most of my magical tools from what I think of as the “common western mythology,” but I put my own spin on it. The spin goes back to, “Power corrupts.” I may have used a few magical creatures in the series, but I've always felt that humans are as capable of evil as any demon you could throw at me. That's why a lot of this series involves humans rather than creatures. Ultimately, all the magical tools you described support the idea that it's not the magic itself, but the wielder who makes the difference.

My favorite character in the series is Evan, the powerful sorcerer who has a hold on Cassie's heart but whose magic is both a draw and a cause of grief for independent-minded Cassie. How did you manage to couple an exploration of magic into an exploration of love?

I love Evan too! As for exploring magic and love, for Cassie at least, it was hard to separate the two ideas. But love is more than a feeling – it's something you do. It's a verb. Eventually, Cassie is going to have to separate magic/independence from love, which will be the real challenge.

Speaking of love, is Cassie Scot a young adult series or is it intended for a different audience?

I consider it a new adult series. This is a relatively new sub-genre that bridges young adult and adult. It roughly involves characters ages 18 to 23, and the big difference between new adult and young adult is the stage of life. Cassie is out of school, dealing with career, serious relationships (possibly heading towards marriage), and she's renegotiating her relationship with her parents now that she is an adult. It's a time of change and flux where people really come into their own and learn who they are, which was why I chose the age. I wasn't really trying to pigeonhole the story into a category.

I do recommend this series for 18+, although I think mature high school students would enjoy it too. Parental guidance is suggested as there is some mild sexual content (honestly, I've seen steamier in young adult series, and I read steamier as a teen, but I don't want to presume on behalf of parents).

There were several interesting plot twists in Secrets and Lies and then you added that one big one at the end, which was great. I'm not going to spoil it for future readers, but did you plan the twists for the entire series in advance or do you conceive the plot twists as you go?

Some are planned, but most of the big ones surprised me. The “one big one at the end” came to me when I was halfway through my first draft of Secrets and Lies, actually. It may surprise readers to hear that, especially when it ends up laying the foundation for the rest of the series, but I had an “OHHH!” moment and I knew, I just knew, that it fit. Everything suddenly made sense.

Mind Games, the third book of the series, was just released this year. How will Cassie be different in this book? How about Evan? And without giving away any spoilers, how will Mind Games up the stakes?

Cassie is about to face the challenge of her life – a mind mage who is very interested in courting her. I say in the book blurb that she finds him … irresistible. There is a world of subtext in the ellipsis. Mind Games was my biggest challenge as a writer, too, because I wrote an entire novel from the first-person viewpoint of someone who is being mind controlled (it really is supposed to be obvious to the reader), but who doesn't … well, sometimes she thinks … but then Matthew is very good. But overcoming this challenge will teach her things about herself and take her in a whole new direction. Between that and learning a painful secret, Cassie is actually going to make some brash decisions in the third volume of the series. She's going to make some mistakes, but that's a big part of growing.

Evan, meanwhile, starts off regretting a decision he made at the end of Secrets and Lies. He's scared. We don't get a lot of his point of view (he only gets prologues and epilogues) but his life has been turned upside down too, and he still loves Cassie, despite everything. Behind the scenes, he's going to have to learn how to turn that love from childish desire (“I want”) to a mature commitment. He doesn't quite finish that journey in Mind Games.

You've mentioned before that this is a four-book series. The last book of the series, Stolen Dreams has just been released. Huge Congrats! What do you hope to accomplish now that is all said and done? What would you like your readers to say when they read the last line of the Cassie Scot series?

Yes, I'm sure, and yes, Stolen Dreams (Cassie Scot #4) is out. I do plan to spin off two secondary characters – Madison and Kaitlin. Madison's Song is almost done (I'm working with an editor right to polish it up) and Kaitlin's Tale is in early rough draft form. Cassie's story is finished in the four books I mentioned, but readers will learn more about the world and, of course, about Cassie's two best friends, if they check out the spin-offs.

But at the end of Stolen Dreams I expect readers to feel like Cassie Scot has completed her emotional and psychological journey. That come what may, she is secure with who she is and what she can do (magic or no magic). Without giving the ending away, there is a certain symmetry that should help bring real closure to the series conclusion.

Is this really it? It it? Done done? You know, there are so many vivid characters in the series that I've considered spinning off others. Elena, Cassie's nine-year-old sister (who can speak to the dead), has intrigued me from the start. And I even have an idea floating around for one last adventure for Cassie herself – although I don't really want to open that can of worms. If I did, it would be an additional adventure, separate from the four-book arc I planned and implemented to completion.

But honestly, it's time for me to move on and write something else. As much as I love Cassie (and I really do), I don't want to be one of those authors who only has one thing. When Kaitlin's Tale is over (and I have to finish that one because there are a couple of world-building loose-ends that need tying up), I'm going to start something completely new.

Thank you so much for this interview, Christine. We wish you lots of success with the series.


Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that affects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams. Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two beautiful children, Drake and Celeste.


Dora Machado is the award-winning author of the epic fantasy Stonewiser series and her newest novel, The Curse Giver, available from Twilight Times Books. She grew up in the Dominican Republic, where she developed a fascination for writing and a taste for Merengue. After a lifetime of straddling such compelling but different worlds, fantasy is a natural fit to her stories. When she is not writing fiction, Dora also writes features for Murder By Four, an award winning blog for readers and writers and Savvy Authors, where writers help writers. She lives in Florida with her indulgent husband and three very opinionated cats.


Aaron Paul Lazar said...

I just finished listening to Mind Games and loved it, Christine and Dora. Can't wait for the next audio book, as I really enjoyed your narrator's take on things! Thanks for a couple of great interviews!

Unknown said...

You are welcome, Aaron. I can't wait to finish the series myself!