Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Cassie Sweet – Cassie Sweet lives and works from her along the St. John’s River in sunny Florida, where she shares space with her over-affectionate Golden Retriever, Lily and an artist husband, Dave. Her writing takes her to many destinations, both real and imagined.
Thanks so much, Cassie, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Cassie Sweet: I’ve always been a storyteller. From my earliest memories, I used my imagination to create fantastical worlds to play around in. I grew up in that era where kids played outside every chance we got, and built elaborate narrations to propel our stories/games forward.
During the summer in high school, I wrote short stories—just for me to read and enjoy, but I found great satisfaction in the escape of writing. I’d always loved books, and devoured any and all genres if the plot interested me. My father (who was always a big reader) would often ask when I was going to get my stories published. At the time, I knew they were bad and only for my own amusement.
Years later, I married an artist, who encouraged me to write, and develop my craft. The journey was a long and bumpy one, but I would have to say it all just sort of clicked for me one day. I went from knowing my efforts were not publishable, to knowing I was ready. In between that time there were lots and lots of words. Volumes worth of words and critique groups, and classes, organizations, and publications that helped me get my act together. See with me the problem was never in having ideas or stories to tell, it was in the execution of those ideas. Even having published 30 some odd books under various pseudonyms in varying genres, I still sit in front of my computer at times and go blech when rereading something I’ve written.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
CS: Really it all depends on who I’m writing as. But I have noticed something about myself over my career – I love to put a good mystery in my books. Writing contemporary without a mystery angle is the biggest challenge for me and creating worlds from whole cloth is the easiest. I think the reason this is comes from my innate personality. I’m not myself, given to high drama. If I have a problem with someone, I either confront it, or let it go. Oh, I might grouse about it to my hubby, but I generally don’t get involved in drama. Thus, writing books that focus mainly on the relationship is very hard for me.
I’d rather have the protagonists working to overcome some horrible external force while having to battle their own problems. I love making characters “get over themselves” to work together toward a common goal.
As far as genre goes, mine are all over the map. I mix and meld and blend as any good alchemist does when creating.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
CS: My first paid published work was in Writer’s Journal magazine. Every month they had these story bullets they would give – their Write To Win contest. One caught my eye that read: Cars were still going by…
Contestants had to provide the story after the slug. As soon as I looked at that I knew the end of the sentence had to be…on the way to the cemetery. What came next was my story Grave Dancing, that was published in the Jan/Feb issue…of…I can’t remember what year. Early 2000s, I remember that much. Then I sold to Red Sage a futuristic erotic romance for their Secrets line titled Fatal Error. After that, I’ve been publishing pretty steadily.
JSC: What’s your writing process?
CS: It largely depends on where the idea comes from and how much I have to do to build the world. If the idea comes from a tiny germ or snippet someone bunnied me with in the writers’ chatroom I usually hang around in, then I need to explore how that can be exploited or evolved into a larger story. If I come up with the character first, I need to ask them the usual questions of who, what, where, when, and why.
I used to be a manic plotter. Now, I’ve done a complete 180 and mostly pants my way through a story, knowing only basic sign posts along the way. Kind of like taking a trip across country, I’ll know where I want to stop for the night, and my final destination, but getting there is the adventure.
If I’m doing a lot of world-building, I’ll stop at about the first chapter or two –once I’ve gotten a feel for the world I’m working in –and sit down and plan out the minutia of how the world works and the rules all the way from the government to socio-economic factors. But I think doing work like that –for me at least—is easier when you’ve at least stepped your feet inside the world and looked around a bit.
Also, at any given time, I’m working on about 3 or 4 books. My primary manuscript is the first one I work on that day. Then comes the secondary (these are usually books with deadlines) Afterwords comes the tertiary works, without hard deadlines or things I want to work on for fun. The books rotate as I finish one the next moves up to the primary spot. Editing I do in the evening after I’ve completed fresh writing. That’s editing on books that need to go to editors. Contracted works (if I have edits to do and get back to publisher) come before anything else…sometimes even before my morning tea. (GASP!)
JSC: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.
CS: I’m such an open book I doubt there’s much anyone doesn’t know about me. I guess the one thing is I’m rather phobia laden. None of them are particularly critical, and most I have to just take a deep breath and get over in this business, but they are there.
JSC: Do you write more on the romance side, or the speculative fiction side? Or both? And why?
CS: It really depends on the particular story. I have several ideas I’m developing that really leave the romance on the backburner, simmering for a while. Others are very upfront with being a romance. That’s the beauty of writing across genres, I can take the story in any direction it wants to go.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?
CS: Well, my dog is too big to be on my keyboard, but that doesn’t stop her fur from getting all over it. She’s a 75-lb golden retriever mix named Lily. She’s mine and my husband’s heart.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
CS: I like to call myself a plotser. A little of both.
JSC: If you could create a new holiday, what would it be?
CS: Be Your Favorite Character From Literature Day – for one day everyone gets to dress up as their favorite character and act in a manner accordingly. Within reason of course. I know this is largely done in the cosplay community, but darn it, it’s relegated to Comic Cons and Fan Cons, I’d like to see it go global.
JSC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect it?
CS: I’m getting ready to edit the second book in the Azgarth’s Chosen series. So, that should be up for submission to DSPP soon. I’m also working on a science fantasy that takes place on a world with several different species of shifters. Mostly winged ones who are at war with a race of stagnants (non-shifters) – Actually the stagnants are the aggressors. The world is pretty high-tech and rather fun to write in. And sometime this year, in the next few months, I’ll start on the third and final book in the Azgarth’s Chosen series. I’m also researching for an historical book that takes place in New Jersey, some time ago. So, lots of good things coming up.
And now for Cassie’s new book: His Master’s Summons:
At the chasm between life and death lurks the art of reanimation.
When world-famous violinist Andres Valentine is pushed from a window to his death by Herr Maestro Wilhelm Kering, he is snatched back from the abyss by a doctor well-versed in reanimation. Contrary to popular belief, Andres’s life up to this point has not been filled with opulent soirees and adoring fans, but is controlled by a hellish force, a being of the dark fae—Azgarth.
Henri Vauss is a medical student who works for a man capable of raising the dead. Even though the practice is controversial, Henri sees the revolutionary side of the science and enjoys the challenges he finds in Dr. Stanslovich’s lab. Ever since taking on the case of Valentine, though, odd occurrences have infected the manor, making Henri question everything he believes about science and the world.
When Valentine confides to Henri that he wants to be rid of Azgarth’s bonds, Henri vows to find a way to free him, never expecting to get caught in the snare of the fae master.
ANDRES CAME off the stage and headed straight for the dressing room while Herr Maestro accepted his accolades from the crowd. A slow chant of “Valentine” rose up through the theater to echo through the halls.
They wanted an encore.
For once in his career, he had no intention of paying the audience the compliment. Unkind payment for their years of devotion, but he meant to stand behind his decision.
The Great Valentine was no more.
He had enough money invested in ventures throughout the world to keep him in a comfortable style for the remainder of his life. No need to live frugally. Now he had only to collect his luggage and make it out of the opera house before Herr Maestro came off the stage, searching for him.
He’d arranged for a boat to take him to the port, where he’d booked passage for New York. Opportunity and greater anonymity awaited him in America. He didn’t intend to squander it.
Nor could he live under Herr Maestro’s thumb a moment longer.
Giving up the world stage was a small price to pay to reclaim his freedom. For too long Herr Maestro’s puppet strings had strangled instead of supported Andres. Creativity and imagination had been pushed to the side to make room for avarice and greed.
Music had never been about money for Andres—it had been about his spirit. Back in his childhood, before Herr Maestro ever found him busking on the street corner, Andres’s talent had soared on the wings of the wind. He had only to close his eyes and draw the bow across the strings to become transported to another world. One where notes rode the air in brilliant colors, dancing waltzes, polkas, and reels. In those days, he’d not known the art of reading music, nor placing his compositions on lined pages.
Form, instruction, and discipline had crushed his creative expression—his magic.
It had also introduced him to the world of the dark fae, and he had no desire to live in that realm or move within those circles any longer.
Andres shoved what few articles he’d allowed himself to take out of his trunks and placed them in one small black bag. He’d have no need for others. Everything he required already awaited him in New York. Oh, he’d been so careful in his plans, waiting for the precise moment of Herr Maestro’s greatest triumph before sticking the knife in his ribs.
The man deserved so much worse.
Both he and his master did.
Andres pulled an extra hat and cloak from a hiding place behind the wardrobe. He’d stashed the articles there the day before; careful to conceal them from anyone who might be inclined to snoop through his belongings.
The nondescript brown wool would transform him from Andres Valentine, world famous violinist, to Andrew Etine, immigrant and music teacher. No one seeing him dressed as a common working-class man would believe him to be the premiere violinist in the world. Nor would they expect him to book passage in the steerage compartment on a steamship bound for America.
His humble beginnings had prepared him for much worse than any shipboard inconveniences might offer.
Andres started for the door, his hand on the knob, only seconds away from escape, when an angry voice shouted down the hallway.
“You ungrateful bastard! I’ll rip your heart out for this.”
The threat made Andres swallow hard. His heart beat in sixteenth notes. Blood sang in his ears. Time to pay the devil, and there was no demon worse than Wilhelm Kering and his master.
No. He’d not face another punishment for disobedience. He was a grown man with thoughts and dreams of his own. He no longer wanted to live in fear of masters who took and gave nothing in return.
The door burst open. Herr Maestro’s face was livid with rage. His eyes glowed with anger. Even his hair stood up in violent disarray. He was the very image of a man beyond the reach of amendment.
Herr Maestro lifted a beefy arm and pointed a shaking finger in Andres’s face. “Betrayer!”
Andres took a step back, cursing himself for showing fear. “I only want my freedom.”
“I’ve given you more than that. I’ve given you the world—two worlds—and you’ve thrown it back in my face!” Herr Maestro pushed Andres back a few feet.
The blow nearly made Andres lose his breath.
He dropped his luggage, hat, and coat on the floor. He scrambled to his feet. Before he could retrieve the fallen items, Herr Maestro kicked them out of Andres’s reach.
“You are never leaving my service. I won’t let you.”
“I won’t be enslaved forever. I’d rather die first.” Andres dove for his bag but caught a kick to the chin from one of Herr Maestro’s shiny black shoes.
A maniacal light, both dark and awful, lit Herr Maestro’s eyes. “Do not tempt me.”
Herr Maestro laughed. “What? Did you think death would release you? It will only ensure you never leave his side.”
Andres’s breath came harshly. Not even death would set him free.
He tried to step around Herr Maestro and got another shove for the effort. He tried not to cringe, to fall into old patterns. His body remembered too many nights of beatings until he was too weak to play the songs Herr Maestro wanted him to perfect. If Herr Maestro had opened his rotted heart, he’d have heard the real music Andres had played from the time he was old enough to hold a violin.
Andres should have stayed on that street corner busking for a few coins to buy a meal or earn a place to sleep. He should never have sold his soul for the price of fine clothes and luxurious surroundings. Andres knew what the so-called civilized world had yet to learn—no amount of money could turn a human heart to gold. Not a heart as black as pitch. Not one touched by the dark fae.
Herr Maestro stalked Andres across the room. None of the corners served as a good enough place to retreat until Herr Maestro’s anger was spent. If Andres waited, pretended to acquiesce, he might be able to slip out in the early hours of the morning and still make his boat.
One look at Herr Maestro’s eyes and Andres knew the anger wouldn’t be gone anytime soon. His entire future hinged on this moment.
He waited until Herr Maestro moved to the left. Andres stepped to the right. For a large man, Kering was surprisingly quick. He caught Andres around the waist and pulled him around until he faced the window—and pushed.
Glass shattered. Wood splintered and broke, falling to the stone walkway beneath. People standing below, waiting for the gondolas to take them to their lodgings, screamed in panic.
Andres had never known plunging to his death would bring him a sense of peacefulness. He closed his eyes in complete acceptance and begged God to intervene on his behalf.
Maybe then he would be free.
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Cassie Sweet lives and works from her along the St. John’s River in sunny Florida, where she shares space with her over-affectionate Golden Retriever, Lily and an artist husband, Dave. Her writing takes her to many destinations, both real and imagined.