One of my dearest writer friends is Cassandra Rose Clarke, author of The Assassin’s Curse and The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. The latter is available TODAY at bookstores everywhere, and also online at the usual suspects. I remember reading a very early version of The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, and it was very good. I’m sure the published version is even better, and I’ll be buying my own copy shortly — if for no other reason than to compare it with the old version I read to see what’s changed. It’s essentially a love story — between a human and an android designed to serve as the human’s tutor and companion.
Book description from Amazon: Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more. But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world. (400 pages, Angry Robot Books)
I have to say that I’m not unbiased here. I’ve known Cassie as a close friend and confidante for a decade. I’ve seen her go from a young woman with a dream to a fierce and intelligent writer with more goals than dreams. I have a ton of respect for her abilities, and if you’re interested in the world of speculative fiction, you NEED to go buy her newest novel. Like they used to say: RUN, don’t walk, to your nearest bookseller.
Below is a fun little interview I did with Cass on the eve of her newest book release.
Hey, your newest novel, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, comes out today in bookstores everywhere (and online). Tell me: Who should be reading this thing?
Cassie: Anyone who likes a character-driven and emotionally-involved love story. But honestly, if your favorite character in a science fiction movie was ever the movie’s token robot, you’ll probably find something to like about the book, too.
I’m always impressed with your world-building, and I liken it to Ray Bradbury. When he tells you there are robots, or there are rocket ships that transport people across the cosmos, you simply believe it. What’s the key to building a really believable world in speculative fiction?
Cassie: First off, likening my work to Ray Bradbury is an insanely huge compliment, so thank you 😀 As to your question — I think creating a believable world in speculative fiction is the same as creating it any other type of fiction. It boils down to detail. When I was in graduate school, there was a lot of emphasis on creating a sense of place in your writing, and you did that primarily by latching onto those particular sensory details that really define the place you’re writing about. So when I wrote about Houston, as I often did during that period, I wove in references to the balmy air, the scent of car exhaust and honeysuckle, the purple-orange color of a light-polluted sky. I recreated Houston through those specific details. Speculative fiction is the same thing, except you don’t have the luxury of working straight off reality.
Let’s talk a little bit about the evolution of your writing. I’ve known you for, what, about 10 years? You put in a lot of time and effort to make your work saleable — literally, you’re one of those overnight success stories that was a decade in the making. Can you point to any specific turning point in your fiction-writing career and say “This. This is what made the difference”?
Cassie: I don’t think I could point to one specific moment, but there are a couple that stand out in my mind. The first one was finishing grad school. I wrote a novel as my thesis, which basically meant the first novel I wrote I had to finish, or else I wouldn’t graduate! So that helped me to realize that I could write and finish a novel. I started treating my writing more professionally around that point, too, and would make a point of sending stories off to magazines on a regular basis, that sort of thing.
The second turning point was attending Clarion West in 2010. Merely getting in was a huge boost to my writerly self-esteem, but I learned a tremendous amount from instructors about writing a story, with a plot, and it was a treasure to spend six months hanging out with other writers as well, to see that this whole writing-professionally thing can actually happen. I returned from Clarion West ready to plunge head first into pursuing publication. I started writing every single day and forced myself to submit Mad Scientist’s Daughter to agents.
It’s an interesting little fact: Your first published novel, The Assassin’s Curse, was written subsequent to Mad Scientist’s Daughter. But the story behind how Assassin’s Curse came to be published is pretty nifty. Talk a little about how Angry Robot picked you up.
Cassie: Well, I submitted Mad Scientist’s Daughter to Angry Robot’s Open Door Month in 2011. I didn’t expect it to get picked up at AT ALL — I was mostly just trying all my options. While they held it under consideration, I worked on The Assassin’s Curse, which was a short story that I abandoned for a year and then tried to turn into a novella and then, defeated by its verbosity, turned into a novel (which was then split into a duology — that story has been through a lot). I also worked on another adult novel during that time. When Angry Robot decided to buy Mad Scientist’s Daughter, they asked to see what else I had been working on, and they decided to pick up The Assassin’s Curse for their new YA imprint, Strange Chemistry. So that’s why The Assassin’s Curse wound up coming out first, because it was released through a separate imprint.
Take us through your writing process. You fire up the MacBook Pro, check your e-mail and Twitter — and then what do you do?
Cassie: Actually, that’s pretty much it, except I don’t have a MacBook Pro, I have one of those little white MacBooks that were so ubiquitous five years ago. I actually try not to make the Internet rounds before I start writing, because otherwise I run the risk of getting sucked into a vortex of fanfiction and cat gifs from which I might never return. Right now I’m working on a couple of projects simultaneously. One project gets 500 words a day, first thing in the morning, and that usually takes about 20 minutes or so. I open up Scrivener and start writing. Not much to it! My main project gets far more time than that, of course, and I’ll usually work in forty-five minute chunks. I set a timer and everything. At the forty-five minute mark, I take a break — right now it’s cool enough that I can actually go for a walk outside, but this being Texas, that won’t last — and then I sit down and do it again. When I feel like mixing it up, I head to a Starbucks.
What’s your biggest distraction from writing? The aforementioned fanfic and cat gifs?
Cassie: Oh yes, definitely. Honestly, the desire to mess around on the Internet instead of write really just stems from laziness. The Internet isn’t that great, it’s just there, and easily accessible. If I didn’t have the Internet I’d probably get distracted by TV.
Even though The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is your second book, you can credit it for getting a book deal and an agent (Cass is repped by uber-agent extraordinaire Stacia Decker). Knowing that, does this one hold a special place in your heart?
Cassie: Mad Scientist’s Daughter holds a special place in my heart for many reasons, and that’s certainly one of them. It’s a deeply personal book, and it’s one that I loved writing. So it’s special for those reasons, too.
When The Assassin’s Curse came out, it was marketed as a YA novel. The funny thing is, you hadn’t intended writing a YA book. Were you surprised when it was marketed as such?
Cassie: Not really. I could definitely see its appeal as YA. The funny thing is that now I can’t imagine it as anything other than YA!
And, of course, you had a good friend step in and actually name the novel for you, when you couldn’t think of anything. Who was that masked man?
Cassie: Why, I do believe it’s someone who’s been asking me questions for the last hour over gchat. But I could be mistaken…
Hah. How come I don’t get royalties on that thing?
Cassie: I thanked you on the acknowledgments page!
And it’s about time! On a serious note — I’m so happy for your success, my friend. The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is out TODAY, people. Go buy a copy. Or two! Give one to a friend! Cass, is there anything you’d like to say to help me with the hard-sell here?
Cassie: Thank you muchly! The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a science fiction fairy tale about a young woman who falls in love with an android. It’s made several readers cry. It is the book of my heart, as the romance novelists say, and I hope you all will love it as much as I do.