Author interview: Following up with Cassandra Rose Clarke

Editor’s note: Shortly after this interview was published, Cassandra Rose Clarke’s novel, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, was named a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award for best original paperback science fiction novel published in the U.S.

Cassandra Rose Clarke and I have been friends since she was 18 or 19 years old, and just dreaming of writing the kind of fiction she produces today. She’s published by Angry Robot (and its YA imprint, Strange Chemistry), and repped by the incomparable Stacia Decker of Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her books receive fantastic attention from places like Kirkus, and her novel The Mad Scientist’s Daughter has appeared on multiple “Best of 2013” lists. I don’t know any other way to say this: she’s kind of a big deal. Earlier this week we sat down to catch up and talk about her transition from debut novelist (The Assassin’s Curse) to working writer.

B: You had your first novel published in 2012, but really came into your own in 2013. Exactly how many books did you have published last year?

CC: 2013 saw two novels (one adult, one YA) and two novellas (both part of the YA novel’s world). So yeah, 2013 was definitely pretty busy for me.

B: Basically, 2013 was the year that you transitioned from first-time novelist to what I’d term a working writer–someone who’s writing and publishing books with some regularity. What was this transition like for you?

CC: Honestly, I’m not sure if there was much of a transition at all. In 2010, when I came back to Texas after Clarion West, I decided that I would start treating my writing like a job–doing it everyday, that sort of thing. So even before I was published, I was already in the “working writer” mindset. The biggest difference is probably that my workload has grown quite a bit. Not only am I writing more–at this point I’m usually writing and revising different books at the same time–but I’m also doing more marketing and administrative stuff. So it’s not so much a transition as an intensification.

B: Explain that intensification a little bit, if you don’t mind. Take me through what a normal writing day is like for you.

CC: Okay, because I teach college, my work schedule changes every semester. This is roughly what a writing day would be like for me last semester: MW: Wake up, eat breakfast, go work out. Come home, write 500 words on my secondary project. Work on correspondence stuff. Write 1000 words on my primary project OR revise, depending. Eat lunch, go teach for the rest of the day. T/TH: Wake up, eat breakfast, write 500 words first thing. Correspondence and marketing, if necessary. Work on any necessary class prep for an hour or two–lesson planning, grading paper, etc. Write for an hour. Break for lunch. Write in the afternoon — finish my 1,000 words if I hadn’t already, then move on to revision work. Then I would leave for my tutoring job for the rest of the day (in the late afternoon/evening). Fridays were the same, but without tutoring. I haven’t started classes this semester, but my schedule will be something similar–writing, revising, and marketing woven around class prep and teaching. I rarely work in the evenings, and on the weekends, I’ll usually write or revise lightly.

B: And with that schedule, you managed to write four novels last year, correct?

CC: Yep.

B: Tell me what you have coming out this year.

CC: The first book in a new YA duology, called The Wizard’s Promise, will be released in May from Strange Chemistry. It’s set in the same world as The Assassin’s Curse but features different characters.

B: You turned some heads with The Assassin’s Curse. Starred review in Kirkus, and now The Mad Scientist’s Daughter has had lots of “Best-of-2013” mentions — what was it like, seeing such positive reaction to your work?

CC: Well, it’s been fantastic! I’m delighted to know that my writing has struck a chord with readers, and that it’s not just me writing for myself, sending stories out into the void. Publishing is such a tricky, unpredictable business, and you never really know what’s going to happen when you put a book out there. I’m just happy the response has been so positive.

B: You’re a female in what seems to be the very male-dominated world of speculative fiction. Do you think that’s one of the things that sets your work apart and gives you a unique voice?

 CC: Possibly? Mad Scientist’s Daughter in particular inhabits a strange place in science fiction, I think. I took pains to make the science fiction elements integral to the story, but at the same time, that story has more in common with women’s fiction and literary fiction than it does with most science fiction. And that’s one thing I’m interested in doing when I write science fiction–I love the idea of a literary fiction plot set in an SF world. But I’m not sure I’d say my interest in doing that is tied inherently to my gender. You could just as easily blame it on the fact that I went through a graduate creative writing program and was much, much more likely to read Virginia Woolf than Robert Heinlein.

B: Do you foresee a time when writing novels is your only occupation? Not to throw your teaching career under the bus, obviously, but it’s probably every novelist’s dream to just WRITE for a living.

CC: Well, that’s the dream, isn’t it? LOL. Let’s put this way: I’m working toward making that dream a reality, but ultimately so many factors are out of my control when it comes to writing as my sole occupation that all I can do is work on achieving those goals which I CAN control: namely, writing new books. Unlike my namesake, I can’t actually see the future. But I can write and hope for the best, which is what I’m doing now.

B: All right. We’re almost done. One last thing: Best advice for unpublished writers?

CC: Honestly, the best advice I can give, the advice that helped me the most, is what I just talked about. Learn to distinguish between dreams and goals. A dream is something ultimately out of your control–for the unpublished, it’s usually getting a book deal (since getting a book deal involves other people making a decision).. A goal is something that IS within your control, like writing a certain number of words a day, or finishing a book a year and sending it out to agents. If you focus on your goals, eventually you’ll realize your dreams.

I want to again thank Cassie for agreeing to do the interview. If you haven’t picked up one of her books, go out of your way to do so. She’s a hell of a writer, and a pretty damned fine person, too.

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