I’m happy to have here today award-winning author Christine Amsden, whose books I’ve read and enjoyed in the past. She has a new paranormal mystery/urban fantasy out, Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective, just released by Twilight Times Books. I hope you’ll stick around to read this interview. Christine discusses her new book, publishing, writing, and a bunch of other things.

Find Christine Amsden on the Web:

Web Site: http://christineamsden.com/wordpress/

Blog: http://christineamsden.com/wordpress/?page_id=200

Facebook: Christine Amsden

Twitter: @ChristineAmsden

Goodreads: Christine Amsden

Goodreads Q&A Group: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/48134-q-a-with-christine-amsden

Congratulations on the release of your latest novel. It’s great to have you here. Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about yourself?

I go by Christine – my full name – and always have. The first line of my new novel reads: “My parents think the longer the name the more powerful the sorcerer, so they named me Cassandra Morgan Ursula Margaret Scot. You can call me Cassie.” I’ll let you decide if the fact that I don’t personally use a nickname gives that line extra significance. Besides being Christine (and not Chris, Christy, Chrissy, or Christina 🙂 ), I’m an author about to have my third novel published in May 2013. My second novel, The Immortality Virus, won several awards for science fiction. And now, because I wouldn’t want to make things easy for myself by sticking with precisely the same target audience, I’ve written an urban fantasy/paranormal romance series. 🙂

When did you decide you wanted to become an author?

I’ve always been a writer, and I have always wanted to be an author. I considered (and discarded) dozens of “real jobs” during my lifetime, ranging from computer programmer to nun (hey, I was 7 and attended a Catholic school), but I have never wavered in my desire to create and write stories. I made them up before I could write, and then one day when I was 8, my mom pulled an old manual typewriter out of the basement. After getting my fingers stuck in the keys a few times, I wrote my first short story about a group of Cabbage Patch Dolls going to Mars.

Do you have another job besides writing?

I have two children and I do some part time work as a freelance editor and writing workshop instructor. You can take some of my classes at Savvy Authors. (www.savvyauthors.com)

Were you an avid reader as a child? What type of books did you enjoy reading?

Yes! I’ve always been interested in science fiction and fantasy. As a young adult, I read Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis more times than I can count.

Tell us about Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective. Cassie herself inspired me to write this book. She was someone whose story wasn’t being told – that of the powerless person in a world of magic. It’s a disability of sorts, one that affects her deeply though she tries to play it off. Yet she has value. Fiction sometimes narrowly defines heroes as the biggest and the strongest, the one with the destiny to fulfill, but normal people can make a difference. That was important to me. This is not the story of someone who comes into power, it is the story of someone who discovers there is more than one kind of power. The story itself is fantasy, mystery, romance, and coming of age. I think it has broad appeal, and a strong central character to hold it all together.

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

I’m a planner, but that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t go its own way once I get started. In fact, my plans often require frequent adjustments as I learn new things about my characters and my world.

Did your book require a lot of research?

Not a lot of research, no, but some. I subscribe to the “know what you write” theory. I don’t know enough to limit my writing to only that which I currently know, but I can always learn new things! For Cassie Scot, I learned about plants, flowers, herbal remedies, and I checked out common theories about the meanings of different colors. Ultimately, I made up the magical system here, but I wanted it to feel plausible, with enough basis in reality that it made sense.

What was your goal when writing this book?

Primarily, my goal was to tell an entertaining story. I don’t go into stories with ulterior motives, although underlying themes and ideas always appear, and when I recognize them, I nourish them. I love to write stories that can be enjoyed on multiple levels, depending upon how much the reader cares to engage. The underlying theme of the series is self-discovery, and loving yourself for who you are, and not who you (or others) think you should be. This theme will continue through all four books, and of all the themes, it was the least surprising. It stemmed naturally from my premise. Another underlying theme that did surprise me was forgiveness. You won’t see this come up in the first book, and after reading it you may wonder how Cassie could possibly forgive certain people for the things they do to her. I won’t answer that for you yet, but I would love to discuss it further once more of the books have been released. There are other ideas, too…the meaning of love and the nature of power among them.

Who is your target audience?

Most generally, my target audience is composed of readers who like a good character story. It crosses genre lines, which makes it harder to say, “Hey, if you liked this book, you’ll like mine!” Fantasy readers may like this, particularly those into urban or paranormal fantasy. There is a strong romantic component that will appeal to readers who like series romance.  There is also a mystery that frames each of the four books in the series, one that is resolved by the end of each book. Agewise, I’m calling this “new adult,” which basically means Cassie is in her early 20’s, just coming into herself. That doesn’t mean my target audience is in their 20’s, though. I think mature teens and fun-loving eighty-year-olds might like this book.

What will the reader learn after reading your book?

By the end of the series, I mostly hope the reader has fallen in love with Cassie, but I also hope they feel empowered to become who they are, and not who someone else thinks they should be. What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes? I daydream and fantasize. It’s half the fun!

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?

I would say, generally speaking, that I get my best ideas while doing something else. You can’t force good ideas. I came up with Cassie while playing on the floor with my (then) 9-month-old daughter. I have a lot of luck daydreaming while walking or taking a hot bath, because these activities stimulate my body while leaving my mind free to roam.

Do you get along with your muse? What do you do to placate her when she refuses to inspire you?

She doesn’t refuse to inspire me, but I sometimes refuse to listen to her because I’m too busy trying to get things done. I’ve come to realize, over the years, that I have to pace myself. I’m never going to be that writer who puts out 4 books a year, but strangely enough, when I don’t try to rush myself, I can get 1-2 books written in a year. It’s all about pausing long enough to listen to what my muse is saying. “Hey wait, something’s not right!” That’s what many writers call writer’s block, and a lot of advice suggests barreling through that feeling. I can’t disagree more. If something isn’t right, figure out what it is and fix it. (Note: This is not good advice if you are that writer…and you know who you are…who has rewritten your first chapter 37 times without moving past it. You’ve got other issues. 🙂 )

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

The book will be released in May 2013. Cassie came to visit me in February 2009 – so 4 years. Wow, it seems like a long time when you put it that way. Bear in mind that the publication process is slow. This book was finished in early 2011. All of its sequels are also complete, and should be ocming out with only a few months in between release dates.

Describe your working environment.

It’s an embarrassing mess. I work in a study – the fourth bedroom of my house – and I don’t like to clean.

What type of scenes give you the most trouble to write?

Transitional scenes. I get stuck most often when I have just finished something important and need to move on to the next important thing, but am not entirely sure how to get there.

Do you write non-stop until you have a first draft, or do you edit as you move along?

I do not edit as I move along, but I do revise. To the non-writer, that may sound like a confusing distinction, but let me explain: I do not pause to get each and every word correct. That is a good way to never get a rough draft finished, because every word will never be correct. Every time I reread a story, I find things I could tweak. At some pint, I just have to stop reading it! So I do not edit the words in a rough draft. I do, however, go back and fix glaring problems that are holding me back. If I get to chapter 10 and suddenly realize that something in chapter 3 couldn’t have happened that way, I go back and make it right. I find I need that foundation to stand upon before I can continue my work.

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

I try not to read it. One of the things I learned from publishing my first two novels was that if someone gives my book 1 or 2 stars, I should not read the review. This doesn’t always work, especially on blogs where they don’t give a rating before diving into a review. When I happen across these, I do find myself sinking into a dark mood for a short time. I can’t help it. I know I’m supposed to say, “I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!” It’s not true. I do get over it. I have to. Luckily, I have received many, many more positive reviews than negative ones, and I cling to those. The dark mood passes, and I forget about it.  

As a writer, what scares you the most?

Universal rejection. It’s paranoid, and as impossible as universal acceptance, but every time I am about to put a new book into the world, I worry that I’m going to get 20 one and two-star reviews and no one else will read it. Never mind that a publisher has accepted it and put her money behind it. Never mind that half a dozen critiquers and a couple of editors said they liked it. Fear isn’t always rational, is it?

When writing, what themes do you feel passionate about?

I touched on this above, but I’ll expand on it a bit more here. I don’t write with themes in mind, and I can’t honestly say that I have covered precisely the same theme in any of my works so far. They grow and change with me. I do find that I like writing about characters who care about people. It’s not a theme, but it is a commonality that I can’t write away from, and have recently decided I don’t want to. It’s a construct that feeds into themes about the nature of love, friendship, family, and forgiveness.

Are you a disciplined writer?

Maybe. If so, it’s not a strict discipline. I like to have some structure to my day and my time, but also the flexibility to stop and do something else if I’m stuck.

How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?

I write while my kids are in school. During summer break, I plan some quiet time into the day. (I don’t get as much done during the summer.)

When it comes to writing, are you an early bird, or a night owl?

Neither. I tend to get a lot of sleep. I go to bed early, and when I wake up in the morning, I need a couple of hours to get ready. I work best in the middle of the day, from a couple hours after I wake up to, conveniently, when the kids get home from school.

Do you have an agent?  How was your experience in searching for one?

I do not have an agent. I did look for one, got many full-manuscript requests, and just as many, “This was really good, but ultimately…” The thing about agents is that they want a sure thing. Anything that doesn’t fit the mold is a risk, and they, like the larger publishers they tend to work with, are businessmen. It’s not personal, although it sometimes feels that way to the authors they reject. I’m happy with Twilight Times Books, which was not only willing to give me a chance, but enthusiastic. Lida, my publisher, has repeatedly mentioned that she is excited about this series. She accepted the first book less than a week after receiving it. I feel wonderful about that, and no longer dwell on my abandoned agent hunt.

Do you have any unusual writing quirks?

I sometimes like to write with scented candles burning nearby to help me focus.

What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?

There are a lot of things that can go wrong with a critique group, including finding crit buddies who are either overly harsh or (more commonly) overly accepting of everything you do. The best advice I can give aspiring writers is to never spend more than a year with any one crit group, and I say this whether they are good or not. One mistake many authors make is to stick with the same critique group for far too long. You will stagnate this way. They can only tell you so much, and then you’ve figured out how to write for them, or you at least know precisely what they will say. When you get to this point, it is time to move on (although it is always good to keep in touch with friends and acquaintances, since you can help one another out in the future).

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? What seems to work for unleashing your creativity?

Is there a writer out there who hasn’t? (If so, I officially hate him/her.) Writer’s block isn’t as big a deal as Hollywood likes to make it seem. It’s simply your subconscious telling you something isn’t right – maybe you didn’t do enough planning or research, or maybe there’s a plot problem, or maybe your character isn’t acting right. Whatever it is, I find that separating myself from the book for a little while (but thinking about it) usually uncovers the issue and allows me to press forward.

Technically speaking, what do you have to struggle the most when writing? How do you tackle it?

My biggest struggle is description. I’m a minimalist, and I tend to want to get to the action or at least the dialog. The way I usually handle this is to let myself go during a rough draft, then return to add more fulfilling description during revisions.

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one?

Looking for a publisher involves hitting your head against a brick wall repeatedly, and you can’t stop until you knock a hole in it. I feel lucky, really. Twilight Times Books is a wonderful small press that offers a fair contract and has earned some respect.

What type of book promotion seems to work the best for you?

Virtual book tours have worked best for me. I no longer do in-person book signings because they sell so few books, and do so little to really spread the word. Most of my books are sold through the internet (whether print or ebook). Book promotion, like finding a publisher, is like beating your head against a brick wall repeatedly. Getting through it starts with a quality product – a good story with eye-popping cover – then you just have to get out there and tell people about it. You have to keep telling people about it every chance you get, and if you don’t have any chances, you have to make some up.

Who are your favorite authors?

I read a wide variety of authors and genres, from science fiction and fantasy to romance and suspense. My favorite authors include Jim Butcher, Orson Scott Card, Catherine Anderson, Karen Marie Moning, Judith McNaught, and Linda Howard.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

“You have to write a million words of crap before you can succeed.” – paraphrased advice from Orson Scott Card at his boot camp. I wrote an article expanding on this concept in “How I Wrote my First Novel,” a free ebook from Twilight Times Books.

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

Of course! My website is http://christineamsden.com/wordpress/, and I try to keep it up to date with my latest news and book releases. The site includes a blog with book reviews and writing tips. My contact information is listed, and I love to hear from readers!

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?

Always! Although I should start by mentioning that Cassie needed four books, all of which have been written and accepted for publication. The publishing schedule always gets a little off-track, but tentatively, the final book in the series will be available in the summer of 2014, a little more than a year after the first. In other words – they’re coming back to back to back, before you have a chance to forget everything that happened! After that, I have a rough draft for a spin-off sequel, involving one of the minor characters in the Cassie Scot series who seemed to want a story of her own. I have set it aside for now to work on yet another fantasy series, this one involving a world of dreams. (I don’t want to say too much while it is still so raw.)

As an author, what is your greatest reward?

There is nothing I like more than hearing that someone has enjoyed reading my book.

Anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your work?

I think you’ve done a fine job of covering things! Thank you so much for having me here.

Thanks for stopping by! It was a pleasure to have you here!

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults.  She’s co-author of The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, a ForeWord Best Book of the Year Award Winner and a 2011 Global eBooks Award Winner. She’s had over 300 stories, articles, interviews and reviews published both online and in print, in publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Acentos Review, Bloomsbury Review, Mosaic, and Multicultural Review, among many others. She lives in Belgium with her husband of 25+ years, two children, and two beloved pets.

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