An Interview with Christine Amsdem
Have you ever considered writing a series? I just finished reading Secrets and Lies and Mind Games by Christine Amsdem, books two and three of the Cassie Scot: Paranormal Detective series. I was impressed by Christine’s ability to draw from the strengths of her first book to build a compelling series. In her interview today, Christine talks about the challenges of building a successful series.
Hi Christine and welcome to Savvy Authors.
Hi! Thanks for having me here.
Cassie Scot is the non-magically gifted daughter of a family of powerful sorcerers. In a magical world, she has to rely on her smarts to make a living, and most importantly, to survive. What is it about Cassie that makes her such a compelling character? How did you come up with her character? What parts of Cassie do you like most? What parts of her vex you?
I think Cassie works because she’s genuine. I put a lot of myself in her, to be honest. Oh, she’s not me, but she’s definitely got my voice. I came up with her in a burst of inspiration one day – I knew my next story needed to be about an awesome character. Characters draw me into my favorite stories, after all. But what could I do to make a character unique? Cool magical powers have been done to death, and even if I could come up with a new one, that just didn’t have the right oomph. Then it hit me – she’s got NO magic. In a world of magic (which I then had to create – Cassie came first), my character doesn’t have any.
I love Cassie because she’s so relatable. I myself often feel like I’m out of my depth in a world of special abilities – I’m legally blind. The comparison struck me early on, but it’s not why I wrote her. I wrote her because any one of us can be a hero in some small way and Cassie is the embodiment of that.
Cassie is also young and impetuous. She does not make all the right choices all the time. I suppose if anything vexes me about her, that’s it, although I submit that she’s 21 and we all make mistakes at 21. (Of course, now that I’m 36, I’m done making mistakes! 🙂 )
When and how did you come to the conclusion that Cassie deserved more than a book, an entire series?
Pretty early, actually. As soon as the idea hit me I started brainstorming, and within a week I had several books’ worth of material. It wasn’t just mysteries (although I came up with a few more possibilities than I ended up writing), but Cassie’s character arc. It was that arc, I felt, which needed a series. Most of the first book takes place in less than a week – enough time to have an impact, given the traumatic events that take place, but not enough time to really grow into the woman she needs to be. She wasn’t going to have a sudden awakening in a week and think, “Oh, well, I solved this paranormal mystery so now I’m okay then!” She has to earn her happily ever after.
How is writing a series more challenging than writing a book and vice versa?
With a series, you have more facts to keep track of, and depending upon the publication schedule, you may be stuck with decisions you made earlier in the series that you later regret. (I got around this with Cassie Scot because I had all four books at least drafted before the first one was published – I was able to go back and make sure it all worked. But I’m working on two spin-offs now that have me shackled to earlier decisions.)
But the series makes character development easier. It’s hard to earn real character change over the course of a single adventure.
In your opinion, what are the elements that make a series successful?
Character. Character. Character.
My favorite series have characters who rise to new challenges, and learn or grow from each encounter. Series that go on “too long” (an entirely subjective metric) usually do so because something has stagnated – often the character. For example, I stopped reading Sookie Stackhouse early on because Sookie never really evolved, IMO. She faced new challenges in each book, but she remained essentially the same. On the other hand, Harry Dresden is on book, what? Fourteen? Fifteen? I don’t mind, I’m ready for the next one!
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).
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.
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. 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. Are you sure? Is the last book done? What do you hope to accomplish when it’s 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 written. In fact, it should be out in e-book in the summer of 2014. We’re just waiting for cover art.
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.
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.
Contact Christine athttp://christineamsden.com/wordpress/
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.
Dare to meet the curse giver.