Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Guest Post: The Bumpy Road to Cassie Scot by Christine Amsden

Hey everyone! Just like I promised, I've got a special post to share with you today. Christine Amsden, author of the Cassie Scot series that I've been reviewing for the past two  years has stopped by to bring us how Cassie came to be. This is direct from the writer's pen and I am very thankful that she took the time to share this with all of us. Enjoy!


The Bumpy Road to Cassie Scot

Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective was the easiest, most natural book I ever wrote. It almost seemed to write itself! The entire series felt natural because of the way I identified with and practically channeled the main character, but the challenges grew with each book. The final volume, Stolen Dreams, presented the greatest difficulties. But also, and in my very biased opinion, I rose to the challenges, making each book better than the one before.

Cassie first came to me in a burst of inspiration, and I pushed out the first draft of a book in record time. I did rewrite and heavily revise the book several times based on some astute feedback from beta readers, but even the rewrites were easier than usual. There was a certain energy to each revision, a vitality and a definite sense of purpose. I never tried to rewrite the book without specific feedback and a plan, and I always felt a sense of rightness about the changes I made. The final revision came after I had finished rough drafts of the rest of the series, which gave me the power to make sure I did not contradict myself and that I had set everything up, even if the readers would not yet know the significance of every decision I made.

I usually find beginnings easier than endings, which may be another reason why the first book was the easiest of the four for me to write. It did come to a conclusion (the mystery was solved), but I set up many problems in book one that I didn't have to deal with at the time – I left that for a future version of me to handle.

It wasn't until I first drafted Secrets and Lies that I came up with a plan for the rest of the series. Before then I had some vague notions and themes, but the cliffhanger ending to Secrets and Lies was as much a surprise to me as it was to my readers! Yet that cliffhanger ending sets the tone for the final two books. Secrets and Lies was a book of discovery for me. I refined my characters, learned new things about the bigger magical world, and decided what the rest of the series would look like. The biggest challenge in Secrets and Lies was balancing the mystery with all the personal and magical discoveries being made. Some of the lessons I learned while writing this book led to a major revision of book one. But the growing pains took place while writing book two.

Mind Games was the most difficult of the four books to draft for two reasons. First, I was writing from the first person point of view of a character who was being subtly manipulated by mind magic. I wanted this to be absolutely obvious to the reader from page one, but at the same time I needed to convince the reader of Cassie's struggle with this truth. Second, I strayed from the series' primary love interest, Evan, and I found it very difficult to write romantic scenes between Cassie and another man. Even knowing it would be temporary, even knowing Cassie was partly being manipulated, and even knowing that Cassie needed this test of character, I still felt like I was cheating on Evan when I wrote certain scenes. Strangely enough, though, the final version of Mind Games is closer to its first draft form than any other book in the series. I made few revisions, none of them major, which leads me to the most challenging volume …

Stolen Dreams is not the book I first wrote. It wasn't even originally called Stolen Dreams, it was called Dreamer. But regardless of what I ended up calling it, there exists (somewhere on my hard drive) a rough draft of a book that I originally intended to conclude the series which has almost nothing whatsoever in common with the book I'll be releasing this summer. I think I reused one scene, then revised it heavily.

Ground-up rewrites are rare, and there is only one reason to do it: A fundamental flaw in the spirit of the story. That first draft was not about what it should have been about: it challenged Cassie in all the wrong ways, it broke an important theme I had been building all along, and it reverted to genre cliches that the series had, up until then, avoided.

Whew!

I went to a book signing/Q&A with Jim Butcher in the summer of 2011. He had just put out Cold Days (which turned out to be my least favorite of the Dresden Files books – I have bad luck with books I get signed by authors). But during that Q&A, I had an epiphany. Someone asked him when and how The Dresden Files would end. Jim gave his usual not-entirely-joking answer about the length of the series depending upon whether his kids decided to go to grad school, but then he said something else about endings. He said (and I'm obviously paraphrasing) that by the time a series is over, the main character should be uniquely qualified to overcome the final hurtle.

I had a lightbulb moment. It wasn't a warm, glowy sort of lightbulb moment because I knew instantly that I had to toss an entire draft in the trash (metaphorically speaking – I never throw anything away).

Cassie has no magical powers. In my first draft, I had her facing a challenge that any of the people around her with magical powers would have been far better able to handle. She wasn't just not uniquely qualified to handle it, she was probably the least qualified person to handle it! But I had fallen into the same trap Cassie fell into Рthinking she needed to be able to compete with powerful sorcerers in a magical world in order to be worthwhile. And actually, I think the series as a whole is stronger because I started to fall into that trap with her. In the final book, she and I both had an important lesson to learn. Specifically, that being a hero isn't about overpowering or outwitting the biggest, baddest bad guy (the fantasy clich̩), it's about using your strengths to solve the problems you are uniquely qualified to handle.


I don't want to spoil Stolen Dreams for you, but I am so excited by the conclusion to this series. Stolen Dreams is more than a mystery – it's personal. The feud between the Scots and the Blackwoods takes center stage and when it erupts, people Cassie and Evan love get hurt and even die. Cassie is uniquely qualified to put an end to this feud and to solve an interwoven mystery, and she still does not need magic to do it! 

Please check out the reviews for the entire series and other guest post from the release of Book Three Mind Games linked here: 

Cassie Scot: Paranormal Detective
Cassie Scot #2: Secrets and Lies


This concludes another post here at The Real World According To Sam. See you for the next post. Hopefully I can get one up next week as usual, if not then for sure the week after that. School keeps a girl busy!!! Thanks for reading. 

3 comments:

  1. Love the guest blog. Christine Amsden is a fabulous writer. @v@ <3

    ReplyDelete
  2. I just finished listening to the audio book version of Stolen Dreams. Superb wrap up of a really fun series. I loved the ending, once I forgave you, Christine, for some of the things that "almost" happened!

    ReplyDelete