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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Interview: Cass Morris, author of FROM UNSEEN FIRE + giveaway

Alternate-history and historical fantasy is en vogue for TV and film, as well as books lately. Are there any historical or alternative-historical TV / films / books that influenced your writing?
Cass: Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series had a major influence on me. I loved the scope of the alternate world she imagined, flavored by the real history of dozens of nations and cultures, but interwoven with her own magical paradigm. I’ve always liked big worlds in the fiction I consume, and hers felt so fully-drawn and complete. That sense of the epic features in a lot of the stories that have influenced me over time -- Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, The Sandman, A Song of Ice and Fire -- if it has a massive map and a cast of thousands, I’m probably all for it.

As far as straight-up historical influence goes, HBO’s Rome was playing in the background during a lot of the drafting of From Unseen Fire. The creators of that show said in one of their behind-the-scenes featurettes that they were looking to re-create an authentic ancient Rome, even though they knew they weren’t being completely accurate, since they fudged timelines and merged characters together for storytelling purposes. I think they totally succeeded. Their Rome looked like a real city, so full of people, always busy, and so complex. Those images are definitely a lot of what I had in mind while crafting the city of Aven.

How did you go about researching the setting for FROM UNSEEN FIRE? Did you travel?
Cass: I looked at so. many. maps. Which was great! I love cartography. It’s shockingly difficult to find maps of Rome from the Republic era, though; almost everything is Imperial, because so much of the Forum was destroyed and rebuilt over time, so archaeology has a much easier time figuring out what it looked like in, say, 300 CE than 30 BCE. I also scoured the internet for every picture of reconstructions I could find -- the Getty Villa has some gorgeous images of a reconstructed Roman country house, interior and exterior, and there are a surprising number of Roman legion re-enactment groups. And yes, I did travel. I’d been to Rome once before, as a teenager, and in 2016 I was lucky enough to be able to go back. There’s nothing quite like walking the very hills and streets your characters would have!

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Cass: I’ve been a natural storyteller and a lover of books for as long as I’ve known what words were, but I can remember, clearly, the first moment I knew that creating worlds was what I wanted to do with my life. It was January, 1997. I was eleven years old, sitting in a movie theatre with a sticky floor, having just seen Star Wars for the first time. I was in utter awe. And I thought, “This is it. This is what I want to do.” I don’t know that I even knew what I meant by that at the time, whether writing books or working on movies or some other way of building worlds. That moment, though, was absolutely when I realized that I wanted to spend my life shaping universes that other people could both lose and find themselves in. I’ve been working towards that ever since.

How did participating in NaNoWriMo affect the writing of FROM UNSEEN FIRE?
Cass: My method of Nanoing is highly chaotic. I write whatever scenes occur to me without much worry about how they fit together. As a result, during that initial drafting, I ended up with way more material than was useable. Aside from the things that ended up getting ditched entirely in rewrites or things that got moved from Book One to Books Two and Three, there were also stray plotlines taking place in Abydosia (Egypt) and Armorica (Gaul/France) that I really loved, but which ended up not fitting the main narrative. I was trying to cram too many plotlines into too few pages! So I’ve ended up editing a lot of that out of From Unseen Fire and perhaps from the entire Aven Cycle, but I’m very much hoping I’ll have use for it at some other time.

Who are your biggest writing influences?
Cass: I used to say that I wanted to be Neil Gaiman when I grew up, and that’s still rather true. His writings, and Terry Pratchett’s, have affected a lot of how I think about story and mythos. My ideas on crafting magic have roots in everything from Harry Potter to tabletop role-playing games. Years of studying Shakespeare has put a lot of rhetoric in my head, so that’s been a large influence as well. I’ve also read a lot of romance novels and a lot of historical fiction, and I think those bleed into my style, too.

by Cass Morris
April 17, 2018
400 pages

Publisher: DAW
The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic. 

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people -- if only she can find the courage to try.

Her siblings--a widow who conceals a canny political mind in the guise of a frivolous socialite, a young prophetess learning to navigate a treacherous world, and a military tribune leading a dangerous expedition in the province of Iberia--will be her allies as she builds a place for herself in this new world, against the objections of their father, her husband, and the strictures of Aventan society.

Latona's path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven's fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love?

About the Author:

Cass Morris lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with the companionship of two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. Find out more about Cass Morris online at

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