March 14, 2018

Author Interview + Spotlight: From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris

FROM UNSEEN FIRE (Aven Cycle #1)
Author: Cass Morris
Genre: Fantasy
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Publisher: DAW Books


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? 

1.What was the value of firsthand site research for FROM UNSEEN FIRE? 

One of the things I most wanted to bring across in From Unseen Fire was the sense of an active, bustling, diverse city, and taking a research trip to Rome really helped me envision the ancient city as it would have been. So much is still the same, from the pathways of major roads to the open-air markets that flourish in every piazza. My favorite part was walking home from Trastevere (which the Romans/Aventans would know as Transtiberium or the Janiculan Hill, on the far side of the river from the main city) after dinner one night and discovering a night market happening on the banks of the Tiber. Bright lights, colorful tents and stalls, wine sellers plying their wares, musicians playing festive tunes -- It was not hard at all to feel like I was having a very similar experience to one I could’ve had two thousand years ago.

2.How did you devise the magical elements in FROM UNSEEN FIRE? 

When I started writing From Unseen Fire, I knew I wanted to attach the magical system to the pantheon of gods. The ancient Romans believed in magic and petitioned the gods for it, so it made perfect sense to have the magic of Aven be a literal blessing from those gods. And it made sense, too, that different gods would bestow different gifts, based on their spheres of influence. The system of nine Elements grew out of something my friends and I developed while we were growing up, a component of lots of games and communally-told stories that we had. 

I love thinking about the different manifestations and applications that can occur even within one Element: Latona’s Fire magic, for example, derives from Venus, so it’s highly emotional and a little more metaphorical -- the fire of the heart, if you will, whereas someone blessed by Vulcan would have Fire magic, too, but it might manifest as a talent for blacksmithing and a career as a Fire-forger. The overlap of elemental magic and divine blessing is just so much fun to explore.

3.How did participating in NaNoWriMo affect the writing of FROM UNSEEN FIRE? 

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. 

4.Since you have a background in Shakespeare, did you ever debate setting a series in the world of Shakespeare? 

I’ve definitely thought about it! I would really love to write something someday that’s set either in his world or in the world of his plays. Elizabethan and Jacobean England fascinate me and always have. In addition to having an MLitt in Shakespeare and working for seven years at the American Shakespeare Center, I also spent a few years working for the Virginia Renaissance Faire, so it’s something I’ve steeped in quite a bit. The theatrical world of early modern London was an utterly bonkers time and place, filled with a wealth of over-the-top personalities, so it’s certainly rich with potential story fodder. I just haven’t quite hit upon the right idea yet.

5.Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for writers? 

First, just keep at it. Determination counts for as much or more than talent and craft in this business. You have to be able to take a hit, shake yourself off, and keep going. 

Second, the best wordcrafting advice I’ve ever gotten: “but then”. When you’re summarizing scenes, you should always be able to do so with a “but then” phrase, rather than an “and then” phrase. It’s so simple, but it can make such a difference. Think about what changes for your brain between reading, “Sally got up to make breakfast, and then there was a knock at the door” and “Sally got up to make breakfast, but then there was a knock at the door.” Immediately you have a sense of stakes and drama, because that knock has become unusual and unexpected rather than routine. 

Third, make friends. Writing can be a solitary business, but it doesn’t have to be a totally isolated one. The magic of the internet can connect you with so many people that are sharing your experiences, whatever stage of the publishing journey you’re on. 

Writing is work, yes. Sometimes it’s painful work. The publishing process has a lot of hurdles to clear. It can feel like the goalposts are always moving on you, like everything happens simultaneously too fast and at a glacial pace, like you never know the expectations and yet feel compelled to do everything you can to succeed. It can be rough, so if you don’t still have joy in writing itself, it’s not worth doing. When things get hard, remind yourself why you love the story you’re telling.

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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