A while back Aurelia was kind enough to interview me about City of Masks and I wanted to interview her about her various writing projects and generally awesome things she’s up to. I hope you enjoy our chat!
Ashley Capes: At your site you mention speaking engagements geared toward helping science-minded folks break the misconception that they cannot write – what are the biggest challenges these people face? And personally, how does your expertise in engineering impact your own writing?
Aurelia M Casey: From my experiences collaborating with my fellow engineers I have noticed that many engineers and scientists are excellent at telling you what they do, but as soon as they have to write it down, they produce gibberish stuffed with jargon and even they themselves don’t understand the meaning of their sentences or paragraphs.
I think the biggest challenge these people face is the expectation of the academic and research communities that anything written down must be pure objective science. It is easy to say and write “I did this assay, and saw a really unexpected result: the bacteria all turned green when I thought they ought to turn blue.” Apparently, it’s much harder for most people to write: “Assay A was performed as specified in the methods, with 0.01% instead of 0.1% glucose. Observation of the bacterial colonies shows green fluorescence instead of the expected blue fluorescence.” The second biggest challenge is that most scientists and engineers are whole-heartedly convinced that they can’t write. It never occurs to them that first drafts aren’t supposed to make any sense, that that is why revision and editing exist.
Everything I do is intertwined: I’m all about imagining awesome stuff and making it exist. Sometimes I’m dreaming new technology into the world, sometimes I’m creating gowns to make people feel like Cinderella, and sometimes I’m telling stories. I have a few sci-fi stories planned, and I’m really excited because I want to make some of the tech that I have in those stories in real life. But from a writing craft perspective, even research reports and business grant proposals and technical papers are all stories. I think working on those writing projects has helped me to understand how central story is to everything we do. Sure, when I write something technical I have to be as objective as possible, but it’s still a story: a story about the experiment and results rather than a story about the people who do the experimentation.
The real answer is that I don’t see any difference between magic and technology. They’re simply different sides to the same coin and I like exploring the whole complexity of an idea.
AC: Fantastic, can you give an example about a technology you’ve featured in a story that you feel can work in the real world?
AMC: Well, it’s not out yet, but my second serial, which will be on my upcoming podcast Storytime (launching this September!) after Sorcerous & Beastly ends, is a science fiction tale called The Exclusives. It’s a little bit like Covert Affairs meets The Matrix. The main character gets into the best university in the world. This university specializes in cross-cultural conflict resolution and diplomacy as well as international business and emerging technologies. The campus is an airship that travels around the globe. I’m in the process of actually designing this airship. I know airships are steampunk, but this particular one uses new materials so that the frame and helium cells are lighter, there’s more space, you can see out better, and it’s more robust if it encounters storms. If I’m ever a bazillionaire, I’m going to found the actual university too, because why not? The Exclusives has a blend of tech that I can design with current technology and tech that needs quantum physics and other complicated and paradoxical things to work. But I do my best to make everything understandable. What’s the point of introducing you to a new device if you can’t imagine it being useful?
AC: I know you work across a variety of genres and while I think a lot of a writer’s attention should be focused on the reader, I don’t think we should overlook our own enjoyment. Is it fun to operate in so many sandboxes? The advice that a writer should write the story they’d enjoy reading springs to mind, would you say that is true for you?
AMC: Oh, I definitely have fun. Most of my story ideas started as dreams where I woke up before the end and after spending a few hours daydreaming what-ifs to find an ending I liked I realized that it was a bigger story that deserved more time. Reading is very linear for me: I devour stories and I read them over and over when I really love them.
Writing for me is more convoluted. It’s a very similar process to the stereotypical fantasy depiction of seers trying to piece together the possible futures to understand the implications of the past and present. I’ll know bits and pieces, but not necessarily how they connect. Or I’ll discover as I’m writing something fascinating. I have over sixty books planned out right now, and many of the series started sort of backwards: I start writing the “original” story and then realize that the parents of those characters have a story that would add important layers to the story overall so I add prequels. But I do try to publish things in an order that makes sense to read. I end up reading my “original” stories later, after I’ve worked on the prequels, and I love re-discovering my stories and realizing that they’re better than I thought they were when I was writing them.
AC: Yes! I use the ‘what if’ method too. I think it remains one of the most powerful questions a writer can ask, it seems to lead to the most interesting places in a story. Is there a favourite ‘what if’ that sent a story down a path you weren’t expecting
AMC: A favourite ‘what if’? That’s hard. I come up with so many every day and I only keep track of the most interesting ones in evernote. Hmm… I guess I’ll go with the one ‘what if’ which eventually let me to become a writer.
Back when I was twelve, I had just read The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and I thought: what if there was a school like in Harry Potter but with elves and things like in The Lord of the Rings? That lead to my first epic fantasy story, which has been percolating and developing with me over the years. Elethiere, Lanowyn, and the rest of the gang are some of my favourite characters because in a sense they grew up with me. Chains of Destruction is a short story I published last year that was originally the prologue for the first Elethiere story. (I know, nearly a decade and a half later and I still don’t have a title that I like enough for this story).
AC: You’re also working in editorial roles and I noticed that part of the proceeds from one of your projects, Sticks and Stones… will be used toward supporting victims of domestic violence, which is fantastic. How hard is it to edit an anthology dealing with such a grave issue?
AMC: Well, for me it isn’t too hard emotionally. I’ve only experienced domestic violence second hand: many of my friends and family are survivors. Reading the submissions is educational, and I empathize deeply, but it doesn’t trigger any traumatic memories. Part of my goal with the domestic violence anthology is to make it less challenging to read about this issue: since the anthology is short stories and poetry, readers can take these stories in small doses. The other part of my goal is to foster discussion so that others like me can learn and understand how difficult it is to be in a bad relationship and victims can discover whether their friends are truly empathetic and supportive without having to be vulnerable by sharing their personal experiences right away.
As for actually selecting and rejecting submissions, I do what most editors do: I pick the stories and poems that I like and that I think are relevant to understanding broken love, and what love should be, and what victims of domestic violence go through. So far, it’s been challenging and fun, rather than hard.
AC: It must be really satisfying to work on the anthology too and I think the idea of short doses is clever. Is there also scope for longer works in the future?
AMC: I’m not sure. I don’t really have any hard and fast word count rules in my submission guidelines. Some stories are super short, around 500 words, and others are more than 10,000. I suppose it depends on the works I like for a given year’s anthology: if there are a lot of short works then there may not be space for a longer one and if there are a few long works there might not be space for very many short ones. Space in the physical print book, naturally. Ebooks don’t have that limitation.
AC: I wanted to ask you more about one of your works and something about Assassin caught my eye – can you tell me a little more about it? I notice from the blurb that your MC Lara faces some tough choices, one of which is the possibility of self-sacrifice. It’s one of my favourite themes and I wondered what draws you to it?
AMC: I’m not really sure. Maybe my experiences with unrequited love? Self-sacrifice is a core part of my personality: I would sacrifice everything for the people I care most about, so it’s logical for me that others would too. When I was in high school, my teachers led a number of discussions asking the question: what are you willing to die for? Everyone had something they cared about, but it was very academic, very theoretical. We all knew that it was highly unlikely any of us would actually be in that situation. So perhaps I write about it to understand the idea more concretely. It takes a lot of courage to do what’s right when you know that the world you love will never be the same afterward. Especially when you could just stay in your comfortable life and let the hidden evils spread. Sorcerous & Beastly deals with courage also, and the tension between duty and desire.
Assassin is almost the epilogue to Lara’s story. I decided to publish it as a short story because it was finished, but it takes place in the middle of the Intrigue series. Most of Lara’s story is in the second book. This series is definitely one of my darkest. I have to rate it R because it’s nearly as graphic as Game of Thrones, although that’s the only similarity (I think…I could be wrong…Read it when it comes out and tell me what you think). Intrigue is one of the series where I discovered prequels. I also discovered my “original” story was too long for one book. So that expanded into the last three books in the series and the “prequels” are the first three.
AC: Will do! Can you tell me more about Lara and her story – which aspects about her were the most fun to write and which were the most challenging? Were there characters around her who threatened to steal the spotlight? If so, how did you ‘deal’ with them?
AMC: I’m not sure I can answer this question without spoilers for The Eagle of Bar’Dhain, the second Intrigue book. Lara is one of the main characters in that part of the story, but is in the background more for the rest of the series. Between the end of her full novel and the beginning of Assassin, a lot happens to her. Assassin is more than twenty years later and she has become a famous assassin, although nobody knows her real name but her. One of the things that is so much fun about Lara is how dramatically she changes between her teenage years and where she ends up at the end of Assassin. There’s definitely space for more short stories about her.
Actually Lara was one of the characters who threatened to steal the spotlight from Rosalina. Rosalina is the main character for the last three Intrigue books, which I thought would be only one when I first had the story spark. So Lara and Raisa both were trying to steal the story, not because they are in Rosalina’s story but because their stories provide the context, the background, for Rosalina’s. Anyway, I dealt with it like I usually do: I gave Lara and Raisa their own novels. And Sebastian too. He’s in the first two Intrigue books, and is important to the beginning of Lara’s story and sets up the political landscape for Raisa’s and Rosalina’s stories.
AC: Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Aurelia 🙂 Readers can also check out Sorcerous & Beastly in a variety of formats right here – check it out!
To learn more about Aurelia and her work, here’s some handy links from Aurelia:
The first episode of Sorcerous & Beastly is out already in ebook format and you can find the links on this page, and the pre-orders for the complete season will be there as well. Or you can join my purple court and get the whole starter library free (Assassin, Chains of Destruction, and Sorcerous & Beastly Season 1 Episodes 1 & 2).
I’ll be narrating each Sorcerous & Beastly episode on my upcoming Storytime podcast starting the first Monday in September (the 7th I think). So if you like listening to stories, you should check that out. You can also like my facebook page or follow me on twitter to get reminders when that comes out.