Women In SFF Author Spotlight – Casey White (HALFWAY TO HOME)
An engineer by day and a fiction novelist by night, Casey White has been writing fantasy of all shapes and sizes for the last three years. She has seven books released in three series across high fantasy, urban fantasy, and space opera, with several more projects lined up and ready to go!
Welcome to the Hive, Casey. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’ve been trying to get back into reading more lately! I was a voracious reader for years and years, but as writing took up more and more of my time, I found that every time I read a book, it just amplified the “go write” instinct. But reading is so very important as an author, so reading new books has been a priority for me.
So far as new stuff I’ve read, then – as part of ARC reviews, I’ve been reading some of the Ch05en series by William Dickstein, notably his new comic Kris. It fits into the recent trends of what I’ll call less-cheery cape fiction, following a girl who can gain abilities by being tattooed with various shapes and symbols. It’s a bittersweet book, but it was fun, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
I’ve also been delving into Taran Matharu’s Summoner series, telling the story of a blacksmith’s apprentice who winds up in possession of a mage’s tome and summons a rare demon as a pet. As a kid, I always read high fantasy first and foremost. My tastes in modern days have swung more toward scifi (thanks in large part to my love of John Scalzi and the literary rabbit hole that opens) but it’s been incredibly refreshing going back to a solid fantasy series!
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Now you’re asking the tough questions.
Logically speaking, there are two very straightforward answers here, which I have absolutely never played out in actual D&D games, no sir. The first is a Divine Soul sorcerer – I’m an absolute sucker for Chosen One narratives, and I’m obsessed with healing-type characters in games. I played Warcraft for well over a decade, and from launch day I was a priest. In Overwatch, I’m Zenyatta, or Mercy. I love micromanaging different players and keeping on top of triage! So the most realistic choice for me would be something like the Divine Soul or a cleric.
But, with all of that said, I have an almost-equal love of spear-wielding characters. It’s just a passion of mine, sparked by too many games of Soul Calibur as Seung Mina. So I might be playing through a campaign right now as a dragoon to act out that love.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?)
Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I’m a creature of habit, plain and simple. For me, part of my process is creating a series of triggers that say to my brain okay, it’s time to sit down and write now. Without that, it’d be hard to get me to settle down!
And so I set myself a process – I minimize discord and all my chats. I go and make myself coffee. I come back and light something smelly, either a candle or more usually incense (I’m fond of Shoyeido, it’s a guilty pleasure). And then I put on some music and I sprint!
For music, when I write I need to listen to something without lyrics. I’m very musically inclined, and if there are words, I’m going to want to sing along. Which is less than useful if I’m trying to come up with words of my own! I’m especially fond of orchestral/instrumental groups (Two steps from Hell, Dance with the Dead, The Fat Rat) or game soundtracks (Horizon: Zero Dawn or…no, that’s pretty much perfection by itself). I keep a few different playlists depending on the mood of whatever chapter I’m going to write; if I’m doing something snarky or modern, I’ll put on some of the electronica, where if I’m doing something dramatic or emotional I’ll go for more traditional orchestral. That sort of thing!
And then, like I said, I mostly write via sprints – timed periods of writing you set on a bot on Discord or another platform. I work so much better when I have a deadline, and while I’d struggle to stay focused for an unspecified period of time, my brain can handle the concept of “We’re going to write for the next twenty minutes, and only write”.
When I write, I most closely follow the flashlight method – I have an ending goal in mind that I’m writing toward, but how I get there is a mystery. From there, I have a more strict plan for the next chapter, and a loose plan for the arc I’m in. Sort of like a flashlight shining on a trail in the dark, where I can see the next few steps, and I know what I’m trying to reach, but the rest of the forest is black. I’ve tried outlining more, but so much changes while I write! I just ended up feeling more stifled than if I give myself the freedom 🙂
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I’ve never really thought about it before, but actually, a lot of the authors that made a big impact on me as a child and as I started writing were female authors.
Tamora Pierce is probably the single biggest one that I would credit – I grew up with her series, starting with the Protector of the Small and moving onward. I loved the way she handled character interactions in particular, as people always felt incredibly real, and the way they talked to each other always made me smile. I can solidly say that my favorite books from her, the Trickster series, heavily influenced my original high fantasy books 😀 the interplay between the main character and her god in those books inspired me to write something more heavily oriented around that sort of relationship, and the story that came out the other end – The Flameweaver Saga – was a blast!
She’s not alone, though. Second, I would probably cite Seanan McGuire, notably her October Daye series. Her magic system there is awesome, and something that I love to read, but what I really gleaned from reading and enjoying her books was how to seed plot twists – how to drop little breadcrumbs as you write, things that seem innocuous at the time but which change the whole context of the story down the road when you gain more information. I discovered how much that sort of writing appealed to me, and it’s something that I try and factor into all of my own content!
Finally, I’d cite Ann McCaffrey as an incredibly important influence on me. I read a lot of her books as a kid. Pern was a huge itch-scratcher for my dragon kicks, but more importantly, her Acorna books and her Ship series were the first sci-fi/space opera series I read. Looking at it, the Ship books, in particular, were something I drew a lot of inspiration from for my more cyberpunk-y Halfway to Home series, but both series in general sparked a love in me of that sort of free-ranging space adventure that continues to this day.
I’m modestly terrified of any sort of collaboration within writing – I’ve just seen it go poorly so many times. But, with that said, John Scalzi is my ‘ideal’ in terms of prose and fiction, and his writing is what I’ve taken the most direct mechanical inspiration from. Being able to do anything with him would be insane. Outside of those pipe dreams, I have a handful of close author friends that I might potentially consider working with in the future, as individuals who I know I can work well with.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I actually don’t watch a ton of tv! I’m one of the newfangled younger generation that’s permanently attached to my computer, which means most of what I consume is online. But, my husband has been sitting me down and teaching me the wonders of Brooklyn 99, which I am very much okay with and totally doesn’t feed into my love of sarcastic jerktastic characters.
I will admit that I am in love with the creative and storytelling freedom that anime allows, and with that I’m in the process of working my way through Fire Force. It’s another recommendation from my content advisor husband, but for me it pushes all the right buttons of a well-rounded series – humor, serious drama, action, and emotional impact. I think you need to have everything in its proper place and time to really get to that ‘perfect’ story!
I do, however, game a lot, and my recent poison of choice is Shipbreaker. It’s still in early access, but the idea of being a junker in space cutting apart husks of old ships to rip out the valuable bits is very appealing to me. And it’s oddly zen – I wouldn’t have expected it to be as relaxing as it is, even considering the number of ways you can accidentally kill yourself. I’m also playing back through Persona 5 (Royal) as a way of burning off some steam – all of the Persona/SMT games are amazing and some of my favorites.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
Hmm…if I had a period of time where I had it totally free, and didn’t have to work, and didn’t have to write…I think I would probably go back to music. I’ve been musically involved since I was a little kid, first with piano and then as a French horn player for…geez, it’ll be 15-20 years now. I played up through college, but that fell away as I settled into an adult job. I intended on getting back into concert band and orchestra, but then writing happened. I haven’t had time since, but if I did, it would be a passion I’d love to rekindle.
Or be lazy and play more video games. That sounds pretty likely too.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I have two current projects that I’m actively writing for – I find that I work best when I bounce between a (select) few pieces! It keeps me from feeling bored or stuck on anything, so I don’t overthink.
Spark of Divinity is a contemporary/mythological fantasy with some strong isekai (portal fantasy) elements. After her untimely death, Tara Davis is surprised in the afterlife with a decision – Rather than reincarnating into a new life, she’s offered a chance to become one of the first new gods in ages. The only catch is if she wants that throne, she has to kill the goddess currently sitting on it.
Spark is one of my most intense series! It’s an action adventure piece, but the real kicker is that since all the characters are gods, everyone is incredibly extra. It’s over the top, with a lot of swearing and sarcasm and led by one of the most impulsive, aggressive main characters I’ve ever written (with a character arc based around how her decision making process kinda sucks and needs to improve). It’s a more adult piece than my older stories because of the language and the darker premise, but it’s also a lot of fun!
The Library is a contemporary fantasy, is my second ongoing piece, and is actually built from the first long-form fiction I ever seriously tried to write (this is a from-scratch rewrite of that amateur version). In Library, a mystical, well, library exists in a strange dimension, containing all human knowledge within its walls. If a scholar is very, very lucky, they might be gifted with the chance to study there for a year in the span of a night’s dream. But someone has to be there to look after the library and their guests – and so the librarian exists, a guardian who spends every night there. Trapped into the role without his consent or understanding, Librarian Owl is starting to realize that the golden cage he’s called home is indeed a cage – and that being the librarian puts a target on his head for everyone who wants to use the Library for their own gain.
Library is one of my few third-person pieces, and it has a darker/quieter tone than most of my fiction. It’s more character driven, and builds heavily off the various character arcs and how they interact! And, while it is a standalone, its canon directly ties into Remnants of Magic, one of my published series.
If either of these interest you, come check them out! I serialize, which means I publish my books one chapter at a time while they’re being written/before they go on Amazon. You can read all the published chapters for both these series for free on my subreddit, /r/inorai!
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Back when I was first starting to write longer fiction, some of the advice from NaNoWriMo got echoed to me, and it really helped – specifically, the concept of never stopping on a blank page. It’s so much harder to get going again if you leave off at a nice clean breaking point, because you have to pick all that momentum up again. Instead, leave off partway into a chapter, or partway through a paragraph.
Especially when I was getting my feet wet, this helped me keep my momentum going, and it made a big difference. While I don’t do this as much anymore – I’m very, very lazy – it remains advice I like to pass along to newer writers in my community.
Besides for that, the thing that I feel is really important to echo is that writing is different for everyone. Some of us are planners, and some of us are pantsers, and that’s fine. What worked for another author might not work for you, and that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. If something isn’t working, keep trying until you find what does! In the end, the ‘best’ way to write is however lets you get words on the page.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I personally fall in Team “Inspiration is overrated”, lawl. I’m well aware that if left to my own devices, I’ll procrastinate relentlessly. The first step I take to counter that is deadlines. I need to finish a chapter for each of my in-progress series every three or four days. Having that tangible deadline helps me stay focused on the writing, and lights a fire under my butt.
In the end, though, it’s about getting the words out, and so I believe that building a daily writing habit is very important. Even if I only get a sentence or two, I think that it’s essential to at least try to write – and usually, once I start, I find it’s not so hard to keep going, and I’ll get way more done than I expected. The counterpoint to that is that if I’m trying, and I’m just not having a good time and the words aren’t coming, it’s okay to step back and leave it alone for the day! But I like to at least try.
The more you do it, and the more you build that every-day habit, the more your own mind will help you stay on top of it. If I don’t get any words done in a day, I find that I get itchy and can’t relax as well – finishing my daily tasks helps me enjoy my free time that much more!
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
This one is something I haven’t thought about in the past! I honestly have no idea where I would go time-period wise – I think that we have a fairly romantic perspective on history and past events, and since I write action novels primarily, the periods that interest me the most would also be very dangerous to witness in person. As such, I tentatively give a “hell no” answer in response to the time travel!
But, with that said, I’m particularly fascinated by elements of Chinese and Mongolian culture, and being able to travel abroad or learn more about these things firsthand would be exciting!
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Female characters in fiction, eh? Like I said, Tamora Pierce’s books were probably my single biggest direct influence from a female author, and she specializes in writing good female characters for YA fiction. Maybe it’s because of that, maybe it’s because the concept just appealed to me – but I always adored her character Aly from the Trickster books. Someone a little more carefree, a little biting and sarcastic, but very earnest in their own way. She felt real, and driven toward her own goals, and I still adore her.
Looking at things a little more broadly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Erza from Fairy Tail (reaching outside of literature a little). I think that it’s easy to get fixated on “good female characters are strong female characters and don’t have time for no man”, but I loved now nuanced Erza is. Yes, she’s a warrior-type character, and she’s got both physical strength and strength of conviction going for her.
But she as a character has her own emotional weaknesses and has her own struggles that she works through. As a character, to me, she helps embody the notion that ‘strength’ isn’t shown by being tough or powerful or masculine or anything like that – strength in a character is demonstrated by how they react to whatever situation they’re presented with, and how they develop and grow themselves because of it. Even feminine, ‘weak’ characters can be very strong and very powerful on the page, often more so than traditionally strong ones. The key to writing a good female character is not simply to make them more masculine.
As to the second point…I think that something I personally feel very strongly about is that I don’t approach it as writing female characters, but simply as writing a character that is female. I do feel passionately that I write the best characters when approaching them as people, versus as a singular identity I’ve assigned them.
And so with that in mind…I think the answer really comes down to my usual favorites when it comes to characters – I love writing dry, sarcastic characters, the sort that bring a casual intensity to an exchange. Choosing a favorite among my word-babies is hard – I love them all for such different things – but the ones I really adore, that make me grin when I write them, are the sarcastic jerks.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Okay. Let me tell you about Small Worlds by Alex Raizman, a series that deserves way more eyes than it gets. Small Worlds follows the main character, Ryan, as he finds himself in ownership of a pocket-sized world – and with that, also finds himself in the unfortunate position of having to play the harbinger of the apocalypse. He doesn’t want to end the world, but backing out isn’t an option. And so he’s left trying to find the best solution possible, all while being beset by good-intentioned gods who don’t understand that the alternative to the apocalypse is far, far worse.
I won’t say any more. It’s awesome. Raizman is a talented writer, and his stuff deserves eyes. Book one is named Weird Theology – go check it out!
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
A few lines about each of my published series –
The Flameweaver Saga: The Chosen One is supposed to save the day, but when he turns and runs away instead, his mundane friend is left to pick up the slack. Flameweaver is a story-driven high fantasy adventure built on a unique trope reversal twist (which I won’t say) that turns the whole premise on its head. It’s also my one completed series, at four books long!
Remnants of Magic: Expecting to get a cheap meal, Jon’s plans are ruined when he accidentally and unknowingly outs himself as a mage to the immortal working the cash register. With a single exchange, he’s hurled neck-deep into an endless war between the magical factions controlling the region – and his only chance for survival lies with that pissed-off, perpetually-broke immortal. Remnants is an action/thriller series built around its heavily character driven nature and an intense, in-depth magic system.
Halfway to Home: Sam thought alien abductions only happened to crazy conspiracy theorists. Sam was wrong. And now, trapped in a research facility god-only-knows how far from Earth, Sam is left searching for a way home. H2H is probably my most balanced piece, both in terms of action-to-drama and character-driven-to-plot. Specifically, H2H is a space opera adventure with some cyberpunky goodness thrown on top via a technopathy ‘magic system’.
Broadly speaking, my fiction won’t bore! The stories are all based around a lively, engaging narrator, with a conversational tone to draw you in, and characters are my strong point. If you want an accessible, entertaining read, then I hope you consider taking a look <3
Thanks so much for your time, and thanks to the Hive for hosting these spotlights! May all the books you read be good!