Women In SFF Author Spotlight – Lisa Cassidy (A TALE OF STARS AND SHADOWS)
Lisa is a self-published fantasy author by day and book nerd in every other spare moment she has. She’s a self-confessed coffee snob (don’t try coming near her with any of that instant coffee rubbish) but is willing to accept all other hot drink aficionados, even tea drinkers.
She lives in the Australia’s capital city, Canberra, and like all Australians, is pretty much in constant danger from highly poisonous spiders, crocodiles, sharks, and drop bears, to name a few. As you can see, she is also pro-Oxford comma.
A 2019 SPFBO finalist, Lisa has published the YA fantasy series The Mage Chronicles, and is currently working on her latest epic fantasy series A Tale of Stars and Shadow. She has also partnered up with One Girl, an Australian charity working to build a world where all girls have access to quality education. A world where all girls — no matter where they are born or how much money they have — enjoy the same rights and opportunities as boys. A percentage of all Lisa’s royalties go to One Girl.
Welcome to the Hive, Lisa. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Ok, so I’ve had two five star reads so far for 2020, but my absolute favourite was The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. You can read my raving review about it on Goodreads, but I loved everything about this book – it’s epic fantasy with a richly detailed world, fast paced, and the characters are so wonderful… I absolutely adored Ead, my favourite of the three main protagonists. She’s just so capable and smart and a joy to read about. Read this book.
(if anyone’s wondering, my second five star read was Crescent City by Sarah J Maas)
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?
So… how badly am I going to be judged if I admit I’ve never played D&D?
Not at all!
Still, a monster-infested dungeon sounds pretty fun with the right crew of people tbh (one of my fav bookstagram questions that often pops up is picking which bookish characters you’d choose to form a group to fight dragons, or rob a bank, or whatever, with). Ask me that and I’ll spend hours trying to choose. On seconds thoughts, maybe don’t ask…
I’m not particularly skilled at anything relevant to killing monsters, so I’m probably the group’s morale booster and all-round ‘keep us together’ person. I’ll be the one yelling ‘we can do it’ and ‘go team’ as a fire breathing dragon roars flame at us while we’re cowering in the middle of the dungeon.
I’d love to wave a sword around, but again, probably couldn’t do much with it, so I’m going to go with a pair of sharp knives for my weapon of choice. Some magic would be nice too… a bit of telekinesis perhaps?
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!
The dead shrimps thing sounds… pungent… so I might skip that. I always write with music – instrumental soundtracks from movie scores mostly (Hans Zimmer is AMAZING for this). I definitely type… my thoughts fall out of my head way too fast to keep up with handwriting, and besides, my writing is MESSY. I’m a pantser all the way. If I know what’s going to happen in a book, I get bored very quickly, and so if I plot something out I lose all motivation to actually write the thing. I discover the story as I go along, which definitely has its difficulties – and means a lot more editing once I’m done – but it’s the only way I can do it and enjoy myself.
My writing uniform usually consists of a highly attractive baggy hoodie and track pants combination. Comfort all the way! If I had a deep sea diver’s suit though…
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Growing up, my world of reading revolved around three female fantasy writers, two of whom are Australian; Sara Douglass, Isobelle Carmody and Robin Hobb. My early writing was strongly influenced by these three, and I still love going back (when I have time!) and reading their books again. More recently though, VE Schwab thrills me with her writing every time I read something of hers – she’s just so clever and interesting and unique in her stories. I also really enjoy how Leigh Bardugo has gotten better and better with each book she’s written and I particularly enjoyed her recent first foray into adult fantasy with Ninth House. Then, of course, there’s the indie world which is also chock full of great female SFF writers, not the least of which are my fellow finalists from last year’s SPFBO competition – ML Wang, Angela Boord, Virginia McClain, Sonya Black and Alicia Wanstall-Burke; their books are SO GOOD!
There are so many fantastic female SFF writers out there, and I feel like I get to keep discovering new ones every time I pick up a new book. It’s brilliant!
As for collaboration, hmm, I don’t know how I’d go with that. But if any of the above-referenced women ever wanted to work with me, I think I’d collapse in a fit of vapers, then hopefully recover myself in time to calmly and politely say YES THANK YOU PLEASE VERY MUCH.
We would LOVE to see a SPFBO 5 collab!
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 recently finished binging Gentleman Jack on HBO. Outside fantasy, I’m a bit of a sucker for Jane Austen and period dramas, and I like to describe Gentleman Jack as Pride and Prejudice but with a lesbian couple as the leads. It’s based on the real-life landowner and lesbian, Lady Anne Lister, who lived in Halifax in the early 1830s – she wrote long and detailed coded journals about her life, and the show is loosely based off these. It’s just a delight all round. Highly recommend it.
For a more fantasy-themed answer, I loved The Witcher when it landed on Netflix earlier this year. It was fantastic!! And there are a few things coming on the horizon (LoTR on Prime and Bardugo’s Grishaverse on Netflix) that I CAN’T WAIT to see.
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?
Well, that’s easy. I’d light a fire in the hearth (if I had one, which I don’t), curl up on the couch with a steaming hot chocolate and start working through my tbr… starting with my current read, The City of Brass.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I can! I’m about to get back the final edits on the last book in my current A Tale of Stars and Shadow series. That book is due for release in September, and once I’ve finished those final edits it will be almost ready to go.
I’m also beginning to work on/plan what I’m going to publish next. I haven’t firmly decided on this yet… I’ve got a couple of works in progress, and it could still go either way. One is going back to the YA fantasy of my very first series (The Mage Chronicles) while the other is epic fantasy more like my current series. I’m really excited to be working on something new, though. I love A Tale of Stars and Shadow but after almost two straight years of working on it, I’m ready for a new story and characters!
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Hmm, I don’t know, I think it’s fine to listen to various peoples’ advice on writing so you’re aware of the different ways to approach it etc, but at the end of the day I think you have to find something that works for you as a writer. I’ve seen advice that says you should sit down and make yourself write something every single day. Now, I do write on most days, but I never force myself to do it. If I did that, I know from experience that a) it wouldn’t be very good and b) I’d start to resent writing time, or dread it, and that’s the last thing I ever want.
If you want to write books as your job, of course you have to be professional about it if you want to succeed, but it’s also a creative process. To get the best out of yourself you should spend the time figuring out what rhythm works best for you. If that’s different from how Stephen King or JK Rowling do it, then that is absolutely fine. You do you.
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?
It doesn’t happen to me often, admittedly, but when it does, I’ve found the best solution is just to give myself a break. When I get stuck, it’s usually because I’ve burned out a bit, and just need some distance from the story to let the creative well refill a little. So I’ll let myself off the hook for a day or two, and either work on a different writing project, or do something completely different, like read a book, watch a tv show/movie I love, or catch up with some good friends (my poor friends usually have to cope with me rarely being free because I’m always working/writing). Usually while I do that, a part of my brain is mulling over things in the background and an idea will surface – and then I’m off and writing again.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I can’t say Hogwarts, can I?
I suspect I have rather a more romantic notion of what some places in history were like than the reality actually was. Truthfully, I’m going to be pretty uncomfortable anywhere there isn’t wifi, coffee machines, and indoor toilets. But Jane Austen’s England would be fascinating – watching all those upper class English folk being amusingly polite to each other. Or places like Zanzibar or Cape Town when the East India Shipping company was carrying spices throughout the world – I feel like they must have been such vibrant, colourful places. Rome during the height of the empire would be brilliant too. Imagine what great writing fodder you’d get!!
Who are your favourite female characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
Oh boy, this could be a bit of a list, so I’ll stick to my absolute favourites in no particular order: Ashlinn Jarnheim (Nevernight), Ead Duryan (Priory of the Orange Tree), Dana Scully (the X Files), Lila Bard (A Darker Shade of Magic), Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice).
It won’t be a secret if you’ve read my books, but I’m definitely partial to strong female characters – I think I’d struggle to write one that wasn’t – but strength doesn’t necessarily just mean they can take down six men in a fight without breaking a sweat (though Talyn Dynan certainly could), and I like exploring different ways you can be strong that aren’t as obvious. Apart from that, one of my favourite things about writing is exploring different aspects of what people are like in my characters, so I like to do something different each time a write a new character.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I’m not sure how well known Isobelle Carmody is outside Australia, but for a YA audience, her books are absolutely brilliant, particularly The Obernewtyn Chronicles. I’d also recommend Jennifer Fallon’s Hythrun Chronicles as a great fantasy read, particularly if you enjoy political machinations. It’s strong on world building and characters and really draws you in.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
*Deer in the headlights look*
The book is very good, you should read it… no that’s not quite… how’s this?
This series has a strong female lead, a motley ensemble cast including a thief and a masked rebel, winged people, political machinations, a dash of romance and some cool magic. Plus a battle or two, or three. What’s not to love, really?
Thank you so much for joining us today, Lisa!