Interview with Author Cassandra Rose Clarke
Cassandra Rose Clarke is a speculative fiction writer living amongst the beige stucco and overgrown pecan trees of Houston, Texas. She graduated in 2006 from The University of St. Thomas with a bachelor’s degree in English, and in 2008 she completed her master’s degree in creative writing at The University of Texas at Austin. Both of these degrees have served her surprisingly well.
During the summer of 2010, she attended the Clarion West Writers Workshop in Seattle. She was also a recipient of the 2010 Susan C. Petrey Clarion Scholarship Fund.
Her first published novel, The Assassin’s Curse, is a YA fantasy that was released in October 2012 by Strange Chemistry. The second novel in that series, The Pirate’s Wish, is due out in June. Her first adult novel, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, is a work of literary science fiction that was released on January 29th.
Carl V. Anderson: We have the information from your official bio, but let me start out by asking for a less authorial answer to the question “Who is Cassandra Rose Clarke?”.
Cassandra Rose Clarke: Let’s see. I love to draw and paint. I used to crochet although I don’t do it so much anymore. I love to cook, but I hate eating leftovers, which means my refrigerator gets filled with boxes of old food that I have to force myself to eat for lunch everyday. I love watching movies at the theater. I hate shopping for shoes, or indeed, wearing shoes. There’s more, but I figure the shoe thing is a good stopping point.
Anderson: Your latest novel, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, is advertised as “a tale of love, loss and robots”. In the science fiction community it might be easy to assume sources of inspiration, but from a statement in the book’s Acknowledgements I get the impression those assumptions might be way off. From where did you draw inspiration for this novel?
Clarke: Well, it’s true I hadn’t read (or seen) Bicentennial Man when I wrote the book. My boyfriend actually showed me the movie after I told him what my book was about, because the premises are so similar. Same thing with Silver Metal Lover [Tanith Lee], another robot love story!
Really, the inspiration for this book is difficult to track down to anything in particular. Created beings like robots are one of my favorite tropes in fiction, and so in a lot of ways Finn is an amalgamation of different robots I’d encountered over the years. One thing I’ve always wondered about fictional robots is why so many of them want to be human. Being human doesn’t seem that great, honestly, and so I wanted to write a robot who recognized that and didn’t want to be human, but also wasn’t a bad guy (like Lore on ST: TNG). I’d also been reading and thinking about gothic romances around that time, so some gothic elements were a big influence on the story as well.
Anderson: There has been a lot of positive buzz around the release of The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. What has release week been like?
Clarke: It’s been pretty overwhelming! Although The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is technically my second book, it’s actually the first I took seriously enough to try and get published. Add in the fact that I started writing it about four years ago and this week definitely feels like realization of a long-held dream. The day the book came out, I went out to a celebratory dinner and then drove to the nearest Barnes and Noble to see it on the shelf. And that was mind-boggling, because I remembered writing it when I was supposed to be working and now it’s a real book, in a bookstore!
And of course there’s the launch week stuff I went through with my first book, the flurry of reviews and blog posts and everything, and the weird dizzying feeling of knowing that my book is available in places I’ll never see myself.
Anderson: In reading The Mad Scientist’s Daughter I repeatedly felt this wonderfully anachronistic vibe, as if the future that you created for the story retained some artifacts pulled from the 1950′s. Am I way off base here or was this a specific choice that you made in world-building? As a corollary what can you tell us about the time period in which you set this story?
Clarke: This was a conscious choice. I wanted the novel to feel like a science fiction story of the past. I’ve always been enamored with mid-century futurism and the “tomorrow that never was” and that kind of thing. I did tone it down quite a bit for The Mad Scientist’s Daughter (there aren’t any flying cars or personal jets and so forth), but I maintained a lot of the ambiance of the past to keep with that feel. The world in the book is a rebuilt one — there were a series of cataclysmic events prior to Cat’s birth — and the United States of the book is no longer a super power. I imagined that in its rebuilding, the US would try to recapture some of its mid-twentieth-century heyday, and that’s what gives the setting its anachronistic gloss.
Anderson: I noticed on your blog that various stores are shelving your book in the General Fiction or Fiction/Literature section in addition to or in place of shelving it in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section. Conceptually do you see this as a work of science fiction or was the intent to write a novel that would find a more broad place in the market? Does genre categorization ultimately matter?
Clarke: I wrote it as literary fiction with a science fiction veneer, but that was mostly because I’d just wrapped up a graduate creative writing program and was in the process of rewatching Star Trek. I wasn’t thinking of the market so much as I was influenced by other things happening in my life. One of my friends said that the book was like the mainstream fiction that would appear in a science fiction world, and I really liked that description and decided to steal it.
Genre categorization is such a tricky concept for me. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but of course it does. Someone looking for hard science fiction about a robot uprising is probably not going to like my book, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong the book or with the hard science fiction fan. So on one hand, I understand it, because knowing the specific genre can make it easier to find the sort of book you want. On the other hand, we can be too rigid with the categories, or too obsessed with shoving something into a box, and that can be damaging. My favorite stories are always the ones that blend genres, that take what they like from, say, lit fic and fantasy and crime, and then blend them all together. And I don’t think we should get too hung up on what genre that hypothetical book should be classified into.
Anderson: Your first published novel was a Young Adult fantasy and I see that the second book in that series is due out in June of this year. Please share a little bit about this series and do you have a definitive number of novels in mind for the series?
Clarke: My first book was called The Assassin’s Curse, and it came out in October of last year. It’s a high fantasy, sword-and-sorcery type story about a young woman pirate who accidentally activates a curse on an assassin sent to kill her. The second book, called The Pirate’s Wish, comes out in June of this year, and it’ll wrap up the story of the pirate and the assassin. However, I have some ideas for other books set in the same world, involving a different set of characters, and I’m excited to see where they go!
Anderson: As a follow up to the previous question, let me offer you my hearty Congratulations! It must be very exciting to have three books published in less than a year’s time. Do you have any other works on the horizon that you can share with us?
Clarke: Thank you! It’s pretty mindblowing. I went to Worldcon last year for the first time, and I didn’t have any books out, and I remember thinking that by the time the next one rolled around I’d have three — it’s hard to believe sometimes.
As for upcoming projects: I’ll be releasing a pair of short stories set in the world of my YA novel over the next few months, for a total of three (the first one, “The Witch’s Betrayal”, is out now). I’m also hard at work on a handful of new projects, but I can’t talk about any of those quite yet.
Anderson: Are there different challenges in writing to a Young Adult audience vs. an Adult audience?
Clarke: You know, my gut reaction is to answer yes to this question, but when I sit down to think of specific examples, I can’t. There are certainly some minor differences — YA novels are shorter, for one, and the voice tends to be a bit different, more immediate and conversational. But all the qualities of good storytelling and characterization remain the same. I mean, I didn’t actually think of my YA novel as a YA novel while I was writing it. I made a handful of YA-related changes before the book was published, but nothing significant: the story and setting and characters (excepting a few age adjustments) are identical to how I wrote them originally.
Anderson: As reality television proves, we are a species that loves to pry in to the lives of others. If you would, give us a thumbnail of your day. What are your writing methods?
Clarke: It depends on what I’m working on. If I’m drafting something new, I set a number of words to write a day. Trial and error has taught me 1000 words works best for me — I almost always write over that amount, but if I’m having a day where I’m busy or tired, it only takes me an hour or so to get my 1000 words in. If I’m editing, I usually track my progress by time spent working.
If I find I’m having trouble concentrating, I like to pack up my computer and head to a coffee shop. Something about spending money on a drink and being outside of my apartment forces me to work harder, and I have no idea why! Conditioning from graduate school, maybe.
Right now I’m in the midst of a writing experiment. I have a major project I’m working on, which takes up most of my attention, but I also have a minor project that I work on for fifteen or twenty minutes a day. Basically, first thing every morning, I write between 500 and 600 words on this minor project, and then I set it aside. It’s kind of neat to know that I’ll have a book by mid-summer purely through the magic of cumulative effort.
Anderson: SF Signal focuses on a wide variety of sfnal subjects with an emphasis on printed works, films and television. Are there any sfnal books, films and/or tv shows that you are passionate about that you would recommend to others?
Clarke: Well, there are definitely lots of sfnal movies and TV shows that I’m passionate about, because I watch a lot of both. I imagine your readers would already be familiar with most of my favorites, but I can think of a couple of more unusual choices off hand. One is a movie called 2046. It moves between late 1960s Hong Kong and a pulpy science fictional future, and it uses those two settings to explore the main character and his relationships with a series of different women. I first saw it when it was released back in 2004 and it immediately became one of my favorite films. I’ve also been rewatching the TV show Millennium lately. I’m not sure how science fictional it is (although the main character is sort of psychic), but I like how it captures that creepy end-of-days miasma that was hanging around during the late ‘90s.
Anderson: And finally, to bring it back around to your latest work, what do you hope people take away from reading The Mad Scientist’s Daughter?
Clarke: Ultimately, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a love story, and I think that’s what I want people to get out of it above all else: The idea that love can exist in many different forms, that it can be confusing and painful, but that ultimately it brings joy to the world.
Filed under: Interviews
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