Saturday, February 13, 2021

Cass Morris Interview - Give Way to Night

Photo Content from Cass Morris

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, where she was accepted into the Alpha Delta Gamma honor society for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Cass served on the boards of student theatrical production companies at both Mary Baldwin and William and Mary. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart.


When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I think my parents knew before I did. Even as a small child, my make-believe was always Extra. I had maps for the games we played in the backyard and a notebook full of family trees for the dolls in my dollhouse. I knew I wanted to be a storyteller as a career when I was eleven and saw Star Wars for the first time. I was so blown away by the magnitude of that universe, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do: create worlds so immense and complex and wild that there was room for anyone to imagine playing in them.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
I’ve worked in an indie bookshop part of the time since From Unseen Fire came out, and while it was amazing every single time I got to sell my own book to someone, the very best times were when a customer would pick it up not realizing that the shopgirl behind the counter was the author and then ask me, “What do you know about this? I’ve heard good things.”

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Well, I’m working on Book 3 of the Aven Cycle! It’s a beast. There’s a lot to tie together as the various plotlines plait into each other. Then I have a few other things on the back-burner that I’ll turn my attention to once Aven 3 has been handed over to my editor. One that I’m really excited about is a secondworld fantasy built in the image of early modern London -- specifically, the theatrical scene. I have an academic and professional background in Shakespeare, so it’s going to be a lot of fun to take that knowledge and add magic to it.

Which character have you enjoyed getting to know the most over the course of writing the Aven Cycle?
Vibia, who really steps up to take a major role in Give Way to Night. She’s such a different character from Latona – and Latona is so much like me, she’s the one I didn’t have to “get to know” at all, because she was just there from the start. Vibia’s personality is almost a 180 degree difference. If Latona is an ENFP, Vibia is an ISTJ, to think about it in reductive personality theory terms. But she fascinates me. She’s a Fracture mage who considers her job to be holding the line against chaos, not falling into it. She’s prickly and impatient, but it’s because she is so task-oriented and focused. She’s a bit of a misanthrope, really, but not liking people doesn’t mean she doesn’t respect their right to live their best lives. Her attitude in Give Way to Night is very much “fine, I suppose I will exert myself to defend my world, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.”

In your newest book, GIVE WAY TO NIGHT (Aven Cycle #2); can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about the novel?
Give Way to Night grows some of the seeds I scattered in From Unseen Fire, especially when it comes to the dark side of magic. In Aven, Latona finds herself in a position to investigate the return of a banished cult who are set on destabilizing the Republic, which is barely back on its feet after a period of dictatorship. Fortunately for the people of Aven, Latona’s been levelling up. She’s eager to stretch her elemental powers to defend those who can’t defend themselves. Meanwhile, her poor brother is in the province of Iberia, under siege by both military and magical forces. Sempronius Tarren is on his way with reinforcements, but the Iberian blood-magic throws plenty of obstacles in his path. It’s a darker book, I think, than From Unseen Fire, but I really enjoyed exploring both the magical opportunities and the various personalities I have in play.

Which of your characters do you feel has grown the most since book one and in what way have they changed?
Oh, Latona. She’s come so far, from the young woman terrified of her own power, keeping such a tight fist clenched around it, afraid to let herself be noticed, to the firebrand she becomes in Give Way to Night, demanding her rightful place in the world, turning herself from a victim into a protector, using her talents to their fullest, and to hell with whoever would tell her no. I also think Vibia grows a lot within Give Way to Night, both in how she views herself and in how she views Latona.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from GIVE WAY TO NIGHT.
That darker magic I was talking about? It isn’t messing around: “The fiends hunger,” the thing that was not Vibia repeated, then, “and humanity is such a sweet dish. Sweeter ever than dirt and grain and trees. What life is here.” The sickly smile that crawled over her face showed too many teeth. “What life there is in cities. In your city.”
Dinner with a side of snark: “I hear,” Aula’s voice had a dangerously icy thread in it, “that the ladies of Cynosoura are even allowed to divorce their husbands for reasons of sexual dissatisfaction.”
But there are some softer, sweeter moments: A guileless grin came over Tilla’s face. “Your family, like mine, breeds remarkable women.” She reached over, tweaking Alhena’s hair playfully. “You included.”
Latona stands up for herself: “This magic is mine. It is in every beat of my heart. It speaks to me in ways that defy words.”
And, this book introduces a new character: The cracking season. That was how Corinna thought of autumn. A season when everything started to fall apart. Proserpina descended to the Underworld, Demeter mourned, and the world slipped away from health and into trembling decay. Others might think of harvests and hunts and elections, but Corinna saw the edges of the world crisping and crackling and crumbling. Every fallen leaf a wound.

  • The cast is largely the same as that in From Unseen Fire, but there are two significant additions, one in Aven and one in Iberia. Both women, both magically inclined.
  • While none of the characters are direct analogs of historical figures, some were inspired by real-life figures or combinations of them. There’s a lot of Tiberius Gracchus in Sempronius Tarren and a fair bit of Agrippina the Elder in Latona, for example.
  • The book’s title is borrowed out of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
  • One of the characters I detest the most as a person, the Optimate senator Arrius Buteo, is actually one of the most fun to write dialogue for, because I get to go absolutely wild with over-the-top vocabulary and rhetoric.
  • The cover art by Micah Epstein features Vibia and has multiple references to her Fracture magic.
  • The prologue changed very little between early and final drafts. The ending changed drastically.
  • My background music while writing and editing this novel included the soundtracks to Captain Marvel, Gladiator, Planet Earth, and Children of Dune.
  • The chapter breaks were the very last thing I did while drafting.
  • The total word count for Give Way to Night is roughly 165,000 -- which makes it slightly longer than From Unseen Fire’s 148,000.
  • There’s a tailgating scene. Yes, in this book set circa 60 BCE. I’m very proud of it.
Meet the Characters
Latona of the Vitelliae: A mage of Spirit and Fire, second daughter of a prominent patrician family, married to a man who in no way deserves her. In From Unseen Fire, Latona began emerging from past trauma and strengthening her control over her magical gifts; in Give Way to Night, she discovers a dark conspiracy at the heart of Aven. A banished cult dedicated to the goddess Discordia has resurfaced and is menacing those least able to protect themselves. With fury and fire, Latona takes upon herself the mantle of protector. That choice leads to domestic strife, however; her father worries for her safety, her husband is intimidated and embarrassed by her, and her social rivals judge her for imprudence and ambition. Latona must find the courage to defy all opprobrium to follow her soul’s purpose.

Sempronius Tarren: A man on what he believes to be a divinely-ordained mission. Sempronius seeks to lead his nation to glory, building a federation of allied states from one end of the Middle Sea to the other. The first step is defending Aven’s interests in an Iberian province. That would be going better if the enemy tribes weren’t invoking blood magic and haunting fiends against the legions and their local allies, and if his political opponents weren’t actively interfering with his efforts in an attempt to undermine and discredit him. Charisma and cleverness have taken him far, but he’ll have to rely on new friends as well as his own well of determination in order to succeed.

Vibia Sempronia: Sister to Sempronius, a mage of Fracture who keeps tight control over her gifts. Sharp, brisk, and observant, she is strongly motivated by duty to her family and her faith, and she jealously defends her brother's interests. Though skeptical of the Vitelliae and their occasionally ostentatious ways--to say nothing of Latona’s potential entanglement with Sempronius--she agrees to help them fight the rising Discordian menace, as she is deeply disturbed by what she views as utter blasphemy and abuse of the gods’ gifts.

Your Journey to Publication
From Unseen Fire began life as my 2011 NaNoWriMo novel, and it took from then until 2018 to get it on the shelf! I spent the next year finishing and revising, then queried agents and signed with Connor Goldsmith in 2013. We did some more editing, went on submission, and then signed with DAW in 2015. My process got a little delayed when, about a year later, my acquiring editor moved to another publishing house, so I sort of had to start over again with another editor! It lengthened the whole timetable, but it all turned out well. From Unseen Fire came out in April 2018! Give Way to Night was a shorter process overall, but in some ways, more arduous. A lot of the drafting happened after From Unseen Fire was out, which meant I suddenly had other people’s voices and opinions in my head! It’s very different from writing a first novel. It took me a while to sort all of that out and refocus on the story that I wanted to tell.

My parents have been so magnificently supportive through all of it. They are my biggest fans and cheerleaders, no question. I’ve also been delighted by how many friends have been there to encourage me! People I hadn’t seen in years turned up for my release parties, they’ve retweeted and reblogged me, they’ve messaged me to say how much they enjoyed the book -- it’s been a wonderful way of reconnecting with some friends I’d drifted away from over the years!

Writing Behind the Scenes
I am constitutionally incapable of writing in sequential order or of sticking to an outline. My process is not what we’d call efficient, and I’m having to learn to be okay with that. People will often ask writers if you’re a “plotter or a pantser,” to use NaNo terminology, but what I’ve long thought myself of is a planter. I start with good ground (worldbuilding and aesthetic) and a bunch of seeds (characters, snippets of dialogue, maybe a stray plot point or two). I generally have some idea of what those seeds will grow into and what the garden will end up looking like -- but there’s a lot of room to be surprised. Maybe what I thought was an herb ends up being a colorful flower. Maybe something I thought would flourish turns out to be unable to thrive in this soil. Maybe something grows so wild and free that it needs a bit of pruning. It’s a long process; it has to happen in its own time. But it works for me.

What is the first job you have had?
I ran the snack bar at my neighborhood pool when I was fifteen! My parents loaned me start-up money to buy candy and snacks and things, and I paid them back out of my profits.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
Usually figuring out how many times I can hit the snooze button before I absolutely have to get up!

What is your most memorable travel experience?
Taking myself on a research trip to Italy in 2016. I was in England on a work trip anyway, so I figured while I was on that side of the Atlantic, I might as well take some vacation days! I took a series of trains from London to Rome and then spent three days exploring the city. I’d been before, when I was 16, but I didn’t appreciate it properly then. This time, I had an absolute blast. I love traveling alone, not beholden to anyone else’s schedule or desires.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
I once almost got punched on a subway because I stepped in between some ranting maniac and the dark-skinned woman in al-amira that he was yelling at. I didn’t even say anything; just interposed myself to break his line of sight with her. He was super unhappy about it.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Oh, true love with heartbreak. I’ve survived it before and I’m sure shall again. But what is life without love?

Latona of the Vitelliae, mage of Spirit and Fire, is eager to wield her newfound empowerment on behalf of the citizens of Aven--but societal forces conspire to keep her from exercising her gifts, even when the resurgence of a banished cult plots the city's ruin. To combat this threat, Latona must ally with Fracture mage Vibia, the distrustful sister of Sempronius Tarren.

While Latona struggles to defend their home, Sempronius leads soldiers through wartorn provinces to lift the siege of Toletum, where Latona's brother Gaius is hemmed in by supernatural forces. Sempronius must contend not only with the war-king Ekialde and his sorcerers, but with the machinations of political rivals and the temptations of his own soul, ever-susceptible to the darker side of ambition.

Though separated by many miles soon after their love affair began, Latona and Sempronius are united by passion as they strive to protect Aven and build its glorious future.

You can purchase Give Way to Night at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you CASS MORRIS for making this giveaway possible.
Winner will receive a Copy of Give Way to Night by Cass Morris.


  1. "What do you normally eat for breakfast?" Big pieces of deep-dish meat lover's pizza especially imported from Chicago, with a big glass of cola, and for dessert a big piece of homemade chocolate cake topped with at least half an inch of chocolate frosting!!

  2. I will eat basically anything for breakfast except eggs, hash browns and bacon. I love eating cold pizza, cereal without milk (just dry), Chinese food and fruit.

  3. I have a cinnamon raisin bagel and a banana.

  4. Skip, Water, Iced coffee, fruit, or cereal