Please welcome Casey White to The Qwillery as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 5 Interviews. Casey has submitted her novel, Silvertongue, to SPFBO 5.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?
Casey: I think like many authors in our generation, I did start out by dabbling in fanfiction when I was a teenager. But since that's a whole mess I think a LOT of us would like to just forget, we'll move straight past it!
The first piece that I can consciously remember writing as long-form fiction was a story called Seafoam. I've actually only been writing for a little over two years, and this pretty much kicked it off for me. It was a piece centering on an island nation and its sea god, and a struggle for 'ownership' of the people's minds between that god and his competitors.
I only got a few chapters into it, because, well, yay early fiction, but the idea stuck with me. When I started writing Chosen, the piece that would become my first novel and eventually my first completed series, it took a ton of inspiration from and recycled a lot of characters from Seafoam.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Casey: No doubt hybrid will be the safe answer for most authors, naturally - but I do fall more on the 'pantser' end of the spectrum than plotting, for sure. When I start writing a piece (once I've written the first chapter, usually) I try to come up with a central conflict for the book/series, and then a loose destination or ending that I'll be working towards.
From there, I'll generally put together a bullet point list with 5-10 'key scenes' that will happen along the path, and then I start writing. I find that if I try and plan too much out or make things too concrete, I have a hard time actually writing it. Chapters also wind up changing pretty dramatically in the act of writing them, so I've found that most of my planning is pretty useless except on that big-picture level.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Casey: Like most authors, I think that finding the will to sit down every day and start writing is probably the toughest part. But once you start, it's easier to keep going, so building that habit is really important.
Besides for that? I think that sometimes I have my mind so clearly on where I want to be that I lose sight of how to get the characters and story there, and my story maps melt into a pile of mush. Usually that plays out in scenes where I know what I want to have happen, but don't really know what that looks like. And, well, the solution for that is the same as before - picking something and just diving in. You can fix everything in edits!
TQ: Describe Silvertongue using only 5 words.
Casey: Suspenseful. Character-driven and punchy. Ominous.
TQ: What inspired you to write Silvertongue?
Casey: Oh, dear.
Each of my novels that I've written (six books across 3 series) originally started as a writing prompt, actually, and was then published chapter by chapter to my readers as they were written. Silvertongue was no different, and sometimes it's tough to say exactly where that spark comes from. But a simple concept was presented - an immortal or very ancient being, working behind the counter at a McDonald's - and then my mind went crazy trying to come up with rational explanations for how that would be possible. Why he'd be there. How he's so old.
At a certain point, once you've come up with all those rationalizations, you look at what you've got and realize that it's a full magic system and a decently fleshed-out setting. That was when it started changing from a one-off short piece into a book, and eventually into a series. Of course, I've been incredibly fortunate to have people reading along who took interest in the piece, and their constant support has been an incredible source of fuel to keep the writing going.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for Silvertongue.
Casey: Oh my goodness! It's a bit of a story xD
I was actually supposed to have a totally different artist for the cover - a month before publication they dropped out of doing the project, and I was left hanging with no cover and a nearly-finished book.
Enter Ismael Gil Morillo!
Within a day of accepting the project he gave me a sketch, and I think I had the final cover you see on my book within a week, week and a half later. I was completely blown away by it, and fell in love instantly.
Rather than depicting a specific scene, the cover simply focuses on the main character of Silvertongue (Jon Christensen) and his magical 'relic'. As the source of his supernatural abilities, Ismael decided to have it glow - which gave the whole cover an ominous, brooding look that just clicked so very hard with the book.
In short, I'm incredibly thankful that I wound up finding him and being able to work on this, and I hope that the cover is as eye-catching for others as it is for me!
TQ: In Silvertongue who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Casey: So...as for the easiest, the book follows Jon and this odd, immortal man he meets, whose name is Aedan. Aedan is...a little different. He's ancient, yes - but he's also incredibly cranky, he's wickedly sarcastic, and him being ostracized and hunted down for so many years has left him with absolutely no filter either physical or verbal.
Aedan, then, is a complete release - Anything he feels like doing, he does. That could be cracking jokes, that could be snarking, that could be killing someone. Part of his character identity is a lingering want to do good even when the world has gone wrong, but that leaves him a lot of room to play around! He's a blast to write, since there's no hemming or hawing about what he'd do :)
I don't think that there's a character that notably stands out as being 'hard' to write - the characters that I've struggled with, historically, are ones where I wasn't quite sure what they were trying to be or who I was trying to force into molds that they didn't fit. There were a few smaller characters in the series that I think this definitely applies to, but as they get more screentime, they settled down into their roles in my eyes and got easier.
TQ: Does Silvertongue touch on any social issues?
Casey: When I write a book, I really do set out to focus on story and characters first and foremost. I personally choose to avoid focusing on hot-button social issues, as I tend to write punchy fantasy or scifi novels, and I think it would be very easy for it to come off like I was making light of an issue or using it as a tool. I very much don't want that, I want to make sure that if I have issues like that as major elements in the story, I'm giving them the care and attention they deserve. As such, I don't have any social issues as the core of my novel.
What I will say, though, is that there are a lot of social issue type things running in the background, for a reader that is willing to look and read between the lines to the things that aren't being explicitly stated.
On a broader scale that looks more at conceptual issues versus directly relating them to our society, Silvertongue does have a heavy emphasis on human trafficking and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals in the magical sub-culture Jon discovers. It's not a kind world, and the powerful rule. The story also follows Jon's slow transformation from idealistic newcomer to more jaded veteran, and the idea of their powers being a strong temptation that corrupts even well-intentioned individuals is an ongoing theme.
So, the TL:DR version - there are definitely some issues in Silvertongue that could be seen as related, but they're a step removed and run as subtext to the main storyline rather than the central focus.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Silvertongue.
Casey: Oh, geez. That's a bit hard xD I haven't thought of this before, actually. Most of the quotes I love are either a little spoilery or a little profane, I think, but here are a few favorites -
On the lighter side, a scene where the main character returns home to find the secondary lead chilling on his couch:
“How did you get in?” I said stupidly.
Aedan did take his eyes off his shows at that, casting a derisive look my way. “Really?”
“I’ve got the key,” I mumbled.
His smirk widened. “That’s adorable, Jonny.”
And on the more serious side, a letter left behind by the secondary lead after the main character decides to take an active role in their magical society:
You’re not the first person I’ve seen set out with good intentions. Most of them wind up acting just like the rest, given a few years and a bit of temptation. It’s hard to say no when it’s all so easy. And in the end, they’re monsters just like all the rest.
Matt started out with the best of intentions, too. Knew him a lot longer than I’ve known you. Didn’t stop me from doing what needed doing.
Don’t be a Matt.
TQ: What's next?
Casey: Next? Well, Silvertongue went and grew beyond my original concept, as my projects tend to do! So, I'm currently planning on its series, Remnants of Magic, being a four-book series. That leaves me at about 90k words into book 2 right now (Wanderer), and promises to take a while yet.
Besides for that, I'm currently working on a prequel series for the Flameweaver Saga, which was my debut series as well as my entry for SPFBO 4! It's secondary to my continuing work on Silvertongue's sequel(s), but still very much something I'm passionate about.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Casey: Thank you for putting the time into this and the reviewing that you do for the SPFBO!
Remnants of Magic 1
February 16, 2019
Kindle eBook, 594 pages
Also available in Trade Paperback
After another long day at work, all Jon Christensen wanted was a cheap burger and some peace and quiet.
When he pulled into the McDonald’s, Jon only had the usual cares on his mind. His sister. The bills. A career with seemingly nowhere to go.
But after a confusing encounter at the cash register triggers a violent episode in the parking lot, he’s quickly pulled into a world he doesn’t understand. His few careless sentences - and the odd gift of languages he’s kept hidden for years - wind up thrusting him right into the middle of a chaotic magical free-for-all, a battle taking place in the shadows of society. Entangled in an increasingly complex web of violence and lies, he's left with a choice: adapt, or die.
Surrounded by strangers, Jon must struggle to survive, searching out friends amidst a sea of foes. If he can get his group of strays and rejects to work together, there’s a chance they might just make it out alive.
Should he fail, the consequences will be dire - not only for Jon, but also for those he loves.
Casey White was born in Michigan in 1991, and lives there still. She splits her time - spending her days working the desk as a civil engineer, and her nights writing fiction ranging from fantasy to scifi and everything in-between.
Her stories tend towards the more personal - she favors first person or over-the-shoulder third person that matches punchy, fast-paced storytelling with ongoing internal dialogue.