Cass Morris joins FanLit to discuss her latest Roman-era fantasy FROM UNSEEN FIRE. Cass 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. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. Find out more about Cass Morris online at cassmorriswrites.com.
One random commenter with a USA or Canada address will get a copy of FROM UNSEEN FIRE.
Who are your biggest writing influences?
I used to say that I wanted to be Neil Gaiman when I grew up, and that’s still rather true. His writings, and Terry Pratchett’s, have affected a lot of how I think about story and mythos. My ideas on crafting magic have roots in everything from Harry Potter to tabletop role-playing games. Years of studying Shakespeare has put a lot of rhetoric in my head, so that’s been a large influence as well. I’ve also read a lot of romance novels and a lot of historical fiction, and I think those bleed into my style, too.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been a natural storyteller and a lover of books for as long as I’ve known what words were, but I can remember, clearly, the first moment I knew that creating worlds was what I wanted to do with my life. It was January, 1997. I was eleven years old, sitting in a movie theatre with a sticky floor, having just seen Star Wars for the first time. I was in utter awe. And I thought, “This is it. This is what I want to do.” I don’t know that I even knew what I meant by that at the time, whether writing books or working on movies or some other way of building worlds. That moment, though, was absolutely when I realized that I wanted to spend my life shaping universes that other people could both lose and find themselves in. I’ve been working towards that ever since.
How did you go about researching the setting for FROM UNSEEN FIRE? Did you travel?
I looked at so. many. maps. Which was great! I love cartography. It’s shockingly difficult to find maps of Rome from the Republic era, though; almost everything is Imperial, because so much of the Forum was destroyed and rebuilt over time, so archaeology has a much easier time figuring out what it looked like in, say, 300 CE than 30 BCE. I also scoured the internet for every picture of reconstructions I could find — the Getty Villa has some gorgeous images of a reconstructed Roman country house, interior and exterior, and there are a surprising number of Roman legion re-enactment groups. And yes, I did travel. I’d been to Rome once before, as a teenager, and in 2016 I was lucky enough to be able to go back. There’s nothing quite like walking the very hills and streets your characters would have!
Alternate-history and historical fantasy is en vogue for TV and film, as well as books lately. Are there any historical or alternative-historical TV / films / books that influenced your writing?
Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Legacy series had a major influence on me. I loved the scope of the alternate world she imagined, flavored by the real history of dozens of nations and cultures, but interwoven with her own magical paradigm. I’ve always liked big worlds in the fiction I consume, and hers felt so fully-drawn and complete. That sense of the epic features in a lot of the stories that have influenced me over time — Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials, The Sandman, A Song of Ice and Fire — if it has a massive map and a cast of thousands, I’m probably all for it.
As far as straight-up historical influence goes, HBO’s Rome was playing in the background during a lot of the drafting of From Unseen Fire. The creators of that show said in one of their behind-the-scenes featurettes that they were looking to re-create an authentic ancient Rome, even though they knew they weren’t being completely accurate, since they fudged timelines and merged characters together for storytelling purposes. I think they totally succeeded. Their Rome looked like a real city, so full of people, always busy, and so complex. Those images are definitely a lot of what I had in mind while crafting the city of Aven.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I spend a lot of time reading, cuddling my cats, and playing MarioKart. I love to travel, though I don’t get as much chance for it as I’d like, so I make up for that with day trips whenever I can. Virginia’s vineyards and cideries are excellent for that — always in beautiful locations, perfect for a relaxing day off. I also love attending conventions and conferences, and I’ve worked to staff a couple. My other major creative outlets are tabletop gaming and embroidery.
Comment below for your chance to win! One random commenter with a USA or Canada address will get a copy of FROM UNSEEN FIRE.
Mixing Roman history with epic fantasy, FROM UNSEEN FIRE imagines a Rome that was built on a foundation of elemental magic, where mages and statesmen fight to gain control over the city of Aven. One such mage, Latona, must re-discover her incredible powers of Fire and Spirit–which she suppressed for years at the Dictator’s court–in order to protect her family and the city she loves.