I’m relatively new to reading urban fantasy, so when I read Cassie Alexander’s debut, Nightshifted, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And I’ll admit, I almost shocked at how much I enjoyed it. It was a blast. It came to me at the right time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride (read the review). After book one, I was ready for the two upcoming sequels.
When I went online to spread the word about her novel, I noticed how much of a web presence Alexander has. She’s got a website, a Facebook page, a Goodreads account, and a fairly active Twitter feed. She seemed so open and I liked the book so much, that I had to get her to answer a few questions…
Edie Spence, the heroine of Nightshifted, is a nurse who works in a hospital’s paranormal wing. Anyone who’s read your debut wouldn’t be surprised to learn that you’re a nurse, too, because those moments in the hospital are very vivid and real. Tell us a little about how Edie came to be. I picture you on your late-night rounds on a particularly calm night, imagining the dangers you might run into if the man in room 4 was a vampire…
Ha! In actuality, I called a doctor one night to get some additional orders and he didn’t believe me…and that’s when I realized no one believes nightshift. I was so mad at him, I decided I had to put him in a book—and that situation is pretty much the first chapter of Nightshifted. (Only in real life, no one died! Honest!)
What makes Edie such a special character for you?
Last week I got a report from a nursing student, someone who hadn’t even graduated yet. It was clear she was terrified of everything. Our floor, our patients, our staff. Her eyes were wide, and she could barely sputter out her report. I actually told her I wouldn’t bite her. It didn’t help.
I’ve been a nurse now for a while but when I wrote Nightshifted, I was just starting out. I might not have been as frightened about everything as that poor nursing student was, but I was pretty frightened. I tried not to let on at work (except for a few times, with a few people I trusted)—I largely channeled it into Edie. My favorite books growing up had characters whose strength I felt like I could borrow, they were the people I wanted to imitate, who I felt like I could be. I wrote Edie to be like that for me. I wanted to see someone who was going to try to do her best under dire circumstances, even when she knows her best might not be good enough.
Writers often pull from their own experiences when creating their characters and the world they live in, so even though they’re fictional, there are ties to the author’s real world. How close are Edie and her coworkers to nurses you’ve encountered? What about the hospital itself?
My coworkers are only similar in that they’re all awesome. We all work like a team like Edie and Gina, Charles, and Meaty do. Everyone on nightshift is very close, you have to be because you have to count on each other under pressure without much other staff.
My hospital itself is so creepy. It’s huge, and old, and sometimes they find homeless people living in our basements. And yes, that’s basements, plural. There’s certain hallways you don’t want to go down at night—they’re so long they feel like that one scene in Poltergeist, you know? It’s not a complete Y4 analog, but there are some similarities there for sure.
I’m a big urban fantasy fan, and I also read Dracula at a formative age…I always wanted the chance to try to play in that sandbox. Nightshifted was my big chance.
In Nightshifted, Edie takes it upon herself to help Anna, a child-turned-vampire who has been subjected to all sorts of physical abuse at the hands of other vampires for many, many years. That’s a pretty dark subject, especially when you consider that, for the most part, Nightshifted is a fun, exciting and romantic story. Tell us a little about how Anna’s history came to be and how you balanced her “darker” story with Edie’s otherwise “fun” adventures in Y4.
My favorite urban fantasy series in the world is the Night Watch series, written by Sergei Lukyanenko. It was a huge influence on me, and in retrospect, probably why I made Anna who she was. Not that her situation mimics Night Watch, but her history and her past, a teensy bit match.
The thing with Anna is that despite what’s happened to her, she’s still very much in control of herself and her destiny. She’s not weak. She’ll never be weak. But you do have to have a strong arc for a strong character—you have to give your characters difficulties to rise above, and no one’s life in my series has been harder than hers. But she’ll overcome it all. I know where she’s going. When she reaches the top of her arc, it’ll feel well earned. It’ll be glorious.
From what I understand, nurses have some pretty difficult hours to work with, pulling double shifts or working through the night or working every day without a break. How did you manage to fit in writing?
I’m very lucky that I work part-time. No way I could work full-time and write, I’d be too burnt out. My husband is also amazing and supportive and gets why I do what I do. I couldn’t ask for a more understanding spouse. So between those two facts, and my maniacal possessiveness of free time, plus having 2-3 nights a week where I stay up until 5 a.m. and there’s no one else up late to talk to, not even online, I get the words in. It’s hard though. I would much rather get to write in coffee shops during day time hours like I imagine normal people do.
I was impressed with the sex scenes in Nightshifted. There was a real passion to them, and it felt real. Not just the physical aspect, but also the emotions and the reasons behind the sex. I was surprised, however, that in several instances, the language was more graphic than I was expecting, which intensified the moment. I went back to re-read one of those scenes to see how you did it, and I was even more surprised to discover that it was more tame than I originally imagined. The feelings were all there, but the graphic nature wasn’t. Apparently, I had read more into the scene then what was actually on the page.
Thanks! (This is my first sex scene related question, woohoo!)
I’ll admit to having written some erotica back-in-the-day (thanks VC Andrews and ill-spent time on the high school bus!) which definitely helped. And I owe a huge debt to the later Anita Blake books for letting me know exactly what urban fantasy authors could get away with graphically.
What I tried to do was just really slow down and consider each scene very intensely. Not so much to plan out the physicality of things, but to chart the emotional course of it. Sometimes everything came out right the first time, other times I had to do so much rewriting to keep it reasonable and real. (Keep in mind that I’ve turned in all three books now, so that’s a lot of sex scenes!)
I do get bogged down sometimes now and again writing new ones, because OMG my parents are going to read them, or people in Germany, and it feels like your dirty laundry is on display. Then again though…they’re sort of addictive to write. It’s easy to write too many of them and feel like your word count is increasing, but then realize that they’re not holding their own weight in the plot. So I try to only put them in when they make emotional sense and when they work for the plot. I try not to do just sex for sex’s sake, even though it’s tempting.
I have a friend who writes romance novels, and from what she’s told me, there are certain guidelines, if not actual rules, a writer must follow when writing a romance. Nightshifted is certainly more of an urban fantasy than it is a paranormal romance, but sometimes those lines are blurred. Did you have any guidelines you had to follow when it came to the characters, plot, or sex in the story?
Oh, Nightshifted is most definitely an urban fantasy. While I do love me some paranormal romance, I know that’s not what I wrote.
I’ve heard about the whole guideline thing for certain romance lines before. I’m not sure if I’m jealous of those ladies or not. I know it sounds easy to be given a set of rules to write to, but I know that writing a particular line’s romance experience is an art form, cultivated after years of studious practice. I’m not sure I’m cut out for that.
So, for better or worse, Nightshifted wound up being fairly freeform. I wrote what I wanted to write. I’d actually been pretty emotionally burned by my prior book not finding an agent or selling, so I tip-toed into writing it. I convinced myself it was a short story, and then a second very-closely-related-short-story, and then a third, and then finally I copped to the fact that it wanted to be a novel and wrote it that way.
I had read a ton of urban fantasy novels prior to writing it though, so I knew what was and wasn’t expected of me in the genre. You really have to read a lot of anything you want to write—it’s that whole knowing the rules before you break them thing.
Once I was done and agented, my agent made some easy suggestions, as did my editor, which I followed to a T. The changes I made were mostly evening out pacing or action, or warming up characters so they didn’t seem too unsympathetic.
What were the biggest challenges you encountered during the writing or publication process?
Finding an agent. My agent was lucky number 46…and I’d queried out to 56. For a year there, it was pretty grim.
Anything surprisingly easy?
Selling the book. My agent sent it out, and we had the first offer a week after that.
Three weeks ago, you didn’t have any books in print. Now, you’ve got your debut on the shelf and two more due over the next year. That’s got to feel good, and maybe a little scary?
Yes to both! It’s amazing and frightening all at once. Writing’s so solitary that, even as you know you’re writing for other people to eventually read, it’s very strange to finally share it with the world. But I’m excited at the same time, that other people get to go on Edie’s journey with her, and to get to read reviews (like yours!) where people super enjoyed their time on Y4. It’s pretty effing magical.
So what’s next for you?
Hopefully writing the next books in this series and some one-off novellas, and anything else that comes to mind. I really like this job, I want to keep on doing it.