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CASSIE ALEXANDER, AUTHOR of NIGHTSHIFTED, EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Cassie Alexander, author of Nightshifted, recently answered some questions for OBS on Edie Spence, her plans for her moving forward and her love of writing creatures. Watch for my review of Nightshifted tomorrow!

Your own work as a nurse inspired Edie Spence and her adventures at County, but I thought Y4 was such a wonderful way to explore all manner of creatures in the urban fantasy world – I mean, the inclusion of the dragon had me riveted in this novel – is there any creature you have been or are waiting to write about in Y4? And why is that?

I’m glad you liked the dragon! It feels like I’ve been waiting my whole life to write a book with a dragon in it!

I love all sorts of monsters, myths, and legends. Anything is fair game. What I like about Y4 as a concept, is that I can shoehorn almost any creature in, as long as I do it carefully. Moonshifted’s 1st draft [second in the planned trilogy] had a long section with a were-skunk, basically because it amused the hell out of me. He even had a sweet backstory, but I had to take it out because he didn’t really work with the plot.

In Shapeshifted [third in the trilogy] I got to bring up an urban legend from my hometown, the Donkey Lady. I remember in middle school we’d all tell each other creepy stories about her, and then when people had cars in high school people we’d go out to where she was supposed to be and try to find her. I was happy to get to include her, even if it was just a short part.

I’ve got some more ideas for using other creatures down the line – but I want to keep them a surprise, if I get contracts for the next two or three books.

What I enjoyed the most about Edie was that she made mistakes, she admitted to them and came out stronger for it – can you elaborate on what was the inspiration behind her?

 I just wanted to write about someone who was fully human. I like reading fantasy…but I got really tired of people who were immortal or impossibly cool doing perfect things with their perfect skills, having perfect lives. The more difficult my life got – and as a new nurse, it was so, so hard – the further away I felt from those characters. So much so that it became ludicrous to read about them.

So I decided to write a book about a character I could relate to, one who wasn’t perfect, who had fucked up some (and fucked around some) but who was trying her hardest anyhow. Not with magical talents or perfect hair, but with gumption and heart. I wrote her knowing I was going out on a limb – there aren’t many other protagonists that ever have to get STD tests — but I’m very happy with how she turned out. I think that while people may not want to be her, they get where she’s coming from. They’ve been there themselves.

Edie is also a normal woman in a very supernatural world, without superpowers to save herself – is it easier or harder as a writer working on a character like Edie? There is, I think, a fine balance in writing a normal woman going up against a vampire & coming out victorious and making it believable to readers. Have you ever been tempted to make her supernatural?

Yes. Super tempted in fact. But I haven’t done it yet. If I ever do make her supernatural, it’ll have to feel earned, and come with even more opportunities for danger and require serious consequences. Edie’s never going to get things handed to her on a silver platter. So if she were to become supernatural, it would be just another opportunity for me to raise the stakes.

Your supporting cast of characters on the ward like Meaty to Madigan and his family are all colourful, interesting characters – are they inspired by anyone or any work experiences?

Ha – no. I just like to think about the most interesting person doing the most interesting thing possible. I pick out all my secondary characters very carefully. And usually by the end of the book, I know enough about them that I could write each of them their own books. I don’t have placeholder characters if I can help it.

Ti was unusual for me – when I think zombies, I think mindless killers, but he is anything but. However, he isn’t above doing whatever it takes to keep Edie safe, and what he does do is violent and graphic and reminded me a little too much of the “killer” part of the character he is. But Edie calls him “her monster” – can you tell us a little about what inspired Ti in particular and how you see his and Edie’s relationship evolving? 

I’m such a cheater because I’ve turned in Shapeshifted in already. Can I just say that he does come back, but it’s complicated? That would definitely be Edie’s facebook status for any of her relationships.  [Verushka's note: The wait to find out what happens is going to be torture!] 

Edie finds herself working at Y4 in an effort to ensure her brother’s, a junkie, safety. Her concerns regarding Jake were sad, but I know, also very real in that Edie can’t help him get clean. What made you include her brother and this situation in the book?

I’ve had intense experiences with addicts both at work and in my personal life. I’ve used magical thinking, prayer, wasted years of tears and hope in turns. There’s nothing more depressing than realizing that they love whatever they’re addicted to more than they love you. And then you have to deal with where that leaves you – do you keep loving them? Can you? Which is worse, knowing that they’re killing themselves, or cutting them out completely and not knowing where they are at all?

I think there’s a lot of people out there in the same boat, who want to hope for the best for the ones they love, but are exhausted by continual disappointment.

Secondary to that – not many people would willingly work somewhere as dangerous and weird as Y4. With the exception of the supernatural stuff, everything in my book cleaves pretty closely to reality. I find it super unreal that humans would want to go out of their way to deal with supernatural creatures unless they had to. So Edie needed a potent reason to stick around.

What better or more dangerous reason is there than hope?

Your vampires and your zombies go against the conventions, I think, most people expect of them both. For instance, Ti is a zombie and a romantic (I think) with his own baggage that makes him more sympathetic as a character to readers.  Do you think going against expected conventions of your creature characters was a risk, or something you thought readers would respond to and why?

I think sometimes readers want to be taken to new and unexpected places. We read to see the commonplace presented uncommonly. If you’re willing to read about zombies…I think that’s half the battle. After that, if presented properly, you’d probably be willing to read about good zombies, bad zombies, sentient ones, mindless ones, as long as they’re done well. I think I wanted to surprise myself – because doing that makes the writing part of writing worthwhile – and if I surprised other people too, all the better.

If you’re getting the idea I didn’t really write for readers, you’d be right. It isn’t that I wasn’t hoping that I’d have readers – on the contrary, I’ve always written with the hope of being published – but I knew that getting too worried about what people will think when I’m in a project will kill it. All I could hope was that if I did a good enough job, that people would respond, no matter what crazy place I took them to.

Where do you see Edie going/growing over the course of your planned trilogy?

Over the course of the three books, Edie comes to grips with what she can and can’t do – and she begins to accept herself. I think in Shapeshifted in particular, she really comes into her own.

When you began writing and decided that you would write about Edie and her work at County, what was the most unexpected thing about writing about nursing? Or was writing about nursing the easiest thing in the world?

When I started writing Nightshifted, in 2009, I was overly detailed. I wanted to explain everything, to the nth degree. Now that I’ve got three more years of being a nurse under my belt, I’m less inclined to explain (because I know, so why wouldn’t the reader? *facepalm*) and I have to think about the nursing-writing more. I’m not sure if there ever was a happy medium period – if there was I didn’t appreciate it at the time.

Have you written or want to write other books/series not set in the world of a hospital and nursing?

Nightshifted was actually the tenth book I wrote – so I’ve had tons of idea for other places and characters. I don’t think I’ll go back to any of my prior books, but I know I’ll never run out of ideas for the future.

Who or What brings out your inner fan girl?

The band Muse. I’ve seen them live 5 times, and know an obscene amount of silly facts about Matthew Bellamy’s life. They have a new album coming out in September, I can’t wait!

Thank you Cassie for a wonderful interview! 

Okay, hands up anyone who is going to be on pins and needles for Moonshifted? I know I am! Don’t forget my review of Nightshifted will go up tomorrow!