Welcome to Lee Murray’s New Zealand Speculative Fiction Show, an interview series featuring star acts from NZ’s science fiction, fantasy and horror community, including news, insights, and sneak-peeks of their latest performances. Today’s guest is JC Hart, the author of Serafina’s Flame, Sun Touched, and the fabulous Kotahi Bay series.
Hi Cassie! Wow, what an epic year 2017 was for you! Not only did you co-chair the national science fiction and fantasy convention, you also released FOUR new titles into the world: Serafina’s Flame (incorporating Burn from your Maiden Mother Crone series, as well as two additional novellas), and from the Kotahi Bay series, Beneath Broken Waves, In the Earth’s Embrace, and Of Souldust and Starlight, with these last three all eligible for this year’s Sir Julius Vogel Awards.
I’m especially excited about the release of new titles in your Kotahi Bay series ‒ they’re all on my to-read list ‒ because I absolutely adored The Way the Sky Curves. Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about the new titles?
The next three titles introduce you to some of the other children of gods and their potential love interests. There are sexy encounters, laughs, some ecological dangers, sabotage, and the big threat to the Bay of course, with some surprising twists along the way ;-) It was a lot of fun to write, and each of the books are slightly different in both content and tone. I especially enjoyed having secondary characters become primary characters, and having all my MC’s stick around for other people’s stories. It was like hanging out with friends!
Hot off the Press: Follow this link for the entire boxed set of the Cassie’s Kotahi Bay series. And if you’re reading this blog from 12-15 February, 2018, there is a pre-order special of just 99 cents for the set!
How would you describe your overall brand/genre?
That’s a really good question, and one I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about recently. Authors are often told they need to write to ‘brand’ but I have a few different interests in writing. I think I’ve managed to lump them all together with ‘isolated towns, and a sense of the other’ – which even fits Sun Touched, being that they are living in a dome city on a colonized planet. Doesn’t get a whole lot more isolated than that.
That works for now, though I could be branching out into more populated areas this year ;-)
All your work (Sun Touched, the Kotahi Bay series, and Serafina’s Flame) focuses on a strong female protagonist, and there is typically a strong sense of family connection. Is this a deliberate decision on your part?
Yeah, I’d have to say it is. Family is so important to me – and not just the family you’re born into, but the family you choose as well. Families have such deep history which can be really fun and complex to tap into in fiction.
And of course I’m going to write about strong females – I come from a family full of them, and I’m raising three amazing daughters. I like to write women who are strong, but not necessarily in the ‘badass with a gun’ way because I think strength is a lot more than that. I like to write stories where the women can be broken and flawed, vulnerable, who might struggle, but still find strength to do whatever it is they need.
The Kotahi Bay series is set in small town New Zealand; not a specific town, but one that embodies elements of our rural communities. What is it about this kind of setting that appealed? Did you think the series would have worked if you had set them elsewhere?
They would have been quite different books if they’d been set elsewhere. Small towns are some of my favourite things in the world. I grew up on the edges of one, and while it wasn’t always fun at the time, there was always something happening, some drama playing out across the town. Sometimes big, sometimes small, and because there are less people in the communities, a higher portion of the population tends to be involved. There is a smaller group who is ‘in charge’ and situations can be intense and consuming as a result – which is great for fiction!
Kotahi Bay is an amalgamation of several small towns in Taranaki, including the one I grew up in (Okato), which was actually small enough to be called a village ;-)
Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
Oh my gods, yes! Friends and family are always saying to me ‘is this a little bit of that?’ I like leaving Easter eggs in my work, it fleshes out the world with more detail, but it also makes me smile. Win/win!
Your title In the Earth’s Embrace, is about a young woman who is being coerced by the community into taking on her deceased grandmother’s role as the local witch. Was this a difficult story to write in light of the recent loss of your own grandmother, an important family figure and one of your personal mentors? Does her loss make this work particularly poignant for you?
It’s funny, in a way, that I have been writing about grandmothers for years: Carmel in Serafina’s Flame, Constance in the Kotahi Bay books, and most recently, Rose in my latest book, Butcherbird (coming sometime this year). My nana, Judith, was a formidable woman. She was outgoing and independent, she was an avid farmer, and had a keen mind right up until the end, always coming up with plans for anything from a redesign of my house to better systems for just about anything. She was stubborn and determined to do things her own way, she was an excellent hostess, matriarch of a huge family and many friends.
She had a huge influence on my life and has left a massive legacy.
Writing In the Earth’s Embrace wasn’t the hard one, it was Butcherbird. From the beginning of the novel the grandmother is in the process of dying. I did not know that my grandmother would be dying while I wrote it, and that was hard. So hard. But, writers have gotta write. So I wrote.
I started that book on the 1st of November after we’d just got back from a weekend at home where we’d stayed with her. Nana had a massive stroke on the 26th, died on the 30th, and I finished the book on Christmas Eve. Even though Rose is NOT my grandmother, Nana is intricately wrapped up in every part of this book, which I began as a love letter to the family farm she lived on her whole life (in the form of a semi-horror novel, because, well, that’s just me, right?).
I’m sad I’ll never get to share that with her, but I know she was proud of me.
You’re one of those writer-editors who gives a lot back to the community, but that kind of generosity can be draining. What self-care strategies do you employ to avoid burn-out?
Well, that’s an ever-evolving thing, as I’m sure you can agree! It’s always nice to give back, but you have to look after yourself too.
I’ve not always been the best at this.
At the moment my strategy when something crops up is to take a little time to actually think it through (the words, ‘I’d love to, but I need to think it over before I can commit’ come in handy!). I need to make sure I have the time and energy, and that I’m getting something back from it. Sometimes ‘it makes me feel really good’ can be enough. At the moment because I’m so tapped out I’m making myself answer the following question ‘in what way will this move my career forward?’ This might seem a little selfish from outside, but as someone who typically puts others ahead of themselves, it’s one I have to make myself answer. Reciprocity is really important, and if you are in too many situations where you’re doing all the giving and not getting anything back then you end up empty. This applies to every aspect of life.
None of us can afford that.
Basically, it translates to ‘a place to stand’, so, where you feel you belong, places where you gain strength from, which help you feel connected. Taranaki is that for me. It’s where my roots are, where I’m called back to. It’s hard to put into words how that feels, though I tried in the blog post linked above, but when I see/feel the mountain (because, let’s be honest, Taranaki can be a fickle maunga and he’s often robed in clouds) it’s like the knot in my chest loosens and I can breathe easier because I’m home.
Let’s talk about your cover art, because it is simply gorgeous.
Sure! My cover designer is Kate Strawbridge from Dwell Design & Press. She’s not only my cover designer though, she’s also one of my besties. She’s amazing at what she does and I love working with her. When she knows I’m working on new projects she keeps an eye out for cover inspiration which is a huge help when we come to getting something worked up. I’m useless at that part, so having a skilled designer with a great eye is really vital. Kate totally fits that bill and is always patient with me while I work things out.
What are your plans for 2018: global dominance, or a well-deserved rest?
No rest just yet, Lee, though I’m hoping at some point there will be. First order of business is moving back to my beloved New Plymouth, which happens in the next month or so. I’ve got a few shorter pieces I’m working on while my head is taken up with packing/moving/settling stuff, and then it’s all on. There are many books to write this year! I think my next release will be Butcherbird. I’m hoping to get the series complete this year, as well as write the sequel to Sun Touched, and a few collaborative projects as well. It’s going to be busy, but it’s the best kind of busy!
Thanks for stopping by Cassie, and we wish the very best of luck for that move back home!
J.C. is a lover of pizza, coffee, and zombies (in no particular order). She was raised on a healthy diet of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and despite many attempts by various English teachers has refused to budge on her position that these are the best genres ever. When she’s not raising her horde of wonderfully creepy children or dreaming of the day she’ll have an army of ninja kittens, she’s writing speculative fiction, or binging on TV, movies, and games. She also happens to be a Sir Julius Vogel Award winner and was a finalist in the 2014 Australian Shadows Awards. You can find her on twitter @JCHart, instagram at just.cassie.hart, or at her website just-cassie.com