First Sale Stories, Cassandra Curtis, "Cup of Fate"
Lynda: What’s the name of your first book?
Cassandra: “Cup of Fate”
Lynda: When was it published?
Cassandra: June, 2006
Lynda: Which publishing house?
Cassandra: Amber Quill Press (Amber Heat imprint)
Lynda: What’s it about?
Cassandra: “Cup of Fate” is about second chances, and how the universe/fate sometimes intervenes to redirect your path.
Bryn Tuttle is starting over after a disastrous relationship. She gets a job out of state and moves to Kentucky. When a new co-worker and friend invites her yard sale shopping one weekend, she decides to tag along. On the back roads – in the middle of nowhere, they see a sign for a yard/barn sale. The old woman who lives in the house invites them in to look at some other items she's willing to sell. She's eager to show Bryn and Samantha a mysterious fortune telling teacup. But all is not what it seems – and the women realize too late, that everything comes at a price. A single sip from the Cup of Fate will change their lives. For Bryn, nothing will ever be the same again.
Lynda: What was the inspiration for the book?
Cassandra: A woman in one of my online yahoo groups sought my help in identifying an antique fortune telling teacup. You see, I collect odd/arcane magickal artifacts/antiques, and am a curator/archivist of sorts. She wanted to locate a booklet or sheet that could explain the strange symbols on the inside of the cup. So you see, in a sense, the Cup of Fate is real.
Lynda: Is it part of a series?
Cassandra: Yes. Although there is only one sequel. "Cup of Knowledge" is Samantha's story. Bryn’s brother, Mark, is a cop back in Chicago. When his sister is reported missing and the family is notified, he takes a leave of absence and comes to Kentucky to find his sister. The police are getting nowhere on the case. All paths seem to lead back to the last person who saw his sister alive – Samantha. The story deals with issues of trust, and the growing attraction between Mark and Samantha.
Lynda: What do you like most about your main characters?
Cassandra: Both Bryn and Samantha are strong willed, independent, and able to laugh at themselves. Tess, my heroine from “I Put A Spell On You,” is less sure of herself, but is just as independent, and loves life. My heroes are alphas, but they have this playful, tender side – they adore and respect their heroines.
Lynda: What’s your favorite aspect of the book?
Cassandra: In “Cup of Fate,” I love the fact that she goes to sleep in her bed, dreaming of this incredibly sensual lover, and wakes up to find out it's her new reality. She fights it at first, then comes to realize she's only fighting herself, and her heart's desire. Bryn's moment of realization is profound. “I Put A Spell On You” is a bit of a twist, in that the spellcaster of love isn't the witch, but the regular guy. Sebastian falls head over heels for the heroine and decides to get proactive when she ignores him. He finds her father's grimoire, and concocts a plan to win her using her own family's love potion recipe and spellbook. That twist of stereotype is one of my favorite aspects of the plot. And then there is Pendragon, Tess' cat. He's a sneaky little puss, and the perfect foil for Sebastian.
Lynda: How long have you been writing fiction?
Cassandra: Seems like forever. I started as a kid, creating my own comic books, writing dialogue. Wrote off and on most of my life. But serious fiction aimed at publication...about 18 months.
Lynda: Is this your first paranormal manuscript?
Cassandra: “Cup of Fate” was my first try at a paranormal erotic romance. But I have two other stories that I wrote before “Cup of Fate.” Neither is romantic fiction, though.
Lynda: Is paranormal your main focus?
Cassandra: Yes. I grew up hearing the legends and family folklore from my mum and aunts. Developed a fascination for all things paranormal.
Lynda: What attracts you about the paranormal characters you write about?
Cassandra: The sheer range of emotions and situations available I can play with, and yet still connect with readers on a basic level. My witch may have magickal energy, but she still has to do her laundry or be forced to go around skyclad. I can show pathos on an amplified scale, since paranormal characters are often larger than life.
Lynda: How long did it take to sell your book, from the time you finished your manuscript?
Cassandra: Actually, in my case I won a contest. Amber Quill Press has this Heat Wave Contest they run annually. They don't take submissions, so if you want in, you have to win their contest. I had the idea for “Cup of Fate” floating in the back of my mind for a good three months before I sat down to write. Wrote the first draft in nine days. Sent it to a couple of trusted friends to glance over. Made a few changes, and sent it right at the deadline. They announced the winners March 1, so I guess two and a half months would be about right. On a side note, I have to tell you – when I read the winner's list, I recognized several names from the writer's group I'm in (Romance Divas), and I was so happy for them. But as I kept scanning and didn't see my name, I was really bummed out – totally let down. Even though I knew it was a long shot, I'd gotten my hopes up and had them dashed. I popped off congratulatory emails to the women I knew from the group...and consoled myself that I could try again next year. Only then did I get curious and go back and glance at the winning titles of each book...and not at the names. And saw my title! It took me a second, then light seeped into my brain and I had an epiphany. LOL I'd created the pen name Cassandra Curtis only a short time earlier, to use for all my erotic romances. The name was too new and didn't feel like a part of me yet, since I had no reason to use it until I got published. I had completely forgotten it was the name I'd submitted my story under for the contest. Complete “Duh” moment! LOL
Lynda: Do you recommend that a pre-published writer focus on finding an agent first, or do you think it’s OK to submit directly to the publisher?
Cassandra: I think the smart thing to do is study your publishers and target one seriously, like I did Amber Quill. I was already a customer of theirs and liked the quality of the books they published. Of course, I knew it would be tough to break into their “stable,” since they aren't open to submissions. But it all worked out since I won their contest. I think you have to make sure they (publisher) are a good match for your work. At that point, I say go for it. : ) An agent can come later in the process, especially if you initially write novellas or want to target an e-publisher–not NY to start.
Lynda: Thinking about the notion of “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” what was the lowest point in the process for you? Was there a time you almost gave up?
Cassandra: One day, mid-way through the process, I almost decided to quit the story. I had to nail this thing and send it in before the contest deadline, (due to multiple deaths in my family that winter, I was emotionally and physically drained and got a much later start on the actual writing than I planned). I simply didn't think the story was working, and time was running out.
Lynda: What was the process of revisions/rewrites like?
Cassandra: The first time around was a little confusing, but the second time I understood the process much better and it went very smooth.
Lynda: What was it like, working with the editor at your publishing house?
Cassandra: I love epubs and small press. There's a much more personal feel – almost like a family. My editor at AQP, Karin, is like this knowledgeable sister I can turn to, and feel free to ask anything. She understands where I’m coming from and nudges me when needed. And we’re good – so long as she doesn’t try to borrow my favorite earrings.
Lynda: Do you have any words of wisdom for us regarding rewrites/revisions?
Cassandra: Check, double check. Leave it alone and then after it's "settled", check it again! LOL
Lynda: Were there any surprises for you about the contract you signed?
Cassandra: None. Of course, I had a good friend who is an intellectual property attorney, glance at it. I also had my sister (who is a barrister) check it over for me, and interpret the legalese. LOL
Lynda: Do you get a lot of help marketing your book, or do you have to do it yourself?
Cassandra: I do the majority of it myself, although my publisher sends out copies to review lists and has a blog, loops list and other promotional opportunities their authors can choose to participate in, and I sign up when I can.
Lynda: What’s your best marketing advice?
Cassandra: Name recognition is important. Try to have your name out there all the time, in strategic locations. Write the best book you can. Make a connection with readers, and work on building a solid fan base. If you can build a substantial “following”, then NY will take notice. At least that’s my theory. LOL
Lynda: Did you have input about your cover?
Cassandra: Yes. Quite a bit. We (authors at AQP) fill out art production forms, describing our characters, and items or intangibles that have associations to our book – just in case the art director gets a cool idea and needs something to "anchor" the concept art. If you’ve seen the covers at Amber Heat (http://amberheat.com), then you know we have some of the best covers in the epublishing industry. Our Art Director, Trace Edward Zaber, is a talented, award–winning artist.
Lynda: What are your writing plans for the future?
Cassandra: I have a couple of shapeshifter novellas to polish before I turn them in to Amber Heat – very different premises than the usual mold of what is out there. Also, I’m working on an anthology with two other writers. My story delves into the darker side of life – deals with issues like loss of a loved one, alcoholism, and bigotry. A real departure from my lighter, comedic fare. Then again, tragedy and comedy are simply flip sides of the same mask we all wear. My heroine pulls all her pain and anguish inside, and uses it to feed her thirst for retribution. As I said, it’s very dark. Makes for a good break from my romantic comedies. I come back to them with clearer intent and focus, and vice-versa.
Lynda: What advice would you give to all the pre-published writers out there?
Cassandra: Hone your skills, study and target a publisher who carries authors you enjoy (and that fit your unique voice), find a critique group you trust, and write–write–write.
Lynda: How can readers find out more about you?
Cassandra: My website is: http://cassandracurtis.com
I have a couple of blogs: http://sensuouswhispers.blogspot.com,
http://cassandracurtis.com/blog, and also share a blog with three other authors (Cora Zane, Tempest Knight and Brandi Broughton), called The Midnight Moon Cafe:
I even have a MySpace: