• Mayra Calvani
  • Talking Craft with Urban Fantasy Author Christine Amsden
Talking Craft with Urban Fantasy Author Christine Amsden
Written by
Mayra Calvani
May 2016
Written by
Mayra Calvani
May 2016

Christine is the award-winning author of the Cassie Scot series, the story of the only ungifted scion of a family of powerful sorcerers. Her latest novel, Kaitlin’s Tale, follows the trials of Cassie’s best friend as she falls in love with Cassie’s arch-nemesis. Christine’s other titles include The Immortality VirusTouch of Fate, andMadison’s Song.

When she isn’t writing, Christine is often editing or coaching other authors. In recent years, freelance editing has become almost as great a passion as writing itself. Plus, it supports her writing habit. Christine is a wife, a mom, and a foster mom. She lives in Olathe, Kansas, just outside Kansas City.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Kaitlin’s Tale. To begin with, can you gives us a brief summary of what the story is about and what compelled you to write it?  

A: Kaitlin’s Tale tells the story of an unlikely couple – a telepathic mind mage and a woman immune to mind magic. The inspiration for this tale is far, far from the work of a moment. Kaitlin came to me six years ago as I wrote Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective, the first of a four-book urban fantasy series about the only ungifted scion of a family of powerful sorcerers. At the time, she was the sidekick, never meant to have a story of her own, but she soon grew too big to be a footnote in someone else’s story. Matthew, meanwhile, came to me in Mind Games, book 3 of the Cassie Scot series, as the villain of the piece. I don’t like two-dimensional villains, and the more I learned about why he did what he did to Cassie, the more I realized that he would make someone very happy – just not Cassie.

Q: What do you think makes a good urban fantasy/paranormal romance? Could you narrow it down to the three most important elements? Is it even possible to narrow it down?

A: Characters. Characters. Characters.

Look, the world building for most urban fantasy and paranormal romance is stock. I appreciate clever twists on the old tropes, fresh angles, and a few surprises, but a world isn’t going to win me over.

My favorite urban fantasies and paranormal romances pop because of character. It’s a certain tone and voice, an attitude and outlook on life. It works best when the author puts a little piece of him or herself into the book.

Q: How did you go about plotting your story? Or did you discover it as you worked on the book?

A: I outline, write, reoutline, rewrite, reoutline, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite … Actually, for this particular book I went through more drafts than usual. It’s a complex story, with three main plots that intertwine, and getting the timing right, especially on the romance, was tricky. Luckily, I’m a firm believer in “Great books aren’t written, they are rewritten.”

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist and how you developed him or her. Did you do any character interviews or sketches prior to the actual writing?

A: Kaitlin reads a ton of romance, but she doesn’t identify well with the heroine of the stories. She more easily identifies with the woman who “knows the score” and is cast aside in favor of the true heroine. There’s a world of hurt in Kaitlin’s past, hurt she wouldn’t even tell her best friend about. I had trouble getting it out of her! (And yes, I did interviews and first person journals.) Matthew, who can read her mind, is really a great fit for her.

Q: In the same light, how did you create your antagonist or villain? What steps did you take to make him or her realistic?

A: There are several antagonists in this piece, including Alexander DuPris, the would-be leader of the magical world. It’s important to know that he has good intentions. Most of my heroes have good intentions. It’s just that the road to hell and all …

Other villains of the piece include Xavier and Jason, the vampires hunting down Kaitlin. They were tougher to get to know because I don’t do sparkly vampires. Or even misunderstood humans. Mine are alien, with alien motives. But this wasn’t enough to drive a story, so I had to chip away at their motivations until I found something relatable. In the end, I created a conflict between Xavier and Jason to help make their desires more understandable (by contrast to one another).

Q: How did you keep your narrative exciting throughout the novel? Could you offer some practical, specific tips?

A: I try to keep my characters on their toes throughout the book! I’m not a formulaic plotter, but when I outline a book, I do split it into quarters and make sure there is a major plot point near the end of each quarter. For example, in Cassie Scot: ParaNormal Detective, there is a major family fight at the first quarter, a vampire attack at the second (also the midpoint), a family blowout at the third quarter, and I’ll leave the climax in suspense. Since I always have main plots and important subplots, such as a mystery, a romance, and family tension, it keeps me busy. Even outside the quarter points (which I only use as a general guideline) there is always something to do. Each chapter has to accomplish something. Each scene.

I have been told that my books cause insomnia. I think that means I’m doing okay.:)

Q: Setting is also quite important and in many cases it becomes like a character itself. What tools of the trade did you use in your writing to bring the setting to life?

A: Relevance. It’s my sonic screwdriver; I use it for just about everything. Setting comes to life when it matters to the people interacting with it and at no other time. Which isn’t to say that you should stick to the bare bones because the flipside of this is that when it matters, color it in! During one scene in Kaitlin’s Tale I had Kaitlin go to a magical nightclub with a friend. The place was crazy when she walked in! I know she couldn’t relate all of it to the reader, but I let her eyes drift around the room and I had fun with it … people dancing on air, a drunk man stumbling through another and starting a bar fight, some techno-mages messing with the laser lights for the fun of it … just a bit of this and that.

Q: Did you know the theme(s) of your novel from the start or is this something you discovered after completing the first draft? Is this theme(s) recurrent in your other work?

A: There is a recurring theme in my Cassie Scot novels and the spin-offs: Love yourself. I knew this theme going in, because it is as important to Kaitlin as it is to her friends. Maybe more so. There did end up being another theme in the book that I recognized partway through: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Matthew, in particular, was misunderstood when he first appeared in the series. There’s more to him.


Q: Where does craft end and art begin? Do you think editing can destroy the initial creative thrust of an author?

A: The answer to this question depends entirely on which stage of the creative process the author is in. There are four:

  1. Unconscious incompetence – in which you aren’t very good and don’t even know it.
  2. Conscious incompetence – in which you aren’t very good, but are coming to realize this fact and begin to work to improve.
  3. Conscious competence – in which you have begun to become a good writer, with a great deal of thought and work involved at every step in the process.
  4. Unconscious competence – in which your ability to write flows as naturally as breathing and you no longer have to think so hard about everything you do.

Let’s disregard stages one and two as part of the creative awakening process. You’re not really publishable until stage three, at which point over-editing definitely takes a toll on the sparkle of the original work.

But once you reach stage four, I think art and craft are inseparable. At this point, revision is rarely about scrutinizing your word choice anyway, and fresh revisions tend to improve the underlying plot.

Q: What three things, in your opinion, make a successful novelist?

A: Ego, humility, and insanity. (Not necessarily in that order.)

Q: A famous writer once wrote that being an author is like having to do homework for the rest of your life. What do you think about that?

A: I don’t agree. My homework was never this fun.

Q: Are there any resources, books, workshops or sites about craft that you’ve found helpful during your writing career?

A: Yes. And as the Internet is always changing, so too have the sites. But check out Savvy Authors. And The Elements of Fiction Series (except the one on dialog).

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers about the craft of writing?

A: Only write because you love it. No, you won’t love it every second of every day, but you should love the process and take personal pride in the results. If you’re in it for fame or fortune, you’re in for a serious disappointment.

Title: Kaitlin’s Tale

Genre: urban fantasy/paranormal romance

Author: Christine Amsden


Publisher: Twilight Times Books


Amazon OmniLit

About the Book:

Kaitlin Mayer is on the run from the father of her baby – a vampire who wants her to join him in deadly eternity. Terrified for her young son, she seeks sanctuary from the hunters guild. But they have their own plans for her son, and her hopes of safety are soon shattered.

When she runs into Matthew Blair, an old nemesis with an agenda of his own, she dares to hope for a new escape. But Matthew is a telepath, and Kaitlin’s past is full of dark secrets she never intended to reveal.

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