Today’s Indie author is another fellow mystery writer (though that term’s applied loosely here), and the author of 6 full length novels, and a range of other short stories, and stopped by this week to talk about his latest series, The Cassie Tam Files.
Hi, Matt. Welcome to Read A Lot.
Q: Had you always planned on becoming a published author?
It was always something that I was interested in. Growing up, reading was a big part of my life, and was pretty much a constant for me, regardless of whether I was having a good or bad time elsewhere.
I always loved doing creative writing assignments in school too, in particular seeing the different reactions that I got from people for different stories. It wasn’t until I left school though that I realised that I wanted to be able to give others the same sort of entertainment that I had been privileged enough to enjoy over the years.
I’m a big believer that there’s a book out there for everyone, and I like the idea that at least one person may find that book that makes things a little brighter for them among my work; you leave a positive mark that way.
Anyway, I eventually started submitting short stories to places, but I didn’t have much luck with it to begin with. In the end, I took a break from writing to pursue some other things, then came back to it about three years ago. After self-publishing my first two novels Wick and Carnival, I started aiming my sights at publishing houses again and just kept throwing myself at that wall until something stuck.
Q: What inspired you to write The Cassie Tam Files?
My previous work was kind of a homage to my childhood, but presented for adults. As a result, it featured a lot of different snippets of genres.
The thing is, I don’t honestly think that I can write without blending genres at all, largely because I love so many different types of stories. Even so, I knew that that was a potential stumbling block for some readers and I wanted to make Addict a little more focused than that.
I had a rough idea that I wanted to pay tribute to crime noir while keeping in my preferred Sci-Fi setting, but I didn’t know for sure how I was going to approach it at that point. So, I junked out on some old films. In this case they were Humphrey Bogart’s Maltese Falcon, L.A. Confidential and the classic that is Blade Runner. After that, the set-up just started flowering for me. When Cassie Tam then wandered into my head fully formed, I knew where I wanted to go with the tale.
Q: What made you choose this genre?
Like I said, I love writing hybrid genres. While The Spark Form Chronicles drew on my time working in the wrestling industry and mixed in some anime and card game influences, I wanted to take this one in a different direction.
I think that a lot of it came from my love of the film L.A. Confidential, though. That was just such a wonderful mix of detective work and corruption. In particular, I loved the realistically presented not-entirely-happy ending. Being a Neo Noir tale, though, I knew that it owed a lot to the older pulp novels that came before it, so I felt that it would be wrong not to give a few nods in that direction if I was going to go down this route.
Since I primarily work within Sci-Fi settings, too, I figured that I could throw that into the mix relatively easily. I mean, there’s always gonna be the need for a stubborn P.I., no matter what century we’re in, right? Plus, where I tend to go for near future worlds, it gives me the opportunity to explore where I think that technology may end up going in the future. It’s fun to speculate like that.
Q: What is the series about?
The series primarily follows a P.I. named Cassie Tam. She’s a Vancouver born Chinese-Canadian lady who, after some tragic events back home, relocated herself to New Hopeland, a fictional near future city built on Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert.
Living in a tech-focused but heavily corrupt city, she’s the person that people go to if the cops won’t touch a case, and as such she’s formed close links to people on both sides of the law, and that gives her a pretty useful network of potential allies and information sources when cases get a bit more complicated than expected.
As well as solving the cases that come her way, she has (like any good noir detective) a romance brewing in the background too. In this case, it’s with her client in Addict, Lori Redwood. Cassie actually has a bit of a tough time with that because, after splitting with her previous girlfriend, she’s kinda shut herself off romantically and Lori is really the first woman that she’s been interested in for a long time. On top of that, Lori is a Tech Shifter, someone who uses a metal exoskeleton to role-play as an animal.
As Cassie was around when this tech was rolled out and got to see first-hand all the chaos that it brought with it, that leaves her a little wary.
So yeah, expect crime, the dark underbelly of the future, and a stubborn, snarky P.I. trying to balance her job with getting back up on the dating horse. What’s been really awesome so far is that two different reviewers have now described the book as being Sam Spade meets Blade Runner. Given that that was the exact feel that I wanted, that’s really gratifying to see!
Q: Do you find it easier to write with a schedule or with no time restrictions?
As a father of three, trying to get a clear schedule going can be difficult. Up until recently, I also had a full-time day job to take up most of my time. After the office that I was working in closed, I’m now in a position where I have a bit more time on my hands (at least for now), so I’ve been able to really throw myself at a couple of different projects.
Mostly, though, it comes down to snatching time when I can. I suppose that most of my writing used to take place around the same sort of time each evening, so it could be said that I was more scheduled for a long time. Now though, I’m a little all over the place. I’m OK with that though. My stories can sometimes be a little chaotic, so a chaotic writing routine suites them.
Q: Can you choose a favourite character from the first book, Addict?
It’s difficult to pick just one, because even the background characters were fun to write, so I’m going to cheat a little here and say both Cassie and Lori. Cassie is an absolute to blast to work with as a protagonist because, despite being very competent, she’s a very flawed person. Even putting aside her emotional hang-ups, she comes with an abject refusal to stop digging, even when she knows that she should, and that gives her such a wonderful potential to put herself into dangerous situations.
Meanwhile, Lori provides a good foil for her. She’s a press photographer and is outwardly more playful than Cassie, but she’s not immune to darker side of the world that she lives in. For her, the Tech Shifter gear that she uses is a necessity for her to de-stress, and that’s a really fun little concept to write about.
Q: Was there ever a point while you were writing the book when you wanted to give up?
Oh no, I’ve been lucky with that. There have been times where I know that I need to take a step back for a day or two, but I’ve not let myself get to the giving up stage for a long time now. I have faith in the weird little things that my mind comes up with, and I really do want to get them out there.
To me, letting myself get to the point of wanting to give up would be strangely disrespectful to the ideas that are bursting to get out.
Q: What is the worst part of the writing process for you?
My habit of self-editing too soon. I once spent several hours rewriting a single paragraph before even finishing the first draft, and that just isn’t a good way to do things. As much as I have faith in my ideas, I can get quite self-critical when I reread things, and if I’m not careful I can get trapped in a cycle of reworking from the ground up long before I should.
That’s really hard to keep in check at times.
Q: How much of your stories do you plan, or do you make them up as you go along?
With short stories, I tend to work from a bare bones idea and see how it goes. The novels are kind of a mixed approach. What tends to happen is that I’ll plan a rough idea and running order in bullet point form, then start writing. Part way through, I’ll start to make notes on different sections and plan particular scenes out in more detail, then get back to it. It’s a bit of a hybrid approach, but it seems to work.
Q: Do you have a favourite piece of writing advice?
Don’t give up! It applies to more than just writing of course, but simply sticking at it is the best thing that you can do in my eyes. Keep working at improving and write the stories that you’d want to read. The chances are, someone else will want to read them too!
Q: Where can people learn more about your books?
In a fair few places, actually. I’ve been getting around a few different sites for interviews and the suchlike a lot more recently, which has been a fun experience. Mostly, I’d say to visit my site, though. I cover all my books and stories there, at least when there’s news to be had.
The rest of the time, you’ll find me blogging about anime, gaming and various other things. The side bar on the website also has links to my various social media accounts. I’m probably most active on Twitter right now, but I try to keep everything else up to date too.
Q: What have you learned since you started writing?
How awesome the book community is. I’ve met some marvellous people through getting my books out there, and they’re a wonderful bunch, ranging from fellow writers to reviewers and readers.
Q: What’s next for you?
I always have a ton of projects on the go at once, so far too much. The next thing that I know is coming out is actually my very first anthology appearance. My dark little story Nor’Killik is appearing in the Bad Dog Books anthology, ROAR 8. It’s a furry anthology with the theme of ‘paradise’ and I believe that it’s due out in the Summer.
Sticking with short-form storytelling, I have a couple of other stories that I’m working on with the hope of getting a few more anthology appearances this year. They mostly cover a mix of horror, fantasy and sci-fi genres. Moving on to the longer pieces, I’ve finished the first draft of the second Cassie Tam book too, so I need to get to editing that.
On top of that, I’ve also got some other edits to run: FAHRN, a novella that kick starts a sequel to my Spark Form Chronicles trilogy, and both Stoth and Xera, the final two books in my YA horror series, Teller Tales.
I’m at the planning stage for Cassie Tam 3 and a few other interesting pieces, including an ergodic children’s horror piece.
Away from the books, I’m trying to grow my blogging audience too by posting at least three times a week. That’s tough to keep up with, but I have some interesting regular pieces to help. In particular, people seem to enjoy my annual Crunchyroll of the Dice tournament, where I pair up random anime on the Crunchyroll site and have them face off in a single elimination tournament.
Then there’s the cosplay work, some art, and potentially a video game too. It’s all busy, busy, busy!