Angry Robot Backlist Boost: An Interview with Cassandra Rose Clarke
Earlier this year I got an email from Angry Robot about their Backlist Boost, and I loved the idea. After all, we always hear so much about the new and upcoming books, it can be easy to forget there’s a whole trove of wonderful preceding titles that deserve more attention too.
A book and author that came to mind immediately was The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke. I read this wonderful novel earlier this year, and in case you missed it, here’s my review. So much has happened since its publication, including a nomination for the Philip K. Dick Award as well as new books and deals for Cassandra, so it’s great to be able to catch up. Without further ado, please join me in welcoming her to The BiblioSanctum and I hope you enjoy the interview!
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Mogsy: Hello, Cassandra! Welcome to the BiblioSanctum and thanks for joining us today!
Cassandra Rose Clarke: Glad to be here!
M: As part of Angry Robot’s Backlist Boost feature, I’d love to talk to you about The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, a book I read and enjoyed earlier this year – and one that I feel is deserving of a lot more attention! For those not familiar with it, can you tell us a bit more about the book?
CRC: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a science fiction fairy tale that follows the relationship between Cat, a human woman, and Finn, a life-like android her father brings home when she’s a child. They grow up together, but when Cat becomes an adult, she’s forced to confront what her relationship with Finn really means.
M: From Romeo and Juliet to Cat and Finn, I have a weakness for tales of forbidden love. What made you want to explore this theme?
CRC: I’ve always loved forbidden love, too! In particular I like forbidden love that comes from the characters themselves, where they’re sabotaging their own happiness because of their own biases and misperceptions (as opposed to the sort where the relationship is challenged from the outside). That was one of the big things I wanted to explore with MSD—what are the emotional and moral considerations of being in love with an android?
But at the same time, I also just wanted to tell an epic, angsty love story. One of the big inspirations for this book was actually gothic romances like Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights—I wanted to capture the feel of those books in a science fiction milieu.
M: Finn is an interesting character, being a completely sentient robot that looks and acts human, but at the same time he is specifically programmed to help perform duties for his owners. Did you draw inspiration from anywhere when writing his character?
CRC: Probably my biggest inspiration for Finn was Data, from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was rewatching the series during the same period that I was working on the book, and it got me thinking about the idea of robots wanting to be human, or wanting to experience human emotion. Part of me wonders why they would want to experience such a thing—it seems like human hubris to assume that a robot, our creation, is automatically going to want to be like us. (Our flesh and blood children don’t turn out like us most of the time.) So with Finn, I was interested in writing a character who did not want to be human but instead had humanity foisted on him by the people around him, including people that he loved and cared for—it wasn’t enough for him to love them as a robot, but he had to love them as a person, too. It ties back into my wanting to look at the implications of falling in love with a robot.
M: Cat ends up in a pretty tough place, torn between her feelings for Finn and knowing that their future together is uncertain. There are a lot of intense, heart-wrenching emotions involved on all sides. Did that present any interesting writing challenges?
CRC: I loooooove writing emotional scenes like that. I find most people, when they’re writing, have certain scenes they write toward, “candy” scenes that help them get through the connecting scenes they may not be as excited about. The heart-wrenching scenes were my candy scenes. I tend to get really emotionally invested in my books and in my characters, and there’s something so cathartic about throwing characters together and having them bounce off each other the way they do in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. It’s like watching a sad movie. Sometimes you just want to cry at the end of something.
M: What are your favorite books, movies, shows, stories, etc. about robots, androids, cyborgs and automatons?
CRC: I really like Data on Star Trek, as I talked about above. I also love the synthetics in the Alien movies. There are four of them total and they all have different personalities, different motivations, different levels of self-awareness, and different ways of interacting with the humans around them. I think it’s interesting how what’s essentially a twist in the first movie (“He’s a damn robot!”) became an integral part of the mythology of the series later on. In terms of written robots, one of the best robot stories I’ve ever read is a story called “The Robot’s Twilight Companion,” by Tony Daniels. It’s about a robot-robot, as opposed to an android, and it’s absolutely harrowing and heart-breaking.
M: Of course, you have written a lot of other works, including several Young Adult novels that were published by Strange Chemistry. Briefly can you tell us about those books?
CRC: The YA books are considerably different from Mad Scientist’s Daughter! They’re a series of YA adventure fantasies, the first of which is called The Assassin’s Curse. The book follows the adventures of a pirate named Ananna as she gets tangled up with an accursed assassin named Naji. It is another love story, though!
The first two books in the series form a duology. The third book in the series, The Wizard’s Promise, is the start of a new duology about Hanna, a young fisherman’s apprentice who was named after Ananna and seeks to live up to her namesake. She gets thrown into her own adventure, too! Sadly, plans for completing the duology are up in the air due to the closing of Strange Chemistry this year, although I do hope to finish the series eventually. I really love the characters and the world and want to return to it soon.
M: I’m an avid reader of adult speculative fiction but I’m also a firm believer that the Young Adult genre should not be overlooked. What are some great things about writing YA? You bio also states The Mad Scientist’s Daughter was your first adult novel. Were there any interesting new experiences?
CRC: I actually wrote The Mad Scientist’s Daughter before I wrote my YA series! I began the YA series as a challenge to myself—not to write YA specifically (I wasn’t really thinking about the age group) but to write something plot-driven and centered around adventure and general awesomeness. Having gone through a graduate creative writing program, I was most comfortable with interior-driven literary fiction. Writing The Assassin’s Curse was definitely interesting. One of the biggest differences was that I had to do a lot more rewriting and re-outlining than I did with The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, which more or less came to me wholesale. But it was so satisfying to see The Assassin’s Curse finally come together in the end.
To answer your first question, one of the great things about writing YA, particularly speculative YA, is that you don’t feel as beholden to certain tropes and expectations they way you might in adult science fiction. There’s a lot more rule-breaking that goes in YA that’s a lot of fun to write.
M: I saw recently on your site that you had signed a new book deal with Saga Press. Congratulations! What’s the new book or other projects can we look forward to from you in the future?
CRC: Thank you so much! The new book is another adult novel about robots, although it’s much different in its scope and approach than The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Its called Our Lady of the Ice and it follows four people living in a domed Argentine colony in Antarctica as various factions—robots, humans in favor of Independence, gangsters—struggle for control of the city. I had a lot of fun writing this one and I can’t wait until its out in the world, which should be fall of next year.
M: I also saw that you were a NaNoWriMo participant! Wrapping things up here, are there any parting words of wisdom you want to share with those (including myself and my co-bloggers!) who will be heading into NaNo this November, or any writing advice in general?
CRC: NaNo is great! The funny thing is that, while I have written 50K on one project in a month (Mad Science Daughter was such a project), I’ve never officially “won” NaNo. Yet I still join up every year, because I love the community that builds up around it! I think anyone interested in writing should participate in NaNo at least once. For those of you who already planning to participate, I think the best thing to remember is that even if you “lose,” you really didn’t. I mean, you still got some words down, right? Whether it’s 50K or 50, you’ve got started on a story, and that’s what counts.
Thanks so much again, Cassandra! It was awesome chatting with you! For more information about Cassandra Rose Clarke and her books, please visit her website at: