Thursday, March 22, 2018

Spotlight: "From Unseen Fire" by Cass Morris

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic. 

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people -- if only she can find the courage to try.

Her siblings--a widow who conceals a canny political mind in the guise of a frivolous socialite, a young prophetess learning to navigate a treacherous world, and a military tribune leading a dangerous expedition in the province of Iberia--will be her allies as she builds a place for herself in this new world, against the objections of their father, her husband, and the strictures of Aventan society.
Latona's path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven's fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love? 

About Cass Morris
Cass Morris lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with the companionship of two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. Find out more about Cass Morris online at

1 How did you go about researching the setting for FROM UNSEEN FIRE? Did you travel?
I looked at so. many. maps. Which was great! I love cartography. It’s shockingly difficult to find maps of Rome from the Republic era, though; almost everything is Imperial, because so much of the Forum was destroyed and rebuilt over time, so archaeology has a much easier time figuring out what it looked like in, say, 300 CE than 30 BCE. I also scoured the internet for every picture of reconstructions I could find -- the Getty Villa has some gorgeous images of a reconstructed Roman country house, interior and exterior, and there are a surprising number of Roman legion re-enactment groups. And yes, I did travel. I’d been to Rome once before, as a teenager, and in 2016 I was lucky enough to be able to go back. There’s nothing quite like walking the very hills and streets your characters would have!

2.What was the value of firsthand site research?
One of the things I most wanted to bring across in From Unseen Fire was the sense of an active, bustling, diverse city, and taking a research trip to Rome really helped me envision the ancient city as it would have been. So much is still the same, from the pathways of major roads to the open-air markets that flourish in every piazza. My favorite part was walking home from Trastevere (which the Romans/Aventans would know as Transtiberium or the Janiculan Hill, on the far side of the river from the main city) after dinner one night and discovering a night market happening on the banks of the Tiber. Bright lights, colorful tents and stalls, wine sellers plying their wares, musicians playing festive tunes -- It was not hard at all to feel like I was having a very similar experience to one I could’ve had two thousand years ago.

3.Did you find inspiration in crafting the politics of FROM UNSEEN FIRE from the current political climate? If so, how?
I sort of feel like no one’s going to believe me when I say that no character in the Aven Cycle was meant to be an analog for anyone involved with the 2016 presidential election or its fallout, but it’s true! This was all written long before that, and I was thinking of Tiberius Gracchus and Julius Caesar and Cato while I was writing, not any modern political figures. If anything, I was probably more directly inspired by the economic tensions that underpinned the 2012 campaign cycle, since that’s when I was doing most of my drafting. There are a lot of echoes, though, because the socio-political issues of today are nothing new. The Roman Senate had some of the very same arguments that the US Senate does. Nothing in From Unseen Fire is meant to be an allegory, but I do hope that the political discussions the characters have some resonance and perhaps get readers thinking about how civilizations throughout time, including our own, wrestle with these problems.

4.When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been a natural storyteller and a lover of books for as long as I’ve known what words were, but I can remember, clearly, the first moment I knew that creating worlds was what I wanted to do with my life. It was January, 1997. I was eleven years old, sitting in a movie theatre with a sticky floor, having just seen Star Wars for the first time. I was in utter awe. And I thought, “This is it. This is what I want to do.” I don’t know that I even knew what I meant by that at the time, whether writing books or working on movies or some other way of building worlds. That moment, though, was absolutely when I realized that I wanted to spend my life shaping universes that other people could both lose and find themselves in. I’ve been working towards that ever since.

5. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I spend a lot of time reading, cuddling my cats, and playing MarioKart. I love to travel, though I don’t get as much chance for it as I’d like, so I make up for that with day trips whenever I can. Virginia’s vineyards and cideries are excellent for that -- always in beautiful locations, perfect for a relaxing day off. I also love attending conventions and conferences, and I’ve worked to staff a couple. My other major creative outlets are tabletop gaming and embroidery.


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