Alex Cavanaugh on Writing, Music and Building Community

Cassa SeriesThree years ago I talked with Alex Cavanaugh about his writing process, back when his debut novel, CassaStar first came out. Time has really flown, and Alex has recently launched the third and final book in the CassaStar trilogy, Cassastorm. I am absolutely delighted to have him back again. This time around, we talked about his writing, his music, and building online community, something at which Alex is incredibly gifted.

Belle:  CassaStorm is the third book in the CassaStar trilogy, and I know when you wrote CassaStar, the first book in the trilogy, you hadn’t planned on it becoming a series. CassaFire, book two in the trilogy, takes place twenty years after the events in the first book, and with Cassastorm, we find out what happens to Byron twenty years after that. I know you didn’t intend any of this, but after reading so many part-of-a-trilogy books that end in cliffhangers (the bane of my reading life, frankly), I find it very refreshing that you haven’t kept readers hanging between the release of your books!

Can you tell us a little about your writing process with CassaStorm, and whether it’s changed at all since you first sat down to write the first book in the series? Since you didn’t know it would be a series, what were the challenges of continuing on with books two and three?

Alex:  It has changed a lot! The first book came from a thirty year old manuscript that went through a complete rewrite. It took me eighteen months, but it wasn’t that difficult.

The second came from a short story I’d written years ago. Most of that was changed when I outlined the second book, but it was still familiar territory. At least I had something to give the fans who wanted more. (And that included a female character.)

The third one was the most difficult. I had no idea what to do! The first was already an Amazon best seller with the second due to release. My publisher really wanted a trilogy. I labored over the outline for CassaStorm for months, bouncing ideas off my test readers and one of my critique partners.

Overall the big change is I’ve learned to rely on input from others. And thanks, cliffhangers drive me crazy as well. All three of my books stand on their own.

Belle: For all the writers out there, the BIG writing question here: are you a pantser or a plotter?

Alex:  Plotter! If I just started writing with no idea where I was going, my stories would wander off into the desert and never return. I need it completely mapped out for me. The bonus is that it gets me through the first draft faster and the revisions aren’t as drastic. (I actually enjoy that phase the most.)

Belle: In addition to your writing, you’re also a musician. Can you tell us more about your music, and your band?

Alex:  I’ve always played an instrument and even minored in music in college. Several years ago I picked up the guitar and eventually joined a Christian band. We do mostly covers but I can see us writing something original in the future. It has given me a new hobby – guitar collecting! My Gibson Les Paul is my pride and joy.

Belle:  You’ve developed an incredibly supportive community for writers on your blog, the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. On the first Wednesday of every month, members of the group post about their writing on their blogs – the doubt and the fear, the struggles and the triumphs – and visit each other to offer their support. What gave you the idea for the group? It’s grown to be a very successful group. Were you surprised at how well it’s taken off?

Alex:  I never expected it to take off like it has! It all came from a comment I made to a critique partner and fellow author – that he needed an insecure writer support group. I announced it a week later and September 2011 was our first posting. It’s now over three hundred members strong and we are putting together an IWSG website to further benefit writers. The group has been a total blessing and many writers tell me it’s their favorite post day of the month.

Belle:  You are, simply put, absolutely awesome at commenting on others’ blogs, and your posts are always filled with such interesting things, too. You constantly “pay it forward”, spotlighting other writers and bloggers in your posts. It must take an incredible amount of work on your part. Do you have any productivity tips for other bloggers? How do you get so much done in the blogging world, in addition to your writing, your work and your music?

Alex:  I have a cloning machine, and that really helps!

Seriously, I just budget my time. I can blog from work (which is awesome) and I just make it a point to visit as many of my blogger buddies as I can in a day. Most people can’t visit a hundred blogs a day like I can, but they can focus on twenty key blogs and develop a strong circle of blogger friends.

I enjoy the paying it forward part of my blog. It’s much more fun than talking about myself!


Alex J Cavanaugh 1Huge thanks to Alex for doing this interview! You can find Alex online at his blog, on Twitter and on Goodreads.

And here’s the synopsis for CassaStorm, the final book in the CassaStar trilogy:

A storm gathers across the galaxy…

Commanding the Cassan base on Tgren, Byron thought he’d put the days of battle behind him. As a galaxy-wide war encroaches upon the desert planet, Byron’s ideal life is threatened and he’s caught between the Tgrens and the Cassans.

After enemy ships attack the desert planet, Byron discovers another battle within his own family. The declaration of war between all ten races triggers nightmares in his son, threatening to destroy the boy’s mind.

Meanwhile the ancient alien ship is transmitting a code that might signal the end of all life in the galaxy. And the mysterious probe that almost destroyed Tgren twenty years ago could return. As his world begins to crumble, Byron suspects a connection. The storm is about to break, and Byron is caught in the middle …

Even though it’s the final instalment in a series, as I mentioned above, you can read any of the novels in the CassaStar series as standalone novels – they’re each set 20 years apart, and there are no cliffhangers in between!

42 thoughts on “Alex Cavanaugh on Writing, Music and Building Community

  1. Jeremy

    Seriously Alex gets more interesting every time he responds to a new great set of questions. Thank you for having him here and Alex… I knew it cloning, that is it!

  2. Chris Fries

    Great interview! And I’ve still got to get my copy of CassaStorm (although, with it being the end of the trilogy, I’m now disappointed that there will never be “CassaNova — the story of the greatest lover in space!”).

    And Alex — still looking to jam! Come join wikiloops and we’ll swap some tracks… 😉

  3. Sherry Ellis

    That’s amazing that Alex had a manuscript around for 30 years that turned into a gem! Wow! Maybe I should look for some manuscripts I did when I was a kid and polish them up!

  4. Elizabeth Seckman

    I hate cliff hangers in a series. Well, I don’t mind a new story being alluded to, but I hate it when the plot of that novel’s tale leaves me hanging. (I think that’s why I didn’t LOVE The Hobbit. There was no climax for movie one…they at least should have killed the giant white guy.)

    Plotter knuckle bumps Alex! As anyone who knows me in real life, I can ramble on and go off on a hundred tangents in even the simplest conversations…something has to keep me focused!

  5. Roland D. Yeomans

    Most authors who are forced to do a book write one that shows it, the heart is gone out of the writing. But not with CASSASTORM. So far it is riveting and filled with heart. You always do a fine interview, Roland

  6. Susan Gourley

    Alex is amazing at visiting blogs. I actually have followed his advice and visit around twenty blogs or so per day but more on special days like IWSG dates.

  7. Robyn Engel

    Nice interview. I wish I was a fraction of the plotter Alex is. I’m still waiting for someone to ask Alex: boxers or briefs?

    Thank you, Belle and Alex.


  8. Mary Pax

    I like ‘creativity junkie’ in your header. Very creative. :)

    A wonderful interview. Alex did build a great community for us all. The support is fantastic.

  9. Ella

    Nicely done Belle n’ Alex! I loved hearing about your process, the band and your guitar~ Oh, yes you must write some songs 😀

    Can I borrow the clone machine? I have worn four hats today and I need a vacation!

  10. Nick Wilford

    Good to find out a little bit more about Alex. Look forward to hearing those songs! The trilogy is described as a space opera – how about taking that literally and turning it into a musical?? I think that would work really well. :)

  11. karenjonesgowen

    I always enjoy these interviews with Alex. Why is he so fascinating? Maybe because he has never shown his picture!! Not even on the back of his books! How about that Alex? When will we get to see the real you?

  12. Melissa Maygrove

    Great interview, as always, Alex. I learn a little more about you every time. :)

    I don’t mind trilogies or series with cliffhangers as long as the author publishes the books in rapid succession and doesn’t milk the story for more than it’s worth (drag out the plot for $$).


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