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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!