Since the start of 2018, I’ve not had many opportunities to share updates with you about my writing projects and process, but a lot has been going on behind the scenes. After completing my Japanese Cinderella manuscript Hai in late 2017, I moved on to a new manuscript tentatively called The Twelve Dancing Monks of Little Todai Temple, about a prankster sumo wrestler whose shenanigans lead to being exiled to a remote Buddhist temple during the peak of Buddhist persecution in the mid-19th century, when Japan was just beginning to open up to the West.
The whimsical bit of artwork shared with this blog post was drawn by my sister Rebecca inspired by Twelve Dancing Monks. It captures a sweet moment later in the story, which I will leave to your imaginations!
Amazingly, after just five months, the drafting phase of this novel is now also complete, and while I wait for feedback on the manuscript from a handful of early readers, I’ve been able to start a third as-yet-untitled manuscript set in 1840s Edinburgh, Scotland, inspired by the life and poetry of Christina Rossetti. I can’t say much about this new one yet, but unlike the others it will be an adult novel instead of young adult. I’m drawing inspiration from an eclectic mix of novels for this one, ranging from Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory to Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, China Mieville’s The City & The City, V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I think it’s likely to have a darker tone and cast than the others, but still with opportunities for the comic relief I enjoy so much.
I’m also expecting to publish a smattering of poetry, essays, and possibly (my first ever!) short story soon, so watch for those announcements in coming months!
The last year has been a whirlwind of change for me in terms of my writing career, and I’m forever grateful to all of you for your support and interest in my work. I’ve been able to connect with a wonderful writing community online via Twitter (@CassaCassaCassa) and continue to attend The Cabin workshops regularly here in Idaho for much-needed support in person. It’s humbling how much there is still to learn and understand about my craft, but retrospectively I can see how much I’ve grown. And it’s a delight to be able to do what you love surrounded by equally passionate friends!
My twin sister Rebecca has been spoiling me lately with beautiful drawings inspired by my two novel manuscripts, one of which you’ll notice has changed the look of my website — because I loved it so much I made it my new header!
The foxes with the steam train come from my Japanese Cinderella novel, which is set in 1900 Tokyo during the narrow window of time when Japan allowed private companies to build and maintain railways before taking back national control (a decision they would later reverse after the war years). Anyone who has been to Japan knows the trains are now iconic to the landscape; at the time, though, Tokyo was known as the “Venice of the East” because the waterways dominated the rhythms of the city. Gradually, trains came to displace rivers and canals as the primary means of transport, giving birth to a very different kind of city.
Rebecca also drew an image of sumo wrestlers during a training session. This one is inspired by a new manuscript I’m working on, a very loose Twelve Dancing Princesses retelling set in an isolated Buddhist temple in rural Japan of the 1870s. The main character is a sumo wrestler who, because of a prank-gone-wrong, becomes an acolyte at the temple at the worst possible moment: the peak of Buddhist persecution in Meiji Japan.
Didn’t she do a fantastic job with these? I love them so much! They’ve given me all sorts of inspiration through the long, slow process of editing and revisions.
I am delighted to share that I am now represented by Julie Tibbott and Jill Corcoran of Jill Corcoran Literary Agency!
In August 2016 I began drafting what I nicknamed my “Japanese Cinderella” novel (working title, Hai) in a writing workshop led by Danny Stewart at The Cabin, a center for readers & writers based in Boise. I continued working on it through another workshop with Heidi Kraay, also at The Cabin. Since then, I’ve had the help of many fantastic critique partners and beta readers, plus the support of friends in my local writing community as well as online, to write the strongest manuscript I could.
Overall, since I know other writers are often curious about this, it took around 70 rejections, 6 full requests, 3 partial requests, and 2 major revisions (i.e. with changes to more than 25% of the manuscript) to reach this point. Then, much to my happiness, Julie and Jill said yes!
What’s the novel about? I’ll be able to share more about it in coming months, but it is a Young Adult Historical Fantasy about a seventeen-year-old engineer nicknamed “Hai,” whose long days toiling on Tokyo’s first railway are disrupted in a big way when he crosses paths with Kano, an imperial prince whose obsession with inventing a submersible has his parents worried he’ll enter the sea one day and never return.
I look forward to sharing more book news in the future! In the meantime, I am about halfway through drafting another manuscript. That’s the fun thing about writing: there are always more stories to write.