Monday, August 25, 2014

Cassandra Dunn wonders "What if?"...plus a book giveaway

I recently was introduced to Cassandra Dunn by Jenny O'Regan from Confessions of a Bookaholic. She shared the book on her page for a giveaway and after I commented about it, she immediately sent us an e-mail to connect us. I'm so glad she did because Cassandra is so sweet and her debut novel, The Art of Adapting, sounds intriguing. I have it in on my TBR shelf and am excited to check it out soon.

Cassandra received her MFA in creative writing from Mills College. She was a semifinalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers, and a finalist for Clapboard House’s Best of the House. Her stories have appeared in All Things Girl, Midwest Literary Magazine’s Bearing North, Read Short Fiction, Literary House Review, The MacGuffin, 322 Review, Fix it Broken, Clapboard House, Every Writer’s Resource, Rougarou Fiction, and Sand Canyon Review. Aside from writing and editing, she is the mother of two girls. (Bio info from Cassandra's website.)

Today, Cassandra is here with a guest post to talk about how she came about writing her novel. Thanks to Simon and Schuster, we have TWO copies for some lucky US readers!

Visit Cassandra at her website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

What If?

I started out as a nonfiction writer. The focus of my MFA was creative nonfiction, or memoir. I enjoyed writing stories about actual, believable people, about the real relationships I struggled with and learned from, my personal triumphs and failures. But there are limits to memoir. For one, if you hope to publish, the people you’re writing about have to be okay with it. Most of my immediate family knew that I used them as subjects and were fine with the notion, but I had friends and exes who I suspected might object, so I felt limited in the scope and depth of stories I could tell. I also felt like I had a finite number of tales in my arsenal, the kind of life-altering moments and connections that warranted an essay or a chapter. After devoting a piece to musing on these events, what else was there to say about that particular incident or relationship? After years of exploring my own life through memoir, I began to feel a pull toward fiction. Maybe I just needed to get my own story out of my system first, or maybe I was just practicing the craft of writing within the safety of writing what I already knew. In comparison, fiction actually felt like a challenge for me, making up characters and settings and scenarios, and making them feel as real to me as the true stories I’d been writing. I started out with short stories, taking a pivotal moment in a character’s life and embedding it in the everyday world I built around them. And as soon as I switched to writing fiction, I found what was really magical for me about fiction vs. nonfiction: the concept of what if. What if I had not left home when I did? What if I had been a boisterous and outgoing person instead of a shy and reserved one? What if I had gone right instead of left?


My debut novel, The Art of Adapting, is another what if story for me. There are elements of the story that come from my life. The story is set in northern San Diego, where I lived for five years. Lana’s new journey into single motherhood coincided with my separation from my husband. And Matt, Abby and Byron’s uncle who has Asperger’s, was inspired by my own uncle who had Asperger’s. But the similarities end there. Because this isn’t my story. This is my "what if" story. My children were rather young at the time, but what if they’d been teenagers? My career became a serious focus as I started over, but what could have filled my days if I hadn’t been looking to launch a new career? What if I’d jumped back into the dating game? What if my reclusive uncle had been taken in by someone who could have helped him stay sober, and offered him a safe space to simply be himself? Fiction is a fun way to look at all the roads I didn’t take, all of the developments that didn’t happen, all of the problems that could’ve been solved a different way. And once I give my characters their own paths, their own actions, their own self-doubts and areas of confidence, they develop into people who feel as real to me as my memoir subjects.

And that’s the real fun of fiction for me. Beyond the idea of shaping situations and characters to my own whims, there comes a time when the scenes start coming on their own, situations that can push and deepen and stretch the characters, and I’m following their lead instead of crafting it for them.

Thanks to Cassandra for visiting us today and to Simon and Schuster for the books for our giveaway.

~Introduction by Melissa Amster

How to win:  Use Rafflecopter to enter the giveaway. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

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US only. Giveaway ends September 1st at midnight EST.

20 comments:

Janine said...

I always wonder "what if" I had been smart growing up and paid more attention in school and graduated. And, "what if" I had tried to pursue a career instead of just moving from one bad job to the next and depending on a man to support me.

Bonnie Franks said...

I have questioned numerous what-ifs from my younger days and they all come down to I wouldn't have the children or grandchildren I have now necessarily. As in what-if I had married a different man? But in later years, what-if I had quit smoking earlier?

rhonda said...

Like my life not the what if type.

rubynreba said...

What if I had not married when I was 18 and had a bad marriage that ended in divorce?

JJT said...

What/If I had gone to a different university?

Books and Java said...

What if I had chosen to stay in college in my 20s instead of getting married and finishing college near my 40s. Would my life have been easier?

traveler said...

What if I had never moved away?

Bonnie K. said...

What if I had overcome my fear of moving away and attending college in another city and becoming a librarian? I might have a niggle of regrets, but I wouldn't trade my husband or daughters for anything.

bluedawn95864 at gmail dot com

Jessica Meddick said...

I sometimes wonder what if I had gone to culinary school instead of getting my business degree. I wonder if I should have tried to open up my own bakery instead of working in contracting.

Katherine Ivan said...

What if I'd stayed on the career course I'd set instead of marrying at the first opportunity?

Anita Yancey said...

229What if I had went to college and now had a great job that paid well. Thanks for having the giveaway.

Shelby N. said...

Mine is more of a bad what if than a good one....my sophomore year of college I almost transferred to a different school. I didn't -- and ended up meeting my now husband about a year later.
What if I would have transferred? Would my hubby and I still have "magically" met somehow? As corny as it sounds, would our hearts have found each other? My life would likely be completely different -- living in a different town, married to either a different person or still single...etc.

Connie said...

What if I had gone to college straight out of high school instead of waiting till much later?

Carol Fragale Brill said...

What if 18 years ago, my husband and I had been afraid to take the chance of following our dream to live "down the shore," leave our jobs, and had not lived in wonderful Cape May all these years

Melanie Backus said...

What if I hadn't gone home with a friend over a Thanksgiving holiday nearly forty years ago.......

mauback55 at gmail dot com

bn100 said...

Don't think about that

Vivian said...

What if that day in college, I had skipped, or at least used an umbrella? Would I not have gotten sick, then sicker, and sicker, and spent my entire adult life sick and in pain? What wonderful things would have I been able to accomplish if I had stayed healthy? Would I still be as close to God as I am now?

Ro said...

What if I had finished college instead of starting a family .

Tami said...

What if I'd picked the major in college I really wanted and not doubted my abilities to be a marine biologist?

Bridget O'Neill said...

I wonder what if I had finished college at the school I first attended, instead of going to 4 different colleges and graduating at the age of 31!