Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Special Guest Interview! Cassandra Marshall

If you are not already aware, I am currently earning my MFA in Creative Writing at National University. I started a class last month that was an internship course and was lucky enough to build my own internship with Beta-Reading and Editing. It's actually been a lot of work! One of my assignments, though, was to interview someone in the field I am interested in, and because of this, I asked Cassandra Marshall. She is a freelance editor, a writer and an intern for a literary agency. She has a fantastic blog at camarshall.com and does #queries with her twitter account CA_Marshall. If you haven't already checked these out, then you should because they are awesome and packed full of helpful and interesting information!

On to the Interview.

Nicole: What do you do for a living and/or What is you full time job?
Cassandra: I do freelance editing. It pays the bills, keeps me sharp, and I love it. Plus I get to work in my pajamas and at two in the morning if I want. Best job ever, behind writing.

Nicole: What do you do as a hobby?
Cassandra: I do a lot of crafting; sewing, crocheting, paper crafts, terrariums, jewelry, etc, plus gardening. I've got an organic veggie garden out back. It's nice to get outside every so often, get those butt muscles working.

Nicole: How does your job and your hobby co-exist?
Cassandra: Pretty easily. If I'm hungry, I'll head out to the garden for a cantaloupe and maybe pull a few weeds while I'm out there. My dog Mollie also gets a bit of outside time to stalk some birds. win-win-win.

Nicole: Describe a typical day in your life.
Cassandra: It varies. Sometimes I may wake up around noon (you'll understand why so late later), take Mollie out, grab some breakfast & maybe watch a movie, respond to emails, do the google reader thing, head to twitter, do some editing until supper (around 8p), grab supper while possibly watching another movie/reading a book, do some queries, do some more editing, get tired, read a book in bed, snuggle with Mollie and go to sleep around 2-3 in the morning. Other times I might just read all day, ARC's, fulls from editing clients, library books, critique partner fulls, etc. Some days I lay around a crochet a blanket, or sew a winter sweater for Mollie.

Sometimes I spend all day over at my cousin's house down the road letting her boys play with Mollie. Sometimes I go shopping all day with my brother. I'm very flexible and setting my own hours is amazing. I don't have to get dressed unless I have to leave the house for a trip to the store, library, or post office. I have more pajamas than I do actual clothes. Some people are excited by a great pair of jeans or stilettos. Me? Just give me a catalogue of pajamas.

Nicole: How do you make a living Editing, Interning, and Writing?
Cassandra: I don't make much editing. I think I've made about $5k this year so far. A quarter of that goes to taxes. I don't go on trips (life is a vacation, honestly), the house is paid for, and Mollie's a small-ish dog. Interning is my own time on my own dime. But I'll do it for free forever if The Agent wants to keep me around that long. It's nearly been a year now.

I haven't made any money writing yet, but it'll happen eventually. I've just started querying this past week. The only things I have to pay for are food for Mollie and me, car insurance, student loans, internet, and odds and ends. I'm not rolling in money, but I'm comfortable. If I had a husband or kids, I'd be a different story, but for now I'm ok.

Nicole: What is your ultimate goal?
Cassandra: To have a small house by some water with a shelf full of books that I've written and have helped others to write.

Nicole: Have you achieved this goal? If no, what are you doing to achieve this goal.
Cassandra: A couple of the books I've edited have gone on to get agents, so hopefully they'll go on to sell. It's still early in my career though. I've only been seriously editing for about six months.

Nicole: What drew you to the writing/publishing field?
Cassandra: I like to make things. I like to make stories come to life, I like to share experiences with others. I like to work in the background of things. I'm a natural helper. I love learning. Writing/editing/interning is all of that. Awesome x 3!

Nicole: Have you always been passionate about it?
Cassandra: Not really, no. I'm not the kind of person that will say they've been writing since they could hold a pen. I did artsy stuff. I almost got held back in kindergarten for ignoring the other children and hogging the water table. The only thing I remember about middle school is gobs of glue and tissue paper. I didn't much care for my english classes in high school.

In college my dissertation was a collection of poetry. Not until 2007 did I switch to short stories and then for my dissertation for my MA I started a MG novel. Three years later, I have that MA, a successful freelance editing business, an awesome internship, and two completed books under my belt. Who knows what can happen in the next three years.

Nicole: How do you feel about the publishing industry?
Cassandra: I love it. It's not so much the nuts and bolts about how it works, but more about the people I get to meet and work with. There's an amazing sense of community, even if most of it is in NYC and I'm in a cornfield in Michigan. Afterall, any job would absolutely suck if you hated your co-workers. Publishing just isn't like that.

Nicole: In what ways do you see it changing?
Cassandra: Everything is always changing. Way back when, a woman wasn't allowed to write, especially the landed gentry. Now everyone can write. When books were first printed, a lot of people couldn't afford them. Now a lot of us can't afford e-readers. There will always be people moaning about the death of the industry and that their way is better.

The truth is that no one's journey to be a published author happens the same way as someone else's. Just because this guy did self publishing and this girl did traditional doesn't make either of them better than the other. Everyone must find their own way of going about it and I for one am thankful for the changes and the many opportunities that they bring.

Nicole: How did you become a freelance editor?
Cassandra: I worked on a few manuscripts for friends/critique partners and they started recommending me to their friends. Eventually I started charging small fees to make up for my time, and then decided to make a go of it with a legitimate business. I wasn't finding much work around town and this was a way to pay the bills and do something I loved.

Nicole: How did you land your internship at a Literary Agency?
Cassandra: I saw a posting for a remote intern and decided to apply. I never thought they'd take on someone as inexperienced as I was but they did and I'm ever so grateful for it. It never hurts to try.

Nicole: What is your job like there and what do you do there?
Cassandra: I read queries when they come in, reject/forward them to The Agent, read fulls when The Agent requests them, write readers reports, and other odds and ends.

Nicole: How has this internship and your editing work affected your writing and who you are as a writer?
Cassandra: The internship has given me the most amazing insights into the query/publishing end of things. Understanding more about who you're working with and what their life is like makes you really think about how you relate to them and how you can best serve them in response to them serving you.

As for editing, I'm constantly finding things in client manuscripts and queries that make me wonder if I'm doing them (or not) in my own writing and so I've got all these tidbits and things to look out for and remember to do/include and it's definitely been beneficial. I look back at that first book I finish just last year and I've grown so much already as a writer.
Nicole: What is your favourite genre to read and write?
Cassandra: YA, deffo YA. Some MG. I've even got a few favorite picture books. I do occasionally read adult stuff too. But YA is my love.

Nicole: Are there any trends you see booming in these areas?
Cassandra: Trends are tricky. If an agent has 60 vampire queries in their inbox, that's a trend, but then you'll be completing with those 60 people (and the million or so other writers who are trying to cash in on the trend too) and by the time you get that book written and revised and ready to submit, it's been a year, agents are sick of vamps, and it'll still be two years before your book hits the shelves and who knows what the trend will be by then. There will always be room for amazing stories. Just focus on what makes your story unique and go for it. Forget about trends.

Nicole: What sort of schooling did you get and how did it help you as a writer?
Cassandra: I have a BA in English (professional writing) and an MA in Creative Writing. Do they help me as a writer? You betcha. I have learned a TON from both rounds in school and it's been worth every penny.

Nicole: With the huge influx of social media websites, blogs, and e-readers, how do you see these things influencing the industry, and how have they helped you grow as a writer, if they have at all?
Cassandra: Writers have so much more information now. They can get to know agents and editors and they're not as scary as they used to be when it took months to hear back from a letter you sent in the mail to someone you've never met. Blogs and twitter are a chance for writers to see exactly what kinds of people agents and editors are and what kinds of things they're looking for.

Websites and blogs can teach you so much about craft and technique and formatting. There's no reason for a writer to be stuck at home behind a typewriter and to be lonely. There's a whole community of people just like them who are willing and ready to help you be the best writer you can be; to cry with you when things don't go so well, and to celebrate with you when they do. It's the best.


  1. Thanks for the interview Nicole! It was lots of fun! I hope you get an A on your project :)

  2. Great interview, N.R. and Cassandra.