P.C. Cast is a bestselling author and teaches English and Creative Writing in Broken Arrow. She has written twenty books including the Divine series, Goddess series, and her young adult series, House of Night. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award and her third House of Night title, Chosen, debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list. More information is available at pccast.net and pccast.blogspot.com.
By Ryan Dahlgren
I met P.C. Cast at her condo in Broken Arrow just as the clouds were breaking after a rain on a Thursday afternoon. The Scottinators, Cameron and Chloe, announced me with a lot of barking. I didn’t even ring the bell. P.C. was sparing me a few hours before going out to dinner and a play. Her flat was clean and elegant with books prominently displayed. Not her own, but Anne McCaffrey books, mythology books, Star Trek books and the Buffy Omnibus. The Duke, John Wayne, watched us carefully from a place of honor on the top bookshelf. Her office was in the other room, complete with computer that mysteriously opens and closes the CD tray.
Is that where you do all of your writing?
I’m mostly using my laptop. I’m writing Hunted now, the fifth House of Night book. I need to get ahead so I can still meet my schedule for the adult series.
How do you find time to write?
I’m prolific. I focus very easily. I’ve learned to focus very easily. I fall in and out of my worlds very quickly. The first part of books I have to trudge through them and force myself to write. When I get to a certain point, and this happens in every single book, it’s like the rollercoaster clicks up and then whoosh! I can put out 15 to 35 pages a day. You know that feeling you get when you’re reading a really really good book and you’re walking around in the book world? I walk around in the book world all the time. It’s like I get the same feeling that I get when I’m reading a great book. I always want to be back in it. It’s happening in front of my eyes. It’s happening in my head. So I just get it down, and it goes really fast then. I work really well under a deadline and I really well under stress.
I’ll bet that helps a lot.
It does help a lot, some people are the opposite.
That’s how I met Tess [Teresa Miller]. I took her creative writing class, and I had maybe 60 pages of Goddess by Mistake done, and I knew I had to have deadlines set. So each week, she was my deadline. I finished the entire novel that semester in class and got it published. I took the next class and wrote what was going to be Goddess by Choice, now Divine by Choice, the next semester. Then I had contract deadlines.
I’m a huge procrastinator. That’s why stress and deadlines work well for me, because if I don’t have them, I’ll watch trash TV. I’ll drink too much. I’ll work out instead, and I don’t know, walk the dogs, wash the cat, anything except write.
So you’re not one of those people who are compelled to write.
I don’t think I could not write anymore. I’m always writing a book.
You’ve gotten addicted.
Yeah. At first it wasn’t like that. At first I just wanted writing to be my career. So I had to put out novels to make that happen. Now I tell myself, “You have a whole month off. You don’t have to write.” But I find myself fidgeting and writing it in my head anyway.
I crank out a lot of work in the summer. I won’t be able to teach much longer, though. I really won’t have time to.
You’ve been teaching for 15 years. That’s got to be a nice backup income for a writer.
It’s just me, so I have to be really careful. People think if you have the six figure contract that you get paid six figures. Well you do, over the course of maybe three or four years. And you get paid in pieces. Pieces, pieces, pieces. You get paid royalties twice a year and you never know what they’re going to be. Sometimes it’s ten thousand dollars and sometimes it’s two hundred and eighty seven dollars.
Before you quit your day job, you have to be in a position where you can count on every advance being so damn big that you don’t have to work outside of writing.
I don’t want to shock you, but I’m not frugal. Not frugal at all!
Is this one of your fifty seven homes?
Well, it’s going to be, yeah. I don’t want to own a bunch of homes because then you have to take care of them. I will summer in Tuscany, though. Not this summer, but I’ll be in Tuscany next summer.
The Divine series titles seem really autobiographical. Are they?
Divine by Mistake was Goddess by Mistake, the first real book I ever wrote. When young authors write, the easiest thing to do is to create a character who is basically you. If you’re vaguely interesting. I don’t know how all the boring people start out.
They have interesting friends.
Basically. Shannon is of course me, and the book’s peopled with everyone in my life. I mean like the dad is Dad. The friends are friends. I made people mad when it was published.
Like when you killed them off?
Yeah, as a matter of fact! It was so spot on, it’s now it’s kind of embarrassing for me.
Maybe I should be quiet about this?
No! No, I’m fine. I didn’t know if I could write a heroine who wasn’t real close to me. I wasn’t confident enough then to understand that I could. When I wrote Goddess by Mistake, I sat down to write the book I would want to read. The perfect book I would want to read! And what did I want to read? I wanted to read fantasy. I wanted to read about a strong heroine, who made mistakes, who was funny, who was irreverent. I wanted sex in it. I wanted a great hero, and I wanted a cool world. And for me, the coolest world has to be a mix of Italy and my Celtic origins and, um…
Horses! Like, Tallgrass Prairie is the Fertile Plains. You could go and find it, the place I described in the Tallgrass Prairie. I did that on purpose. And now, it’s like… I love those books. I’ve written so much more I can laugh at myself actually. The Divine books are my little self-joke. You know, it’s like “hee hee.”
I cringed a little when I read Divine by Choice. That ritual…
The rituals were terrible, weren’t they? It was hot but horrible, wasn’t it? I know! I know! I was thinking, the things that are funny in the book are usually things that crack me up. The things that are scary are things that really frighten me. I don’t like to fly. I do fly, because hello, I have to go places and I love places. But, I’m scared to fly. I’m real, real terrified of crashing into the ocean and being dragged down. So of course I make that happen in the book. Things that scare me, I put in my books. The rape scene in Divine by Mistake disgusted me. I disgusted myself. The things that evoke strong emotions in my books evoke my own strong emotions. I bawled my eyes out.
Was it hard to write about these painful things happening to somebody who looked like you and essentially was you?
No. I took away the character’s moral compass. Imagine what I could be if I lost my moral compass, and if I was just completely and utterly spoiled and was made to believe that I was God. That’s what she does. She was broken, too. You don’t see that in the first book.
It’s kind of actually fun. It’s like when you play; it’s more fun to play the bad guy. It’s fun to write that kind of stuff.
One of the things I really liked about the Divine series was that I knew these places. They’re all real world, Oklahoma locations.
I did a research trip. So the stuff Shannon’s talking about seeing is stuff I saw. Like the funeral parlor next to the barbeque house, and the barbeque house looks like it’s in better shape.
That’s a real Oklahoma touch.
Yeah! [Laughs] You know what’s really weird, when that book was released, it was in the middle of that huge snow storm a couple years ago. The book came out in December and then we had all that snow in January. People were like, “Oooh weird.”
What’s the difference between being a young adult author and writing for adults, other than the content?
The plot is driven faster. There’s less emphasis on metaphors and descriptions. I like writing description real well. Marked had to be rewritten about four times after I turned it. Kristin [her daughter and co-author of the young adult series] told me, the very first time she read through it, “Mom, you need to cut out some lines. I know that you’re known for this and I know that you do it really well, but you’ve really got to cut out some of this description.” I was like, “Just leave it in!”
Young adult is really hard to write, though. You know when you’re a teenager everything is so angsty! My god! Kids believe a mistake is the end of the world. That’s the main difference.
I’ll bet you get a lot of insight from your classes. Not just materials or characters, but you know what kids want to read.
Mmhmm, big time, and I ask them too. I’m like, “Hey guys, what do you think about that?” I’ve also asked for their input on covers a lot. I pass along the cover input to St. Martin’s. My editors are real interested in knowing what the kids want. They thought the title Untamed sounded too romantic. They had another choice; I can’t remember what it is now. When I asked my kids, and I asked all of them, it was unanimous for Untamed. I was surprised, but they were like, “No, it sounds like wild!”
What do they think of having a best-selling author for a teacher?
They are so funny. Kids read my adult novels, but not to this degree. They’re obsessed. Kids stop me in the hall and ask me to put them in the book and kill them. Kids come in to meet me. They’re real nervous, you know? They think it’s cool. When I debuted number 2 on the New York Times best-seller list, my teacher friends and a bunch of kids came in early and decorated the whole hall down to my room. Decorated my room. Flowers and candy and streamers and all of that stuff.
I am showing through my actions, not just through lecture, what it is to have excellence in your life. What you can attain if you have talent and drive and ambition and you set yourself a goal.
The kids are completely behind me. My peers are behind me.
Tell me a little bit about your Marked series.
Well, it started out with my agent saying “vampire finishing school.” Two, almost three years ago, at the [RWA National] Conference in Reno. This year it’s in San Francisco. If you’re already published, and already well established, it’s a huge party to go to. I mean, it’s your girlfriends, and your agent, and your editor, and you’re taken out to dinner and wined and dined. Publishing houses always have these huge parties, and they’re always open bar. We were drinking, and she says “Hey hey hey, I have an idea for a series I need to give you.” I said, “Okay.” She’s like, “Vampire finishing school.” I had been reading a lot of young adult, and I was thinking I would really like to write a young adult series. She was thinking bondage and like college co-eds. I was like, “Meredith, no. No.” I could write that, that would be fine, but I talked her into young adult. It’s made my career. These books have put me in a completely different place.
I sat down with my dad, who is a biologist, and came up with a biological basis for vampirism. Then created a world that’s ours only there have always been vampires. It’s an uneasy alliance between vampires and humans. Vampires are like Superman. They’re super-gorgeous. They’re super-talented. They’re super-men. It’s matriarchal. Nyx is their goddess. I use a lot of Wiccan based rituals. They’re in no way disrespectful to men, because a real matriarchal culture would not be disrespectful to men. It’s just that men have a different role, and their role is more is as a protector.
Are there matriarchies in all of your books?
All of them, yeah. I write because it’s my job. It’s my main source of income. You know how much money teachers make. I also write because I want to celebrate today’s women. The matriarchal theme is going to be a heavy theme for all of my books. Sometimes lighter and more fun, like in my Divine books.
Where is the House of Night series set?
I made Cascia Hall the House of Night in this part of the country. Of course, Kristin and I put Houses of Night everywhere in the world we want to go. [Laughs]
Just in case you have to do a little… research?
That’s exactly it! I for sure put one in Chicago, because I’d love to go back to Chicago. There’s a huge one in Venice. My god! There’s a giant one in Venice. One in London. Everywhere that we can imagine. There’s got to be an Irish one. I’ve been to Scotland several times, but never Ireland.
The books are told first person from Zoe Redbird’s point-of-view. She’s of Cherokee heritage, from here in Oklahoma. I delved into some of the Native American mythos, but what I really do is give a respectful nod to the Cherokee mythos and make up my own. Especially as I get farther into the series. In Untamed I have a really nasty bad guy. I’m going to put a little disclaimer at the beginning of the book that says I’ve made the mythos up. I don’t want to show disrespect.
Zoe is based on Kristin at sixteen. I did that on purpose so that Kristin wouldn’t have any trouble stepping into her voice. It’s peopled with a lot of my students and a lot of Kristin’s friends.
Did you have a hard time stepping into Kristin’s voice?
Not at all.
It sounds like you’re really close.
We are, though Zoe is not Kristin anymore, to either one of us. Zoe is Zoe now, because we’re on book five. Although, she has a lot of Kristin’s idiosyncrasies.
So tell me a little bit about how you and Kristin work together.
We do some brainstorming, and then I write the first draft. It’s hard for me. I want to call her and talk to her about it sometimes, but she hasn’t read up to where I am. I used to send her pieces of it, but I revise constantly. So what I will have sent her before might have completely changed. So that didn’t work. When I get done, I’ll send it to her. I’ll talk to her in the manuscript sometimes. Then she goes through it and fills in the blanks and answers the questions. She makes sure I’m being succinct enough, because I tend to do too much description. So she’ll write these little bubbles to me. Then she sends the manuscript to me and I see what changes she’s made. I re-read it carefully to make sure she’s not messing up any of my dominoes, because I have a much better idea of where I’m going than she does. When I’m done, we send it off.
Has Kristin always been your sounding board?
When I was writing the first book and she was living at home, I’d yell out from my office, “Chicken!” I call her Chicken. Kristen Frances Cast. KFC. I’d go, “Chicken! Chicken, when someone’s really drunk, what do you call it?” She’d say, “Trashed, Mom.” And then I keep writing.
So how did you go from that to co-authoring the House of Night series with Kristin?
I don’t have write complete adult books to sell them anymore. I just write a paragraph synopsis, an idea, for a series usually. Then my agent talks to my editor about it. I don’t write sample chapters anymore, either. But for the House of Night series, my agent says, “Maybe you should write a detailed synopsis and the first three chapters, because you’ve never written YA before and they need to hear your voice. I can get money if they like your voice.” I said, “Okay.” So I’m trying to write the first three chapters and I keep yelling down the hall. Kristin says she was innocently watching MTV. Well, I don’t think you can innocently watch MTV. I finally came out and said, “Would you like to coauthor this book with Mama?” She said, “Coauthor… like have my name on the cover?” “Uh huh.” She said, “Like, Kristin Cast and Phyllis Cast?” I said, “No, like, P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast.” She went, “Oh. Yeah.” I called my agent and she liked the idea real well. She was thinking of the marketing perspective. Everyone was cool with it, so it happened.
What do you want to accomplish with the House of Night books?
The point we wanted to make with young adult series is acceptance and tolerance and also that teenagers can make mistakes and recover from them. Too often teenagers get caught in this black void of I-messed-up and they don’t see the way out of it. They don’t see ever fixing it. So we purposefully have our characters, especially our main characters, screw up. They make mistakes. Then they have to clean up their messes. It takes several books sometimes. Zoe is a flawed character. She makes mistakes. She’s a real teenager. She’s a good kid. She has a good moral compass. But the time for making mistakes is when you’re a teenager.
Both Kristin and I have so little patience with intolerance. “I believe one way and my way is the only correct way to believe. And if you don’t believe like I believe, not only are you wrong but you’re going straight to hell.” We hate that point of view. Which is why we set the pagan House of Night right in the Bible Belt. Our books stand up and say “Hey, it’s not right to hate someone and say they’re going to hell because they’re gay. It’s not right to tell someone they’re wrong just because they have a different belief system than you have. Come on! Get a clue.”
You just won the Oklahoma Book Award for Marked. Congratulations!
We were very honored to win the Oklahoma Book Award. It meant a lot to us, especially because I don’t get a lot of recognition from my administration. You tend to get the opposite, either ignored or they try to slap you down. It’s very nice to get recognized in my home state because we’re being recognized worldwide.
People ask, especially since I hit the Times list, “When are you leaving Oklahoma? When are you leaving Tulsa?” Why would I leave? I’m moving to midtown. I’m buying a house in midtown next year. I’m not leaving Oklahoma. Except for when it’s too damn hot in the summer, and then there are other places to go. There’s Santa Fe. There’s Colorado. There’s San Francisco. There’s Venice. Come on! I love, love Tulsa. I don’t have any intention of leaving. Ever. It’s a beautiful city. It’s gorgeous. We have the best restaurants here. Great plays come through. The music is fabulous.
So what’s coming up for you soon?
At the end of the summer Kristin and I are going out to San Francisco for a week. I think I have to do some research in Napa Valley. I can tell. I can feel it. It looks like the fifth book Hunted will be out in hardback and we’ll be in New York City in June. In May I have Warrior Rising coming out. Then an anthology that comes out in the summer.Email Ryan Dahlgren at firstname.lastname@example.org