Welcome to September!
I hope you've had a great long weekend (if you get one - and if you don't, I've been in those shoes before)!
This interview is being brought to you via the magic of scheduling, as I am working this weekend too. I'm in Phoenix at CoKoCon (and I hope to have met some of you there).
Who are we talking to today? Kass Van Gundy, that's who!
Kassidy VanGundy was born and raised in South Bend, IN, a city juxtaposed between Chicago and a sea of cornfields. Built with a set of wings, she set out to see as many parts of the world as she could, from Athens to Sao Paulo. Although, she admits that heat lightning and driving on dirt roads occasionally tempts her to come back home. Right now, she’s nesting on the East Coast with her beautiful husband, Douglas, who is constantly subjected to chapter reviews of her writing, especially during the development of her latest book, Cursed Descent.
In 2020, Kassidy VanGundy graduated from the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University with her Masters in International Affairs and a specialization in Diplomacy, where she also taught multiple courses on sustainable development within the earth and environment department. Prior to this experience, she graduated from Hanover College with her Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and a minor in English. She incorporates everything she’s learned from both her academic and personal experiences into her work.
Subscribe to Kassidy’s YouTube Channel: Kutiefly
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1. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I was in kindergarten when I started making up stories about my classmates being superheroes. I gave them specific powers and backstories that fit their personalities back then. As a cripplingly shy child, sharing these stories gave me the courage to make friends for the first time. They really helped me come out of my shell and in turn, I wanted to share that with others. I knew that there had to be other extremely shy kids who struggled like I did, so I wanted to write books for them. To help them find a world where they felt more comfortable, where they could be more confident and share that with the people around them like I did.
2. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Honestly, it’s normally whatever I’m fixating on at the time. For example, I started getting really into BTS during quarantine and I would put on their music whenever I would write. Listening to music in a language I don’t understand tends to help me be more productive, but soon I started watching their interviews and I really grew to like these guys. That's when I started thinking about a world in which there was only one real boyband left and the rest of the music industry became reliant on synthetic beats and holographic performers. I thought a murder mystery could be an interesting way to approach a story in this futuristic dystopian cyberpunk setting, and boom, my next WIP was born! I was also on a furby kick and decided to write a campy horror short story centered on Furby mods/odd bodies. It really just depends on whatever niche interest pops up at the time. It’s always important to write about things you genuinely enjoy, and then spend plenty of time researching said topic online or in your local library!
3. What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I keep a little diary for each project I’m currently working on and I use it to take notes, keep track of progress, document my word count, express my frustrations, etc. However, with my personality, sometimes it’s difficult for me to form routines. So in order to motivate myself to keep this up, I place a sticker next to each entry I write! Just like a kid getting a sticker on their homework assignments. You’d be surprised how well stickers motivate adults (trust me, I was a teaching assistant for several college courses back in the day). It also motivates me to make writing a daily habit, which helps me tremendously in terms of finishing my books at a decent rate.
4. When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I actually started my first book, Cursed Fate, during my first year of college as a 19 year old. You can definitely tell in the beginning chapters of Cursed Fate that I was fairly young when I wrote it, because it is oozing with teenage angst. I kept it in as a bit of a thank you to my younger self, but of course I edited it when I was 25/26 to meet a more mature style of writing. I finished this book in quarantine after I completed my masters degree, when I finally had the time to revisit my passions, and published it in June of 2021. Before then, I had written plenty of poems and short stories in my free time, but never a full length book.
5. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
My favorite pastime is cuddling up on the couch, lighting a scented candle, and playing a bunch of cozy indie games on the nintendo switch. I may be a bit of a homebody, but I love getting all dressed up and going out to a themed bar for some fun glittery drinks too. I’m a big foodie as well, so be prepared to have a great meal with me, whether it's at an underground restaurant, or back at my place. (Can you guess my sun, moon, and rising?) Occasionally, I draw and paint, although it’s been a while. Right now I’m busy traveling and having adventures with my fantastic husband, Douglas.
6. What is the first book that made you cry?
When I was a child, I spent most of my summers in the public library and I kinda just roamed the halls and picked out books randomly without rhyme or reason. During this time, my mother had me read The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom because she believed that it would make anyone who read it more empathetic and kinder to others. Oh boy, did it. I cried constantly as Eddie would meet person after person, reliving both happy and tragic memories from his past. Ultimately, he realizes he needs to let go and move on, and that’s when he reaches his very own slice of heaven. It’s very good and I really recommend it if you haven’t read it already.
7. Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes, actually. I was worried that my dark fantasy books wouldn’t get much traction because I am a woman and that genre is mostly male-dominated. I thought about using multiple old family names to make a new one, but ultimately decided against it. My identity is very important to me, and if I’m trying to inspire others to be the most authentic versions of themselves, then I need to hold myself to the same standard. I also think that I bring a fresh perspective to the genre as a neurodivergent queer woman and I don’t want to compromise that in fear of how others would perceive me.
8. Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I believe a lot of readers nowadays are looking for something original. Sure, we all have our favorite tropes that we like to see, but lately the market feels pretty oversaturated with books that are very similar in my opinion. As a reader, this makes me pretty frustrated, so when I find something unique, I celebrate! If you can stand out amongst the noise, the right kind of people will find you. Just trust your gut and write what you want to write, not what you think other people are going to like.
9. Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
I feel like my answer to this question could be completely biased as someone with bipolar 2 disorder. It’s a mood disorder that causes me to have cyclical mood swings that range from a hypomanic high to a very depressive state, with the later being overall more common. Sometimes my threshold for emotions is also skewed, with me going from 0-100 a lot more quickly than other people. Because of all this and being a very passionate and opinionated person by nature, I’ve never not felt an emotion strongly in my entire life!
I do think my big feelings and my constant efforts to understand emotions through therapy and academic work makes me a better writer. I tend to observe people and their behaviors more often, trying to learn from them what their level of “normal” is and what they choose to show vs hide. Even if I’m over the top, that doesn’t mean all of my characters will be. I’m very conscious of how powerful emotions can be for both the art and the artist, but I must admit, with my mental health, I do have to put in more work to get my point across. Being emotional has its pros and cons. So I guess it all depends on what you want to do with emotions when you write.
10. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book?
After finishing this current series, I plan on working on quite a few stand alone books. All of them have vastly different themes, time frames, and characters. I find it would be difficult to blend them all into the same universe. Right now, I want to allow myself the freedom to explore and experiment within dark fantasy and other genres and not be restrained by any previously written rules.
11. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Practice every single day. Write as much as you can. Even if it’s just a couple of sentences. Writing is like every other artistic avenue or hands on skill: the more you do it, the better you will get! Reading a variety of books or consuming other forms of media will also help, not only inspire you, but to also help increase your vocabulary for future writing. You’ll also pick up on both popular and underground references that might help you connect to your readers even more.
Also, try not to be so hard on yourself. Life’s rough and you’re doing fine.
12. As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
When I was a kid, I watched a movie called “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” and latched onto a phrase from the script: “In my family, I am a flamingo in a flock of pigeons”. As cliche as it sounds, I inadvertently made it my life motto to be a flamingo everywhere I go. I’m the person who’s going to wear, do, or say what they want whenever they want, even if it makes them stick out in the crowd. Did you know a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance? Not only do they make sure that they’re looking fabulous, they tend to flock to others who let their light shine just as brightly. That’s what I want to do with my writing. I want to make zany stories that bring my fellow flamingos together.
13. What does literary success look like to you?
It’s a really big dream of mine to see people cosplay as my characters online or at a convention in the future. I would also probably cry if someone ever handed me a fanart of one of my characters! I think having people fall in love with the characters and the world you create is the ultimate measure of literary success.
14. What’s the best way to market your books?
Right now I like to use Instagram as my main platform for promoting my writing. It’s the perfect place for people to find out more about you as a person and an author with all of the many features like photos, reels, videos, and going live. I like to host writing streams every now and then where my followers and I work on projects at the same time for about an hour or so. A lot of people who follow me are aspiring to be writers themselves, so they tend to find that extremely helpful. Most of my recent book sales are from people I meet there! Feel free to follow me @writingwithkass if you’d like!
15. What do you have coming next?
Now that Cursed Descent is pretty much finished, I plan on stepping back from that series for a bit. I had a plan to write a prequel from the villain’s perspective, but I’m not sure if that’s what is right for my career right now. I’d love the chance to flex my muscles and get really creative, so I’m hoping to start something completely different! We’ll just have to wait and see!