I first met Cassie at the 2016 North Iowa Book Bash. If I remember correctly, it was the first multi-author book signing event that either of us had ever attended. Cassie is a genuinely kind, fun person and I love her style! She’s here to talk about writing, romance, and her alter-ego…Sassy Leigh. Her new book, Skin Deep, released today!
I have five amazing kids that I refer to as the artist, the drill Sargent, the mouse, the gamer/mad scientist (and heaven help him, the only boy), and my baby who is the diva princess (I am convinced she will stage the Barbie revolution and become a multinational dictator after first gaining political power by leveraging a hostile takeover of the Mattel corporation).
In my theoretical spare time, I do Pinup! It’s a lifestyle and I’m obsessed. This year I started dressing more vintage just because I like it and I had a friend recommend I do a Pinup Contest. I didn’t even know it was a thing!
If you are unfamiliar, these events are like beauty pageants but the contestants dress up in 1940’s and 50’s vintage outfits.
The event was small, local, and totally fun! Then this September I really put myself out there and did a second one. It was huge! Miss Burlesque at Burlesque Fest was a large production with a Pinup Contest, Burlesque Troupe, and a Rockabilly Band. This time I made it to the final four!
My Pinup stage name/alter ego is Sassy Leigh and she’s kind of a wicked apple of delight! It allowed me to live out loud the playful vixen side of my personality that normally only sees daylight in my books.
“Every time I am afraid now I look in the mirror and ask am I going to regret it if I don’t do it or am I just afraid to succeed?”
What inspired you to start writing?
I have been telling stories since I could hold up a Barbie Doll. I recorded dialogue for my dolls on a Fisher Price cassette recorder in the ’80’s.
I knew early on that I wanted to be a writer but as I progressed through school, I convinced myself it wasn’t a real career path (I was a hormonal mess and lost my mind). I read urban fantasy that leaned heavily towards fairies and vampire executioners, mixed in with classics like In Cold Blood, Jane Eyre, all of Jane Austin’s novels, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula…these were big influencers for me. You wouldn’t think this would lead me to romance but it did. I need the HEA to balance the bad things that characters go through.
By the time I left high school I gave up writing. Then when I was 29 I had a nagging story idea that wouldn’t leave me alone. That’s also when the accident happened. That one event was a wake-up call. I was wasting my life. So I wrote that book.
Every time I am afraid now I look in the mirror and ask am I going to regret it if I don’t do it or am I just afraid to succeed? Then I jump…four books later this is where we are.
Other than writing, what are some of your passions in life?
We already covered Pinup…you could say I’m pretty diverse and every few years my focus seems to shift.
Right now I am an avid UFC junky. I love MMA and especially the women’s divisions. They’ve expanded from one to four! I watch nearly every PPV and have been to an event in Chicago. I even do fantasy fight picks (kind of like fantasy baseball or football). The guys at work tried to bet against me at first until they all lost and learned I actually watch fight analysis and know my sport!
Like most things, it has found its way into my romance. I’ve got one book out right now with MMA but I have more coming down the line. I figure if it’s worth my time to be obsessed over, it’s worth writing.
I’m also an unabashed card-carrying nerd. I love Star Wars, Star Trek, I’ve actually read Frank Hurbert’s Dune, and my youngest daughter and I bonded over Pacific Rim. I’m aware that I’m odd but I fully embrace it. LOL.
What was your debut novel, and how has your writing process changed since your debut?
My first book was actually a Novella. I had published a short story called Dying To Love You under an alternate pen name, but I always felt I could have done better. When I got the rights back I rewrote it as Until Death Do Us Part and took it from 7k words to 23k!
I focused a lot on showing and not telling my character backstory with that book. I didn’t need an outline that first time because the path was already written but looking back that short story was kind of an outline. Now I write a beat sheet/outline that focuses on events and another one that focuses on emotional character arc and merge the two…there are lots of mood boards and themes. It’s gotten crazy involved!
What is your favorite part of the writing/publishing process and why?
The cover! I have a cover addiction. I own a whole bunch that I don’t even have the book for yet! There are some really talented cover designers out there! My cover for Skin Deep and all the teasers that went with it (except the book trailer) were designed by Anna of Cover Couture. It was a premade she posted and it totally inspired the book! In fact, it messed up the schedule for the books I planned to write this year because it demanded to be written now!
What is your most challenging part of the writing/publishing process and what do you do to make it easier?
I get scared of the business stuff on the back end while I am putting the final pieces together. I often have great ideas and struggle to execute. But I have learned to surround myself with creative/smart people who remind me it will be okay and coach me through it. I need a cheerleader and they keep me on the right path and keep me moving forward.
What does a typical day look like for you? How do you find balance?
I go to my day job at an insurance call center (I’m a team lead) and work Between 8 or 10 hours then I head home, cook for the kids and settle in to write for the rest of the night. Unless it’s Wednesday or Saturday. Then UFC is usually on the TV all night while I write. I go to bed around midnight/1 am then I’m up at 5:30am or 6am and start again. This flexes a lot when I have events happening but this is pretty much my life right now. I even write on my lunch break or squeeze in marketing! Thankfully my kids have hit a self-sustaining age where they need my physical presence more than they need me. The baby years were a marathon that I don’t care to repeat. Also, only grocery ordering and pickup/delivery is a modern miracle and I use it.
“Self-expression is cathartic and writing is absolutely a valid career path!”
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Don’t wait until you’re Thirty! Also, that 8th-grade teacher that thought your dark story meant something was wrong didn’t understand your art. Listen to the 5th grade teacher who understood I was trying to be metaphorical and reaching beyond my adolescent skill set! Prove him wrong and do it anyway. Self-expression is cathartic and writing is absolutely a valid career path! I would say I never expected to be writing romance but it was absolutely the best path for me and I never expected how hard marketing would be.
What do you love about writing romance?
I love that everything will be okay. There is always someone to love you, karma takes her pound of flesh, and watching the characters grow into better people together is satisfying every time. What’s better than that mad dizzy feeling that happens when you fall in love? I get to experience it over and over again with each new couple.
What kinds of things do you find romantic in real life? Can you share a story?
My first kiss happened on a crowded dance floor in a club when I was sixteen. I was having an argument with the boy I liked because when he ignored my obvious efforts, I flirted with someone else to make him jealous. And boy was he! I remember how I went from standing in the middle of a packed teen dance club to total absorbed focus. It was crazy and I’ve never forgotten. Now I live for those moments of intensity where I can’t think. I overthink in general and my husband is great at making my mind speechless! (Okay I might save that line for a book later. LOL. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)
Do you read your book reviews? If so, how do they affect your writing (if at all)?
I do. I hope someday I have too many and won’t be able to, but right now it’s easy to read them all so I do. One did affect me a little. It commented on a scene that was one of my favorites and paralyzed me briefly. Great friends talked me through it though and now I try to be more careful although I probably won’t be.
“Oh, good you’re not dead!”
What is the craziest, funniest, or most surprising thing that has happened to you since publishing your first book?
At North Iowa Book Bash this year a reader stopped to look at my books and said, “Oh, good you’re not dead!” In conversation, I discovered that since I hadn’t released anything new for a few months (at the time it had been about 5 months) she thought I died! Also, this year I did a radio interview on a Jazz station to promote a book event. That was really fun and unexpected!
Skin Deep is my first contemporary romance. My others are all PNR. I love this one because it taps into some of my side interests like tattoos! (I have a raven perched on a typewriter and my favorite quote.) This book also cranks the heat level up for me. I don’t think it’s erotica but I definitely skipped some levels from where I was. I also feel that my main character Gigi is a different kind of heroine. I recently saw a post where someone defined “slut” as a woman who treats sex like a man. Gigi does this and she doesn’t apologize for it. She doesn’t hide her behavior out of shame, she does it because she can navigate life more freely and without judgment if she keeps it to herself. She does not tolerate slut-shaming and she is willing to take chances and change. She is a “bad girl” who isn’t really a bad girl at all. Ultimately both characters in this couple look like one kind of stereotype but their actions don’t match the appearance. To me, that’s real life. No one is who society tries to pigeonhole them to be. They meet while she is on a bad date and never exchange names. Then later the unexpectedly reconnect when she applies for a job at his tattoo shop. She wants a fling and he wants forever. But this is a romance so you can guess which one they get. I enjoyed the journey on this book and I hope you all do too.
Is there any other news you would like to share?
I will be at For the Love of Books and Alchohol Chicago this October! I am so looking forward to that event. I love connecting with readers in real life and getting to hang out with other authors! Also, books are coming. I am working on an awesome collaboration and I will be adding new books to existing series this year both paranormal and contemporary. I know some of you really want me to finish the Haunted Romance Series and I will. There are big things being worked on for that.
Also by Cassie Leigh
Five Facts Just for Fun!
1. What’s your favorite ’90s jam?
How do I pick one? Okay, Alanis Morrisette is tied with FIona Apple. See I couldn’t do it. LOL
2. What was the last gift you gave someone?
For my daughter’s birthday I took her for a pedicure and my other daughter (our future overlord) we redecorated her bedroom in flamingos for her birthday. Both girls were born in August.
3. What were you like as a kid?
Dramatic and brooding. I also was really girly and talked like an adult (kind of like my youngest).
4. What was the last thing you binge-watched & what did you think of it?
Leah Remini Scientology and the Aftermath. I’m kind of into documentaries on cults and religions.
5. What is the one thing (other than your loved ones) that you cannot live without?
Thank you so much, Cassie, for being my first interview and sharing so much with us! You are an all-around awesome person. Have fun at your event in October and I can’t wait to reconnect at the North Iowa Book Bash next April!
Ink & Brazen Women #1
Mr. Right Now is planning on forever…
Gigi Duval doesn’t do relationships, especially with her heart and career on the line. She values two things—her image and a good time in the bedroom. Watching men lie and cheat her whole life hardened her against “happily ever after”.
When she interviews with Roman Bishop, the sexy co-owner of Ink Spinners Tattoo, she begins to wonder if he might be more than a casual fling. Only one thing is certain: Roman is off limits. Gigi can’t possibly add her best friend’s brother to her little pink book.
Or can she?