Interview with Cassandra Austen, author of Coming Home to Greenleigh

04 Feb 2020

What can you tell us about your new release Coming Home to Greenleigh?

Coming Home to Greenleigh is a romantic, slow-burn, second-chance-at-love novel, with a strong element of coming-of-age in the lead character’s story. For that reason, I think it’s more in the women’s fiction area than contemporary romance—the setting is the fictional town of Greenleigh, in New England, which plays a strong role in the story, and there are side plots and supporting characters with compelling backstories, so it’s longer (400 pages) and more dramatic and involved than the average contemporary romance. Also, because I live in New England in an old house, all the details about old homes and New England life and community are drawn very carefully.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

I wrote fiction throughout my childhood and into my teens, but never had an interest in becoming a novelist until I was home with young children. I had an exciting career in diplomacy before I had kids, and I just wanted a way to reflect on it when I got back to the U.S. But one thing led to another, and I began to attend conferences and research writing for publication. It’s taken me a long time to actually put my work out, because I ended up homeschooling my four kids, all of whom are competitive athletes. My husband continued his diplomatic work, so he was gone a lot of the time, and there I was, living in this ancient farmhouse, homeschooling four kids who need- ed to be driven an hour each way to sports practice. However, if I had also been pursuing a career outside the home, I don’t know if I would have continued writing, because there’s only so much of me to go around! So I’m grateful that I was at home and in the middle of educating my children for all those years. When you spend a lot of time reading good books and critiquing essays, your head is constantly in that space anyway. Writing fiction doesn’t seem to be such a big leap.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

This list morphs all the time, so depending on what blog post you read, I may say something different! And I love quality children’s literature, from both my own childhood and my experience homeschooling. Right now, I would say that my top five are:
1. The Golden Compass trilogy, by Philip Pullman
2. La Belle Sauvage, by Philip Pullman
3. Persuasion,byJaneAusten
4. The Dark is Rising fantasy series, by Susan Cooper
5. Any book by Pearl S.Buck(The Good Earth,The Living Reed, and Imperial
Woman, especially)

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?

The answer to this question changes depending on my mood and the time of year! Right now I would love to talk to Dr. Brene Brown. I know she’s not a novelist—but I’m interested in the intersection between the internal life and going public, and her rallying cry over the course of her research work has been, “Be vulnerable.” It’s been so hard for me to be out there in the world with the books I write. It’s the ultimate vulnerability, putting out my art where people can feel free to trash it, and by extension, me. I know that a lot of artists are lucky enough to be born with a big ego. But many of us are just regular people, and this creative act is just the thing that we do, the way that someone else’s creative act might be teaching kindergarten or paving roads. I would
want to ask Dr. Brown for specific advice geared toward helping us “quiet” creative people continue to be vulnerable without being destroyed in the process. I somehow suspect a talk show episode on that topic would be very popular!

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

My favorite thing is the very act itself. It’s literally like I’m transported. You know the feeling of watching a really amazing movie? Where you’re right there? That’s what writing feels like to me. I would write even without the publishing part of the process, just to grab that feeling.

What is a typical day like for you?

On a typical day, I get up late because I’m always up late at night, when the house is asleep and everything is quiet. I’m a coffee drinker (not lattes, plain old American!) so I sit quietly and enjoy my coffee, catch up on the news (which I completely ignore for the rest of the day), and meditate. I try to stay available for anything my kids might want from me—as a homeschool parent you just never know when someone will have a meltdown over a math problem or an essay—and I tend to work on admin things during the morning and early afternoon. I try to have a gym session every afternoon, because it leaves me feeling great. And most of my creative work is done at night.

What scene in Coming Home to Greenleigh was your favorite to write?

That’s such a hard question! I would say my favorite scene is where I introduce the reader to Gunnar. He’s a cute tattoo artist who introduces himself to Beth at the local coffee shop. I loved that scene because it came out of nowhere, and those are the writing experiences I love best. I knew I needed to stick a love triangle character into my draft somewhere, and I also knew that he had to be someone that Beth would normally never talk to. It was so random, and it was so much fun to write! What’s more, Gunnar has turned out to be such a popular character with my beta readers, I’ll be bringing him back for his own book!

Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?

Yes! It’s from Brene Brown. It’s the reason I decided I had to stop just reading books and start writing books. “At the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of my life, I want to be able to say that I contributed more than I criticized.” This sentence brings me up when I’m feeling down, and reminds me that my writing isn’t just a random activity. It’s filled with purpose, and I want to make my hours on the planet count. Here’s the graphic from her website, which she encourages us to share!

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