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Intrigue as Art: An Interview with Sallie Bissell, author of The Cassandra Curse

Sallie Bissell

I’m a native of Nashville, Tennessee, an English major at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, an avid reader from an early age. A friend once criticized me for “always having your nose stuck in a book” and I guess that was true. I moved to North Carolina thirty years ago and decided that I would stick my nose in writing my own book. I wrote a novel, submitted it to seemingly a thousand agents and it got roundly rejected. Most of the agents said, “You write well, but not enough happens in this book.” After my umpteenth rejection, I put that manuscript aside and started another book, deciding to put everything in this book. Sex, murder, bodily functions artfully described. Then I started the re-submission process and my first novel In The Forest of Harm was born. I guess the lesson there is don’t give up and pay attention to what agents tell you.

You can buy The Cassandra Curse here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I struggled with titling The Cassandra Curse. I tried titles with “eyes” and “vision” and “twins” but couldn’t come up with anything compelling. Then I re-read some Greek mythology (a favorite from my childhood) which led me to Cassandra, the Trojan princess who could see the future but who nobody believed. I realized that for poor Cassandra, seeing the future really was a curse, and it probably would be troubling for anyone. That was the key to the title.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I’ve got eight other books out, and my Cassandra cover is my favorite, hands down. It’s simply gorgeous, and I love the sensual feel of the cover. It makes me smile every time I look at it. I’ve gotten tons of compliments on it. Ronaldo Alves and his crew really knocked this one out of the park!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I can think of four silly things. 1. I won an essay prize in the second grade for writing about my dog, Matilda. 2. My parents gave me a blue Underwood typewriter (which I still have) the following Christmas. 3. I LOVED everything William O. Steele wrote—he could really make words come alive. 4. My parents had a friend who was a writer. This gentleman drove an air-conditioned car (this was years ago) and served Coca-Colas with little jackets on the bottom of the bottles. To me this seemed the height of luxury and I decided that if writing got you such neat stuff, then count me in. I wish I had a loftier response, but that’s the truth.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I worked in advertising, and wrote radio commercials for the Grand Ole Opry. I once owned a frame shop. I gave ghost tours in downtown Asheville. When I added my own touches to the tours, I got great tips. I love tennis and play (badly) a couple of times a week. I have a rescue Boxer named Izzy. I have never eaten an oyster in my life (and don’t intend to).

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Writing a book out is such a lonely, uphill climb, that simply getting one out deserves a bottle of champagne. Getting good reviews is very self-affirming, but for me, the most rewarding is hearing from readers. I remember one woman thanked me for my book giving her a respite from a tough emotional time she was having. Another wrote and said one of my books turned her nearly non-reading daughter into a reader. I’ve never been more moved and gratified.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

My other books would start out with Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly”—zooming right off the bat, taking the reader by the throat. I don’t know about Cassandra—it’s different. First person point of view, with a pentimento feel to it. Maybe “Clouds” by Joni Mitchell.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

They should think that things are never quite what they seem, and always listen carefully to what people tell them. My perfect reader is anyone who enjoys the book.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

Going to Scotland to see what Gus might get into over there—i.e., next book research!

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

Atmosphere was terrific. Professional, helpful and enthusiastic. Cameron Finch, Ronaldo Alves, and Erin Larson-Burnett were fantastic, and a special shout-out to the proof readers who corrected my woeful punctuation! I promise I’ll do better next time. I highly recommend Atmosphere!

You can buy The Cassandra Curse here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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