Velvet Opus Interviews Kassandra Flamouri, author of dark ballet fantasy The Chalice and the Crown. The first in a series of Indie Spotlights on incredible self-published authors. Read our review of The Chalice and the Crown, then get a cup of tea and settle in as Velvet Opus Interviews Kassandra Flamouri. We also have a GIVEAWAY of The Chalice and the Crown, so once you’ve finished reading, head on over to enter!
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Hi, Kassandra! Thank you for agreeing to the interview. It’s an honour to have you here. Especially as you’re our first-ever interview on Velvet Opus!
Kassandra: It’s an honour to be here! It still feels so surreal that there are people out there who like my work enough to reach out to me for something like this.
We’re here to talk about your dark ballet fantasy novel, The Chalice and the Crown. Aside from being a fantasy, how would you describe The Chalice and the Crown?
Kassandra: The Chalice and the Crown is a dark portal fantasy that explores the line between magic and madness. A few readers have likened it to Black Swan, and one reviewer said she got Vampire Diary vibes (from the atmosphere, I presume — to be clear, there are no vampires in this book!). I myself pitched it as Black Swan meets Narnia when I was sending out queries once upon a time.
When did you come up with the story?
Kassandra: Well, the seed of the story was bouncing around my head probably in high school. But I never did anything with it until well after college. It was my first novel, so it was very much a learning and growing process. I rewrote it at least three times from start to finish (not including countless rounds of revisions on each draft) over the course of about six years. It was a very gradual evolution, so it’s hard to pinpoint when I came up with the final story idea.
There are some dark elements in the book, as well as uplifting messages. Where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Kassandra: The spark of the story was inspired by a recurring nightmare I had as a little girl. Other elements grew from there, and inspiration came from many different directions.
One big source of inspiration was Susannah Cahalan’s memoir Brain On Fire: My Month of Madness, which then led me to tons of medical research for the particulars of Sasha’s physical and mental decline. The Swan Lake inspiration came at the very end after the manuscript had been sitting in a drawer for a year or so. When I went back and looked with fresh eyes, the thematic parallels started emerging. I saw ways to tie it in and strengthen the ballet element.
How difficult was it to write the darker elements in the book?
Kassandra: Some were surprisingly easy (emotionally, at least) because I was looking at a lot of it from a very detached, academic kind of place. Some were very hard. Baba Nadia’s death was very personal to me, and a lot of Sasha’s observations and feelings while sitting with Baba Nadia after her passing was drawn directly from my experience with my own grandmother’s death. Pretty Girl’s death was very difficult as well, and I seriously considered cutting or altering the scene.
I love ballet, and especially ballet in fiction! What research did you do to write about elements like Sasha’s Russian heritage and, of course, all that ballet?
Kassandra: Tons of YouTube, mostly. There were also some really great Netflix documentaries. People have asked if I have a background in dance myself, to which I can only say, “I wish!” But I was classically trained as a flutist for about fifteen years, and I think that informed some of the music and dance scenes.
You wrote your earlier works under a pen name. Why was that?
Kassandra: My last name is really long. Like, it wouldn’t fit on a book, it’s so long. So I knew it had to change, though I grappled a bit with whether to just shorten it or use a pen name. In the beginning, I used a pen name because I thought there were too many variations on Kassandra in the YA world (Cassandra Clare, Kiera Cass, Kass Morgan, etc.). I used my middle name, Tamara, and an English translation/variation of my last name (Linden). I thought it was super cool–and still do–but I wasn’t prepared for how uncomfortable it would be to interact with people and build relationships under a false name.
So, is Kassandra Flamouri your real name?
Kassandra: Sort of. Kassandra is my real name. Flamouri is a shortened version of my last name, like Jacobs from Jacobson. Or rather Linden from Lindenson, which is what the name means in English (more or less).
You said, “a writer is very rarely just a writer”. Who is Kassandra Flamouri when they’re not writing fantastical fiction?
Kassandra: These days I’m a primarily a student. It turns out that a degree in music isn’t exactly a moneymaker, especially when you’re a flute player with chronic tendonitis. So I’m back in school to become a certified occupational therapy assistant with hopes to work in hand therapy (or maybe paediatrics, we’ll see). I also tutor high school students in critical reading, grammar, and mathematics for the SAT and ACT, and I’m trying to branch out and do some freelance proofreading.
Why did you decide to self-publish The Chalice and the Crown?
Kassandra: Well, I’ll be honest. It wasn’t my first choice. Whatever people may think, self-publishing isn’t the easy route. It’s a lot of work. I always thought I didn’t have the hustle to self-publish, so I wanted to go the traditional route. So, I was thrilled when Chalice was picked up by an indie press in 2019. But then the company went under and I thought about trying to query again. Then I started to wonder if I was underestimating my own abilities. I had been telling myself I didn’t have the hustle or the skills to publish on my own, but you can’t really know that about yourself if you don’t try. So I went for it!
How did you fund the costs of self-publishing?
Kassandra: I didn’t have the capital to foot the entire publishing bill myself. So, I ran a pre-order campaign through Kickstarter to make sure I could cover at least the basic costs. It was really exciting because I got way more funding than I thought I would. It was a good thing, too, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from self-publishing, it’s that you need more money than you think you do!
What are the biggest challenges of self-publishing a novel?
Kassandra: So far? Selling the book, for sure. Thanks to NetGalley and other services, I’m very pleased with the number and quality of reviews I’ve gotten. But finding readers who will actually pay for your book is just so difficult as a debut, self-published author. I feel like I’m just screaming into the void. So you can imagine my excitement when I got your interview request!
Aside from The Chalice and the Crown, what other self-published fantasy authors or books would you recommend?
Kassandra: I’m actually fairly new to the indie scene, but there have been a couple that I really enjoyed. I’d say my favourite is Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sonderby (though this is sci-fi, not fantasy). Something Wicked by Nicole Rubino is a great Halloween read, perfect if you loved the movie Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic (the movie, I think–I found the book’s vibe to be very different).
What’s next for Sasha in The Chalice and the Crown and for Kassandra in the real world?
Kassandra: I’m working on a companion novel for Chalice, tentatively titled The Fox and the Flame. Nothing new for Sasha (yet!), but this book tells Ari and Sadra’s story during roughly the same time period covered in The Chalice and the Crown. I’m hoping to finish that while waiting for my publisher to start edits on In the Dark of the Moon, my second book.
I just signed with The Parliament House recently, so the timeline is still a bit up in the air, but we have a tentative release date set for Fall 2022.
I’m super excited for this book to come out, as it draws heavily from my Greek heritage and shows a side of Greece most people aren’t very familiar with. Most YA novels set in Greece feature either island beaches or the ancient myths (or maybe just the Greek gods, far removed from Greece itself). In the Dark of the Moon is set in the remote mountain villages of northwestern Greece and features traditional Greek folklore, which is not the same thing as the ancient mythology. This book is very dear to me, and I can’t wait for people to read it!
Sasha comes across two animal companions in the book: a dog and a fox. If you could have any animal companion in the world, which would you choose?
Kassandra: Well, I have a hilariously grumpy cat and the cutest, sweetest, coolest dog in the whole world so I’m probably set for the next ten years or so. Though I do dream of someday owning a horse.
Thanks for stopping by and answering our questions! Before we let you go, where can people buy your book and/or find out more about you?
Kassandra: My link tree has pretty much everything you might need as far as finding my work and authorly information about me. If you want to see my aforementioned awesome pup, you can check out my Instagram.
I would also recommend joining my mailing list. Skye hosts a (roughly) monthly Pawsitivity email that features pictures of her adorable self and a quick poem or quote. You’ll also get a free short story in both text and audio. I really love this story, so I hope you’ll check it out. It’s called Wind and Rain, and it’s a ghost story inspired by a Scottish murder ballad.
And that concludes Velvet Opus Interviews Kassandra Flamouri. Thanks for stopping by and answering our questions, Kassandra! Velvet Opus Interviews Kassandra Flamouri came about because we loved The Chalice and the Crown. If you haven’t already, go and see our review and be sure to enter the giveaway before it ends on the 28 September 2020!
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