NYT Bestseller Kiera Cass Talks About Her New YA Romance—and Why She Loves to Make Readers Cry
This post was originally published on Dead Darlings, a blog about novel writing run by alumni of GrubStreet's Novel Incubator program.
When I heard that the author of The Selection—one of my favorite series of all time—was writing a new standalone romance, I knew I had to get a copy. In A Thousand Heartbeats, #1 New York Times Bestseller Kiera Cass gives us the kind of sweeping, character-centric, slow-burn royalty romance we’ve come to expect from her. A classic enemies-to-lovers plot with dueling points of view, this story was right up my alley.
As I’ve been a fan of Cass for many years, the chance to interview her was a milestone for me, especially since she remembered the time we almost met in person (see below!). I’m thrilled and honored to add Cass to the list of amazing YA authors I’ve been fortunate enough to interview—and excited to share our conversation.
Hadley Timmermann: A Thousand Heartbeats is a standalone romance. How does writing a single novel compare to writing a duology or series, like some of your other works? Is your process any different?
Kiera Cass: Each story is its own thing, and sometimes it takes more or less space to tell it. For a story like The Betrothed and The Betrayed, that was a hard one! It felt like one really long story, and it was hard to break it into two. A Thousand Heartbeats is similar in that way. You’ll see it’s broken down into three separate stories in one book, and it really could have been a series. But I’m glad the readers get to take all of Annika and Lennox’s story at once. It’s so satisfying!
You write a lot of fiction centered on royalty, whether through born princesses, like Annika, or found princesses, like America. What draws you to this kind of trope?
I think it’s because there’s so much on the line. When it comes to kingdoms, the love stories will have outcomes that affect more than just the people in them. So I like to watch how that unfolds. And, maybe it’s silly, but it makes me so thankful that my world/life is small.
In your bio on your website, you said you like making your readers cry. (And we do cry!) Can you tell us a little more about that? What do you feel is the secret to a cry-worthy scene?
That sounds so mean, doesn’t it? But what I mean is that I want to make the reader feel something. If they laugh or cry or have to pause to take a breath, then that means I’ve done the story justice. I really don’t try to manipulate the characters if I can avoid it; usually their stories are pretty emotional on their own. But I think the thing that will move a reader is if I’ve done a good job of making the characters feel real to them. If they care about the characters, then just being true to their story is enough.
In keeping with the name of our blog, did you have any Dead Darlings in your new novel (i.e. a beloved scene or a character you had to cut out that you didn’t want to)?
Oh, my goodness, there have been so many over the years, but in A Thousand Heartbeats, most everything stayed. If anything, we had to build a little more to make certain elements richer. The only thing that really comes to mind is a training-disguised-as-fun chase scene in one of Lennox’s chapters that set up his relationship with Blythe. She didn’t come across well in that one, so, while I liked the idea as a whole, I’m not too sad it’s gone.
You might not remember, but we actually almost met in person at a BTS concert in Los Angeles! Do you have any favorite K-pop songs on your writing playlist that get you in the mood?
I do remember! Why is Sofi Stadium so big?! These days, I’m very much enjoying Seventeen. Melodically, they’re doing some really great work. Heaven’s Cloud and Don’t Wanna’ Cry are faves of mine. Both are on my very, VERY long writing playlist.
You’re an extremely successful and prolific writer with countless fans. But when you were first starting out, what were your greatest challenges? Has anything changed about your approach to writing since you first started?
Oh goodness. Starting out, I remember just wanting a shot. It felt like getting a book on a shelf was a wild, unattainable thing. But there was a gift in that I got to write The Siren, The Selection, and The Elite in a bubble. Because of the timing with editing and releases, I was just starting to work on The One when The Selection came out. I didn’t tour for the first book, and I distinctly remember the phone call with my editor when she lovingly told me as a debut not to expect to hit the bestseller list. We had no idea it was going to do as well as it did, or that the fandom would just keep growing! When there were all these expectations for the ending, I was so thankful for the quiet time I had to work on them before anyone cared!
Now? I still try to write without worrying about anyone’s expectations, and that might be one of the best things about A Thousand Heartbeats: the inspiration was instantaneous, I wasn’t supposed to be working on it so it was just for fun, and it grew on its own. I’m hoping that, in that way, it will read in a similar way to The Selection for others and give them the thrill that writing it has for me.
And finally, what’s one piece of writing advice you can pass on to an aspiring young writer like me?
Well, for starters, if I can do it, so can you. I worked on my books at my children’s birthday parties and gymnastic practices. I built these worlds working at my kitchen table. Sometimes it comes down to the right story at the right time (and even I have had to pause or shelve ideas because it just wasn’t working out), but it is doable. So, if you love it, don’t give up.
Use your resources wisely! If you’re still in school, glean what you can! Your editors will thank you later. Read all things! It will help you discover your own voice. And daydream often. Give things room to breathe and grow. You don’t have to rush your ideas.
A Thousand Heartbeats is out now! Order yours at Bookshop.org.
Kiera Cass graduated from Radford University with a degree in history. She grew up in South Carolina and currently lives in Blacksburg, Virginia, with her family. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, dancing, making videos, and eating unhealthy amounts of cake. You can learn more about her at kieracass.com, follow her on Twitter via @kieracass, and see her silly videos at YouTube.com/user/kieracass.