Today we are thrilled to interview a long-time Havok author, Cassandra Hamm. She has twenty stories published with Havok (as of today), and her first publication was during Season Two: Stories That Sing, and she has been an anthology winner ever since. One of the things that brought Cassie to my attention was the consistency of her support of fellow author Beka Gremikova. Watching these two authors faithfully promoting each others’ work not only warmed my Havok heart but also made me want to know more about their relationship. Was this sharing of social media posts a part of a bigger collaborative marketing strategy, did they know each other, how did it all start?
That’s the story I asked Cassie and Beka to share with us, starting today with Cassie’s side of the story. The headlines are my questions, the paragraphs that follow them are answers from Cassie.
Let’s get to know you a bit. Tell us about your first encounter with Havok and how you know Beka.
I first heard about Havok at Realm Makers 2018. I didn’t think much of it until I met Clarissa Ruth, who was published in the first Havok anthology, Rebirth, in March 2019. She allowed me to read over a flash fiction story she was submitting to Havok. I had just started writing short stories in January and still wasn’t ready for flash fiction. However, in July, I decided to submit to the Stories that Sing theme with a story inspired by the song “Message in a Bottle” by The Police. It was called “Stealer of Secrets” and won the Readers’ Choice award for the Stories that Sing anthology.
I don’t remember exactly how I met Beka. At some point, I followed her on Instagram because I saw she was a fellow Christian writer followed by many of my friends. The first time I remember seeing her name was when she was published in the A Kind of Death anthology in October 2019. Then, in December 2019, I was impressed by her first Havok story, “Burial.” We didn’t become friends until February 2020 when she asked if I wanted to become flash fiction critique partners. From then on, we started critiquing each other’s Havok stories every month.
As of yet, we have not collaborated on a story–at least, not within my definition of collaboration, which is co-writing–but we do help each other brainstorm and offer invaluable edits. She has also created character art for two of my Havok stories, “Stone Skin” and “Sweet Sting,” bringing my sweet character children to life.
Though I have not yet had the opportunity to meet her in person, I consider Beka one of my closest friends. We are in constant communication, whether through text or video call, and we talk about everything, from stories to social justice and feminism to mental health struggles. We also send each other letters and packages, sharing things we think the other will enjoy, like books and coloring pages. Writing-wise, Beka is an expert at helping me get my stories under the 1,000 word limit (a difficult task), and I offer what little I can to her excellent stories.
When and why did you start promoting each other’s stories?
If I’m remembering correctly, it happened quite naturally. I usually read Beka’s stories beforehand (though she writes so many a month that I don’t always get to critique them before she sends them in). Since I already know I enjoy her work, I make sure to promote her stories on the day they are published. There were a few occasions where we asked each other to promote, like with her story “Revolutionary Fire,” but usually we share out of genuine appreciation for each other’s work.
Beka is one of my favorite writers. Her stories reflect the human experience, from “The Queen and I,” about a woman forced to give up her child, to “A Taste of Grace,” about a woman struggling with addiction, to “Hollowgram,” about a grieving girl who misses her mother. Beka has not only deepened my empathy but also made me a better writer and person.
You have both won Havok awards, and your stories are full of heart and meaning, as well as engaging characters and exotic places. What has the publishing journey been like and what are your goals?
Looking back at the fifteen stories published with Havok in 2019 and 2020, I am amazed at how much I’ve grown as a writer. Though I love “Stealer of Secrets,” my first Havok piece, I don’t consider it my best flash fiction story. A year and a half later, I think I have a better understanding of the flash fiction medium and could have rendered it better. My first draft of “Stealer of Secrets” was 2,000 words, twice the Havok word limit, so let’s just say it required a lot of cutting. Most stories I write now are only 100 to 200 words over, which is much easier to edit (though still painful). I’ve also attempted new genres because of Havok. Before Havok, I never would have written science fiction. Now, thanks to my three published science fiction stories, I’m considering a sci-fi novel.
I also think I’ve learned to take rejection because of this flash fiction journey. I distinctly remember my first Havok rejection, which was for the One Thing theme. The stories I had submitted in previous months had all been accepted, so I was just waiting for one to come back with a rejection. It finally came, and yes, I did cry. (My eyes are faucets.) But rejection is as much a part of the writer’s life as success is, and I’ve learned so much from my rejections. We are always learning to be better writers; it never ends.
I can honestly say I had no idea that I would be published so much this past year and a half. I credit some of that to Beka. If she had not asked me to be her Havok critique partner, I don’t think I would have written so many Havok stories. Before Beka, I only wrote one story a month, if that. Now, I usually submit two a month, sometimes more. I think this is because of two reasons. One, I didn’t even consider submitting more than one story a month until I saw how many she sent in. Two, at least on my end, there is a bit of healthy competition––she writes so many that I want to keep up. But we always support each other’s wins and comfort each other in the inevitable rejections.
For the most part, my Havok story ideas are inspired by the current theme. I occasionally resubmit a story that was previously rejected, and I’ve also started writing sequels to my previous stories, but for the most part, I use “random” story ideas. I don’t know that I’d say I’m trying new techniques with each one, but I do try to make unique stories, both in idea and execution. However, the topics I love often show up in the stories I write––mental health, family bonds, strange creatures, interesting cultures, and of course romance.
My 2020 Havok goal was to be published in each of the five genres, but I have yet to come up with a mystery story. Perhaps this year I will succeed. I also have been trying to get published every month with at least one story. Though it means I have less time for novel writing, I have seen a definite improvement in my writing from doing flash fiction, so I think it is worth it. I haven’t actually said this to anyone (and now I’m declaring it across the internet), but I would love to have one of my stories featured on the Havok podcast, read by the talented Magnus Carlssen. I know there is a slim chance of that ever happening, but I can still dream.
What is your “great writing dream”?
My dream has always been to be traditionally published. I have many novels just waiting to be revealed to the world (and waiting for their author to finish them)––novels about pearl diving and sea serpents, elemental magic and strange sports, emotions and empowerment. Of course I love flash fiction, but novels will always be my first love. I’m long-winded (as you can probably tell), so a thousand words doesn’t always cut it. I want a dozen characters, a complicated world, a fascinating culture.
Because my writing tends to include serious social issues, I would love for people to come up to me and say that my story made them feel heard, seen, understood. If only my work would even help change the culture and free the oppressed, I would feel as though I have truly accomplished something great. Perhaps that is too big a dream, but still I cling to it.
What have you learned about writing flash fiction? What do you like best about it?
Writing flash fiction is different from writing a novel. The ideal flash fiction story has two or three characters, one major plot thread, one subplot (if any), one or two scenes, and a world that can be adequately portrayed in only a few words. There are exceptions to this, of course; I’m currently writing a flash story with three scenes and four characters. Still, for the most part, to make a flash fiction work, you need to have a small idea that you can adequately flesh out in a small period of time. For my story “The Lucifer Project,” the first draft was 600 words over because I let it develop too much in the planning stage. During my personal edits, I cut out a character and three subplots. Each character and subplot adds more words, which you don’t always have room for. It’s better to have less going on so you can really focus on the main idea of the story instead of having to rush because you forced too much into the story.
Though flash fiction can be frustrating for a novelist like me, I find it rewarding. When you write novels, you don’t often experience the sense of accomplishment you get from finishing a work. Besides, I rewrite my novels so many times that they never feel finished. With flash fiction, I can finish a story in a few days, and the edits don’t take very long. Plus, many of the people who were too busy to read my novels have the time (and willingness) to read my flash fics. Validation from your work isn’t everything, but it certainly feels good to have the people you love read the thing you love–and enjoy it.
How do you think short fiction fits into a writer’s toolbox?
Short fiction is great for getting your work out there. If you want a novel published, you need a tribe already in place; otherwise, publishers usually won’t take a chance on you. Like I said before, people are more likely to read a quick short story than commit to a full novel.
Writing short fiction has also helped me understand writing craft better. Longer stories have dozens of threads, so it’s harder to ensure each thread is adequately explored and finished. I’ve found that I often start a subplot and forget to resolve it. With flash fiction, there are fewer threads, so I can more easily plan out how to bring each thread to its full potential.
Plus, in short fiction, you can try out ideas and genres you wouldn’t take on in a novel. As previously mentioned, I am not normally a science fiction writer, but my experience writing sci-fi short stories has made me consider writing sci-fi novels. Also, the idea behind my story “The Clouds Weep” is one I would never use for a longer work––using only touch for communication. Writing a story without dialogue is very difficult, in case you were wondering. But I could manage 1,000 words without dialogue, and it challenged me as a writer.
Further, I’ve found that short fiction is great for helping you learn how to accept both criticism and rejections. It’s easier to accept critique when it’s for something that you haven’t poured years of your life into, like with a novel, and I’ve already talked about rejections. In addition, having flash fiction published has taught me how to work with editors. I’ve learned what I’m willing to compromise on, as well as how to respectfully challenge an edit and work toward something better. I’m not at the point in my writing career where I need to hire an editor for one of my novels, but I will be in the next few years, so getting experience working with editors now has been a blessing.
What about Havok excites you? What would you like to see in the future?
When I look at Havok, I see a community of writers and readers encouraging and inspiring each other. The comments section is full of people cheering each other on, and Havok has connected writers like me and Beka for our betterment. I love how it unites writers, even those who write very different genres.
In the past several months, more and more people have reached out to me to ask me about writing for Havok because they’re interested in doing the same. It’s been really amazing to see more people discover the flash fiction genre. From what I can tell, Havok is growing, both in terms of how many writers submit and how many readers consume the stories, and that makes me so excited.
If possible, I would love to have a special opportunity for co-writers. One of the earlier questions was if Beka and I had ever collaborated. We would love to collaborate on a flash fiction story, but those kinds of stories are not currently accepted at Havok. I also know several other co-writing teams who would probably be interested in attempting a Havok story with their co-writers. It wouldn’t have to be something regular, but I think an occasional co-written story would be a great addition to Havok’s archives.
The past year and a half writing for Havok has been so rewarding for me, and I think it is for other writers as well. Having even a short piece out in the world gives us a sense of accomplishment, knowing that it was chosen out of dozens of others and found worthy. So thank you, Havok, for giving us a chance.
Follow Cassandra Hamm // Author Website | Facebook | Instagram | Havok Stories
Until Next Time…
I’m looking forward to sharing Beka’s side of the story in a future Sunday interview. Meanwhile, if you are a Havok author with a story to share about your publishing journey, I’d love to hear about it! You can query me directly via email: teddi [at] gohavok.com.