New York and USA Today bestselling author Cora Carmack has had her fair share of hits starting with her adult romance novel, Losing It, in 2012. Since then Carmack has gone to be a highly respected writer of romance, producing 3 adult romance series, Losing It, Rusk University, and The Muse which have all released instalment over the past 7 years and more planned for release.
In 2017, she decided to set her sights on the Young Adult genre with Roar, the first of the Stormheart series and the worlds introduction to the princess of Pavan, Aurora. Capturing hearts and minds alike, Carmack has since penned a second in the series, Rage, which released August 27th 2019.
I had a chance to ask Carmack about all things Stormheart and her cross over into the world of writing for teens.
So, the second novel of your Stormheart series, Rage, released on August 27th and has been a hotly anticipated follow-up since Roar burst onto the YA scene in 2017. For those people who haven’t read Roar, how would you sum it up?
ROAR is about a world inundated with violent, magical, sentient storms. The main character Aurora comes from a long line of royal Stormlings—the only ones with the magic to fight these storms. She’s set to inherit the kingdom of Pavan, but unlike her ancestors before her, she shows no trace of the storm magic needed to protect her kingdom. Her mother comes up with a plan to marry her off to another Stormling in order to keep her secret, but when that doesn’t go as planned, Aurora discovers another path. Legend says that if you challenge a tempest and steal its heart, you gain its magic. So Aurora dons a disguise and runs away with a group of storm hunters, determined to make her own future.
Right at the end of Roar, we finally see the big baddie approaching the city as everyone clambers to deal with the smaller issues of Pavan. With such a massive turn of events occurring, did you feel pressured to have Rage end on as large of an adrenaline rush?
There’s always pressure with a second book—in my mind a second book has to serve as a bridge between the beginning and the end of the story (but it can’t only be that or readers will get bored). For me, book two needs to solve some problems while making others more complex, and it also must light the fuse that will carry over into the third book leading to an inevitable conclusion. Of course, making all of this doubly difficult is the fact that the big fight scenes in this series aren’t with another person, but with a force of nature. So, I have to be careful not to let that get stale and to save some big flashy moments for the finale.
Now as I said before, Rage is the second novel in the series, and it follows on from Roar. Did you already know exactly where you were going to head plot wise with Rage by the time Roar released?
Oh yes. I’ve had the series mapped out for a while. Some of it I knew before ever writing Roar, some I discovered as I built the world and grew the characters. But I also prefer to let my characters lead the story, which means leaving some wiggle room to follow wherever they may lead. Often I know what’s going to happen, but not the when or how. I let that develop naturally. And occasionally new ideas pop in that will change the character’s course. For example, there’s something near the end of RAGE that happens to Aurora and her magic that I hadn’t originally planned. I had the idea during edits, and it really sucked me in, so I rolled with it. It’s definitely changing how I saw some things going in the third book, but again, I think it’s important to not try to force the story, but rather follow where the character’s motivations take them.
Rage starts out with Roar and her band of storm hunters in front of Pavan, endeavouring to find the Queen and take back the city. Roar uses her newly found skills to help infiltrate the dungeons and rescue Nova while others use their various magics to hold off the guards. Can you tell me about your process of creating such a varied magic system?
It all started with the idea of storm magic in jars at the black market. From there, I tried to construct a magical world that made sense, had it’s limits, and like the real world—was not as black and white as our minds try to make it seem. I was particularly interested in the idea of classes among magics—where some magic was hailed as true and from the goddess, and other magic was vilified. Of course, that class system was created and upheld by the richest and most powerful. And what they say and teach isn’t always the truth.
Stormlord, the aforementioned big baddie, takes a larger role in Rage and we find out his motivations for wanting to hunt down the royal family. How important do you feel it is to the progression of his character for readers to know of his driving forces?
Ah, the Stormlord is so interesting. And while he is the main antagonist of the series, there have been a multitude of other antagonists in the story before him—the Locke family for one, and I also consider the storms/nature as an antagonist. So while we were aware of him in the first book, he was not as immediate a concern for Aurora as he was for say, Cassius Locke, who already knew the Stormlord’s capability and penchant for violence. I did so enjoy getting to reveal some of his backstory in RAGE. I think it’s just as important for the “Big Bad” to be a well-rounded character as it is for our main character. It’s particularly important moving forward because he and Aurora have similar magics. So we need to see how he came to be who he is so that we can compare and contrast Aurora’s journey with the same magic.
We are also introduced to other characters from Stormlord’s past as we learn of his origins. Although I feel like I may know who at least one of their modern day equivalents is, can we expect to see more of them in future novels?
Oh, interesting question! I can tell you that the characters you meet in Stormlord’s origin story are characters I know and have a developed background for. Whether you’ll get to know them in Aurora’s trilogy, I’m not sure. That remains to be seen. All I can say is I’ve planted quite a few seeds both in the first book and the second that could bloom into stories of their own—provided there is interest from readers and my publisher.
We get not only new characters in Zephyr and the Resistance but also new relationships between old favourites. Were the fire witch and her companion always going to be forced together? Or were there other interests originally planned for the two? (I absolutely loved this particular coupling by the way. Jinx and Nova are so stubborn alone but together are just perfect).
Just gonna add a SPOILER ALERT to this question, as I don’t believe I can answer it without spoiling aspects of RAGE.
Ah, I do love Zephyr. She’s another that I’ve got quite a background and history for, though it’s unclear how much of that will make it onto the page. In some of my early drafting of RAGE, she actually had a scene in her POV. I loved writing it, but in the end decided that the book had enough POVs to juggle and I cut it. But I definitely love her as a character. As for the second part of your question, I’ve been teasing since ROAR came out that I intended to develop multiple romances within the series—I love getting to play with different types of romance—intense and passionate, slow burn, first love, second chance romance. I think it’s key for young readers especially to see that love comes in all forms and there is no wrong way for it to unfold. I’ve known Nova’s journey for a long time. It’s why she has a POV in the first book because she has a journey of her own to take alongside Aurora. And I knew that I had a romance planned for her. The who and how of that has never changed. But that does not mean that more feelings aren’t in play. I established in ROAR that Ransom has long had a somewhat secret crush on Jinx. You’ll have to stay tuned to see how that plays out.
So, that ending was once again full of action and we find Aurora discovers loyalty where previously she only believed there was manipulation. Should we expect even more unlikely alliances to come in the third novel of the series?
Definitely. The characters are in a sort of “enemy of my enemy is my friend” situation. And things are going to get VERY interesting as Aurora tries to rule not only her kingdom, but the wildly differing group of allies she has formed.
Now prior to the release of the first of the Stormheart series, Roar, you were gaining a following in the adult romance sector with your Losing It, The Muse, and Rusk University novels. What inspired the shift to young adult?
Honestly? Young Adult is my home. I wrote YA speculative fiction (fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, etc) for about five years unpublished before I tried my hand at writing NA contemporary romance in 2012. I was stuck in the middle of a YA project and in between semesters at VCFA where I was studying in a masters program in writing for children and young adults, and I needed a palate cleanser. I needed to write something just for fun, with no pressure. That book was Losing It, and it ended up spending several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and completely flipped my life upside down. So for several years, I focused on that and put out multiple books that I love. But in the back of my mind, I was still having ideas for YA and yearning to get back to my first love. Tor Teen gave me an opportunity to do that with ROAR, and it’s been a dream come true.
What do you find are the major differences between writing a romance for adults and writing the underlying romance in the Stormheart novels?
One of the key shifts is just language. In YA, I focus heavily on the emotions and steer away from more of the frank, physical descriptions. Also in the Stormheart series, though the romance is prominent, it is still seen more through the lens of character than most of my adult. It’s why I allowed Aurora to get swept up in Cassius’s manipulations in the beginning of ROAR—because unlike writing a straight romance where it focuses on one couple, I’m looking more at Aurora’s understanding of and relationship with her emotions and her desires—romantically and physically. Even Locke/Kiran can be overprotective and stifling, but she gradually learns how to set boundaries, how to ask for what she wants, essentially how to contribute to a healthy relationship. So while I take great pleasure in sprinkling (okay, pouring) romance into my fantasy world—Aurora’s journey is still my chief concern. Whereas, when I’m writing a contemporary romance, I’m generally focused on advancing both the heroes and the heroines journeys simultaneously until they meet in the middle.
I mentioned before that it has been 2 years since Roar was released with the release of Rage being pushed back due to some health issues you experienced in 2017. Did you find that experiencing such a drastic change in lifestyle has changed your writing style?
Oh God, it must have? I know it’s changed me as a person and my process as a writer. I used to pretty consistently be a binge writer. I would mull over a project or scene in my head for days, and then one day inspiration would strike and I’d write an enormous amount in one long push. My life can’t work that way anymore. For one, lack of sleep is the number one trigger for my seizures and in my binge writing days I pulled many an all-nighter. I also struggle with brain fog and other side effects from the battery of neurological meds I’m on, so I spend a lot more time fighting to get just a sentence down at a time. I try to just keep going and not think too much about whether it’s good or not. I save that for later. I used to be a perfectionist and I never moved on from a scene until it was perfect. If I tried to do that now, I would never write. I used to turn in very clean first drafts, but now I do most of my important work during the editing phase. The most obvious difference is that I’m much slower now. I used to could crank out 3+ books in a year, but I’m a long way off from that kind of productivity. But I’ll keep working and getting used to this new process and hopefully I’ll find a balance that will allow me to gradually pick up my pace.
Having had a brief hiatus, have you started working on any new material that we should be keeping an eye out for?
Well, despite the physical act of writing becoming harder, my epilepsy has in no way affected the idea factory that is my brain. I’ve come up with a multitude of new book ideas in the last few years—everything from contemporary romance to more fantasy to scifi and beyond. When I’ll have time to write those—that remains to be seen. Right now, I’m working on the third book in the Stormheart series. And then after that, I’ll probably pick up where I left off on a few of my shelved romance projects—specifically the fourth Rusk University Book, All Closed Off that follows one of my favourite characters as she navigates the life-altering trauma of sexual assault. I’m also eager to get back to the Muse series and write some more Adult Paranormal Romance. Of course, I’ll also be looking forward to my next YA project, whether that is a spin-off set in the Stormheart world or something totally new… we’ll see.
Can we expect to see you at any events in the near future?
YES! Tor Teen is sending me to lots of places to promote RAGE, and I’m excited to get to meet more readers and see some friendly faces. You can find the tour dates here.
And finally, do you have any sage advice for readers out there wanting to get into the world of publishing/writing their own novels?
Read voraciously—you’ll learn so much by reading in your desired genres (and outside them). Also, do your research. There is an ABUNDANCE of information out there in the internet age—advice from agents and editors and other authors. Sure, you could spend money on conferences or classes—but there is plenty to be learned for free if you’re willing to dig in and do the work. And lastly, do it because you love it. Keep that love fresh and center in your mind because the business of publishing is messy and inconsistent. There will be ups and downs (and further downs). There will be projects that soar and projects that fail and others that never get off the ground. Enjoy the journey and the discovery and the exploration, rather than focusing on success.
- Fiction or nonfiction? Fiction, definitely.
- Plotter or pantser? (do you plot out your entire story to the smallest detail or just have a vague idea + major occurrences and let the characters guide you?) I’m in between. I sketch out a rough beginning, middle, and end, and then I let my characters lead.
- Favourite bookish trope? Hate to Love or Brother’s Best Friend/Best friend’s Brother
- Least favourite bookish trope? Secret Baby
- Coffee or tea? SWEET TEA.
- Pizza or pasta? Pizza.
- Beach holiday or hiking in the bush? Give me that Beach!
- Convention crowds or smaller signings? Smaller signings! I like to chat and conventions don’t often allow much time.
- Sunny or rainy? Ooof. Normally I would say Sunny, but the heat in Texas lately has been BRUTAL, so I might be switching to Rainy.
- If you could pick a single holiday destination for the rest of your life, where would it be? I think Berlin. It’s an incredible city with so much variety.
- Music, books or Netflix – you can only pick 2? TORTURE, I SAY! Erm… Books and Music probably. But oh, would I mourn Netflix.
- If you could recommend five authors to the general public that are must reads, who would they be? OH SO HARD. C.L. Wilson writes my FAVORITE adult fantasy romance. Sarah Maclean never fails to whisk me away and make me laugh and swoon with her historical romance. Samantha Young is a must read for me—whether she’s writing romance, YA, or paranormal. Libba Bray has been one of my favourite authors since I was a teenager (an undisclosed amount of time ago haha), and she still writes stellar, unique, beautifully crafted YA in multiple subgenres. And for my number five, I’m going to cheat and list several of my favourite PNR authors—Jeaniene Frost (Vampires!), Nalini Singh (Amazing world building, super sexy), Ilona Andrews (fantastic Urban Fantasy/PNR written by a wife/husband duo)!