Listening In is a series of author interviews, featuring authors whose works have been transformed into audiobooks! C. M. Alongi is the author of Citadel, “a luminous sci-fi debut” about “a nonverbal autistic woman refuses to crumble as she stands against a dogmatic society clinging to a centuries-long conflict built on lies.” This exciting science fiction novel is narrated by Emily Lawrence.
C. M. Alongi graduated from Hamline University with a double bachelor’s in history and social justice. She lives in an apartment in the Twin Cities area where she protects her furniture from her roommates’ two evil cats. Citadel is her first full-length novel. She has also written an epic fantasy novella series called the Blackwing Series.
Please tell us more about Citadel! Why should we listen to it?
Well, I may be biased, but I think it’s a great science fiction story about love, grief, oppression and redemption. The short version of it: Olivia, a nonverbal autistic woman (and atheist), has to convince her ableist, sexist, dogmatic town of Citadel to stop their holy war of extermination against the “demons,” which are basically aliens, which are basically telepathic telekinetic wolves with wings. And she does this by going on an ill-advised solo mission into the heart of “demon” territory to demand why they killed her boyfriend in this war. Meanwhile, her best friend is quietly committing treason while her father, the captain of the city guard, is having a “are we the baddies” moment.
Could you please tell us about your career as an author? What first drew you to writing?
I’ve been writing since I was twelve, publishing since I was twenty. It was short stories and novellas, with a brief stint in ghost writing that almost destroyed my love of writing.
I think one of the biggest reasons I love writing is because it allows me to create incredible worlds and cultures that could never exist in the real world, and yet I can use it as a lens to better sharpen my focus and understanding of the real world.
Citadel is the first full-length novel I’ve published, and the one I’ve been working on since I was twelve. It took fourteen years and too many revisions to count, but we got there.
We’d love to hear about your writing process. Please elaborate!
I’m what the creative community calls a “planner” or “architect” writer. I outline everything, make sure I understand at least 80% of the world and culture these characters are operating in, as well as the characters themselves, before I even start on chapter one. (As opposed to “pantsers” or “gardener” writers, who fly by the seat of their pants and don’t plan anything. Like lunatics.)
After I finish the first draft, I revisit whatever worldbuilding or character quirks need polishing, and then rewrite it. This rewrite and revise process usually happens at least twice before I feel comfortable showing it to anyone else: beta readers or my literary agents. And then they tell me all the things I got wrong, and the process starts all over again.
What drew you to Science Fiction? When did you know these were the genres you wanted to write?
I love science fiction and fantasy because of all the possibilities. Anyone who reads Citadel will note that I’m pretty loose with the “science” aspect of it—that’s more of a guideline, anyway. What I love seeing are familiar things—people, government, families and their dynamics, etc.—and throwing them in completely unfamiliar settings. In this case, an alien planet with no modern technology and little modern knowledge.
SFF is basically a sandbox. Lumps of sand become castles, toys become armies, you build it all up and then see what happens.
Where is your favourite place to write?
I have a desk in the corner of my living room, a short walk from the kitchen and all of its snacks, and that’s where I do most of my writing. However, every now and then I like to take my laptop to a café or coffeeshop. The change of scenery is stimulating, as is the white noise around me. The smaller and cozier, the better. It’s horribly cliché, I know. But it is what it is.
Describe your writing style in five words or less.
Blunt, bloody, diverse and sarcastic.
Any advice for emerging writers?
Keep writing, keep submitting your work. It’s such a cliché, but the fact is being a writer means getting a mountain of rejection letters and bad reviews. What separates the professionals from the amateurs is who keeps going and who quits.
What do you do when you experience writer’s block or reader’s block?
For reader’s block, I just wait for it to pick back up. It’s rare for it to last more than a month, especially when I’m on BookTok.
For writer’s block, that’s also pretty rare for me. When it does hit, I can usually outsmart myself. YouTube videos about writing and tropes, or picking up a book or story—especially if it’s about a writer. If it’s particularly stubborn, then I force it anyway. I tell myself, “Just a paragraph” or “just 100 words.” Most of the time, I just have to get the gunk out, and I’m able to write as usual once I get started.
What has been the most exciting part of having your novels transformed into audiobooks?
Being able to reach audiences that wouldn’t be able to access my stories otherwise. A lot of my audience is dyslexic, ADHD, or just doesn’t have time to actually sit down and flip pages. So I’m thrilled that they’re able to access it.
Emily Lawrence does a fantastic job narrating. Did you have any say in her initial casting? What made Lawerence the right fit?
I did! Blackstone Publishing gave me samples from 5 different narrators, and it was a close one. I liked Emily because she sounds the closest to Olivia, in the way that she’s direct and blunt with barely-restrained emotion. Especially rage.
Please recommend an audiobook you absolutely adored!
…I don’t listen to audiobooks. Or podcasts. It’s all in one ear and out the other.
What are you reading (or listening to) right now?
I just cracked open Matthew Ward’s Legacy trilogy. Should be fun!