I recently had the privilege of discovering a new author, something I truly enjoy. Her name is Hannah Cobb, and she wrote a fantastic young adult/fantasy story that I highly recommend. Her book is Mortis. And it’s a killer book. Really.
The story is about an elite, covert school that specially trains young adults to become assassins. And it begins from birth for many students.
When I read her book, which I devoured in just a few days, I was compelled to do everything I could to help pass the word along about this terrific story. Now, let me be perfectly upfront. Mortis was published through Taegais, the same publishing company I also publish with, but I am voluntarily promoting her book--because I want to. It’s that good.
Mortis is set in a world similar to ours in many ways, but radically different in others. I asked her about that very thing:
Mortis is set in another world. What is that world called? How is it different from our reality?
Both Mortis and its rival school, the Academy, are in Wade County, which is the most powerful of the Ten Counties (my imaginary fantasy country). The setting is light, medieval-esque fantasy; characters wield medieval weapons and wear medieval dress, but they ride talking horses, and some of the characters have magical abilities.
Hannah does a great job of immersing you into her fantasy world. She is so skilled at describing Mortis, the underground assassin school, that I felt as though I could smell the mildew on the walls. I had a similar reaction when reading about Hogwarts in Harry Potter.
I found Hannah to be witty and fun to interact with; she is a real treasure! I’d love to kick back in a coffee shop and hang with her for a few hours.
How long did it take to write Mortis?
I wrote the first version of Mortis during my freshman year of college. (I went to a perfectly normal school, though. Mortis wasn’t inspired by college professors trying to kill me or anything like that). I’ve been writing—or at least telling stories—almost as long as I’ve been breathing; Mortis was my favorite story so far, and because of that I wrote and rewrote it many times, even while I was working on other writing projects. And trying not to fail college courses, obviously. Then I had to put my writing life on hold while I went to graduate school and began my first real career; I was both delighted and extremely surprised when Taegais offered me a contract on Mortis after all that time. All together something like seven years passed between the moment I first sat down to begin Mortis, and its eventual publication.
Seven years is a long development process, which describes the quality of her character.
How many times did you almost quit before finishing?
I never really quit on Mortis. I definitely moved on to other projects in between writing new drafts, but the characters of Mortis lodged themselves so firmly in my mind that I couldn’t get rid of them. Which is not to say that I always enjoy writing. Creating a novel can be a lot like riding a rollercoaster—there are insane, heart-stopping plunges of delight when you think your book is the best thing ever written, but then you hit the bottom of a hill and feel like you just climbed out of your seat and are trying to push the string of carts up the rollercoaster tracks all by yourself, and you hate every word you’ve ever written. I learned over the years that this is when even the most introverted writer has to emerge from her lonely, secret little writing world, and enlist the help of beta readers. If your writing really is terrible, they’ll put you out of your misery and tell you. If it’s not, sometimes all you need is to have someone else helping you push that rollercoaster up the incline.
Which character did you most enjoy writing?
Jane, the protagonist, is my favorite character; I like her quiet strength. It takes a long time to write a book, though, so I am invested in all the characters, even the villains. Felix was the hardest character to write, because the annoying guy kept changing his mind about whether he wanted to be a villain or a hero. I killed him in a fit of exasperation while I was writing an early draft of the story, but he refused to be so easily silenced—he was reincarnated in the next draft.
Why talking horses? Do other animals talk?
In the world of Mortis, talking horses are sort of like fauns or centaurs, their own magical species. I avoided a Narnia-type setting where all animals talk, though it would have been kind of fun to have talking rats in the underground caves of Mortis. In the end I didn’t see that tying in to the central conflict.
Talking rats would have really changed the tone of the story. Talk about the walls being able to talk! That would be an enjoyable twist. But I have to agree, she made the right decision.
In Mortis, the characters have to choose to accept The Code or die. What was your inspiration for The Code?
In a generic sense, most cults and scary secret societies demand absolute compliance from their members. From a practical standpoint I needed Mortis to be scary, so of course the school kills any student who refuses to conform. More philosophically speaking, though, I created the school of Mortis to embody the rigid, legalistic demands of many religions/worldviews. Jane is a danger to her school when she starts to think for herself, which sounds simplistic—but I think this is a crucial part of any teen’s coming-of-age process. At some point young people have to question the world they know, comparing the confines of their childhood to the wider world.
Most authors can't help but write some element of themselves into their stories. What part of Hannah Cobb is reflected in Mortis?
Not any fencing ability, that’s for sure. I’m a stereotypical writer/librarian—I wear thick glasses and regularly walk into doors and trip over things that aren’t there. I’m not, sadly, very much like any of my protagonists, but the things they want and fear are things I think are important, and things I think are scary. And Jane’s curiosity is partly mine, I admit. I became a librarian for a reason. I find people who ban and/or refuse to read books just as frightening as people who burn them. Too many people narrow what they read and experience to only what coincides with their particular worldview or religious/political/philosophical perspective on life. Children and teens especially need to be allowed to read about what life is like for other people. They need windows into other worlds.
Do you have plans to make Mortis a series? If so, how many books do you project?
I have played with ideas for a second and third book set in the Mortis world. Mortis left a lot of questions unanswered. So eventually there could be a sequel; right now it lives in my head and in a very sloppy, very rough draft on my computer. Whether or not it sees the light of day depends on publication variables.
I’m really hoping all the planets properly align. I’d love to see where this story goes from here.
Have you written other books that aren't published?
When I was in ninth grade I talked my mom into letting me write a novel for the composition part of my English course. After that I wrote a novel every year in high school. (They were terrible, Ivanhoe and Tolkien inspired novels, mind you, but I learned a lot about writing while I wrote them). Continuing my writing career now that I’m also a full-time librarian is more difficult, but I’m always working on a book.
What advice do you offer to writers who yearn to be published authors?
Read! And I’m not just saying that because I’m a librarian. You have to be a reader before you can be a writer. When you do start to write, don’t give up. Writing isn’t easy. Having written is a beautiful thing. Living with the voices of your story characters in your head can be both maddening and lovely. The rare moments when you realize that you just wrote a scene that says something worthwhile are a great gift. But the craft of writing is a lot of work. I have no “this always make me write great literature” tips. You just have to sit down and do it. Stare at a blank screen for three hours if that’s what it takes. And when you get too frustrated, go find a good book, and read the whole thing, and tell yourself that someday you’ll be able to write that well yourself.
Hannah Cobb is a class act, and I highly encourage you to buy a copy of Mortis, even if you don’t follow fantasy. Her work is very well prepared, her characters are realistic and engaging, and the struggles in the story are significant.
Buy her book. Do it. Do it now.