Author, YouTuber, and overall feminist know-it-all, Christina Marie Alongi earned a bachelor’s in history and social justice from Hamline University in 2017. Immediately after graduating, she worked as a community support staff (sort of a personal care assistant plus job coach) for people with disabilities for over two years, including adults with autism, which helped inspire the main character for her debut sci-fi novel Citadel.
In addition to writing, Alongi runs a YouTube channel (previously called Dragons, Zombies & Aliens, now just called C. M. Alongi) where she discusses writing advice, tropes, and SFF through a feminist lens. When she’s not writing, reading, or YouTubing, Alongi enjoys bouldering, knitting, and defending her furniture from her roommate’s evil cat.
Let’s get started with a quick rapid fire.
Q1. If you could be transformed into one animal, which one would you choose?
Something with wings—but a predator so I don’t get eaten.
Q2. What time do you usually go to bed at night?
Way later than I should.
Q3. Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I’m an introvert who’s good at pretending to be an extrovert.
Q4. Who is your favorite Disney character?
Q5. Would you rather travel to the past or to the future?
Future—much as I love history, I’d be too scared to screw up the timeline.
Q6. What is your last Google search?
Probably something to do with Ancient Greek culture.
Q7. What object do you misplace or lose the most?
Q8. What is the kindest thing someone ever did for you?
I had a total stranger use their snowblower to get my car out of a driveway in one of those back alleys.
Q9. Learn by watching or learn by doing?
Q10. Expensive presents or homemade presents?
I love making homemade presents, but who doesn’t love getting expensive ones?
Q11. What is one missed opportunity that you wish you could have a second chance at?
Nothing comes to mind, but I’m still young enough to screw up my life.
Q12. What is not a big deal to most people but is torture to you?
Blatant inaccuracies in historical fiction stories; there’s a reason I avoid that genre.
It’s time for a more detailed conversation, Christina.
You’ve answered our rapid fire so well, Christina. Now, it’s time for our readers to know more about the person behind the book.
Q. So, what books did you grow up reading?
Like most parents, my dad read to me at bedtime. Except instead of fairy tales like Cinderella or Snow White, I was read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. (We stopped after book 5 because I was so mad about Sirius dying.)
After that I branched out into anything sci-fi or fantasy: The Magic Treehouse series, Percy Jackson, even Goosebumps. I got into the adult section pretty quickly.
Q. Interesting. What, to you, are the most important elements of good writing?
Authenticity. You can really tell when a writer genuinely believes in their work, in this story, vs when they’re just doing it for the money, or trying to give us something that they think we want.
Taking your time with the story. I’ve noticed in a lot of books it’s almost like the writer is rushing through the plot, trying to cram as much stuff between the covers as possible. You know that series exist, right?
Practice. It takes years to get this right.
Q. Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?
I wouldn’t say I hide secrets, but I do drop clues toward future plot twists. And now that I’m getting more and more publications, I’ve started putting easter eggs in some of my WIPs.
Q. Now comes the most anticipated question that every author must answer. How do you process and deal with negative book reviews?
I remind myself that a bad book review does not necessarily make a bad writer. I don’t like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, or N. K. Jeminsin novels. Their writing styles just doesn’t mesh with me. But I’d be an idiot if I called them bad writers, or their books objectively bad. Art is subjective, and not everyone is going to like it.
Having said that, it’s very rare for me to get bad reviews. 😊
Q. What comes first for you — the plot or the characters — and why?
Characters, because my stories are very character-driven. Sometimes I’ll get an idea for the world first, and then think of what type of characters that society would create. But it’s usually the characters that pop up first, and then I have to put an obstacle or two in front of them, and off we go.
Q. How do you develop your plot and characters?
I use story structure, specifically the Save the Cat story structure (which was originally designed for screenwriters until Jessica Brody made a how-to novel for book writers).
Basically, when I outline, I start with the major beats like Intro, Catalyst, Midpoint, Lowest Point, Climax. Those are the main support structures of a novel. Since I start with my characters, it’s pretty easy for me to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are and what’s going to hinder and hurt them—and the reader—the most. So it’s basically a fill-in-the-blank.
And then I erase the entire outline and re-write it when I’m halfway through the novel. Sometimes twice. I never get it exactly right the first time.
Q. What does literary success look like to you?
Being able to fully support myself on my writing and content creation—and I’m almost there! My day job—working at a deli—is down to 10-15 hours a week.
Q. Let’s talk about your book. Tell us about it. No major spoilers.
To Kill a Necromancer is the first installment of the Blackwing novella series. It’s epic fantasy, set in a world inspired by Ancient Greece and Rome (as well as my favorite childhood video game, Diablo II). There’s an entire pantheon of gods, and they all have paladins: mortals who they give a bit of their power to in order to conduct their business in the mortal world. (Think D&D.)
Jinua is a brand new paladin who just got her powers last month. She’s ordered to kill a necromancer who’s taken over a small town nearby—and as every necromancer is inherently evil and corrupt, this will be a simple, open-and-shut mission.
…it was not a simple, open-and-shut mission.
Q. What part of the book did you have the hardest time writing?
To Kill a Necromancer was pretty easy. Some of its sequels, however, proved much more difficult. Books 3-5—The Horned Guardian, Ghost Peak, and The Slain Princess—required entire rewrites before my editor and I were both satisfied with them.
Q. Would you and your main character get along?
For the most part, yes. Jinua, however, has this holier-than-thou, I-am-always-right attitude that’s really hard for her to shake, and she’s very stubborn. So we would get along right up until we had a fundamental disagreement about something.
Q. What are the essential characteristics of a hero you can root for?
I’m old-school, in that I want my heroes to have some sort of heroic quality. They can be anything—a thief, a killer, an artist, mob boss, whatever—but they’ve got to have something for me to empathize with and want them to succeed. Maybe they’re a parent trying to do right by their child (Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves). Maybe they genuinely believe they’re doing the right thing because of a lifetime of brainwashing (Zuko from Avatar: the Last Airbender)—and then of course switch sides as soon as they realize that they’ve been lied do and their beloved boss is actually an evil overlord (She-Ra and the Princesses of Power).
Anti-heroes are fine, but there’s got to be a not-so-hidden nugget of gold in them somewhere. There are only so many Rick & Morties I can take before I check out completely.
Q. Let’s talk about the process of writing. When you’re writing an emotional or difficult scene, how do you set the mood?
I don’t really set the mood at all, physically. I just start writing. It might take me a while to get through it, especially if there’s a lot of trauma or a character death, but I’ll plow through and make it pretty in revisions later. I’m not one of those authors who go, “I must have a playlist dedicated to each specific scene in my novel” or “I have to watch a video/movie with the requisite emotions to get in the mood.”
Give me some water, some snacks, and some white background noise, and I’ll write pretty much anything that needs writing that day.
Q. What was your hardest scene to write?
There were a lot of scenes in the fifth Blackwing book—The Slain Princess—that were difficult for me to write, mostly because I’d already been existing in this universe for so long, and rewritten so much of it, that I was just sick of it. At that point, it doesn’t matter how much you love writing or how enjoyable the scenes are, it feels like going through molasses.
Q. It’s been fun. Now, before we wrap this up, do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?
Keep writing. You’re going to get bad reviews, rejection letters, and doubters from every corner. But every single author had dozens if not hundreds of those for every successfully published book. It sounds corny, but it’s the truth. You lose when you stop.