Author Interviews from the Authors of UNDERDOG, Part 3: Life and What Gives It Meaning

Text: Author Interviews, Underdog: Life and what gives it meaning. Image: xiaolong the pink axolotl wearing a purple flower hat, reading a book 'underdog'.

You think back to the last two weeks, fondly remembering of the wonderful conversations you’ve listened in to between Xiaolong and the authors of Underdog! And it looks like Xiaolong has another four more visitors at The Quiet Pond!

When Xiaolong enters the Pond, she’s ushering in a new group of friends! There’s a green snake wearing a little straw hat with a tattoo on its chest, a magpie wearing glasses and a beanie, a smiley koala wearing an orange dress, and a fluffy cat wearing a bandanna! Now an expert at welcoming guests, you approach and give them your biggest wave and your warmest welcome.

“Hi friend,” Xiaolong says to you. “These are my newest friends! This is Cassi, Felicity, Kaneana, and Sarah! Remember when I interviewed their friends last week and the week before? And remember when I told you about the Underdog anthology? Well, they’re here to discuss more stories today!”

You give Xiaolong your biggest grin and you tell her you’re excited to listen to another round of interviews. So you sit down by the Pond, part of their small circle, and talk about the big things: stories and life.

Welcome back to the Pond, friends! I hope you all are having a wonderful week so far and that you’re reading for the final round of author interviews for the Underdog anthology.

Today is my third round of interviews with the authors at Underdog, an amazing #LoveOzYA anthology that I had the pleasure of reading and absolutely loved. I thought this anthology was splendid and profound; it explored a variety of experiences, from everyday teenage experiences to the very big questions that teens may be grappling with.

Today, I have Cassi Dorian (‘Afterdeath‘), Felicity Martin (‘The Swan‘), Kaneana May (‘Living Rose‘), and Sarah Taviani (‘Mediocre Hearts‘) joining Xiaolong and I at the Pond today! All four stories written by these incredible authors had something in common: they tackled the big and small questions about life. I love these stories, which is why I’m particularly excited to share with you all this wonderful interview today.

Author Interviews with Sarah Taviani, Felicity Martin, Cassi Dorian, and Kaneana May

CW: Hello Sarah, Felicity, Cassi, and Kaneana! Welcome to the Pond, and I’m super excited for you all to be here today. We may have some friends who are not familiar with Underdog, so I’d love it if you could please introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about your story from Underdog, and what is your favourite book!

cassiCassi: Hey! Pleasure to be here! I’m Cassi from Melbourne. My story in the anthology is called Afterdeath and it is a modern and gruesome retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Star-crossed lovers Hülya and Romy find themselves in-between space between life and death, where Hülya struggles to remember the circumstances of the accident that lead her here. My favourite book is More Than This by Patrick Ness – it absolutely changed my life and I find myself thinking about it constantly. I also just reread Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and that is a must read for any creative.

felicityFelicity: Hey, thanks so much for having us! I’m Felicity and I’m from Sydney. My short story The Swan, features a girl being followed around by (surprise!) a swan. It’s a mix of horror and romance – two of my favourite genres. It’s almost impossible for me to tell you my favourite book, it changes depending on the phases of the moon and whether or not I’ve eaten recently. One that I keep coming back to again and again is, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. It’s such a beautifully powerful and funny book and has been a massive influence.

kaneana.pngKaneana: Hi and thanks for much for having us. I’m Kaneana and I live on the mid-north coast of NSW. I worked as a storyliner and scriptwriter before having children but have since turned my attention to fiction writing. I have a women’s fiction/romance book titled The One coming out with Harlequin in July this year. In the Underdog Anthology, my story, Living Rose is about two sisters who have two very different approaches to life. It’s absolutely impossible to say my favourite book, but growing up I loved The Baby-Sitters Club, before moving on to John Marsden’s Tomorrow when the War began series. I’m currently re-reading the Harry Potter series to my son.

sarah.pngSarah: Hello! Thanks so much for having us. I’m Sarah, and I’m from Brisbane. I’m the assistant editor for Underdog. My story, Mediocre Heroes, is set in a world where most people have superpowers and anyone who doesn’t is an outsider. My main character is stuck in a weird place where the superpower she develops isn’t super enough in everyone else’s eyes. As for my favourite book, I’m a total Harry Potter addict and I’m so overdue for a reread. 

CW: I thought all of your stories were incredibly powerful, and I loved them. Not only did you have these great characters and stories, your stories also had something powerful and meaningful to say. What was the inspiration – and motivation, if any – behind your story?

Cassi: I wanted to write about a room that a character couldn’t escape and from there I created the familiar but hellish landscape that Hülya and Romy inhabit. The story itself is basically Romeo and Juliet and (I hope) asks many of the same questions about love, death, blame and forgiveness.

I think growing up in a place with different cultural backgrounds had a direct influence on this story. For many of the teens growing up around me, there was often unspoken rules about what type of people they were allowed to date, based on preconceived ideas about what certain groups (based on ethnicity, location and family) were like. I wanted to show how damaging this could be.

Felicity: The Swan actually started life as a completely different story and kind of took on a life of its own. I feel like it should have been harder to write but the reality is it only took me about two days to get the majority of it down! I didn’t realise I was trying to do anything with this story until I finished it and realised that it was a story that needed telling. I know so many people who struggle with mental illness and there’s a really weird attitude towards things like Depression and Anxiety on the internet where suddenly everything is excused and its ok to cut yourself off from your entire support network because that’s “self-care.” I think this attitude is slowly being dismantled, as is the idea of suicide as romantic – something really not helped by TV shows like 13 Reasons Why – but it still gets spread around. The trouble is, illnesses like Depression and Anxiety are really, really good at lying to you, and telling you these exact same things. So you start getting this tension between knowing that the disease is all that you are, and knowing absolutely that it isn’t. It turns into a total horror show, but you still can’t let go.

Kaneana: I have always been inclined to write stories that centre around female relationships. I have a younger sister and we are very different. By no means are the characters in Living Rose based on us, but it definitely gives me insight on how the sister relationship works. I’m always interested in how my friends interact with their sisters too. I love that siblings can annoy one another and argue, but still have that unconditional love flowing through.

I used social media in my story to highlight the pressure it puts on teens to have the perfect life. I feel like it’s a constant tool that teens (and adults) measure themselves up against. I also used the weight of the HSC through my story. I know some teens push themselves very hard; sometimes too hard. I hope Living Rose is able to offer some perspective on this.

Sarah: Whether it’s due to sexuality, intelligence, physical appearance, ability, cultural background or some other aspect of life, I think everyone has (at some stage) felt like they don’t fit in. With Mediocre Heroes, I wanted to create a world where everyone reading it would feel out of place—unless, of course, you happen to have superpowers.

CW: Your stories examine these engaging characters and their choices, and also how those choices reflect on society as a whole. What do the choices that your characters have to make say about them, society as a whole — and you as a writer?

Cassi: I think it is the universal understanding of love that tethers Hülya and Romy – to each other and to the readers.

Felicity: Having the right people around you, the kind of friends and family who will stay by you and let you have your time to say what you need to say, in the way you need to say it, is so so important. At the same time however, no-one else can make you do what you need to, make you change in the ways you need to, that’s something you have to come to on your own. For me, the most important part of the story is that the main character not only grows old, but that it is on her own terms. 

Kaneana: One of my characters believes she has life figured out. She is strong willed, confident and determined. She has it all mapped out in front of her… until she doesn’t. She’s forced to reassess everything and come back to the relationship her sister offers her. I believe this relationship is what tethers her and is the central thread of the story. 

Sarah: There are so many things that can rock your confidence in life, and I think as you get older you figure out what grounds you in those tough moments. Because Mediocre Heroes is all about feeling out of place, I wanted my characters to have the same tethers that have gotten me through tough times: strong friendships, honest relationships, and trying not to let someone else’s opinion shape how I feel about myself. 

CW: Something that I also loved was how, across all your stories, how the story unfolds and ends may surprise the reader. (I definitely was caught off-guard, in a good way!) What do you hope your stories will inspire in your readers?

Cassi: Love who you want. Care about others. Don’t be afraid. Life is scary, but as cliche as it is: YOLO.

Felicity: It’s super cliche but – it gets better. But it will also get worse, and then maybe a little bit better again. Healing isn’t a straight line and that’s ok, it’s ok to just survive for now. Being a teen is particularly the worst because no-one takes you seriously and so you start to not take yourself seriously and while a little bit of that is always important, when you stop listening to yourself, and making yourself fit to other people, that’s when things get bad. 

Kaneana: I think it’s easy to judge others and how they are tackling life. It is easy to get stuck in our own ways. I hope Living Rose highlights the importance of taking on other people’s perspectives. I would also hope that it makes readers grateful for what they have. I felt it was important to offer light and hope. We don’t know what our readers have gone through before they read our stories, so I believe being able to show characters being courageous and healing offers readers optimism for their own lives.

Sarah: I want people to remember that even when you feel like you don’t fit in anywhere, someone will be on your side. It might take a while to find them, they might not be what you were looking for or what you thought you needed, but they’re there. And they can make everything so much easier to bear. 

CW: How have the choices that you have made in your life made you the person and writer that you are today?

Cassi: Sometimes nothing, sometimes everything. I can’t say I’ve always thought my life had meaning, or was meaningful. I just try to create, to connect, to love and understand the world. There are people in my life I would be lost without; it’s nice to have them to hold on to when the world feels paper thin.

Felicity: I’m a writer and I always have been – I can track most of my life by what I was writing when, and I always feel weird when I’m not working on one project or another. I have good people around me who I trust to take the time to understand me when I can’t get my words out properly, and who I know will call me out on my bullsh*t when I get too wrapped up in my own head. I know I can come to them with anything. 

Kaneana: My family and friends give my life meaning. I’ve been married for over ten years and have three children. I have loving parents who live nearby and also live in a small and supportive community. I feel very fortunate to have strong friendships with people near and far. Writing offers me happiness, but it’s these people in my life that give it meaning.

Sarah: My family and my friends give my life meaning. I don’t just trust them to support me; I also trust them to tell me when I’m wrong and show me how to see things from someone else’s perspective. I’m very fortunate to have such strong relationships in my life, and I truly cherish them. 

The Authors!

Cassi Dorian

btfCassi is YA writer from Melbourne. She holds a Masters degree in Creative Writing which she uses to work in retail. She likes to make the mundane beautiful.


Felicity Martin

39883077_2139318679723086_3014467478580240024_n(1)Felicity Martin is a burgeoning author and queer commentator. She has cut her teeth in the not-at-all ruthless world of online books reviews and has a number of published articles under her belt. In her off time she dreams of writing excessively long and detailed video games.

Instagram | Twitter | Blog

Kaneana May

kaneana-may.jpegKaneana May studied Television Production at University, graduating with First Class Honours in Screenwriting. She went on to work in television, including roles as a script assistant on All Saints, a storyliner on Headland, and a script writer on Home and Away. Since becoming a mother, Kaneana has turned her attention to fiction writing. Kaneana loves to read – mostly YA, romance and women’s fiction and also loves watching TV and Films. Writing, bootcamp, coffee, chocolate and champagne are just some of her favourite things. Kaneana lives on the Mid North Coast with her husband and three children. Kaneana’s debut novel The One will be published with Harlequin in July 2019. For more about Kaneana, check out or join her over on Facebook or Instagram where you’ll see her sharing loads of her life, loves, and writing.


Sarah Taviani

Sarah Taviani author photo.pngSarah is an editor, writer and social media manager. She studied literature in her undergrad and post-grad, and is now suffering from an acute case of HECS debt. While she hasn’t won any awards for her writing yet, she has come first at several Harry Potter trivia nights. Mediocre Heroes is her first published work of fiction.

Blog | Instagram


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