It pleases me to no end to post today’s author interview with Ashley Barron. Early on, I quickly gravitated toward her tweets for many reasons, eventually leading to my review of her book where I discuss her uncanny ability. I’m sure this interview will lead you to appreciate Ashley’s work ethic, forthright nature, and talent.
Giveaway: Two copies (print or electronic) will be given away to randomly drawn people who leave a comment on this post.
1. Please provide a brief synopsis of your book.
Politics and murder set the backdrop for a second chance at love in this debut novel by Ashley Barron. Ava blends the emotional impact of a love story with the pulse-pounding twists of a thriller.
Ava Arden has spent three years trying to move past the pain of a failed relationship. With her heart on ice, she channels all of her energy into her successful event-planning business, and into the lives of her best friends, the Priyas. Everything changes the day Kader Thornton, the man she walked away from, shows up in Washington, D.C. with a single goal: to win her back.
On the day of Kader’s return, Ava accidentally uncovers a secret that, if revealed, will expose a private battle for power at the highest levels of government. She soon finds herself hunted by an unseen enemy, one hiding among her friends. One who has already killed and is willing to kill again. When a trap is set for Ava, she walks right into it and disappears. For Kader, finding her is his only priority. But the Priyas, lifelong friends, each famous in her own right, find themselves trapped between helping in the search and protecting their own secrets.
2. Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.
The stories find me. It’s almost as if the characters are standing next to me, whispering in my ear, guiding me from one page to the next. Some days, when my fingers settle on my keyboard, I find myself meeting a new person, a new voice, even an entirely new story. These are my best days as a writer, the days when I don’t know what I’m writing until the frenzy has passed. There are moments when I read my words and wonder where they came from. Was it really from me? This happens most often with my short stories, which are deeply emotional and deeply personal, yet bear no resemblance to my own life.
On my own time, I wrote a lot stories, essays, and poems while in school. Once I entered the work force, I channeled that energy into learning as much as I could about the business world. The years went by until, one afternoon, I found myself writing the story of a woman who had grown up in my same town, in a life that was reasonably similar to my own in structure. It took time and patience for me to let this character, Ava Arden, dominate the page, and for me to take my own experiences out of the equation. Soon, I realized there were many more characters eager to have their stories told. For about a year, I simply let the words flow, let the ideas form on the page with as little conscious input from me as possible. At the end of that year, I knew a new career had found me, and that I was doing what, on some levels, I feel I always meant to do. I’ve never looked back.
3. It’s hard to pick just one, but what do you consider your favorite novel and why?
I look for truth when I read a story. Emotions, complicated relationships, resolution, a few unexpected twists – these are all elements I enjoy finding in a book I’m reading for the first time. My favorite novel is The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. For me, as a young girl reading that powerful, heart-ripping novel, it was transformational. Since that time, I’ve read many books that have a woven a thread into the very fabric of my being. The classics are always near me. I try and sample at least one novel from best-selling authors as much for the purpose of study as for pure enjoyment. Since becoming a self-published author, I’ve had an opportunity to explore genres that are new to me as a reader. Science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and YA were not among my usual selections before joining social media and meeting so many writers. Branching out, and walking new paths as a reader, has been wonderful!
When I decided to write my own novels and short stories, it was important to me to create works that center on love and relationships, though not all of the relationships are romantic. Family and close friends play a vital role in the decisions we make as individuals, and in the experiences that shape us as humans, as community members, and as lovers. As an early reader myself, I wanted my books to be accessible to readers anywhere from their teen years to their eighties. With this in mind, I keep my language appropriate for a general audience, and I do not incorporate graphic love scenes into my novels. The classics have much to teach us about telling great stories without the use of those particular devices.
4. What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?
My blog is called The Priyas. I write about books, self-publishing, marketing, and small business. It has been an extraordinary journey, going from social media flunky to serious blogger and tweeter. I knew nothing when I started, and I had all these fears about jumping into the mix. This is where the businesswoman in me moved to the fore and took the reins. I needed to take the personal out of the equation, and I needed to write down a plan of action for blogging and tweeting. I searched the Internet for as much information on the basics of blogging as I could find. There wasn’t much – at least, not much that was geared for a true newbie like I was at that time.
I documented this process, and my growth, on my blog. Recently, I used those posts as the basis for developing an e-book guide How I Went from Zero to One Million Blog Hits in One Year. It is designed for writers and small business people who are considering starting a blog and joining social media. It focuses on structuring content, marketing a blog through Twitter, and developing online relationships with colleagues and potential readers or customers. My perspectives on blogging, social media, and marketing as a self-published author have grown markedly since I began my blog eighteen months ago. There are days when the two halves of my brain – the dreamy writer and the practical businesswoman – compete with each other for time, and for space on a page. It can be exhausting, and I’ve learned to follow a strong writing lead no matter the subject, even if it is not how I had originally planned to use that time.
For writer and authors, I consider the process of creating blog posts to be an excellent form of training for writing novels. I would compare it to lifting weights at the gym, or going for a run. Successful blogging, like fitness, requires structure, motivation, encouragement, and a plan. Any day is a good day to start.
5. Are you traditionally published or self-published?
I am self-published. I did send a few queries out in the beginning, but I didn’t know anything about the publishing world. Choosing to self-publish has enabled me to learn a great deal about writing, producing, marketing, and selling books. If I do have an opportunity to publish traditionally in the future, I will be a much more effective partner in all aspects of the process.
Mistakes! I’ve made so many of them along the way! My first version of Ava was published as an e-book seven months ago. I did everything wrong. It wasn’t properly edited, the cover (though I loved it) lacked polish, the book description was not particularly inviting to readers, and I set the price too high – twice. It took me the better part of six months to correct all of those mistakes, and to present the new version of Ava to readers. Knowledge is power, and I do not regret my mistakes, but I do not plan on making the same ones again.
6. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity?
Make a marketing plan. Don’t focus on the details; get the big picture on paper first. Over time, go back and add in the specifics. Set goals for the number of blog posts you will write in a month. Use your social media time wisely. Try new things on your blog like hosting guest posts, or interviews.
Treat blogging as a business, and think of your blog and Twitter account as your PR team. They are always out there working for you. Once you become comfortable blogging, it can be challenging to keep private information out of the posts. The words just start flowing! More than once, I have written a blog post (which takes hours) and then scrapped it. This is why I recommend focusing on using your blog as a business tool, not an online diary. Most important of all: never use your blog to attack, only to suggest and hope.
7. Describe your writing background.
I have no formal training as a writer, unless you count a summer I spent at a UVA workshop back in high school. (No, I don’t count that either.) While I feel comfortable with my abilities as a storyteller, I am lacking in the editorial department. It took me a chunk of time, plus the genuinely kind advice of people who care about where I’m headed on this journey, to own it.
Frankly, I didn’t know what would happen if I let someone inside my brain and gave them power over stories I thought I’d told in just the right way. I got over it – and over myself – and had the good fortune to connect with a talented editor. I enjoy working with him, and our partnership has produced a plateful of stories, some still being written, some ready to be published.
I do hope to attend a conference in 2013, and to have the chance to mix (in person!) with fellow writers and authors.
8. What does your drafting and/or editing process entail?
I often wonder how other authors construct their books. It is so personal, the birth of a story. I do not sit down and write a novel in order, from beginning to end. Rather, I write mini-stories, of sorts, that I use to create the structure of the novel. Once this phase is complete, I go back and look for holes in the continuity of the story and begin to fill them in. I also look for chapters that are simply too disconnected to work with the final version and I cut them. Learning to edit out my own material was tough. In the beginning, I felt that each paragraph had value and couldn’t possibly be eliminated. Is it any surprise I ended up with a 165,000-word manuscript? Eventually, I came around and began cutting. The final version of Ava is about 110,000 words. Better.
I do use outlines for my novels, but I give myself every opportunity to change anything that doesn’t feel right once I’m “in the story.” Also, on those days when I find myself writing something new, something completely unrelated to my existing works, I let the words come until a natural break in the story occurs. I believe there is a reason why new stories, or new characters, are appearing on my screen. I save each draft, even if I don’t yet know what I’ll do with it.
9. What future projects can we look forward?
A new blog format is coming in 2013. Hooray! There may be an app coming, as well as some adventures in advertising. I enjoy exploring marketing ideas, even when they don’t turn out the way I’d hoped. The opportunity to learn, daily, is invaluable – no, it is a gift – and I try to be open-minded about new paths and new options. (As you can imagine, this sometimes gets me into a little bit of trouble, but it always makes for interesting blog posts.)
Books two and three in the Priya series, Bonner and Carys, are coming this year, and I have a standalone novel, too. It is set in Washington, D.C., which is probably not a surprise, and it has shades of the movie National Treasure in it – only with a female lead. I have more short stories coming, audio books, print books, and possibly more non-fiction business-style guides for self-published authors and small business people. I hope to have Ava and a few of my short stories translated into other languages, too. We’ll see what the year brings.
10. Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know?
There is a lot of debate about self-publishing. Authors: As a reader, I don’t care how your books are published. I care that you are writing, that you are contributing ideas, experiences, theoreticals, hope, passion, hard-work, and love to the world. Writing a book, putting that book out in public, withstanding criticism (deserved or undeserved) takes guts, sacrifice, rejection, faith, precious time, and an unrelenting belief in yourself.
As a reader, I thank you. As a writer, I admire you.
You can connect with Ashley Barron on her website Indie Book Week.
Is there anything else you’d like to know about Ashley Barron?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.