Tell us a little about your new novel, Her Sister’s Shoes.
Her Sister’s Shoes is a women’s novel with a lot of suspense, a little romance, and a whole lot of familial drama and love. Each of the three Sweeney sisters is dealing with a crisis, including an unfaithful husband, an abusive husband, and a teenage son recovering from a crippling ATV accident. Throw in an aging mother exhibiting signs of dementia and the Sweeney family spirals out of control. I hesitate to tell your readers too much for fear of spoiling the plot, but Her Sister’s Shoes is a fast-paced #mustread for every woman’s beach bag, young and old.
Your three Sister protagonists are a bit long in the tooth in today’s very youthful oriented character era. And I as a woman of a “certain age” congratulate your choice because there’s not a lot out there with older star characters.
Was there a particular catalyst or event that brought this story idea to you?
Funny you should mention that. I turned fifty, celebrated my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and became an empty nester all in one year. I love variety in the novels I read, but mostly I like reading about characters I can relate to—modern-day women with very real problems. I wanted to write such a novel, to share my midlife-crisis experiences with other women. The Lowcountry setting seemed an obvious choice as I’m originally from South Carolina. I’m reminded every year when I visit my family how much I love the Lowcounty. I can’t get enough of the laid-back atmosphere, salty breezes, moss-draped trees, and kind folks with genuine smiles.
Ashley for some authors becoming a novelist is a natural progression from other writing careers, some are accidental authors, while some know they wanted to be an author from a very young age. Your becoming an author was very personal and stemmed from a personal tragedy.
Could you tell us about your personal journey and about your tribute novel, Saving Ben?
My brother’s tragic death from an accidental overdose in 1999 affected me profoundly. Neal was a wonderful person with a beautiful soul and a great big hole in his heart. More than anything, I wanted to reach out to others suffering from drug and alcohol addictions, to tell them Neal’s story and to let them know they’re not alone. But every time I tried to talk about his death, my voice shook and my eyes filled with tears. So I turned to writing, which offered great solace for me. Because Neal and I were the closest when we were in college, I decided to write Saving Ben about a college-aged brother and sister whose special bond is threatened by drug addiction. And a psycho roommate who I used to intensify the plot. 😉
What kind of response have you received from readers about Saving Ben?
It’s funny. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing a novel. Not my friends or my family, except my husband and children of course. I was hesitant to share my aspirations for fear of rejection. At the same time, I felt the need to justify the time I spent writing. What started as a hobby had become an obsession. The outpouring of kindness and support in Richmond, where I live, was enormous, which gave me the confidence I needed to reach out to the broader community. It’s surprising how many people have loved ones suffering from addiction. If I offer peace of mind to just one person, I feel like I’ve done my job.
So Ashley now I want to talk about self publishing.
Was this always your intent to self publish?
Hmm. No. I don’t think anyone starts writing with the intent to self-publish. At least not writers who are serious about their work. I’m impatient, and because the market is flooded with great authors, finding a literary agent is borderline impossible. I mean, seriously. Lit agents get thousands of queries every month and take on one or two new clients a year. Who can beat those odds? I didn’t want to spend years trying to sell my book to an agent when I could be selling books online. Today’s ever-evolving world of publishing is an exciting place for anyone interested in writing. My hope is the self and traditional publishing worlds will continue to merge into a great big playground for all authors.
What’s the best part about self-publishing?
Having total control. And yes, I am a control freak. I love being able to choose my cover and editor, and work on my own timetable. And I appreciate the way a novel can transition from final draft to bookshelf in a matter of weeks. On the flipside, the biggest challenge I face is the lack of support for print distribution. There is no such thing as a perfect world in publishing.
What is the last book you read that you couldn’t wait to recommend to your friends? The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Have you read it? It is a beautiful old-fashioned story about two sisters struggling to survive the atrocities of WWII. It’s different from other WWII stories in that it’s written from the perspective of French citizens. One of the sisters is a young mother forced to accommodate a Nazi officer in her home, while the other sister works for The Resistance, sneaking downed American and British pilots out of France to safety. My 21-year-old daughter is currently reading The Nightingale and loving it. In my opinion, The Nightingale is Hannah’s crowning glory.
Do you write or type?
I type! There are plenty of authors who still sit down and put pen to paper. But that is definitely not for me. Being able to move sentences and paragraphs around on the screen saves an enormous amount of time. I would be lost without spellcheck and my dictionary apps.
Do you begin planning your novel with a plot line or a character?
A character. I imagine my character, and once I blow life into her, she shows me the way.
Do your characters resemble people you know?
Not intentionally, but it’s innate. As I get inside my character’s heads, I can’t help but portray a little bit of myself in each of them. I’m always on the lookout for interesting characteristics in the people I encounter everyday.
Do you use your experiences in real life for your novels?
Not the big picture events, but I often use an anecdote from my real life to add humor or to make a situation feel more genuine, more legit.
What is your writing process? Are you a plotter or a panster?
For the most part I’d have to say I’m a panster, but there are definitely times when I need to use outlines to keep my facts straight and verify that my story flows. I’m fortunate to belong to a club that has an outdoor heated pool. I swim laps every day, all year long, even when it’s snowing. This peace and quite time allows me the opportunity to mentally plot what I’m going to write that day, to make up scenes and devise sentences. Then, when I sit down at my computer later in the morning, the words flow much quicker and easier. Free flow writing, on the other hand, helps when I’m suffering from writer’s block. Good material comes from these sessions, from just typing out whatever comes to mind.
What is your main objective in your writing?
I write the types of novels I like to read. Readers are attracted to my books because of the fast pace. My goal is to create interesting characters with the right amount of description and lots of action. If my readers keep turning the pages well into the night, then I have done my job.
How many hours do you spend writing a day?
Writing has become a full time job for me. Seven days a week, much to my husband’s chagrin. The process of writing takes an enormous amount of time. When I’m not writing, I’m marketing or working the social media networks. I love every minute of it.
What is your editing process?
Getting through the first draft is challenging. Starting with a blank page every day taxes the imagination. The process gets easier, and more exciting and fun, with each subsequent draft. The story takes on a life of its own and things begin to fall into place. My favorite draft is the last edit, the fine-tune edit, when I program my computer to read the manuscript back to me.
Do you always know how your story will end?
I never know how my story will end, oftentimes until I get to the last chapter in my first draft. I bring my characters to life, give them the big picture plot, and let them tell me the story.
Can you speak to the diversity in your books?
Saving Ben is a new adult book. Her Sister’s Shoes is women’s fiction. And Breaking the Story is romance. I didn’t set out to write novels that cross genres. It just happened that way. Again, I created the characters that spoke to me, and I let them do the rest.