Old enough to know better, still young enough not to care.
Where are you from
A little about yourself
I’m a bit of a jack of all trades. I believe it is the result of having been born with an outgoing personality and an entrepreneur’s way of looking at life. I’ve worked on Capitol Hill, at a Fortune 100 company, and I’ve run my own businesses. When I travel, no matter how intriguing the destination, I prefer to spend my time talking with the locals, learning from them, rather than visiting every tourist site in the guide book.
In a way, it is exciting to think that the varied layers of my life have fused together to form the backdrop, the inspiration, and the impetus for novel-writing.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
New plots, new characters, new genres – the book ideas are flowing! It has been a very busy few months for me and, finally, the result of all that effort and time, Bonner, will arrive online and in stores later this summer.
Bonner is the second book in my romantic suspense series. The story picks up two weeks after the end of Ava, book one in the series, and it takes place in both Washington, D.C. and London, England. There is a harder edge in Bonner than there was in Ava – more pain and difficulty. To balance that out, the novel contains some of the softest and sweetest romance scenes I’ve ever written.
When I typed the opening line of Bonner, it was my first time writing a sequel and I worried that the story would come out feeling too much like Ava. After all, it is still me doing all the writing. But they don’t look the same, the two novels, and they don’t feel the same. That surprised me! Sure, they are connected, of course, but more in the way of cousins who share certain traits and features than twins or clones.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
Wow! I began writing early on, somewhere around second or third grade. I come from a family of readers and I grew up surrounded by books. I believe that had a great impact on me, seeing books everywhere I looked, and reading them (or being read to) at every opportunity. My parents value books. They taught us to value books, too.
When I was girl, my parents would find me tucked away somewhere in the house, reading a book I’d swiped from a stack I wasn’t yet old enough to read. I would often be distraught, reading these novels about life events and concepts that were beyond my ability to fully comprehend at such a young age. It was hard on my parents. Time and again, they patiently found ways to explain these events and concepts to me in a language and style that I would understand. I love them for it, always.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
The funny thing is I’m not sure I do consider myself a writer – not yet. Somehow, in my mind, writer is an exalted title, one best reserved for the likes of my favorite authors. I think I’m more of a storyteller. I’m far less concerned about the flawlessness of a book’s mechanics than I am about writing words that find a permanent home, however tiny, in a reader’s heart.
The highest compliment a reader could issue about one of my books or short stories is not: Oh, Ashley’s book doesn’t have a single error in it! No, the highest compliment I could receive about a book or short story would be: The more I read it, the more I love it.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
For years, I’ve been writing bits and pieces of stories, saving them in files, thinking that one day I would turn them into novels. That never happened. My first steps on the path to becoming an author were a surprise to me, and to everyone in my life. One fine August day, I sat down at my computer and began typing. I had no plan, no plot; I had something inside me, a story, and it needed to come out.
It was that simple.
Within a few weeks, I realized I was writing a book. After another few weeks, I was ready to tell the people closest to me about it. Their reactions were mixed, as I had traveled so far in the opposite direction from that young girl who used to write stories that a few had forgotten it was ever in me. It took a while for some to adjust to this new destination on my career map, but all were encouraging and loving.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Hmm. If you mean “pantser vs. plotter,” I am a combination. I do write out plots, characters, key elements, etc, before beginning a story. Sometimes, I write out extensive outlines. Other times, once I am “in the story,” I let go of all preconceived ideas about what is happening, and why. This method of “writing what I feel” can create problems if the inspiration comes late in the manuscript, as it almost always requires me to go back and make many small adjustments throughout the earlier chapters.
If you mean a “signature style” of writing, I would say I am all about emotion, and the heart. When you are reading one my stories, you may think, half-way through, that all hope is lost. It’s not. I have faith in the triumphant power of love, and of hope. You will always find them both, in many different forms, in my writings.
Happiness is a choice; that’s my belief. Before the final page, and sometimes well before it, my main characters choose happiness. Although, for some of them (I’m looking at you, Marah Prince) getting them there –to the point that they are emotionally ready to receive and embrace happiness – takes a surprising amount of strategy and planning.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
When I first realized I was writing a novel and not just tinkering with words on the page, I was unprepared for the idea that Ava would be the opening book in a long series. Once I embraced the idea of a secret society (the Priyas) formed by women who had grown up together, the structure of the entire series began to take shape. I spent about a year writing notes about each character and each new plotline. At the end of that time, when I studied the whole picture, I knew that I had the makings of a compelling romantic suspense series.
I decided I would write the series as one long story, broken up into parts, with each book in the series centering on a different member of the Priyas. The books are not meant to be read as standalone novels. All twenty-six books in the series (well, eventually…) are named after the Priyas, in order from A – Z.
Ava is the first novel, Bonner comes out this summer, Carys arrives this Christmas. And those are only the beginning books in the series. Fun!
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Hope is the seed of love. Hope cannot be stolen, it must be surrendered. Never let it go.
Readers will find that message in everything I write.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
I tend to believe that all of the plots in my novels are realistic, or at least plausible. But then, I’m writing about places that are familiar to me, and I am choosing plot elements that draw from events I know to be true.
Washington, D.C. is a town filled with intrigue, a place where secrets act as currency. The computer age will help future generations of Washingtonians (and the world) know everything about some things, and absolutely nothing about other things. This is, possibly, doubly true for what really goes on in Washington. That makes it a perfect setting for fiction, yes?
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Ava was my first novel, and first novels are rumored to contain a healthy dose of an author’s true life experiences. There are key similarities between the character “Ava Arden” and myself. We both run businesses, have brothers, and live in the same town. We’re both tall, we’re both outgoing, and we both drink too much tea. That’s where the likeness ends. (Well, and we both love Kader Thornton…)
One funny note: My friends have picked out the characters that they think are modeled after them in the books. I just laugh! So far, they are all wrong.
That’s because no one from my real life is copied in any of my work. Rather, what I have is a big box of “mental Legos” stored in my mind. In that box I’ve gathered bits and pieces from all the people I’ve ever met: physical traits, personality quirks, talents, education, travels, humor, disappointments, accomplishments, hopes, beliefs, style, sounds – they are all stored in the “Lego box” in my mind. When I am ready to build a character, I start pulling out the pieces, one by one, fitting and discarding, until I am satisfied with the “human” I have created for the story.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life?
Too many to name! I am an avid reader and I always have been. As a girl, my biggest influences were the classics of YA literature: Little Women, The Secret Garden, O Pioneers!, all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, the Nancy Drew books, and The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.
Since then, I’ve continued to read the classics along with contemporary novels of many different genres, lots of biographies, and a significant number of American and European history books, both fiction and non-fiction.
Fiona: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I could no more choose a favorite author to mentor me than I could choose a single book to be trapped with on a desert island!
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I tend to read several books at once. Some are print and some are e-books. Some are by nationally recognized authors, and some are by self-published authors.
I just finished the thriller The Eye of God by James Rollins and enjoyed every page! I’m now onto Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare, and Evil Town by John David Bethel. I’m also re-reading (for the millionth time?) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
As a part of my research for one of my in-progress novels, Lions on the Way, I am reading through a tall stack of books on the America Civil War.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I am always on the lookout for new authors to read. James Rollins, an author I just mentioned, is new to me. He writes true thrillers, fast-paced and violent, with surprising touches of heart along the way. He tends to interweave historical events with theories of quantum physics (really!) and his novels always have chapters that take place in Washington, D.C.
I am now in the process of ordering all of his books.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
I am currently writing several novels, all in different genres or sub-genres. In addition to the romantic suspense series, I am writing a historical novel, a non-fiction guide, a YA novel, a children’s book series, and, of course, lots of blog posts.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I have been privileged to receive constant and immoveable support from many of my friends. They are all blessings along this journey!
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Writing is the hub, the common denominator for all the things I am doing, and that I plan to do in the future.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Actually, I did go back and change one story element after Ava had been published. That is the advantage of e-books: changes can be made at any time. A first novel is, nearly always, imperfect. It is hard to resist the desire, the impulse, to go back and make improvements. But doing so takes away from future projects.
Readers know it takes time for a writer to find his or her firm footing, style-wise. I don’t think it turns readers off to encounter a first novel that is less than perfect. If they like the story, if they like the style, they’ll journey along to the next, and the next, so long as the author keeps delivering on those expectations.
Take Nora Roberts, one of the top-selling authors of all-time, as an example. Go back and read one of her earliest books (e.g., Irish Thoroughbred), then jump ahead fifteen years and read Montana Sky. Both books have the “Nora Stamp” (if you read her work, you know what I mean), but they are remarkably different in terms of plot development and complexity.
From that first novel, readers saw something special in Nora Roberts’ storytelling, and they have stayed with her, loyal and hungry, for all these years.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
In truth, it’s probably because I’m opinionated, and I’ve always had a lot to say. Writing – books, short stories, blogs – is an extremely satisfying outlet for all this energy!
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
I would be happy to share an excerpt from the opening chapter of Bonner, a romantic suspense novel. Thanks for asking!
“He was the stem and she was the blossom, Locke always liked to say. And it was true. Each could exist for a time without the other, but separated, they would swiftly fade back into the earth that had sprung them. They were meant to be together. They were soul mates.
There was that word again. Together. Bonner didn’t want to sever their lives, their love, apart. Not even if it meant living in a state of perpetual suspension. More and more, she felt as if she were stuck on a balcony, watching, as the life she wanted played out on someone else’s stage.
But what choice had he left her? Loving Locke had never been a conscious decision, never something she had planned. It simply was. They simply were.
Finding out that he chased criminals from their nests, hunted them, caught them, worried her above all else. She had never known in all this time that, daily, he was risking his life, over and over. Bonner had written many articles and books about people who had taken risks for all the right reasons, and lost. She knew as well as any of those men and women did that death was a fearless competitor, often striking at those moments when one felt safest and most secure.
An instant, no more, and their lives were forever changed.
A chill washed over her. Bonner wished there was a window nearby so she could look out at the midday sun and draw strength from its light. She turned her head to search the space, even knowing that all her eyes would encounter were cameras, lights, and the altered reality of seeing the world through a television screen.”
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yes, but the list has evolved over the past two years. My answer at this stage in my development is quite different from what it would have been at the start of this journey.
In the beginning, I found it difficult to organize my thoughts and ideas into a cohesive outline for a novel. Character development was something I did on the fly, rather than through a (still somewhat vague) formula. Editing – my Achilles heel – was an enigma, and, if I’m honest, always will be.
These days, my editor worries about editing my work (hurray!) and I have mastered the art of organizing my novel-writing inspirations into usable outlines and summaries. My characters must be going through some sort of behind-the-scenes checkpoint, because, these days, by the time they arrive on the page, they’re quite developed.
Currently, my biggest challenge is finishing up one project before beginning another. Essentially, I log every thought (as it relates to novel-writing) that enters my mind. Some thoughts are more involved than others, and it can take me a few days to get all the particulars on paper. The good news is that I never lack for other writing options when I hit a stumbling block with my main work-in-progress.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Hands down, my favorite author is Pearl S. Buck. I first read her novel, The Good Earth, when I was nine years old. I didn’t understand much of it, not from an emotional perspective. I didn’t have the depth, or the experience; I was a kid.
What I did understand, what rocked my young heart (though I could not have articulated these reasons back then), was her ability to communicate how deeply love and hope and regret and pain are intertwined. All branches of the same tree. Could we have the joys without the sorrows? With every page, every chapter, Pearl S. Buck’s words ring out in a resounding No!
The measure for joy is sorrow. To know one, we must know the other. It is an inescapable reality.
We each have a journey to take. All that happens to us along the way, each piece, has purpose. Each belongs to the greater good, no matter how painful they were to forge, and they must not be discarded, or overlooked no matter how tempting it is to cast them aside. Only at the end, at the last breath, can we look back and see the puzzle finished. Only then can we understand the point of all that we encountered on our individual path.
To me, this is the subtext, the underlying message in Pearl S. Buck’s writing.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
I wish! If I had to travel for my book research, I would be setting my novels exclusively in exotic locales. Tahiti, here I come!
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I have worked with a number of designers and have always enjoyed the experience.
The covers for both Ava and Bonner were created by Debbie at The Cover Collection. The cover for my short story Famous generates a lot of comments and was created by Amanda at Razzle Dazzle Design.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
With Ava, the hardest part was facing the need to cut the original draft down from a 165,000-word manuscript to a (relatively trim) 110,000-word manuscript. It took me months of second-guessing, and four major rewrites, but I reached the goal at long last.
With Bonner, the hardest part has been deciding which “spin-off worthy” chapters to keep as part of her book, and which to bank for a future novel in the series. I have a tendency to include standalone chapters when I write a novel. Think of them as short stories within the main story. Only, I don’t plan them or write any sort of outline in advance. They just appear on the page.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned plenty – about the art and science of writing, about my strengths and weaknesses – while writing my first novel. I came through that long process with a completed manuscript and a firm understanding of which aspects of production I would be outsourcing in the future.
But, all those drafts and re-writes afforded me a unique opportunity to discover my own style of writing. How I put a story together. How I frame each plot element, and each chapter. By the time I was ready to start Bonner, I had some semblance of a path to follow. Not a well-traveled one, but one that led me past the trouble spots, and not through them.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
This may be a little controversial, but, if you haven’t already started, get blogging! Some novelists would disagree with me, as they believe blogging takes away from time better spent writing novels. My feeling is that this journey is different for everybody. Choose the path that best fits your lifestyle, your goals, and your personality.
I consider blogging to be a mini-boot camp for writing exercises. My average blog post length is about 1,600 words, and will take me anywhere from two to four hours to complete. (Not necessarily consecutive hours, I’d like to point out.)
I cover all sorts of topics, so long as they fall into the categories of blogging, writing, publishing, or marketing. These posts become my own history book. They document what I am thinking about, caring about, worrying about, at different points in my evolution as a writer and author.
This is key: Invest in Scrivener! It is downloadable software perfectly designed for writers. And it is an amazing tool. I first downloaded it two years ago, but didn’t start using it until about eight months ago. My mistake!
Scrivener keeps all of your research, links, drafts, pictures, and more, in one place. Their system is organized and easily accessible. It is a little tricky to learn, but there are excellent resources (and people) out there to provide assistance and guidance.
Also, if you are considering self-publishing a novel in the future, be aware that social media can be overwhelming. You may feel a need to join all of the available options: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, GoodReads, LinkedIn, Triberr, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, and a whole host of author networking groups.
Think carefully before you make any moves.
I belong to most of the social media options, but I would do things differently if I were to start over with my present knowledge. For example, Facebook doesn’t resonate with me. I rarely go on it. When I do, I’m not sure what to add.
Yes, Facebook definitely causes me more stress than pleasure, and I haven’t invested the time to make full use of its offerings. The account is for my work, my books, so I don’t use it for my personal life. I regularly contemplate cancelling my account, but can never quite bring myself to do it. What message would that send? How many readers, those who only use Facebook, might I then miss the opportunity to connect with?
Twitter, on the other hand, fits my personality and communication style perfectly. It moves fast, it is easily searched, and it is inclusive in a way that Facebook, by design, can never be. Just by comparing the numbers of my communities (Facebook: 1,700 and Twitter: 65,000) it is easy to see where I spend my social media time.
If you are just starting out as a self-published author, you absolutely need to build a platform. How can people buy your book I they don’t know it exists? But you do not need to build every platform. In the beginning, I think you are better off networking through only one or two social media accounts and through your blog.
Remember: No matter how many social media outlets you have, do not bombard fellow Facebookers or Tweeters with links to buy your own book! Sure, share news about your novel, but pace yourself. Tweet links for other writers, their books, their blog posts, their good news. Send out a quote every now and then. If you find an interesting article, share it.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
A book is interactive. It is a shared experience between author and reader. In a sense, when I write a book and you read it, we are making a memory together.
Feedback is the lifeblood of an author’s motivation – most especially for the undiscovered author.
When you read a book – mine, or anyone else’s – and you come across a passage or storyline that resonates with you, communicate your reaction to that author! Social media makes it easy.
Reinforcement through honest, positive feedback (and the occasional, well-crafted constructive criticism) is what we hope to hear. It’s what we need to hear. Many of us keep notes of your ideas and suggestions, your enthusiasm for a particular character or storyline, and we think about your input during our individual writing processes.
Who knows, if we’re really inspired, maybe we will all name characters after you!
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
The first book I ever read was Little Women. I was six at the time. I had a lot of help with both reading it and understanding it. The novel was my very first “major purchase.”
I will always remember the day I was finally able to buy that beautiful book, and I will always remember my mom’s face as she stood there, looking at me, in the book section of Lowen’s Toy Store. It will forever be one of the most special days of my life. In fact, I even wrote a blog post about the experience: The Field of Play.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
My curious nature gets me into a lot of scrapes…um…hobby-sampling. Once, I bought a cordless glue gun (love those 40% off Michael’s coupons!) and I went wild with it. I had lots of enthusiasm and creative ideas, but little talent. That phase didn’t end well.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Between my DVR and my treadmill, I watch more television than I should. DVR’s make it so easy to record positively everything, then fast forward or outright delete whatever I end up not liking. I watch a lot of crime dramas, anything BBC, some comedies, Boardwalk Empire, more reality television than I’d like to admit, lots of cooking shows, tons of Hallmark and Lifetime original movies (I do write romance!), and I never miss an episode of Shark Tank.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
I love all of the following foods equally: steak, cucumbers, cherries, potatoes, chocolate, ruby red grapefruit, and orange peppers.
My favorite color is pink, though I have always preferred to have a multitude of colors and patterns in my home and office.
Is there any kind of music I don’t like? Probably not.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
If I had the guts and the brains, I would want to be an astronaut. Imagine looking back at the earth from space!
If I had the talent, I would want spend my days working with oils on canvas. Imagine seeing life through the eyes of a painter!
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
My blog is a part of IndieBookWeek.com and can be found here: http://indiebookweek.com/category/ashley_barron_blog/