Ashley R Carlson is the winner of the SPR Awards 2015 Grand Prize and First Prize Fiction for her book “The Charismatics”.
For the uninitiated, what’s The Charismatics about?
“The Charismatics” is a fantasy novel geared toward young adults set in a unique, steampunk universe – one that is full of magic, supernatural influences, and terrible secrets. This world is presided over by Legalia, an all-encompassing government of wealthy, powerful individuals who rule over the poor, allowing them to live in squalor.
Duchess Ambrose Killaher is a member of Legalia, having been born into aristocracy and sent to a freezing, snow-filled city called Shinery to run it. The book opens up on her daily life, when the reader immediately finds out two things: she’s in an arranged marriage to a man who despises her, and she has a snarky, shape-shifting companion no one else can see.
Is she crazy? Is she unlovable? Or are there things that exist, things Legalia has forbidden everyone to talk about, that mean she’s not crazy in the least?
A rebellious group calling themselves Exodus has started staging attacks on Legalia, and with the help of a broken, handsome stranger named Vasser, Ambrose begins to learn that she’s been on the wrong side—and that she is the only one who can stop Legalia’s murderous plans for the future.
What drove you to write this series?
I’d wanted to write for a long time, and have always been drawn to fantasy. Series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games inspired me—I’m fascinated with the epic proportions of good vs. evil in those storylines, and wanted to create a female protagonist who had something new to offer; not brains, not physical abilities, but altruism. A giving, compassionate heart.
I think it’s an important concept for all of us to consider, and one I wanted to infuse in a fun, fantastical universe of my own design.
Who are your biggest influences as a writer?
This is a difficult question, in that my influences change as I continue to read and get older. I would say that the authors who influenced THIS series would be Gail Carson Levine (for Ella Enchanted, my favorite book of all time), and Philip Pullman for the “His Dark Materials” series. I’ve been told many times that “The Charismatics” has a lot of similarities to “The Golden Compass” (the first book in Pullman’s series), and I completely agree.
In general, I think that Stephen King is fantastic. I have begun to read his books now that I’m older, and his descriptions and character-building are supreme. He writes a world into existence that lives and breathes, and you simply fall into the page. That is something I’m striving to do as well, and am learning from the greats every day.
Do you consider yourself a steampunk/fantasy author, or do you have plans to branch out into other genres when The Charismatics series come to a close? Do you have any other works in the pipeline?
When I first started writing “The Charismatics,” I’d only ever written one other piece – a Dystopian, dark fantasy short story called “Cruel.” But as I wrapped up the first book of my current series, I really needed a little break from fantasy. I’ve just finished the first draft of a contemporary novella called “Misery and Marlene,” about a young woman with dreams of an acting career who’s currently living a “miserable” life in Missouri. She is faced with the tough decision of pursuing her heart’s desire, or giving it all up to support her family. It’s different, it’s darker in ways, and I’ve really enjoyed writing something different. To hear more about its release and my other upcoming books, readers can subscribe to my newsletter at www.ashleyrcarlson.com/subscribe.
Did you try to get the Charismatics traditionally published? Would you like to?
I did not even try. Since I’ve begun writing seriously, indie was always the way to go for me. I’m meticulous and determined, ensuring that my products are of extremely high quality – I will not publish a book until I believe it’s of the caliber one would find on Barnes & Noble’s shelves. I simply don’t want to wait several years to see my books in existence, and between querying an agent, selling a book to a publisher, and their printing schedule, it really would take that long.
How long did the book take you to write? What’s your writing regimen like every day?
It took me two months to write the first draft, and three more months of editing/beta-reading after that. I wrote a post about my self-publishing process from start-to-finish in six months and actually published it here, on Self-Publishing Review’s blog.
What self-publishing service(s) did you use? Happy with how the book came together?
My book team is comprised of:
Cover design: M.S. Corley, who designs cover for NYT’s bestseller Hugh Howey.
Interior formatting: Stuart Whitmore of Crenel Publishing.
Editor: Lauren Wise of Midnight Publishing.
I am extremely happy, and won’t use anyone else. I did months of research finding the members of my team, and am so happy with the results. I’ve gotten dozens of compliments on the cover, the inside design, and the quality of the book itself.
What’s the hardest part of being your own publisher? The easiest?
The hardest part would be the marketing piece – realizing that as an indie author (and one with limited time, funds and PR experience), there are only so many things I can do to promote my work. But this leads into the easiest part about being my own publisher: that I can keep writing and sharing my work with the world. There are no gatekeepers telling me whether a book will ever be in a readers’ hands. Nope. I am completely in control of that, at least. Not how many books I sell, or whether I win awards, or become a bestseller, or get coveted ad space—but I am in control of getting to write what I want, to the caliber I want, and putting it in readers’ hands as soon as I want. That is priceless.
Any final words of advice for those looking to self-publish?
Do it. Today. There is literally nothing stopping you from being an author in today’s technologically advanced world but yourself. There is also such a wealth of information out there on how to do it, and do it well, that it’s incredibly easy to master.
Just curious, what apps did you get for your new iPad?! (The SPR Awards Grand Prize)
Well, when I’m not staring at the personalized case that is actually the COVER OF MY BOOK (thanks again for that!), I have been reading library books through my favorite e-book app. Also the Kindle app, one that offers free audiobooks, Netflix for watching shows on the go, and Pinterest for when I feel like looking at pictures of baby animals and hairstyles. ☺
Thank you again Cate and Henry for this wonderful award, the recognition you’ve given me and my book, and the encouragement for me to continue writing. It really is such wonderful validation for what I’m trying to do.
Ashley R. Carlson grew up wanting a talking animal friend and superpowers, and when that didn’t happen, she decided to write them into existence. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with four (non-talking) pets and one overactive imagination. Her award-winning fantasy novel, “The Charismatics,” can be found on Amazon and her website. Follow Ashley R. Carlson’s writing at: www.ashleyrcarlson.com