An Interview with Ashley R. Carlson: Author of The Charismatics Series & SPR Book Award Winner

Ashley R. CarlsonAshley 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 runs her editing business in Scottsdale, Arizona with three (non-talking) pets and one overactive imagination. Follow her writing and editing at: www.ashleyrcarlson.com.

The Authority won the Silver Prize in the 2016 SPR Book Awards. The Charismatics won the Grand Prize in the 2015 SPR Awards.

Tell us about your book.

The Authority is the sequel to my first YA steampunk fantasy novel in the series, entitled The Charismatics. Without giving too much away, I can say that in The Authority my main characters are on separate journeys (I’ve gone from one POV to two), and that a war is brewing. Essentially my main character–a duchess named Ambrose who’s currently a fugitive on the run from the government she betrayed–is being forced to link up with a terrorist group she doesn’t like in order to save thousands of innocent lives. She’s also dealing with a very real mental struggle because her beloved best friend Roan was stolen at the end of the first book, and she’s recently begun to hear dark voices in her mind that keep telling her to do awful things… Here’s the blurb to extrapolate:

A kidnapped advocate. A growing army. A looming threat from the spiritual realm.

Duchess Ambrose Killaher has just lost everything: Roan was stolen by the psychopath Evelyn Smyle, countless others died in the zeppelin’s crash, and she’s number one on Legalia’s hit list. As she heads to Exodus’s headquarters, Ambrose prepares to meet her fellow Charismatics and beg for their assistance in saving Roan. But when reports come in that Legalia’s experiments are moving forward, Ambrose is faced with a hellish decision—to pursue Roan by herself, or help recruit an army to take down the reigning government.

Navigating tensions with her boyfriend, ghostly visions of her dead handmaiden, and a disturbing evil growing within, Ambrose struggles to maintain her sanity as the truth grows ever clearer: that she may be the Authority prophesied to deliver the end of an age.

SILVER PRIZE 2016What did you learn on your journey as an author?

I would say that in the last five years I’ve been seriously writing, that I’ve learned to pinpoint my weaknesses and eliminate them (as best I can), while highlighting my strengths as an author. I think that it’s important to take any criticism you receive into account (as long as it’s not a “trolling” situation). Other readers, writers, reviewers, and editors can really help to illuminate those areas in your writing that could use some extra work, while letting you know what people love so you can tease them out even further in future publications. For example, I know readers love my humor and wit, so I really try to add a lot of pithy dialogue into my books. Conversely, I’ve grown more aware of which words I “fall back” on, and try to be hyper-aware of expanding my vocabulary and avoiding repetitive phrases. This all takes time (and mistakes) to learn–and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Would you self-publish again?

Absolutely! I love self-publishing, as it gives me lots of freedom to write what I want to write, publish when I want to publish, and reach my readers in a quick and timely fashion. I do have a manuscript that may be queried traditionally, but currently I really love self-publishing and think I understand how to produce an exceptional product without the inclusion of an outside publisher (I love to hire my own freelance editors, formatters, and cover designers).

What do you think are the main pitfalls for indie writers?

I will say what everyone probably says: publishing something of poor quality. Not having a professional cover, professional editing, etc. That’s the number one issue.

Otherwise I would say that spending too much time and money on marketing instead of writing the next book is another “pitfall”–it’s my belief that you should just keep writing the best books you possibly can and spend a limited time on building platform until you have a substantial (5+) books to market.

The AuthorityAs a writer, what is your schedule? How do you get the job done?

I’m also a freelance editor, so I work from home and have the freedom to really tailor my schedule to my book-writing needs.

Usually I take a month off from work to write the first draft of a novel. Then I spend the next two or three months going back and forth between revising a current draft and working while that draft is out to beta readers/editors. I try to get 3,500-4,000 words done a day if it’s a first draft day, and that can take between 4-8 hours. When I wrote The Authority this summer, I would go to a coffee shop or the library and wasn’t allowed to come home until I’d reached my word count for the day. It worked, apparently, because I had a finished and award-winning book five months later! 🙂

Why did you want to write a book?

I’ve always really enjoyed writing, and always loved reading and had a wild imagination. I attempted to finish writing my own manuscripts in high school and college, but it wasn’t until I competed in NaNoWriMo that I said to myself, “I WILL write a 50k novel.” And when I committed to it, and realized how much I loved crafting a story from start to finish (even though I had no idea what I was doing), the bug had bitten me. I know now that writing is what I was born to do, and my ultimate goal is to make others feel all the thing *I* feel when I read or watch something truly moving: the power to make someone laugh, cry, give them a respite from daily life, inspire them…it’s magical. I’m blessed to have found this, and be living out my dream.

Who are your biggest writing inspirations and why?

I would say that Stephen King’s style is one of my favorites–he’s so authentic in his writing, he’s not pretentious, he uses such realistic dialogue and has such realistic, authentic characters (even in extremely fantastical situations!), so he’s a huge one. Also Philip Pullman, for sparking a love of steampunk-inspired writing with the His Dark Materials series at such a young age–it’s quite funny, that series is about the destruction of God (or proof that a higher power doesn’t exist), while mine is the complete opposite. Pullman definitely inspired me from childhood, and I must be on a quest to write a companion series that challenges his theories.

charismatics What are your plans now your book is published?

Write the third book in the series! As I mentioned before, I think that it’s ultimately in mine and my readers’ best interest to just continue producing books of a high caliber, and hopefully my readers will “market” them and the work will speak for itself. I certainly feel honored and grateful for opportunities like Self-Publishing Review’s Awards to allow me the opportunity to submit my books and be awarded a distinction that sets my work apart. I believe that with more books and more awards, that readers will feel compelled to give my work a try. 🙂

How do you deal with writer’s block?

Write through it!

But seriously… I give myself a short time limit (the month to produce a first draft) and that lights a fire underneath me. Because I must work to pay bills, I definitely feel the added pressure of production when I give myself “time off” from work to write the next novel.

It also helps that I’m not allowed to come home until I get to my word count goal for the day–the baristas don’t like it too much if you make them stay past their closing time. 🙂

What have you learned from this experience?

So many things…mainly, that I can write a sequel. I put off writing The Authority for a year and a half because I was scared I had no idea how to write a companion book. The interesting thing, though, is that I knew EXACTLY how to write it–I just needed to trust my creativity. Writing fiction is a very organic experience for me–I don’t follow an outline, I *definitely* don’t follow a “typical” story format regarding characterization, plot points, etc., so for me it’s incredibly exciting to not KNOW what I’m going to write or where the story will go. Because a hundred percent of the time, it goes somewhere I’m absolutely not anticipating–and that’s insanely beautiful, terrifying, and wondrous.

The other main thing I learned through writing this book was that you may not plan on infusing your characters or storyline with truth from your own life, but it will find its way in (and it should). In this book, my main character Ambrose is struggling with incredible darkness, isolation, pain, and depression, and though it comes from an outside source (voices speaking to her), I *myself* was going through a similar situation for the last year. I had absolutely no plans to include anything of the sort with this character, but her arc just evolved in such a manner as I continued to revise…and I think it’s such an authentic character arc for that reason.

Ultimately, if I can reach ONE reader who’s struggling with those same feelings of pain and isolation as my character Ambrose is in The Authority, then my goal as an author is achieved–writers are reaching through the page to readers with our happiness and our pain and our sorrows and our joys–we want you to feel these things, and we want to remind you that you’re not alone.

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