Q&A With Jennifer Ashley
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Q&A With Jennifer Ashley
This week one of my many Q&A’s is with USA Today and New York Times Bestselling author Jennifer Ashley. Jennifer Ashley writes in many genres which are historical, paranormal, and contemporary romance and historical mysteries. I have read the first three books in her Below The Stairs Mysteries. Under her Ashley Gardner and Allyson James pen names she writes historical mysteries and urban fantasy romance.
Q: So Jennifer what fascinates you about writing historical mysteries, as well as writing urban fantasy and contemporary, historical, and paranormal romance?
A:I have always loved historical mysteries, and for a while, it was all I would read. The history of the time and place is a character itself, enhancing the story and the mystery. Historical mystery is also a way to explore the past of different cultures—for example I’ve read about 1940s India, 1930s Singapore, medieval France, 15th-century Japan, and many other place.
In my own historical mysteries, I explore Regency England, Victorian England, and Ancient Rome. I love to research!
I also enjoy writing many different kinds of books. Basically, I think of a story and then decide what genre it is. Sometimes I don’t know!
Q: When in your life did you realize that your calling was to be an author?
A: Very early. I always loved reading—I learned to read quickly because I wanted to know what was in all the books and others in my family didn’t always have time to read to me. When I was about eight, I realized that novels were people making up stories and writing them down. I made up stories all the time! From that moment, I started trying to find out how people went about becoming an author. It was many years before that dream was realized, but I never stopped trying.
Q: What’s your advice on how to write great mysteries and romance novels? How do you deal with writers block and what advice would you give to aspiring authors who deal with the same?
A: Writing any story starts with just doing it. I had no idea how to write a book when I started, and in fact, it took me several tries just to get one finished. It was 100 single-spaced pages, and it was terrible, but it was done!
If you read a lot (as in every day of your life), you tend to pick up on the rhythms of storytelling, and you can start discerning good writing from clunky. Then practice, practice, practice. Every word you write does not have to be for sale or for anyone else to read but yourself. Not until I could write a full novel with a decent structure did I try to get it published.
What I like about mysteries is that mystery novels are deep character studies. They are not necessarily only about murder and dead bodies. The characters are the most interesting part of the book, as are revelations about what people do to get what they want (be it money, security, or the protection of a loved one). A thread running through is the sleuth and his / her personal life and growth through the series. A great sleuth with a fascinating storyline, whether it’s a man running a knitting store or a woman police detective, will make a series thrive.
In romance, the most important part of the story is the relationship between the main characters. Whether they are solving crimes (rom sus) or are shape-shifters (PNR) or live in small towns, or the story is a romantic comedy, the relationship and how it buds, grows, and matures is the point. How the relationship changes the characters and how they make each other better is very important. I love romances, because anything goes, plot-wise. Emotional and interesting main characters doing something intriguing drives a great romance.
For Writers Block: I go through periods of writers block all the time. Every writer does. Those who say they never get it just haven’t experienced it yet. I think it’s more burnout than blockage. Frustration, fear, exhaustion, and losing confidence are all contributing factors. I’ve come to realize that the block doesn’t last forever. It might go on longer than you like, but it leaves eventually. Writing something completely new, whether you intend for anyone to read it or not, can spark the writing need again.
Q: What is your advice to new authors on how to deal with negative feedback whether it’s bad reviews, online trolls or family and friends who aren’t supportive of their writing goals?
A: All writers will get negative feedback. It’s inevitable. There are people out there who thrive on tearing apart an author’s work (and even getting personal), and who enjoy entertaining others with how amusingly they can trash a book. The best way to deal with trolls is to ignore them. If you never see the negative comments, they’ll hurt you less. Above all, do not engage. It’s a rare author who can look good trying to battle trolls. Authors are seen as people who are rich and successful (not usually true, but that’s the perception), and so should be able to take criticism because we are wallowing in a fame and wealth (sure). We have to distance ourselves from the toxicity and go on with our lives.
The very best advice I can give is to write for the people who LOVE your books, not the people who hate them. Your readers will know what they like and they won’t care about the negative criticism.
As for friends / family who belittle what I write (especially the romance)–the best way to deal with them is not to discuss your writing with them. I know, they will bring it up. If you can calmly point out some statistics to the belittlers, like romance makes billions of dollars and has more readers than any other genre, it helps. Do some research on your genre so that you have facts and figures ready for those who scoff at you.
The hardest thing is a spouse or parents or close friends who don’t support your writing. You might have to explain many times how important it is to you. Compare it to something that is important to them. I am lucky that I have a spouse who is very supportive, but I know authors who struggle with that. Sometimes, you just have to nod and smile and then go shut the door and write.
Q: If you were to collaborate with another author who would it be with and why?
A:I probably wouldn’t collaborate only because I’d fear I wouldn’t be able to keep up my half of the work. As in, what I did wouldn’t be good enough or I couldn’t write to the agreed-upon deadline. I work best alone, where I can wreck my schedule or jettison half a book and start again, without having to be accountable to a writing partner. Accountability, instead of inspiring me, stresses me out and can send me into depression. Some authors thrive on bouncing ideas off other writers, and I know many who write amazing books as collaborators, but I don’t see me doing that myself.
Q: Is it fair to say that some of the characters in your novels are based off of anyone you know? I like that authors can create characters and places and base them on people they may know and places they’ve been.
A: I very rarely base characters on people I know. My brain conjures the people of my stories and they have lives of their own. I watch them, and write down what they do. I will research extensively for characters and they might be an amalgam of people I’ve met or talked to, but I don’t deliberately base any character on someone I know well.
I do, however, incorporate a lot of places I’ve been into my books. I enjoy traveling and learning about new places—I write best when I stand on the ground where my stories are set. I might fictionalize towns (e.g., the Riding Hard series has a fictional small down in Texas near Austin, and I put an entire fictional county in northern Arizona in the Stormwalker series), but they come from walking the land and breathing the air there. Landscapes and cityscapes become characters, and I love learning about them and writing about them.
Q: If you’re writing any new novels now, are you allowed to give any details?
A: I have a few things going on right now.
A mystery set in Ancient Rome called The Ring that Caesar Wore. The sleuth is a freed gladiator (Leonidas) who is asked by Nero to uncover a conspiracy that might want to overthrow him. Leonidas is helped by a female scribe, Cassia, who shares his house and helps him navigate his new life of freedom. I just finished this book and it will be out in March 2023.
I also just wrote a short story that is a historical sort-of mystery, sort-of romance, which features spinoff characters from my Below Stairs mystery series. The two characters are Bobby (Lady Roberta) and Miss Townsend, who are a couple. Kat Holloway (the star of the Below Stairs series), asks for their help on a case. It’s a very short novella that will be in an anthology in June called Pride, Not Prejudice.
I am now working on Book 7 of the Kat Holloway (Below Stairs) series. Kat is asked by the woman who looks after Kat’s daughter to help get her husband out of trouble. The man has been accused of embezzlement, but Kat knows he’s innocent. She turns to Daniel and her friends to help her prove it. After that, I’ll be writing another Shifter romance and then a brand new Regency Romance series! So much to do!
Q: Does Hollywood have the rights to any of your novels? I could see the Below The Stairs series making a great television show. I would love to see Kat Holloway & Daniel on the screen.
A: I have sold an option for the Bellow Stairs mysteries to a television producer, and they are working on funding the show and writing the first script. Things can go either way in this business so I’m trying not to be too excited. But I’m thrilled that a studio was interested. We’ll see how it goes!