Welcome to the three hundred and fifty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with literary novelist Ashley Mackler-Paternostro, I’m honoured to say, on the last day of her blog tour. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Ashley. I’m going to jump straight in and ask you whether your books are available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Ashley: Yes, The Milestone Tapes is available in eBook form. As an independent author I don’t have the same benefits as a traditionally published writer would. No shelf space at the big bookstores, getting into small bookstores is a challenge, large chain stores are rarely if ever accepting of self-published books. So, at the end of the day while my book is available in print, eBooks are the bread and butter of my business, the easiest way to get my novel into the hands of readers. As for me, I’m almost 100% a digital reader. I have a Kindle, which I love.
Morgen: I’m a recent convert but me too, although I have SO many paperbacks here vying for my attention that I have to split my time (what little I have) to them both. Kindle = away, paper = home, then they don’t get jealous. Being an independent, presumably you’ve had some rejections along the way? If so, how do you deal with them?
Ashley: I queried about 50 agents. Everyone turned me down. Somewhere the basic blast e-mails of “thanks, but not thanks” … others were more personal.
But, rejection is part of life. If you’re human, you’ve dealt with it almost forever. Maybe it was the boy you had a crush on who didn’t feel the same way, maybe it was college application to your top university that came back in a small envelope, maybe it was the job you really wanted and never got. You get through it, you just do.
Morgen: You do. It was great though that you had personal responses, that must have shown promise. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Ashley: I’m currently working on my sophomore effort, In The After. A very different book, it’s darker and deals with the topics of domestic abuse and a disappearance of a woman.
Morgen: I’m a big fan of dark. Do you manage to write every day?
Ashley: I try to write every day. Some days are easier than others. But if I’m not actively writing or “blocked” … I edit a chapter. I read it, I digest it, I make changes to enhance the text and then at least I feel like I did something. It comes down to accepting that not every single day is going to produce 1,000 words but still figuring out how to be productive.
The thing about writing character-driven pieces is that the characters do become living, breathing forces. They take control, the writer becomes the typist and the protagonist is at the helm of the ship. Sometimes these fictional beings become quiet and you get to a place where you can’t write if they’re not helping.
Morgen: I love it when they take over. As for word count, even just 300 words equates to a 100,000 word novel in a year, I think that’s outstanding. A question some authors dread: where do you get your inspiration from?
Ashley: Life. It’s really that simple. I pay attention to the way people talk, what’s going on in the world … and then if something really strikes a chord, I use it.
Morgen: Writers are allowed to people watch and eavesdrop… isn’t that great! Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Ashley: I always have a plot. But it’s not like a laid out, do or die, strictly enforced plot. I make sure I know three things …
- What is happening and why.
- How does this effect the person at the center of the story.
- How does it end.
Even with those three things, they change all the time. But it’s a good place to start telling the story.
Morgen: I tend to write short stories more than anything (and today is day four of Story A Day so I’m on my fourth prompt / story (which is great!) so I don’t have to plot at all but it certainly helps with novels. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Ashley: I let my mom read my books first. She is, by far and away, my biggest fan but also my sharpest critic. She’s always said to me “if your mom can’t tell you, who can?” and I trust that entirely. She’s not always rainbows and butterflies and gold star stickers … but she always, always has my best interest at heart. Because I know that, I know that what she’s saying is probably true.
Morgen: You’re lucky. Mine is supportive but doesn’t mince her words (“strange” is the latest one… for a charity anthology piece ) so I’m careful with what I show her (the lighter stuff). Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Ashley: Computer! I can’t even imagine putting pen to paper to do a 100,000 word novel and then having to transpose it onto the computer. Ick! No, no, no!!
Morgen: That’s very true. I run a writing workshop every other Monday night and we all use pen and paper and I write much slower although once the ideas flow it is easier. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Ashley: I like a good prologue / epilogue. I think it gives the reader something more … but not everyone would agree.
Morgen: I never used to read them but the last book I read I decided to and it felt like I’d previously been missing the first ten minutes of a movie, it filled in so much but every book is different. For my second novel I had a prologue (very short, not much more than 1,000 words) but I’ve been debating ever since I wrote it (between NaNoWriMos 2008 and 2009) whether to keep it as a prologue or chapter 1. It’s a pivotal piece so it’ll probably be the latter. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Ashley: My favorite? Getting to tell stories. What’s better than that? When I get a review from a reader who has loved my book and takes away something from it that resonates, I couldn’t be happier.
Least favorite? The solitude of this career. It can be a little lonely. It’s pretty specialized … I don’t know many other writers, a few, but not a ton and most of the ones I know are online. Sometimes I miss having the ability to talk about the ins and outs of the business with someone, face to face, who understands.
Morgen: I love creating and the solitude so I’m in my element, although I belong to four writing groups (I run two of them) so I’m not alone for long. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Ashley: I recently had the chance to give this sixteen-year-old advice. But, I think it’s pretty universal … here’s what I said to him:
1. Read, read everything and read often. It’s been said and quoted and said again … because, it’s true. Reading will make you a better writer. Good stories will move you and you’ll want to bottle that up for your own readers. You’ll start to feel the rhythm of a story, how different authors move their plots and best of all, you’ll figure out how to move your own. You’ll gain that keen eye and you’ll enjoy the learning process.
2. Figure out who you are as a writer and live up to that genuinely. Take yourself seriously, take the “job” of writing seriously. Carry a note pad, jot down ideas. If you’re not actively writing, that’s okay … if you’re “blocked”, edit. Ask your teachers to look over ideas, join your high school newspaper or yearbook.
3. Pay close attention to the world around you. I find myself listening in to conversations at the coffee shop, gas station, mall … I pay attention to how people speak, what they say, what sort of inflections they use, how they walk, what they order, what they wear, what they drive. I find that I can tell a better story when I’m always collecting them. This past month my husband and I traveled back to the Olympic Peninsula, where I set my novels … I took pictures, I ate in local restaurants, I hiked the forest … all the while I let myself get lost in the sensory overload. Now, I bring those sensations and flavors home and I bury them on the page.
4. Don’t quit! When I was 16 … God, I was nowhere near as brave as you are. I was too busy chasing the boys around. Your life hasn’t yet begun to be complicated … so when it does, remember this, remember why you wanted it and keep working. Maybe not every day, maybe not every month … but keep chasing the dream because you will catch it.
5. Be a kid. I mean that. Be a kid because childhood is about two seconds long and adulthood is almost forever. Dreams are an amazing gift we can give ourselves … but don’t forget to enjoy this time in your life. Fall in love, break some girls heart, let your own heart be broken. Work a job you hate and a job you love. Go to prom, then college. Have a roommate who’s messy, be homesick. Travel. Why? Because those experiences will make you a better story teller. You’ll have your own history to draw upon and as a writer, that’s priceless.
Morgen: What a plan. I have notebooks in every dog-walking jacket – being out with a perfect idea then forgetting it is hell. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Ashley: Yes, my website is a wealth of knowledge about me, my upcoming projects, events and information about how to get your hands on a signed copy of my novel or just getting in touch with me about anything. www.ashleymacklerpaternostro.com
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Ashley: Oh, I don’t know. It’s an adventure, I’m in it for the long haul and I can’t wait to see where this will go.
Morgen: Absolutely. Me too. If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Ashley: Nothing. It’s not that I don’t believe in regrets, I do. But I like who I am and where I’ve ended up… not just professionally, but with everything. I’m afraid doing anything differently would alter the course.
Morgen: The joy of having a mixed bag of a life is that you get to write about it. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Ashley: Just a big thank you, Morgen, for hosting me!!
Morgen: You’re very welcome, thank you for joining me.
Ashley Mackler-Paternostro was born in Naperville, Illinois, where she still lives with her husband Mark and their three dogs. A hairstylist by trade, Ashley will often say that some of the best stories she has ever heard were told to her while working behind the chair. A life long reader with an insatiable appetite for good books, she decided to merge her love of great stories — both told and written — into her own brand of story telling.
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