Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Interview with USA Today Best Seller Jennifer Ashley

Jennifer Ashley, creator of imaginative paranormal/historicals and the wildly successful IMMORTALS series, sat down to visit with me about her work, her writing style and what's next for her.

Emily: I'm still trying to get used to two names, Emily Bryan & Diana Groe, but you write under FOUR different pseudonyms. Can you tell us about all your incarnations and something about the latest title for each?

JA: Ah, yes, my many pseudonyms. I took each for a couple of reasons--1. contractual obligations I didn't want to violate, and 2. my style and feel are different for each one.

Ashley Gardner writes gritty, noir, historical mysteries set in the English Regency period. No light-hearted Jane Austen stuff here! That's at http://www.gardnermysteries.com

Jennifer Ashley writes hot romances, both historical and paranormal. They have more humor, though they're not completely light-hearted. Sort of a combination of gritty action-adventure and romance and humor. http://www.jennifersromances.com

Allyson James goes for it on the erotic romance side. Her paranormal romances at Berkley Sensation are less raw than her erotic romances at Ellora's Cave or Berkley Heat, but still on the very hot side. She writes paranormals and futuristics with a sexual edge. http://www.allysonjames.com

I also wrote one book as Laurien Gardner, which was part of Berkley's wives of Henry VIII series.

Emily: Wow! Talk about versatile. Last year, you won a RITA—the Oscar of the romance writer’s world—for LADY RAISED HIGH. What was that like?

JA: I was completely floored when Alyssa Day called me up to the podium. Not only are the odds of winning the RITA astronomical but the other nominees were fantastic writers, and I was certain one of them would win. I hadn't even prepared a speech. So there I was at the podium with this heavy statue in my hand, having to come up with an acceptance speech off the cuff. I think I did ok--I invoked my husband for some comic relief, which always helps. In short, I was stunned, thrilled, and so grateful to the judges who loved the book. I treasure the RITA and it has a place of honor in my living room.

Emily: I'm always fascinated by other writer's methods. Can you describe your writing process? Are you more a ‘plotter’ or a ‘pantser’?

JA: Definitely a panster. I have tried again and again and again to plot out my books first, because everyone says I'm supposed to, and I just can't do it. I've written about twenty-five books now (I think), all of them by the seat of my pants, even though I tried on some to use note cards or timelines or white-board charts or grids or whatever the plotting tool of the day was. I gave up. My books sell fine, get great reviews, and win awards, so I've stopped worrying about it.

What works for me is to have a kernel of an idea (for both plot and characters), sit down and write as much as I can off the top of my head, and then brainstorm the rest as I go. I find that my stories are much more fresh and fast-moving if I do that than if I think I have to stick to what I've written on my little sticky notes. If plotting tools work to keep other writers organized and not panicked, I say go for it. If you're like me and can't get your mind around plotting first, I say go for it.

Emily: The IMMORTALS hit the USA Today Best Sellers list. What’s next for that series? Can you share a little about collaborating with other writers to produce the related stories?

JA: Because the first four books did so well, the publisher agreed to let us continue the series. The second series starts with Immortals: The Redeeming, which is the story of Tain and Samantha (September 2008), written by me. Then follows: The Crossing, by Joy Nash (Mac's story); The Haunting, by Robin Popp (with a new, very cool hero); and The Reckoning (anthology, with a novella by each of us.)

This was the first time I'd collaborated on a writing project, and I'm happy to say it worked very well. I came up with the core idea of the novels and the idea for the heroes and heroines, and then Robin, Joy, and I brainstormed to do the world building and make the characters individual. Joy and Robin had wonderful ideas about the world and the kinds of creatures in it. I had the premise that *all* paranormal beings we read about in fairy tales and mythology are real, and that it's perfectly normal to go to work side by side with a werewolf or vampire or something from Celtic mythology. We took that idea and ran with it. Robin and Joy are wonderful to work with--we all share ideas without feeling like we're each stifling the other. It's amazing.

Emily: What’s the best writing advice you ever received?

JA: I have to say I receive a lot of daft advice when I first started, most of it completely off track (although I didn't know it at the time). The best line of advice I remember was from a writing book whose author and title I can't remember (which makes me crazy). But what he said stuck with me, which was:

It really isn't who you know, but how well you write a good story that will get you published. A recommendation from a top author to her agent or editor might grease the wheels and get your book read faster, but what will sell the book is the still book itself. There are no shortcuts.

That gave me great hope because at the time I knew absolutely no one--no bestselling best friends, no cousins of NY agents. Many disgruntled would-be authors told me that I had no chance because agents only took things recommended by their top clients. A nobody beginner like me had no chance.

Well, guess what? I did it without doing anything but writing books until they were good enough, and persistently sending them in until they caught an editor's and agent's attention. And now I'm a multi-published, award-winning, bestselling author. In other words--against all odds, it can be done!!!

Emily: Thanks so much, Jennifer. It's such a pleasure to hear from someone who's writing spans so many styles and sub-genres. Be sure to look for HIGHLANDER EVER AFTER.

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