CJ: Ashley, how excited are you right now?
Ashley: Through the roof! It’s hard not to be excited each time I think of it. After working toward the goal of having a novel published for the last thirteen or so years, it’s a (wonderful) shock to be talking about having a book due!
CJ: I can imagine! I’m excited for you, who knows how giddy I’d be if it was my own novel. I know you're no stranger to publication, though. You have several poetry books out in the world, so how different was the process for City of Masks?
Ashley: Vastly – and yet similar too. Both required me to really put the nose (or was it the whole face?) to the grindstone and really think about the choices I make as an author. Loosely, for poetry it often comes down to word choices, whereas for City of Masks, I had to think on a larger, story scale. That’s a bit of a generalisation, of course, but it’s fairly apt.
The other difference was for poetry, I’ve built up a small catalogue. My next poetry collection will be my fifth and so it feels like familiar ground, whereas in fiction, everything feels newer. More daunting perhaps. And so I worry extra, about how the novel will be received, or whether I truly nailed a particular scene. After couple of years working on a project, your objectivity is quite hampered.
CJ: I think many of us can identify with that, as writers—objectivity is hard to keep hold of when you’ve worked on something for so long. However, having had the honour of beta-reading City of Masks, I can say quite objectively that it is an excellent read, and I can't wait to recommend it to everyone. I don't want to give spoilers, so please tell us a little about City of Masks.
Ashley: Thank you, Cheryl!
In brief, it’s an epic fantasy which follows a mercenary, falsely accused of a murder that draws him into a struggle for a bone mask of great power, set in an ancient city perched on an unforgiving coast. There’s what I hope are some interesting magic systems in there too and a question of conflicting loyalties that many of the main characters face.
CJ: Great summary. If I didn’t already know what the novel was about, that would definitely make me want to read it. That said, even though I do know, I’m still looking forward to reading the finished product. Where did you get the inspiration for the story?
Ashley: I think it’s easiest for me to answer in regards to the setting, which is directly inspired by the city of Amalfi. Both the idea of the historic one and modern day Amalfi, which my wife and I were lucky enough to visit in 2011. The lemon groves in the mountains and the sea, so close to the town, really captured my eye.
Elsewhere, I suspect I’ve been inspired by the struggles of people who try to do what’s right in the face of rough odds.
CJ: Your description of Amalfi makes me want to go there! And everyone loves to read about people trying to do what’s right, so I think you have a winning combination there. Who's your favourite character? I have to say, I have a soft spot for Notch. Although, they are all very well rounded and interesting.
Ashley: Tough question! (And thank you again – awesome to hear that about my characters :) )
I’m having a hard time – can I pick two? I thought I knew the answer to this question the moment I read it, but I’ve been thinking about a bit and I’ve changed my mind. One definite name now comes to mind – Lupo is one of my favourites. He’s one of the antagonists and it’s something about his drive and the fact that he’s difficult to ruffle that makes him a favourite.
I think I could add about five more names, but I Notch probably scrapes ahead. He’s not one to tolerate inactivity and he’s quite an open fellow beneath his stern exterior, which made him great to write.
CJ: Lupo is definitely an interesting character, I found him intriguing, even though he is an antagonist, which is always a mark of good characterization. I know that City of Masks is the first in a trilogy, how far ahead are you in writing terms?
Ashley: I’ve recently finished the first draft of Book Two, The Lost Mask and have my outline all set for Book Three (Greatmask). So not too bad I feel. There’s still a lot of work to go, but I’ve found Lost Mask a lot smoother to write, so I don’t anticipate it taking as long to whip into shape as City of Masks.
CJ: I’m glad to hear that! I can’t wait to read the next part of the story. And it’s great to see that you are finding the work going smoother as you continue with the story. I’m thinking that you’re putting into practice what you learned from writing City of Masks, is that correct?
Ashley: Absolutely, especially storytelling aspects like pacing or controlling the flow of information to the reader. So, when to hold back, and when to reveal. I think that balance is tough to strike and hopefully I’ve handled it well in City of Masks, but I feel I’m handling it better (or at least, with less revision needed) in The Lost Mask. In fact, having an awesome writing group for help and support really helped me with those things :)
CJ: With that in mind, what advice do you have for writers who are working on that first novel?
Ashley: To explore the writing process until you settle on a method that works for you.
Read widely about the way writers work, then try their methods. Adapt. Twist things around until it works for you – it took me a fair while to figure that out. There isn’t any one single ‘correct’ way to write. Only what works for you. Not to say adjustments to your process cannot be made, but perhaps don’t buy into one method wholesale. As an example, I’ve found that the percentage of my process that could be called ‘pantsing’ vs the percentage of ‘plotting’ has changed over the years. I’m now close to 60-40 with pantsing still being the dominant side. But I used to be a complete panster. Now, my current process allows for a comfortable level of output and discovery, so I’m pretty happy with it.
CJ: That’s great advice ‘only what works for you’ is an adage we all need to remember when reading writing advice. Well, Ashley, I’ve enjoyed our chat. Thank you for taking time to answer all my questions. Once you have a release date and purchase information, I’ll be sure to let everyone know. Meanwhile, if anyone would like to check out Ashley’s poetry, you can find it at the following links: