Friday, August 17, 2012

Reality Check

Words have never really been a problem for me. I've written several novels, and since the publication of my first one I've been rather verbose on the web: blogging, tweeting, Facebooking. I've got a regular monthly gig at Fantasy-Faction, and had a monthly post on The Writer's Vineyard, not to mention all of the guest posts and interviews I've done. Then earlier this year, everything came to a screeching halt, and I could barely manage one tweet a month much less blogs and articles. While I'm not quite ready to delve into all of the personal details, I will just say that my world turned upside-down, and for the first time in my life, I disdained retreating into fantasy worlds either of my own making or that of others. I've hardly read any novels and can barely even contemplate starting another one of my own. While I'm sure it will come back -- I have too much passion for writing for it not to -- right now I am content living in the real world. I have a job I go to everyday, I'm starting school at Arizona State University on Monday to get my Creative Writing degree, and I am responsible for the upkeep of my own dwelling. It was all a terrifying prospect at the start (and sometimes still is), and at the end of May I pulled a Jane Austen and fainted at Fry's from stress and dehydration. But I wouldn't trade any of it: I've discovered that I actually am a capable woman; I can take care of myself and thrive. One thing I've definitely learned is that while it's great to have an escape, it's even better to have the occasional reality check. It's good to have a social life and interact with people, it's good to get away from the computer, it's good to put that novel down once in awhile. It's good, simply, to live. Here's to more of the same.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Release: Cast of Illusions

I'm thrilled to announce the release of my new historical-fantasy novel, Cast of Illusions. Independent of the Shadow Fox series, this novel is tamer and a bit more, well, literary. While it does not take place in a real historical setting, it is based on Elizabethan England, during the rage of playhouses and theater, and would best be described as a Shakespearean fantasy. Here's a synopsis and a peek:

Jonathan Wilder is about to make a name for himself. His plays and troupe of actors are considered among the best in Salsima, and he is on the verge of building his own playhouse. However, when his latest play greatly offends the king, he and his troupe are forced to impersonate a royal party to infiltrate the exotic and presumably savage people known as the Selphyn, an elfin-like race with a special bond with animals. In over his head with politics, Jonathan will find himself in an intrigue worthy of one of his plays, with mistaken identities, treason, assassinations, kidnapped princesses and feverish passions. Just what a misanthrope with social anxiety needs.
JONATHAN WILDER HAD died one-thousand, four-hundred-and-thirty-two times, give or take a few. The majority of these deaths had been by stabbing, either with a rapier or dagger. Two hundred had been by poison, sixty by hanging. He’d also been beheaded, thrown from a tower, trampled, choked, smothered, and, on one memorable occasion, simply died of fright. He preferred dying by the sword, as smothering and choking usually occurred when he was a woman. This was not always the case; eighty-four times he’d stabbed himself with a dagger as Lady Macmaren. That was the only benefit of getting older: those days of donning gowns and wigs were behind him. Regardless of the manner of his death, the only ones that mattered were the ones that garnered applause or cries of dismay. The quiet deaths could mean the death of his company: too many and he’d lose his audience to the King’s Men. But never had a death mattered more to him than today. The future of his career depended on it.

His feet thundered on the hollow wooden stage as he danced in the choreographed duel with Thomas, and twice he narrowly missed stepping on a groundling’s fingers. Six groundlings were sitting on the stage, leaning forward in complete absorption. Thank heaven they were a fairly disciplined crowd; the last thing he needed was for lusty audience members jumping into the final duel, their real swords drawn. Usually he welcomed audience participation, but not with this play, not today.
Sweat poured into his eyes but he didn’t dare wipe it away and risk throwing Thomas off. And so he let his eyes sting and blur, relying more on his memory of the choreography than sight. When it was time for the killing blow, he “fell” for a feint, throwing his arms up to block a head attack that didn’t come. Instead Thomas’s dulled rapier sliced under his arm. He gasped and fell to his knees as Thomas yanked the blade free. Blood pooled, a crimson stain on white silk. There was a feminine yelp from the audience, and a deeper, gruffer voice yelled, “No!”

Thomas dropped next to him, pulling his head into his lap. “Forgive me.”

It was all Jonathan could do not to smile up at him and say, Did you hear that woman squeal? Did you hear that yell? He blinked the sweat out of his eyes. “There is nothing to forgive. She loves you. The strife between our houses is mended in your love for one another. May God…grant you…joy.”

Jonathan’s eyes closed, and for several moments there was no sound but a dizzying and deafening thumping in his head. He waited, holding his breath. Someone reached out and touched his shoulder, one of the groundlings presumably. Finally there was a thunder of applause. Thomas pulled him to his feet as the cast assembled behind them, waiting for him to lead the bow. But he was still remembering the stage kiss in Act Four, the shock of a woman’s lips instead of a ten-year-old boy’s. I will not yield to your will, but by bending yours to mine shall I have you. The line, written with Gregory in mind, came out more forceful than intended with Miranda standing opposite. He had seized her shoulders and for three full seconds crushed her lips against his; she pulled away with a gasp and dropped her next line.

Behind the curtain it was all awkwardness, none of the heated passion from their onstage exchange. He shook her hand and muttered congratulations, only to go absolutely rigid when Thomas threw his arms around him, picking him up off the ground.

“Well done, a great success!”

“Please put me down.”

“Very well, but I doubt your health would suffer greatly if you displayed occasional elation.”

“My heart grows weak at this very moment.”

He pulled off his blood-stained shirt; the sewn-in pig’s bladder wasted with the rent of a sword cut. His ribs were sticky with blood that was still wet to the touch. He heard distant applause above him in the galleries of the Unicorn, and a lady’s handkerchief, whether by design or accident, fluttered down in front of him. Thomas picked it up and smelled it, closing his eyes. “Attar of roses.” He studied the embroidered letters. “Sweet RF, I am yours.”

“And half the ladies in Diernioch,” Jonathan said.

Cast of Illusions is now available on Amazon Thanks for checking it out!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Appreciation of Serials

After suffering through a very long dry patch (18 months to be exact), I finally started a book that has survived past the 25,000-word mark. I had about five false starts on other projects, and to this day I don't know why I abandoned them. It wasn't for lack of ideas or enthusiasm. I could blame my day job, but I was still working when I wrote the majority of my current project. The only thing I do know is what worked this time.

I'm currently at 64,125 words on my current project, which is tentatively titled Starnight. I won't give too much away, except to say that the genre does contain the words young adult, paranormal, and romance. I'm still reluctant to put the words together, I guess out of fear of the inevitable Twilight comparison. I promise, however, that there are NO vampires. Anyway, when I was only a few chapters into the book, I did something I've never done before with a WIP. I sent the chapters to two of my best readers, my best friend Julia and my niece Kathy. They are a fairly safe bet: they've read and enjoyed everything I've written (with the exception of a 112,000-page sci-fi manuscript that will never see the light of day). But there's always a chance that I might bore them. After I emailed it, I started to have serious misgivings. I was still so early in the process, in that precarious, fragile stage where the tiniest thing could shut me down. If they didn't like it, or were even kind of "meh" about it, I doubt I would have continued writing it. Thankfully, not only were they enthusiastic, they were demanding! And I have to say that nothing has ever given me so much motivation to write. Every 5 to 10 days I send them what I have, and they devour it and demand more. Not just that, but Kathy has offered insightful guesses as to where it's headed as well as pointing out a couple of silly mistakes I made, and Julia calls me immediately so I can get her instant, gut reaction to specific things. It's incredibly rewarding to know what works and what doesn't (at least for these gals, and if anyone is my target audience, they are), and which characters are pushing buttons. I've made several decisions I may not have thought of based on their feedback. But most importantly, because they're excited about it, and anxious to find out what happens, I've never had more fun writing a book. I think about them now when I write: oh, they're going to love this, or hate it (but in a good way). I think I'm more anxious to hear what they have to say than they are to find out what happens. Last week I sent what I had so far to my agent, and she was frustrated that I left her hanging as well. Can't say that I'm sorry though!

All of this has put me in the mind of the lost art of serials, when authors, most notably Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, published their novels in weekly or monthly installments in magazines. The public went crazy for them. Apparently even American audiences would line up at the docks when a new Dickens serial was due for delivery, shouting questions to the crew about what was going to happen. Not only was this fantastic publicity, but it made the novels cheap and accessible to everyone. I mentioned to Julia that many contemporary writers were doing an internet equivalent: each week they post a new (and free) chapter of a novel on their website. It's a good way to develop a following. And now I've discovered another benefit -- if it catches on, it's excellent motivation for the writer. I'm seriously considering giving it a shot myself. Maybe not with Starnight, but with something completely new. The thought of writing just one chapter and posting it for free is rather intoxicating. The instant feedback, questions, criticisms and compliments would completely shape the entire novel. It would turn my whole writing process upside-down, and probably in a really good way. I've always been too private with my work, and don't give many the opportunity to provide feedback until it's already published and too late. This would almost be like a group project!

I'll keep you posted if I decide to start my own free serial. In the meantime, I want to thank Julia and Kathy for being such a fantastic audience, not just on this book, but all of them. I'm a very lucky writer.

Ashley J. Barnard
Dark Fantasy with a Contemporary Twist

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dark Night of the Soul

A lot of people ask me if the Shadow Fox series is YA. They usually get a resounding "No!" along with a look of horror. If they have an older teenager (or are an older teen themselves), I usually tell them I don't recommend anyone under 17 reading the series. It's not that the first book is that bad; I'd say some mature 15-year-olds could handle the first one. It's the sequels, and particularly the third book, that I'm concerned about. I have a rating system for anyone who asks. Shadow Fox is PG-13, Fox Rising is R, and Night of the Fox is NC-17. I haven't been too worried about the third book until, of course, it came out this week. Now I'm starting to get nervous.

It's a lot for an author to ask his or her readers to care about the "hero" when he's committed an unthinkable crime. Heroes are supposed to rescue, not terrorize. However, books shouldn't just reflect the lighter side of human nature. People screw up and make bad choices. They're driven by obsessions and haunted by past traumas. If they've been victimized, they often perpetuate the abuse, sometimes even switching into the role of the victimizer. One of my favorite themes to visit as a writer is the path that a victim of childhood abuse chooses as an adult. Usually I will have two people who have been victimized and showcase what happens when one chooses to perpetuate the abuse, and the other gains strength and wisdom from the experience. I understand that my portrayal of these choices will make some people really uncomfortable, but I want it known that this does not stem from an exploitative or perverse motive. I had a point to make that as awful as Jared's genetic disease is, his psychological issues are worse. As a reviewer so poignantly pointed out, "There are no monsters to blame the evil on, just the human soul and the depths to which it can sink." The inherent message which I hope will come across despite all the ugliness, is that we all have the power to self-destruct or not, and we can't use our traumatic pasts as excuses for depravity.

If you've come on the journey with me so far, I hope you'll hang in there to see it through to the end. I promise that there will be a lot of incredible things that happen on the way, not just the traumatic ending. I also promise that my next fantasy will be much lighter fare; I think we could all use a breather.

Many thanks to Darkiss Reviews who just gave me the most amazing review of this final volume, along with hope that the message will get through after all.
Dark Fantasy with a Contemporary Twist

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hometown Book Signing

(Originally posted on Writer's Vineyard 8/17/11)

Ever since I learned to read I've been a voracious reader. I grew up in Davis, California, and used to beg my dad to take me to our local bookstore, The Avid Reader. My favorites were anything by Roald Dahl, Garfield, and Choose Your Own Adventure. And when I decided I wanted to be a writer, in the sixth grade, I started imagining what it would be like to do my own book signing at The Avid Reader. At that time, nothing could have better said, You've Made It, than to sign books at my own hometown bookstore.

Years and hundreds of rejections later, that dream started to fade. I was obsessed with finding an agent or a publisher, never mind book signings, and I was close to giving up on the whole enterprise altogether. Then things finally started to fall into place: I got an agent, which then led to a publisher. I spent the next several months doing revisions, marketing, and general celebrating. When the first book came out, it was time to think seriously about book signings. But I've lived in Phoenix, Arizona for the last 17 years, and The Avid Reader was nowhere near my radar.

I try to get out to California at least once a year to visit my parents and sisters who still live there, and when I was planning my summer trip this year, I mentioned to my stepmom how neat it would be to do a book signing at The Avid Reader. Well, to say she took the ball and went running with it would be a vast understatement. She did it all: she contacted the bookstore, the local newspaper, and my sister's restaurant to arrange a post-signing party. And man, did she lay out the red carpet. I doubt Dean Koontz has ever received this kind of reception. She scheduled a massage, a facial, hair and makeup, and would have taken me shopping to get a new outfit if I needed one. When she found out we could bring wine and cheese, she bought NINE bottles of wine, three boxes of cookies and about five different exotic cheeses. She called everyone and stopped people in the street. In all of my wild imaginings, I never came up with anything this good. It was truly amazing.

Somewhere in the middle of all my pampering the day of the signing, we stopped by the bookstore so I could meet everyone and make sure everything was set. And that's when I found out I was doing not just a signing, but a reading. I'm a pretty shy person, and I hate talking about my books. I squirm just telling people what it's called and the basic premise, because trying to explain a contemporary fantasy to someone who doesn't know fantasy always sounds trite and ridiculous. So doing a reading would be like one of my worst nightmares. My stepmom Susan reminded me we were bringing nine bottles of wine, and I relaxed a little. Surely one little glass would be harmless and would help me stay calm.

As soon as we got set up that evening I was a wreck, so I wasted no time in downing a glass of wine. After that, everything was sort of a blur, and it's difficult to remember, like getting married or giving birth. I know at some point I had another glass, and when I introduced myself and the books I was shaking like crazy. I opened the book to begin reading where I put my bookmark, but in my fumbling I lost my place and started reading about two pages too early. It worked out fine; there were a couple of lines in those two pages that got laughs, and as soon as that happened I started to calm down. During the Q&A afterward, I was actually enjoying myself. While I'd been reading, more and more people arrived, so looking it up it was a delightful shock to see so many faces in the audience. And all in all, between what the bookstore sold and what I sold from my own stock, I sold a total of 31 books. Not bad!

After the signing we all walked down to my sister Cary's restaurant, Our House. I had yet another glass of wine, and this one was fairly large, but I felt incredible. Oh, did I mention I hadn't eaten since noon? I was walking on air, talking to family I hadn't seen in forever, and sold some of the books I'd brought with me. And I was still feeling great a couple of hours later right before I was puking up what seemed like gallons of red wine into my dad and stepmom's beautiful, lush front yard. Well, at least I waited until most of my audience was gone.

I came home from my trip feeling much more confident. Doing another reading doesn't frighten me now in the least, and after some great feedback from people who are reading my books, I'm much more eager to get them out there.

One thing's for certain, however: I will watch my wine from now on.

Ashley J. Barnard
Dark Fantasy with a Contemporary Twist

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Night of the Fox

Check out my gorgeous new cover for the third book in the Fox series (September 2011)! Done by the amazing Amanda Kelsey.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Tale of a Portrait

(Originally posted on All Things Historical Fiction)

Hi. My name is Ashley, and I have an unhealthy obsession with Lord Byron. Yeah, I know he’s been dead for almost 200 years, and it sounds a little creepy. But a girl should have a hobby, right?

Byron and I were introduced about ten years ago, when I was cast in a Tom Stoppard play called Arcadia. My character was a thirteen-year-old in love with the poet, and though I had heard of him, I didn’t really know him yet. There were enough tantalizing tidbits in the play to get me interested, and when I started doing a little research, I was done for. After all, the man was beautiful, a poet, and very, very wicked. What’s not to love?

Soon I was reading biographies and collections of his letters, just for “fun.” He temporarily derailed my fantasy-novel aspirations; I took about a five-year break from fantasy to write three novels that featured Byron. You would think they all would have been historical fiction, but only one of them was; the other two were science fiction and contemporary. And the historical-fiction novel came as a complete surprise: I only wanted to read more of his letters, and instead ended up writing a novel, more or less, about his portrait, and his daughter Ada.

Reading 19th-century letters may sound boring to some, but Byron’s were incredibly witty, eloquent and charming, with his acerbic commentaries on society. I especially enjoyed reading his letters to and from his wife Annabella, knowing that while they called each other cute names like “Duck,” they were secretly loathing each other, and Annabella was plotting his downfall almost from the beginning of their marriage. Anyway, a few years ago I was at the library in the biography section, looking for another volume of letters to read, when I spotted something new: The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason, and Byron’s Daughter by Benjamin Woolley. I knew about Ada, of course, but only as Byron and Annabella’s only child. I didn’t know that she was important enough, in and of herself, to warrant her own thick biography. I read the introduction, and I was hooked. Forgetting about the collection of letters, I checked out Ada’s biography instead, and by the time I got home, I had the makings of a new novel.

The introduction of Bride of Science reads almost like a thriller. Ada Byron, on her twentieth birthday, is given a sealed casement. Present is Dr. King, the former manager of a lunatic asylum, to ensure that Ada, upon opening the casement, does not give way to violent hysterics. Ada knows what she’s about to open; she passed by it hundreds of times in her youth, but she’s never actually seen it. Her grandparents, at Annabella’s command, kept a thick velvet curtain drawn over it at all times, so that Ada might never catch a glimpse of her father’s face. Annabella fervently believed that if Ada even saw what Byron looked like, the poisonous blood of poetry that ran in her veins would be activated, and she would fall victim to lewdness, madness and debauchery, like her father.

The portrait in question is probably the most famous portrait of Byron in which he is featured in Albanian dress. It’s a stunning portrait done by Thomas Phillips in 1814, which has a turbaned, mustached Byron dressed in extravagant silks with a ceremonial sword. When Ada opened the casement, she was visibly unaffected, but a few years later she did report being at war with her feelings. Annabella had steered her toward math and science, but her father’s poetry awakened her passion.

I devoured the biography, and discovered another interesting tidbit. When Ada was eighteen, she attempted to elope with her shorthand tutor. While Woolley maintained that the tutor’s identity is officially unknown, it is believed that he was William Turner, the brother of Edward Turner who was a chemistry professor at Cambridge. But because next to nothing is known about this man, he leaves much to the imagination. And that, coupled with the amazing story of the portrait, became the foundation for my novel, In Byron’s Shadow.

Nicholas Price is a young, aspiring poet obsessed with Lord Byron. He is heir to his father’s title and estate, and when he meets Ada Byron on his twenty-first birthday, he is determined to marry her, whatever the cost. But because her mother disapproves of his devotion to Byron, he disguises himself as a shorthand tutor named William Turner. And while we all know that their intended elopement doesn’t work out, this is where In Byron’s Shadow really begins, and the portrait of Byron plays an integral part.

During and after the writing of this novel, I fantasized about having that portrait on the cover. It truly is stunning, and because it is an important plot point, I knew it would be perfect. When the book was finished and ready to go, I went about finding the rights to the portrait. It turns out the Government Art Collection in London owns the portrait, and they were kind enough to grant me a license for the image. Then my good friend, writer and graphic artist T.K. Toppin, whipped up a lovely design to integrate with it. I’m thrilled to have this as my cover, because as you read about this famous portrait, you’ll be able to see exactly what I’m talking about.

If you’re interested in Ada Byron, I highly encourage the biography by Benjamin Woolley. Ada truly does have a claim to fame entirely separate from being Byron’s daughter; she’s credited with being one of the first “computer programmers” because of her work with Charles Babbage and his Analytical Machine. And nothing passes the time like a good Byron biography; my favorite is Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame by Benita Eisler.

Thanks for listening. I’m really happy to be here at Romantic Poets Anonymous, and I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.