Friday, February 26, 2010

A visit with NYT Bestselling author Jennifer Ashley

Since 2002, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Ashley has published more than thirty novels in romance, mystery, and mainstream fiction under several pseudonyms. She writes as Jennifer Ashley, Allyson James, and Ashley Gardner for Berkley, Dorchester, and Ellora’s Cave. She is a multi-award winning author and in 2006 won the RITA-- RWA’s highest honor for published authors-- for her novel A Lady Raised High, published under the pseudonym Laurien Gardner.

Hi Jennifer. Thank you for being here today. Let’s start by telling us a little about yourself. Where are you from? When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Hi! I’m from Arizona, one of the most beautiful places in the world. When I was little, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I started reading at age five and figured out that novels were just make-believe written down on paper. Heck, I could do that, couldn’t I? I bought some brightly colored paper and started writing. I never looked back.

How long did it take for you to get published and what was the journey like?

In 1999, I attended an inexpensive “how to get published” seminar at the YMCA that inspired me to dust off the manuscripts I’d half-heartedly attempted to get published a few years before that, and really go for it.

Even though I didn’t quit my FT job, I decided right then that writing was my “real” job, and my FT job was just there to pay the bills. Changing that focus really helped me.

I knuckled down and wrote ms. after ms. I started finalling in and then winning contests. I started getting bites from agents and editors. Finally in 2002 (about 3 years to the day I attended the seminar), I was offered a contract by Dorchester. Later that year, Berkley offered me a three-book contract for a mystery series, and Dorchester offered me another 3-book for romances. After three years of work and rejection, I was multipublished in the space of a few months!

What authors, would you say, have been your biggest influences for you or your work?

Goodness, so many! My shelves overflow with books from authors I love: Terry Pratchett, Tony Hillerman, Elizabeth Peters, Donna Leon, Mary Jo Putney, Robert Parker, Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris… I learn from every author I read.

Tell us more about your book. What's it about and what inspired you to write it?

I have several releases this year: Pride Mates under the name Jennifer Ashley in Feb, which hit the New York Times list! In this paranormal romance, I introduce Shifters: shape shifters who have been outed and now are forced to wear collars and live in “Shiftertowns.” They’re not allowed to mix much with humans. I was inspired to write it because I speculated on what would happen if people found out shape shifters really did exist. What would they do? No, I mean really? The hero is a sexy, alpha male Shifter who goes up against a sassy, in-your-face defense attorney. This is the first in the series.

Next, Stormwalker, written as Allyson James, in May from Berkley. This book begins a new series set in Northern Arizona, in a small town where the paranormal is normal. Janet Begay, a young Navajo woman, comes to Magellan to investigate the disappearance of the police chief’s daughter. She’s a Stormwalker, able to channel the power of the desert storms to work magic. She has to deal with the handsome but by-the-rules sheriff, her mysterious shape shifter boyfriend, and her own mother, a hell-goddess from the world Beneath.

Third, Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage, a historical romance written as Jennifer Ashley, in July from Berkley. This book is the sequel to The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. I continue the saga of the Mackenzie family by telling the story of Mac and Isabella, a legally separated couple. I loved writing that book—those two have history, chemistry, and emotion.

Do you plot your story before you write it or do you sit and let it flow?

I pretty much go with the flow. That said, I do have a good idea in my head what the story is about (and the main characters) before I start. I make notes to myself as I go along, to keep track of things. (For example, I might write in the ms [Janet talks to Coyote, Maya interrupts], but that’s about it.) The dialog, secondary characters, linking events—those just come out of me as I write!

Are there any current projects you're excited about and can share with our readers?

See above, where I talk about what’s coming out for me this year. I’m working hard on those three series.

Do you consider yourself eccentric as a writer? Is there something you must have or do before writing?

I probably am eccentric and just don’t know it. I find I do write best in certain places (a coffee house, my living room, the kitchen table; never at my desk). Plus the music keeps me in the flow. But I don’t have any specific rituals.

Do you write to music or the TV?

I put on my iPod listen to music without words. I love guitarists and listen to them almost exclusively (both electric and acoustic, mostly rock and jazz). The iPod also helps cut noise when I’m at a coffee house or somewhere writing.

When you're not writing, do you have any hobbies or interests?

I build and collect dollhouses and dollhouse miniatures. I love them! I’ve been doing that since I was a wee, small child.

Some people see writers as hermits, closed off in a room, clacking away at the keyboard until the final page is typed. Do you consider yourself this disciplined as a writer?

Yes, I do. I will shut off everything—the Internet, the phone, TV, radio—any distractions, and write. I like being comfortable (I sit on my sofa or in a booth at a coffee house, drinking iced tea), but I just write. I write anywhere from two to six hours a day and don’t stop until the book is done. Granted I always have tight deadlines, so I don’t really have a choice. It’s shut down and write or get behind. (I get behind anyway, but I’d get more behind if I didn’t become a hermit.)

They say you can learn a lot about a person by their surroundings. What does your work area look like?

It used to be a horrible mess until I realized that it depressed me. I went out and bought a brand new desk (I don’t write at the desk, but I do everything else there, like this interview), plus a seven-foot narrow bookcase with whicker baskets that fit on the shelves to organize all my junk. Much better! My desk is still not pristine, but when I need something, I can actually find it.

When I’m not on the couch or a coffee house, I write at my kitchen table (laptop batteries only last so long). The table is clear except for research material pertinent to the book I’m working on—maps, dictionaries, guidebooks, research books. I also have gems and crystals scattered about for luck and energy (amethyst, tiger eye, quartz). I usually clean up the table and put everything away once I turn in a ms. Then I dig out the research materials on the next one!

What do you consider your guilty pleasure?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novels (Season 8). But they’re written by the writers from the show, plus they’re beautifully put together, so it’s OK. Right? Also, the show Burn Notice. There’s something about snappy dialog and women who like to kick butt that appeals to me, I guess!

You’re going to be teaching two workshops at the Desert Dreams conference. Can you give us the inside scoop on what to expect?

The first class is called Which Press Is Right for You?

Many people think: “I publish a book, it’s sold in a bookstore, maybe I’m on New York Times!” Not necessarily. Getting your book into a bookstore and a chance on the lists is largely contingent on what kind of book you write, where you have it published, and in what format (hardback, trade, mass market, ebook).

I will talk about the large New York publishers, small press, and e-press (e-book originals), explain what kind of publishing experience you can expect from each them, and how you can use what they do to grow to where you want to be.

The second class is called One Book Published, Now What?

Authors might think that a contract to get their foot in the door is the ticket to overnight success. Sometimes an author’s first book catches fire and catapults them to stardom. More often, especially in romance, you get stuck in the midlist and might or might not even get offered the next contract. I will focus on how to build on what you’re given to reach the career you really want. In other words, I started at the bottom and made it to the bestseller lists. So can you!

Thank you again, Jennifer. It’s been a pleasure.

Learn more about Jennifer at her website:


  1. Jennifer, what a treat to see your mentions of Terry Pratchett and miniature dollhouses...I can't think of two nicer images for kicking off a weekend of leisure!

    Laurie, hoping you get time to enjoy both amidst all your deadlines :)

  2. Jennifer,

    I'm in good company here and I really enjoyed reading your answers. Your success is very inspiring.

    See you at the Desert Rose Conference, if not before.

  3. Thanks for the interview. I'm so looking forward to Desert Dreams!!

  4. Jennifer,
    I think I was at the 1999 workshop at the YMCA. I'm not kidding. I purchased a book, and I know I still have it. LOL

  5. Fabulous interview Jennifer. You are always such an inspiration to me. I have a WWJD bracelet but mine stands for What Would Jennifer Do?

    (Write the hell out of it and quit whining about it of course. :)

  6. This may be a silly question but I can't help but ask... Is there a technical advantage for having so many psudonyms and reinventing yourself?