Tuesday, August 20, 2013

GCC Presents: Amanda Ashby!

I know it has been forever since I've had an author interview, but I've got a great one for you today. Amanda Ashby has a new book out called DEMONOSITY and she's here to tell us all about it!


The Black Rose–a powerful ancient force–has been let loose and has taken up residence in Celeste Gibson, popular girl at Cassidy Carter-Lewis’ high school. Thomas Delacroix is the spirit of a fourteenth-century knight who is devoted to protecting the Black Rose, but he needs a contemporary living being to take on the challenge. That’s where Cassidy comes in.

She’s a quirky high school junior who just wants to dress in her vintage clothes, hang out with her best friend, and take care of her father, who is recovering from surgery. She’s the last person who would ever volunteer for such a task, but no one actually asked her.  Now, like it or not, she finds herself training before dawn and battling demons at parties, the mall, and even at school. But hey, no one ever said high school was going to be easy.

About the author:

Amanda Ashby was born in Australia and after spending the last sixteen years dividing her time between England and New Zealand, she’s finally returned home for some sunshine. When she’s not moving country, she likes to write books (okay, she also likes to eat chocolate, watch television and sit around doing not much, but let’s just keep that amongst ourselves, shall we?)

She has a degree in English and Journalism from the University of Queensland and is married with two children. Her debut book, You Had Me at Halo was nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice award. Zombie Queen of Newbury High was listed by the New York Public Library’s Stuff for the Teen Age 2010. Fairy Bad Day was selected by Voya as one of their Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers 2012 and was a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award finalist for the Australia/NZ region.

The Interview:

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

AMANDA: I think I’m a 12 year old boy at heart so I knew I wanted to do something that had a lot of action and sword fighting in. Then when I started reading about secret societies and the Templar Knights, the story started to take shape.

Q: The main character of my first book, I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE, is the kind of girl I wanted to be (a rock star!), the MC of my second book has a lot more in common with teenage me. Is your main character someone you wish you could be, someone a lot like you, or your total opposite? How so?

AMANDA: Unfortunately my character is a lot like me. She’s hopeless at making decisions, which is a problem I suffer from. In fact, if you ask me what my favorite chocolate bar is, the answer will change depending on what day it is. She also wears a lot of vintage clothing and doesn’t quite fit into the mainstream—though she’s not smart enough to be a geek—which pretty much sums me up!

Q: If there was a soundtrack for your book what are five songs that would be on it and how do they relate the story?

AMANDA:1) Douce Dame Jolie written by Guillaume de Mauchet. Because part of the story is about medieval demon knights I asked my music buff husband to help with the playlist and this is the first song he gave me. It is so gorgeous and it really helped set the scene for me!
2) Brother by Smashproof featuring Gin Wigmore. This is a book about two brothers who both feel like the other one has deserted them. This song perfectly sums that up, plus Smashproof and Gin Wigmore are Kiwis!
3) Ant Music by Adam Ant. Cassidy’s best friend Nash, is a gorgeous gothic who is based on all the new romantic guys I grew up with in the eighties!
4) Paris is Burning by Ladyhawke. Another great Kiwi artist! I actually have a reoccurring scene in the book about a fire in Paris that killed hundreds of innocent people so this song was kind of essential!
5) Modern Love by David Bowie. Just because I always have a David Bowie on every playlist!

Q: In addition to writing books, I also write for a website for teens called Rookie, which has a regular feature called "Literally The Best Thing Ever," wherein we write about a thing that we think is super mega awesome (even if it is the type of thing that others might call a guilty pleasure, we believe there is nothing guilty about pleasure!) and explain why we think it is literally the best thing ever. It's generally a kind of unexpected thing, for example I wrote one about the soap opera, One Life To Live. I don't expect you to write a whole essay obviously, but can you briefly tell us what either you or your character (or both!) would say is "Literally The Best Thing Ever" and why?

AMANDA: My current best thing ever is The Gilmore Girls. I’ve dipped in and out of before but I’ve never seen the whole series. Anyway, I’m now totally obsessed with it and keep annoying my kids by having excessively long, random conversations with them—usually when they’re in the middle of playing Minecraft. I just can’t explain how happy I feel when I watch that show and I’m forever going onto IMBD just to see what all the actors are doing now!

Q: What are you working on for us next?

AMANDA: I’ve been working on a few different projects and will hopefully be sending them to my agent very soon.

Friday, August 16, 2013

New(ish) Shiny Idea(s)

At the beginning of this month, I tweeted this:
It really did kind of freak me out. I feel like I've always hopped from one book right to the next. Often I've had a couple of ideas that had to battle it out. One of those ideas that kept getting started and then hitting a wall (The Modern Myth YA) was still bopping around in my head. I really do want to do something with it, but I can't decide if that something is continue where I left off (it had become a Typical Unwieldy Stephanie Mess of Way Too Many Words And Ideas) or rip it apart and start all over again. It may just be another 8 year novel like Ballads of Suburbia was where I write a version, know it's wrong and have to wait for the right structure to fall into my lap. Except seeing as I've already tried 2 versions with it, this may take even longer than that.

Anyway, I still had that idea in my back pocket, but I didn't feel ready to tackle it. That's a pretty huge thing after a cross-country move. When I handed The Grief Book off to my agent in May, I told her and my critique partners and anyone else who asked that aside from my work for Rookie, I was going to take a break from writing at least for June and July. I said if anything I might work on planning my essay collection/memoir type thing that I'd been pondering for years. Oh and I was going to document my move here and on tumblr. Since I finished The Grief Book right before we headed to Seattle to house hunt, and then I came home with three weeks to pack, writing aside from Rookie pretty much went out the window. Then came the cross-country drive, the settling in to the new place, and the all-consuming, very stressful job hunt.

I told myself that it was okay that I wasn't writing anything other than my Rookie assignments and cover letters or having big ideas. I assured myself that it's not like I'd forgotten to pack my muse. After all, Seattle has been a big part of my muse for years. It would come to me in due time. And probably at an inconvenient time.

Then, last Wednesday, I had what I thought was a very inconvenient idea:
As often does in my process, I'd had the stroke of genius that two characters who had been hanging out in my head (very loosely shaped characters, ghost-like really at this point. I don't have a full sight of them and one of them has a middle name but not a first name, though I know what their problems are) belonged in the same story. This had happened previously with Emily and Louisa in I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and with Zoe and Ivy in my (still unsold) Bartender Book. Those books were mother and daughter while this would be aunt and niece, but as I had before, I wanted to tell the stories I saw unfolding from both points of view. I was immediately frustrated with myself because yanno, the whole spending two years writing a book that hasn't sold yet thing. I KNOW that the issue with the Bartender Book is that it's not YA, it's not NA and it's not Adult (though Adult would probably be the best place for it). So, I told the New Shiny Idea to bugger off. It just wasn't going to work. Besides, I'm busy with this whole applying for jobs thing and I'd already told my agent that the next thing was going to be the essay collection/memoir/zine-like thing.

Then yesterday morning I went running and I decided to listen to The Hold Steady. I have a weird love/hate thing about The Hold Steady, or really about the characters in their songs. These middle-class Midwestern arty kids who are just doing a lot of drugs. I kind of was that kid, but not really, mostly I was just trying to be that kid and failing and I'm a little bit bitter about it and mostly just disgusted that I aspired to be this:

But I can't help being fascinated or relating to The Hold Steady's songs and they are such great storytellers that my own storytelling urge just kicked into high gear.

Or maybe it was the perfect gray Seattle day.

Or more likely it was because my muse is a cruel little vixen and she KNOWS that this is the worst possible time for me to want to start writing something because I was waiting for the details of a temporary contracted writing project to get squared away and I'd applied for a bunch of jobs, one of which is The Total Dream Job and that plus the temporary work would barely leave time to sleep let alone write my own stuff.

But the ideas, they came, hard and fast. My seventeen year-old girl character just started talking away in my head. She's not as sweet as I initially pictured her. She's hard-edged and troubled. She takes too many pills. She might like The Hold Steady (or aspire to be one of their song characters at least), but she likes boys who wear a lot of black even better. And there's a river and drowning or presumed drowning. And there's running away. From the Midwest to Seattle. Of course. And my thirty-five (or maybe thirty-four year-old character) who'd originally really wanted to tell her story, may not be so vocal after all. She could be if I want her too, but otherwise she and I thought up another way to tell her story within her niece's story. It all depends on whether I want it to be YA or Adult.

After early morning notebook scrawling, I managed to push my new characters away. Work on teaching. On job applications. All of the important stuff.

Then this happened:

Not really a fan of this new pattern of waking up because of my tiny bladder or my cats or whatever and then staying awake because I'm consumed with anxiety, but today it was different. It was a dream that woke me (well, and my bladder). My character and her boyfriend. Or the guy she wants to be her boyfriend. And I couldn't stop thinking about them.

Well, not until I started thinking about the essay collection/memoir/zine book, too. Suddenly knew how I was going to structure that. I was okay with it not being a cohesive narrative like most memoirs, but pieces and reflections that made up the whole of my coming of age (which pretty much encompasses age 10 to 24, even though I know that's not neatly YA either). It WOULD be like a big zine of my youth. It would have essays from Rookie and new essays and vignette style stuff like the Cemetery piece I just did for Rookie. It would have pages from my old zines like this:

And the liner notes from my old mix tapes:

At seven, I sucked it up, got out of bed and set about facing a new challenge:

I'd written things about the New Shiny Idea in both notebooks, but I settled on the skulls for it partially because those pages would be harder to rip out, but mainly because it felt right. The stencil notebook has good DIY vibes for the Essay/Zine/Scrapbook project.

I scrawled down everything that was in my head about New Shiny Idea and then I went for a run where I got more ideas, so I wrote those down too. I created a new Scrivener project for Essay/Zine/Scrapbook project because I have a lot of bits and pieces already written that I can use or adapt for that.

Then what I knew would happen did: the contract arrived for the temporary writing job. That project will start on Monday and likely last til the end of September.

Then what I hope hope hoped would happen did: I got an invitation to interview for The Total Dream Job next week.

If all goes well, I will be so completely busy with a full-time job and a temporary job that I won't have time to write, but I'm totally okay with this. In fact I'm hoping for it. If good things come in threes (which they should because bad things always do), maybe I'll be able to sell The Grief Book or The Bartender Book. That will probably shape the direction of New Shiny Idea. So I am okay with just jotting down notes after my run on it for now. Same with potential flashes of essay inspiration for Essay/Zine/Scrapbook project. They can even wake me up at 5 am if they want (but preferably not always).

Fingers crossed that even though my muse is a cruel little vixen at times, she is also an incredible good luck charm.

Monday, August 5, 2013

One Month in Seattle--the good & the bad

We've officially been in Seattle for a month as of today. For the most part it has been amazing, but I will admit that I just called my mom crying. The job hunt thing has been extremely stressful. Even though I know it was silly, there was definitely a small part of me that hoped/wanted to believe that when I got here things would work out almost magically. Like after four years and two other projects, maybe I'd get The Call that my most recent book had sold. Or I'd find The Ultimate Dream Job and land it right away. (I've found a couple of Ultimate Dream Jobs, but so far have not been able to land one.) My hopes were buoyed by the many people who were impressed by the leap I was taking and said things like, "So few people are willing to just go for it like that. Things are bound to work out because you have the guts to try."

I should probably worry less and give myself more credit for the whole having guts things. But I'm really terrible about both of those things ;)

I will say that even though I didn't want to cry, especially not today of all days, this was the first time I have cried like this since I got here. In Chicago, I woke up feeling miserable just about every day and I had an incredibly hard time shaking it. In Seattle, when I get freaked or sad, I can usually shake it off just by going for a run because this is my view:

I can see the water, the sky, the mountains when it's clear (it was one of the only gray days we've had when I took this), and those cranes, which for whatever reason, I find even more appealing than any city skyline (though I do love the Space Needle and the fact I can stare at the city skyline from the bus stop by my house). And the air, the clean, clean air that smells of rain and lavender and other flowers whose names I haven't learned yet, it purifies me and takes the bad away.

Also, when I'm stressed, a fifteen-minute bus ride gets me to the place where I've always felt the calmest and the most at peace--the place I used to take a 4+hour plane ride to at least once a year. I'd go there are the beginning and the end of trip every time. I'd take a million photos and videos so I could try to recreate the feelings it stirred whenever I needed them. Now it's mine whenever I want it:

And so is this:

And this:

Stressful as it has been not having work, it has been nice to have the time to get my apartment unpacked and in order. It feels like home. A magical home where I wake up and go to bed every night staring at a beautiful horizon--colorful, sometimes cloudy, filled with green and trees and occasionally a mountain.

I've also had the chance to explore new parts of Seattle and spend time with friends. My husband and I have a great new tradition established on Sundays (which I used to sleep through most of due to bartending until 3 am) where we go for vegan brunch and pick a new walk to go on. Yesterday we went to Lincoln Park in West Seattle for some gorgeous beach and bluff views. Last week we hiked through the wooded Interlaken Park (which is his favorite so far and is definitely one of mine, but I love places close to water even more). And the Highline with it's delicious vegan food and infused liquors is definitely one of my favorite bars ever.

It definitely feels strange that I haven't written fiction or had the strong pull of an idea--I've had nibbles and a little bit of the desire to go back to my damn Modern Myth book that I never finished. I'm not looking at this lack of creativity as an omen though. It's part of the process. The move has been all consuming, and if anything I'm just scared to pursue another novel until I see something happen with the two I've already written. Maybe I'll focus on an essay collection since I do love the work I do for Rookie. Maybe I'm about to stumble on that Ultimate Dream Job and I'll need to focus on that for awhile.

I know that my creative spirit will thrive in Seattle once given a little more time, though. I feel right here even when I feel wrong and full of doubt about everything else. So, a month in, I know I definitely made the right choice and took the right risk. It's just the trusting myself/the universe that the rest will work out that is the hard part.

P.S. I apologize again for not having documented more of the moving process--I really do mean to, but the job-hunting has eaten up so much time. (If you can get a job before moving cross-country, I certainly advise it.) I haven't gotten much response to these posts anyway, so maybe there isn't much interest (and if so, I'm sorry for being boring!) or I'm just posting too sporadically (again, sorry! The job thing!). At the end of the day, though, I really intended to document this all for myself anyway, so I'm sure I will at some point. And I will make another promise to try to post more frequently at least on tumblr, but we'll see how that goes! I think I do better on Instagram!