Thursday, January 8, 2015 | By: The Write Way Cafe

An Interview with Ashley York

The Write Way Café welcomes author Ashley York, author of medieval romances. Read where she got her inspiration and how she turned her love of writing into becoming an author.

When did you first have the thought you'd like to write a book? Was that first thought related to writing romance?
     I was always going to be a writer. When I was in high school, I took all the writing courses I could. My first story was really a YA (even though that wasn't a genre then) about a friend of mine who was a lesbian. My teacher, who had been very supportive of my writing, was diagnosed with breast cancer that semester but continued to work with me on the story. I would send it to her via the substitute. One day I saw the substitute reading it. I was mortified. I got a manila envelope for it after that. It was a very tender love story about her and her girlfriend.  I still have that story. 
     I have been reading romances forever. I think my sister-in-law gave me my first one and I wish I still had it. It was great. My first favorite romance writer was Janet Dailey. I loved her books. She wrote western romance. It was the most popular romance genre in the early eighties. Ride the Thunder. The Calder Saga. So well written.  I was very saddened by her recent passing. When I moved to Colorado from Connecticut, I decided I should write a western romance. 
     I lived up in the mountains in a town with a population of 550. Our cabin was located right across the street from the tiny building which housed the Gilpin County Library. I did all my research there. It was a romance with a native American whose father was a French fur trader. When his father died, his mother and him were allowed back into the tribe but never really accepted. He had long black hair and bright blue eyes. 
     The story never got very far because even though it is historically accurate that some of the tribes did steal the settlers and some did rape the woman, rape in romances, no matter how delicately handled, was a burning topic of discussion and became frowned upon. Violence against women at all became totally unacceptable. I guess I never realized exactly how involved I was at the time with goings on in the romance field but I remember that very specifically. I needed to re-think my story so it never got anywhere. I still have the beginnings of that book. I may write it yet.
     I was in Colorado for Margie Lawson's Immersion Class in November. The cabin we lived in was still there but the library was gone. Disappointing since I wanted to take a picture of it.  
     The next romance writer I absolutely loved was Johanna Lindsey. She writes all different time periods and in all different places. Her medieval books were my favorite (naturally) but I did love the Mallory family, too. Through her stories I got to go everywhere. I was amazed at her breadth of knowledge. It was all so intriguing. I never went to college until I was in my thirties but number one on my agenda was to learn about all those historical places and events for myself. My research got to a new level with my history degree. It was great.

What was your path to getting this book written and published? What type of research did you do?
     In 2006 my husband and I went on a trip to Scotland. I was finishing my MA in History and it was a class they offered over the summer. As always, my husband was the biggest supporter of the trip. I just made him go along with me. I knew nothing about the place. What was the big deal about the Jacobites? I didn't know. It was an amazing trip. I fell in love with the place. I decided I would write my graduate thesis on the Scottish Enlightenment and my deep love for Scotland grew. I am Scottish but I haven't learned where my ancestors were from yet.
     A short time later, my daughter bought me the first in the The Outlander Series as a present. I was hooked. Scotland and romance? Life could not get better than that. Ha ha. The Bruised Thistle was my Scottish romance book. Keep in mind what happened with my western romance. It went nowhere. So I took a writing class with Carol Monroe and her encouragement was tremendous. She told me about a local writing chapter and when they met. I decided to check it out. That was the Charter Oak Romance Writers (CORW). I was hooked and decided to join the Romance Writers of America (RWA).  
     I think RWA was just starting when I was in Colorado. I had read an article about this new group and I always thought how cool it would be to be a member. My husband had encouraged me to find out more about it but I didn't think they wanted me. I think I remember Janet Dailey was a guest speaker. I was nobody. What a different path my life might have taken if I had followed his advice. He'll be the first to tell you that's usually the way of it. 
     CORW  was a group of  writers at various stages of writing. Maybe the nicest ones in the group were the published authors. That was not what I expected. They were so supportive and patient. The group offered workshops and speakers but most of them were contemporary, paranormal writers. I needed to find like minded writers to make the most of this association.  I joined an on-line group of Celtic writers (Irish, Scottish, Welsh) called Celtic Hearts Romance Writers. I felt right at home. I took my first on line classes through them. I started to think I may actually be able to do this. RWA and all their support really made it possible.
     The overwhelming obstacle that I kept hearing about was medieval romances didn't sell.  I knew it was what I wanted to read so was I really all alone? I was at one workshop where a guest editor took the first few pages of our works-in-progress (WIP) and showed how an editor actually worked. Naturally mine was first but it was anonymous so as long as I didn't react, she'd never know. Immediately she attacked the time period and said "I don't even know who you would query for this" meaning she didn't know any publisher that would even look at it. She proceeded to belittle my opening line, my choice of beginning POV, and never even got past the first page. Hmm, wasn't looking very good for my dream.
     Then the CORW had a weekend conference featuring the very entertaining Mary Buckham. She taught about Scene and Sequel but it was the off lecture moments where she really showcased her wisdom. She explained how important it was to have clear goals at every stage of writing and how this helped keep your eye on what you really wanted to accomplish. She also said to keep querying even if all you got back were rejections. What if you sent out 39 query letters, received 39 rejections and just stopped. You said you had enough and that was that. But what if it was the fortieth query that was going to say "give me more"? How could you stop? You need to keep trying. Her encouragement was the best part of the whole weekend. 
     Mary also explained the difference between indie and self publishing. E-books were growing in popularity. There were a lot of changes going on in New York and nobody was really sure how it was all going to play out. I think it's safe to say we still don't know. Vanity Presses and small publishers were springing up all over. Self-publishing was becoming a viable option but the term "self-publishing" had a bad connotation. It immediately brought to mind  people that think they've written the great American novel. No special training. No critiquing. No feedback of any kind other than their mother who told them they could do anything.  They publish it and there you go. This is not to say that is actually what "self-published" meant, it was just a bias many had at the time.
     "Indie pubbing" was the term coined  for the writer who saw the benefit of others giving them feedback. They became the writer and the publisher. Professionalism was everything. They realized they couldn't objectively see their own work because they loved their story and everything about it. Their minds filled in the parts that weren't on the page and they needed someone objective to point that out and help fill in the pieces. Most of all, they believed in hiring professionals to help polish their work. That includes editing,  a professional cover,  proper formatting, etc. Mind you, that is not the way the two terms are used today. They're pretty interchangeable and no assumption should be made with either term. But I usually do refer to myself as Indie-pubbed. I decided that would be the route I tried. I also couldn't see wasting time trying to learn how to write a query when what I wanted was to learn how to write a good book. I hired professionals to support my book. It is certainly not easy and I made quite a few mistakes with the people I hired to work with. I have to say after trial and error, I  finally have a really great "team" that I love.  
     BTW that WIP the guest editor was not very complimentary about was published as The Saxon Bride. It's how I made it to became a PAN (Published Author Network) member in the RWA. It also became a #1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. 

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to become a writer? 
     What makes a writer, is a person who actually writes. If that's your dream, you need to do it. Don't go further than that because that will hold you back. Go ahead and tell a story. I recently read that the ability to tell a good story is something that can't be taught. I think if you have the desire to write, however, it probably comes from that innate ability you already have. Diana Gabaldon told her stories before she ever wrote them down. At least that's what I've always heard about her. A desire to become a writer is the first step. 
     The craft of writing can be learned and improved upon. Take a class. Not just any class, but the right class. When I was in Colorado I took an adult education class at the University of Colorado with Barbara Steiner. I suffered from agoraphobia so this was a very big deal for me. It was extremely nerve wracking.  I still have my assignment from her and her comments. I really had no idea how to go about writing in a formal way. She'd asked for a short story, I gave her just the opening. Oh well. But her response stuck with me. There was a lot of possibilities in the piece but I needed to work on it, build on it, bring it to fruition. Work! Focus! Finish! 
     No one should believe writing is easy. It's not. But  it's very rewarding. I've gotten some wonderful letters from readers. They encourage me.  I write for them. 
     I've met a lot of different types along the way. Would be writers just waiting to get their wonderful work "perfected" for publication. The woman who believes her story is wonderful and it's the audience who doesn't appreciate  her work. Mostly I've met people who had that desire to write inside them from the beginning. They do it for the sheer love of creating interesting characters and placing them in exotic settings to tell their enthralling stories. My advice would be — do it.

The Bruised Thistle is available at:
Barnes & Noble

About Ashley:
     Always an avid romance reader herself, Ashley York decided to get her BS in History to learn what she'd only read about in these books and maybe become a teacher. When she got her MA in History, it was so she could realize her lifelong dream of becoming a romance novelist herself.
     She enjoys bringing history to life through vibrant and meaningful characters, writing historical romance novels full of passion and intrigue set in the 11th and 12th century British Isles. Her debut novel, The Bruised Thistle, is set in Scotland and is the first in The Order of the Scottish Thistle series.
     When she is not writing, talking about writing, or thinking about writing, Ashley relaxes with visits to the local pubs listening to live Celtic tunes, participating with guitar, voice, and whistle. In the words of one of her favorite songs, she enjoys "…singing songs to pass the night away…"
     She lives in southern New England with her husband and 3 very spoiled animals.


HiDee said...

Thanks for being with us today, Ashley!

Ashley York said...

Thanks for having me, HiDee.

Lynn said...

I love the concept of medieval romances.

Ashley York said...

Me, too! I love medieval romance in my books, my movies, and my own stories. I'm just glad I didn't have to live then. I like running hot water way too much.

Angela Adams said...

Enjoyed reading the interview, Ashley. Best wishes with your book!