Learning From the Past: An Interview with Ashley Lawless

Novels about mothers and daughters fascinate me, so I’m looking forward to reading Where We Began by Ashley Lawless. The book released in May 2023, and though it was Ashley’s debut, she says she’s been writing for ages and loves “sharing her stories with the people she loves the most.” One reader wrote of the book, “Beautiful, emotional, and moving,” while another said, “I really enjoyed this book. It took me through a roller coaster of emotions like any good book should do.” Those who enjoy dual timelines should take a look at the book, which features those of Katherine and her daughter, Harper.

Welcome, Ashley!

Christina: Congratulations on Where We Began, which was released last year. The book “centers on a mother/daughter relationship.” Where did the idea for the story come from? Is it autobiographical at all?

Ashley: Thank you! I’ve actually been asked this question a lot, and it isn’t autobiographical. I got the idea about a year before I sat down to write the novel. I was home from college for the holiday break, and I decided that I would finally get around to cleaning my room. As I was going through everything, I found the journal that I kept from when I was eight years old to the middle of high school. I was reading through it and I became so nostalgic of all these memories I had—friendship problems, family dynamics, meaningless school crushes—and it was so impactful reading through it like I was living it all over again. As I was doing so, I thought about how fun it would be to share it with my own kids one day, and that’s when the idea struck.

Christina: The mother/daughter relationship is so complex and nuanced. How did you go about making sure you could accurately portray that relationship? How did you decide what to focus on?

Ashley: It was really challenging for me to portray the mother/daughter relationship in the way that I had intended it to be. I think what made it so difficult is because you’re learning about the mother and daughter as a unit in present time but also exploring each of them as independent human beings. For Katherine, especially, I didn’t want her to just be Harper’s mother. I wanted readers to know who she was when she was younger, the trauma she endured, and understand who she is as a mother because of her past. The scenes with Katherine and Harper together took the most time for me to write. I wanted Katherine to be so different from who she was as a young adult but heal from her past with Harper digesting all of what she went through.

Christina: Readers love to hear about another author’s publishing journey. Can you tell us a little bit more about yours?

Ashley: I feel very fortunate in my publishing journey. Considering this is my first novel, I wasn’t sure where to begin. I know people like the self-publishing route, but I knew that wasn’t for me. I looked into literary agents and a wide range of publishers. I eventually found Warren Publishing and was first drawn to them because of the editing services. When I signed their editing contract, I didn’t know if I would get published through them. I really enjoyed the people I worked with as I went through my draft and knew that I wanted to keep those relationships close as I worked to get published. After my manuscript was edited two times through, I resubmitted my manuscript to Warren Publishing to be considered for a publishing contract. After a few weeks, they accepted it! Afterwards, I did a round of copyediting. Finally, it was polished and ready to be in layout.

Christina: As you’ve alluded to in a blog post, writing a book and publishing a book are two very different things. What surprised you the most about your experience and/or the publishing industry in general?

Ashley: When I was writing the book, I think what surprised me the most was how much planning goes into it. I used to think that you could sit down and just write, but that isn’t the case at all. Each day before I even started writing, I wrote in a notebook as to what I needed to happen in the next section that I was planning. There were events in Katherine’s life that Harper had alluded to that needed to make sense in the timeline. I also had to strategically plan out Katherine’s journal in order for the months and years to make sense. I didn’t know when I started writing how complex it is to ensure that there are no holes in the timeline of the story. When it comes to the publishing industry itself, what surprised me was how long the process is to get published between editing services and then getting the book ready for publication. In the meantime, I’m also thinking of different ways to market my book. Because I’m a debut novelist, no one knows my name or that I’m even an author, so there’s much more happening behind the scenes that people don’t realize.

Christina: In that same blog post, you write, “There is no one correct way to becoming a writer,” which is absolutely true. Can you share a few tips that helped you become a writer? Anything you’d suggest staying away from?

Ashley: I’ve been writing since I was in middle school, so I love this question because my writing has changed so much over the years. When I first started writing, I was put in a creative writing class that I didn’t want to be in because the actual elective I wanted to take was full. So, the beginning of my writing journey was completely unwanted. Therefore, I think a good way to start writing is by taking classes in your local community. It’s really comforting to connect with people who have similar interests as you and can give you professional feedback. As I got older and went to college, I took for granted my creative writing classes because it was so amazing to sit with people, who are all different writers, and help one another become better. Another tip I have is to sometimes change from what you usually write. For the longest time, I strictly wrote fictional stories. Then, my creative writing professor encouraged me to write flash nonfiction to help me be more concise in my writing, and I actually loved it. When I’m in a rut, it’s helpful to do something completely different. Finally, I’m a firm believer that the key to being a good writer is to be an avid reader. I’m constantly inspired by old and new authors, and there are some writing techniques that I found helpful when writing my own novel. We learn so much from other people that reading is the best place to start.

Christina: You graduated with a degree in childhood education and English literature. Does the childhood education side of things inform your writing at all? Do you think you’ll ever veer into writing children’s books or educational texts?

Ashley: I prefer to keep my education background separate from my writing career. Everyday, I go to a teaching job that I love, and my current graduate school degree is in a subtopic of education, so when I write, I don’t want to be writing about education. I also have a huge respect for children’s literature, and I think it’s one of the most difficult genres to write. In picture books, for example, you have to be extremely concise, while using language that young children can understand. Typically, books for young readers have a strong message,
and so that needs to come across in a short amount of time. Also, for young adult literature, children are so interested in the world around them, which is ever-changing. As a young adult author, it’s important to stay educated on what children are interested in and what challenges
they are facing at such a young age. It’s an art that I think is underappreciated.

Christina: Your website says, “There are four things I always have with me in my purse—phone, keys, wallet, and a book.” What book currently resides in your purse? Do you prefer a particular genre over any others? E-book, hardback, or paperback—any preference?

Ashley: I am currently reading Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano. Typically, I read romance, but I’ve been wanting to get into thrillers. Though this one is more light-hearted, it’s still suspenseful. Regarding format, I love to have a physical book in my hand, whether it’s hardback or paperback. There’s nothing better than the feel of a real book in your hands!

Christina: What does literary success mean to you?

Ashley: This is such a loaded question and one that has different answers depending on which facet of my literary life I’m focusing on. As a writer, I would love to be a New York Times bestseller. I want people to read my books, have conversations, reach out to me with questions, and really just be impacted by my work. I’ve never had a desire to be famous, but to be a known author where people are immersed in my work is truly the dream. As a reader, I would love to teach at the college level as a literature professor. I love that reading is not a universal experience—our own life experiences influence how we read a book. I miss the discussions I had in college and the way that other people would influence my thinking and perspective on a text. Therefore, in the reading realm, literary success would be immersing myself in deep, analytic conversations.

Christina: What’s next?

Ashley: I’m excited to share that I am in the middle of writing another novel, though this is taking much longer just because of what’s happening in my life. I don’t want to give too many details just because there’s a good chance that it could change drastically before it’s published. But, you can continue to expect complex, strong characters and a riveting plot!

Ashley can be found at: https://literashley.blog/

Thanks to Ashley for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author or artist who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.

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