If you caught my review of Spellcast, you know how much I adored it, so when its author, Barbara Ashford, agreed to answer a few of my questions, I was beyond thrilled! Also up for grabs is a copy of Spellcast to one lucky winner, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post, and please welcome Barbara to the blog!
Barbara, you have extensive experience in the theatre arts, which of course would explain the subject matter of your first novel, Spellcast, and you also spent some time as a lyricist. What made you decide to take the plunge into writing a full length novel?
Well, I might as well start off with the big “reveal.” Spellcast isn’t my first novel. My first (which was never published) was set in Scotland and combined history, fantasy, and romance. I was groping for a new theatre project when I literally had a dream that led me to write it. It poured out in three months and I’ve been writing fiction ever since.
Later, I wrote an epic trilogy entitled Trickster’s Game, a multi-generational saga set in the Bronze Age. It’s about the struggle of a nature-worshipping society to survive in a changing world and the struggle of one family to survive their dealings with a Trickster god. Those books – Heartwood, Bloodstone, and Foxfire – were published as Barbara Campbell.
It was my editor at DAW who suggested I write a contemporary novel that drew on my theatre background. (As I said in the acknowledgments of Spellcast: “God forbid I think of it!”) And since Spellcast was such a radical shift from what I’d written before, it came out under Barbara Ashford.
What are some of your literary influences?
As a lyricist, I was very influenced by the work of Stephen Sondheim. Don’t think any one novelist influenced me quite that way. But the stories that influenced me most were those with compelling protagonists who make difficult journeys and come through them having learned something about themselves. More than anything else, character draws me into a story.
What are five of your favorite novels?
Anne of Green Gables – Red-haired girl with big imagination. Totally identified with her as a kid.
The Lymond Chronicles – A six-part historical fiction series that captures the twisted politics of sixteenth century Europe and the dark soul of its charismatic and haunted protagonist.
A Prayer for Owen Meany – One of the few books that made we weep.
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – Ditto. A master class in writing spare prose that is utterly evocative and all the more compelling for its restraint.
Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series – History. Romance. Time travel. Men in kilts. What’s not to love?
What is your most unusual writing quirk?
I “act out” scenes as I write them. I sit on my sofa and improvise the dialogue, speaking in the voices of the different characters. Which may sound nutty, but is more spontaneous than sitting at a computer. And as with any improvisation, the scene often moves in unexpected directions as characters react to each other.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
The Mists of Avalon. When I’m in the final stages of editing a novel, I prefer to reread a familiar book rather than plunge into a new one.
In your bio, it says you met your husband while performing with him in the stage play, Bedroom Farce. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
It’s a comedy that takes place in the bedrooms of three couples, whose evenings – and lives – are disrupted by a fourth couple who are completely oblivious to the havoc they’re wreaking. David and I played the fourth couple, self-absorbed Trevor and neurotic Susannah. We had a wonderful – and very physical – fight scene where I attacked him with a table lamp and we ended up rolling around on the floor. Since I had a crush on him, I loved rehearsing that scene!
What did you love most about stage acting? Did you ever get stage fright?
Just like Maggie in Spellcast, I loved slipping into someone else’s skin – the grown-up version of make believe. And I loved that zing of excitement that comes from performing before a live audience and knowing that if the stage manager forgets to put blanks in the gun you have to fire – or the blood pack you’re wearing under your costume starts to leak twenty minutes before you get shot – or the door flies open during the play No Exit (yes, that all happened to me) – you just have to forge ahead.
I rarely got stage fright. Actually, it was much harder to perform in cabarets because it was just ME up there, not a character.
When you’re not busy at work writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I wish I could give you something fascinating, but basically it’s reading, going to shows, watching movies, having dinner with friends.
Quick! Name something that makes you laugh out loud?
The opening minutes of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Especially the “autonomous collective” scene.
What’s one of the most daring things you’ve ever done (that you’re willing to admit to?)
I had to appear topless on stage twice. Each time, I was facing upstage (away from the audience), but it was still daunting. You’re dealing with your vulnerability plus the emotional moment in the play plus the very practical need of shedding layers of clothing without bringing the scene to a screeching halt. In The Elephant Man, I was wearing a Victorian costume with a gazillion buttons and ribbons and laces. By contrast, the nurse’s uniform in Tribute was a breeze. The actor playing opposite me in Tribute was very sweet – and very nearsighted. He patted my hand afterward and said, “Frankly, it was all a blur. But I’m sure they’re lovely.”
Is there any advice that you would give to struggling authors?
After you’ve finished that first draft, turn on the editor side of your brain. Does each chapter change the situation for your protagonist? Are you forcing your protagonist to make tough choices that consistently raise the stakes – for her and for the world? Are the events you’ve chosen the best ones to illuminate your character’s inner journey? Are they built on a chain of cause-and-effect rather than lucky coincidences? Editing your work is as vital as creating it.
The sequel to Spellcast, Spellcrossed, is out in June of 2012. Can you give us a bit of a teaser?
The book begins a year after Spellcast concludes. Maggie is now the executive director of the newly non-profit Crossroads Theatre, and we follow her through another summer stock season that features Annie, The Secret Garden, and Into the Woods.
Here’s part of the wonderfully vague snippet I wrote for the back cover: “While Maggie yearns to give others the healing she found at the Crossroads, she recognizes that magic must take a back seat to ticket sales. But magic is hard to banish and the past has a way of coming back to haunt you. And when the tangled spells of the past turn Maggie’s life upside down, it will take more than magic to undo them…”
Is there any news of upcoming projects or events you’d like to share with us?
I have a short story coming out in March in the anthology The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity. About a faery who gives self-improvement seminars to humans. As soon as I’ve wrapped up final edits on Spellcrossed, I hope to take a very deep breath and plunge into the next book in the series. And next summer, I’ll be one of the guest lecturers at the Odyssey Writing Workshop, the six-week program I attended for writers of fantasy, science fiction and horror.
Keep up with Barbara:Website
1. Giveaway is for 1 copy of Spellcast by Barbara Ashford
***GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED-THANKS TO EVERYONE THAT ENTERED!!***