Allison Ashley: “Don’t try to be someone you’re not”

Be authentic in your writing. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. The story will flow much more organically and naturally if you just “be yourself”. Don’t get caught up in the style of another author, or the way your favorite author does certain things. No one can tell your story better than you can. I […]

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Be authentic in your writing. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. The story will flow much more organically and naturally if you just “be yourself”. Don’t get caught up in the style of another author, or the way your favorite author does certain things. No one can tell your story better than you can.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Allison Ashley, a coffee-drinking, music-obsessed mom of two who loves love stories. By day she’s a clinical oncology pharmacist, and by night she pens contemporary romance novels. Her debut novel, Perfect Distraction, will be available on March 23, 2020, from Entangled Publishing.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

I work as a clinical oncology pharmacist, which I love. But it can be a difficult job, and some days I just want to escape into a world of happiness and love. For years I did so through reading romance novels, and one day I decided to try my hand and writing my own.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your writing career?

Can I share something super interesting that hasn’t happened yet? Because once it does, I can’t think of anything that’s going to top it. I was considering where to host my release party — and because my book is a digital release and I don’t have copies to sign, I wasn’t planning to host it at a traditional location like a bookstore. I have a friend who owns a brewery, and he offered to let me have it there (I’ve been known to lurk in the corner and write with a pint on occasion). He even said he’d brew a special beer just for the occasion. You can imagine the fun I’ve had deciding what to name my personal beer: Writer’s Bock, Love Potion, Hopeless Romantic? Plus I get to go to tastings before he decides what to brew. I can’t wait, and can’t imagine a more fun way to celebrate this exciting event with my friends and family.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

For me, it was building a social media presence. I’m not sure how much it really matters for a fiction author (I’m told it’s huge for memoirists), but many say regardless of genre, agents and publishers will consider this. When I decided to start querying, I only had an account on Facebook, and I only used it for personal use, like photos of my kids and dogs. I didn’t know how to use Twitter or Instagram, and without a published novel to talk about, I had no idea how I could even go about garnering a ‘following.’ But I knew I needed to figure it out.

At a writer’s conference I went to a session on social media, and received some good advice: be genuine, be yourself, and try something different. I joined Twitter, and started connecting with other writers, quickly finding a community who also liked to talk about the process of writing, querying, and publishing. I chose the “be genuine and be yourself” route for this particular platform and posted about what I was going through, what I was working on that week, and asked for advice. Engaging with others on the site made a difference, too, and a year and a half later, I have more than 8K followers.

Instagram is a better example of my attempt at “trying something different.” I joined under the account name @writersoundtrack, and decided to solely post about the music that inspired me while writing. It was a good start, and it was definitely a different take on a writing account. But as I kept going, I found the occasional posts where I mentioned only writing topics (sans music) had much more interaction, and I eventually changed that account over to a standard “author” account. I still post about music, because it’s important to me and my process, but I followed the interest and adjusted my strategy accordingly. That account has been a little slower to gain traction, but it still has more than 3K followers.

From my experience with creating a social media presence, I’d repeat the advice I followed above, and add one more: keep an eye on your posts an see what’s working and what’s not. If it’s not working, try something different.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’m sure every author pulls from their own experiences to some degree when they write. There are several things found in my books that really happened to me, or are loosely based on personal experience.

In an early novel I wrote, two characters are talking about stupid things they did in their teenage years. Naturally, I included a few stupid things I did as a teenager, not thinking anything of it.

But then, I let my mom read it. She called me up one day, quoted that section, and immediately knew it was something I’d done and never told her about. She straight-up called me out on it, and I was mortified.

Lesson learned: always consider who might read your book. Some secrets are meant to stay that way.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’ve got three projects I’m really excited about, and the problem (as always) is trying to focus on one at a time. One is an enemies-to-lovers between a drug rep and a medical professional, another is a physician and a nurse who find themselves in quarantine after being exposed to a deadly virus, and a friends-to-lovers marriage of convenience.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I think the most interesting part is a side effect Andrew experiences as a result of his chemotherapy. It’s not something typical like most people expect with chemo — it’s a rare toxicity that I’ve only seen maybe three times in my career. I like that particular scene because (1) it’s something I’m familiar with but many people aren’t, so it’s unexpected and interesting to the reader, (2) it adds tension to the novel, and (3) impacts the main characters in a big way. I really enjoyed pulling from my professional knowledge as a pharmacist and tying that into the story in a realistic way.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

Falling in love doesn’t mean giving up on yourself, or giving up on your dreams.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

Be authentic in your writing. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. The story will flow much more organically and naturally if you just “be yourself”. Don’t get caught up in the style of another author, or the way your favorite author does certain things. No one can tell your story better than you can.

Be open to criticism. I’ve never been someone who took criticism well. I’m competitive, and if I can be honest without sounding arrogant, I’m used to being good at things (or maybe I was careful at pursuing things I’d be successful at). But with anything new, we all start at the beginning, and there’s a lot to learn. I wouldn’t be where I am without the constructive criticism and teaching provided by my mentor, other writers, and professionals in the industry. The inspiration and story ideas may be the author’s, but the finished product should be a work of many.

Write what you love. By that, I mean write for yourself, and what you love and are interested in, rather than what you think people want to read. I think writing what we care deeply about, and feel inspired by, is what keeps the joy in the process, which I think is apparent to the reader.

Find your people. Writing can be lonely and isolating. The publishing process can be discouraging and full of rejection. But the one thing that’s certain — you’re not the only one who feels that way. Find a group of other writers and be amazed at the support and camaraderie that comes with it. Vent to each other, talk to each other about where you are in the process, maybe even share pages with each other. Some days it just helps to know others are in the same boat as you.

Be committed. Writing is not a rapid process. It takes time, and there are often many “no’s” before there’s a “yes.” Don’t give up. Keep writing, keep learning, keep improving.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study). Can you share a story or example?

Perseverance. My debut novel is actually the fourth full-length novel I wrote. After writing my first, I hired a team of editors to give me feedback before I began querying.

Know what they did? Ripped me to shreds. In a professional way, of course…but still.

Know what I did? I cried and took a break for about two weeks.

Then, I pulled up the document and got to work on their suggestions. I wrote two more novels and got better with each. Then I wrote the story that had been sitting in the back of my mind for years, and, using the knowledge I’d learned from those first three and building on the basics I learned from those editors, I finally wrote a book that landed me an agent and a publishing deal.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I almost exclusively read romance. It’s not all contemporary like I write — sometimes I’ll read historical romance, fantasy, etc. But rarely do I branch out into other genres. I think the main reason is that romance is what I’ve always loved, from well before I began writing it. Now, just like then, I crave that escape and the knowledge that I’m reading something that I know will end well. That love will win. And I love seeing how different authors get me there. It’s a different journey every time, and no matter how many I read, it never gets old, and it continues to inspire me to write.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I simply wish people would read more. More specifically, focus on instilling a love of reading in our children. I worry we’ve moved away from books and stories to a digital world filled only with television, video games, and screentime (exception: using devices for reading). The benefits of reading cannot be overstated, and I would hate to see it go down as a pastime that’s no longer relevant.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @AllisonAuthor

IG: @authorallisonashley

FB: @authorallisonashley


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