Thursday, April 24, 2014

In the Hot Seat with Author Kris Ashton

Kris Ashton has been a journalist and editor for the past 15 years, starting out in trade magazines and then moving into more interesting fields like film, motoring and travel. He published his first work of fiction in 2005. His second novel, Hollywood Hearts Ablaze, was recently released as an e-book through Steam eReads.   

Q:  Can you tell our readers a little about your writing? What genres do you enjoy writing?
I primarily write speculative fiction, which is a catch-all term for sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Of those three, I tend towards horror the most. But over the years I’ve made little side trips into mainstream and romantic fiction. The first (and until now, only) novel I published was a paranormal romance. It might seem strange, a horror writer moonlighting in romantic fiction, but when you get down to the engine room the two genres aren’t so different. Good writing, character development, dramatic tension and an entertaining plot are essential to both.  
Q:  Do you write on a schedule or when the Muse decides?
I’m not a big believer in a muse – probably because in the world of journalism waiting for your muse is not an indulgence you can afford. When I get an idea I write to a schedule, which is usually every weekday. It used to be during my morning and afternoon train commute (which was perfect – no distractions and nothing better to do) but now I have to drive to work so I write early in the morning. Occasionally I will knock out some extra words on the weekend, but the older I get, the less time I seem to have for that. 
Q: Can you tell us about your writing process, for example, do you write an outline first?
I generally scribble down a list of plot points. These sit at the bottom of a Word document as a reminder of what’s coming next, but they’re a guide rather than an outline. Some writers have an entire novel laid out in sticky notes before they begin, but for me that would kill the magic. I find ideas spring up organically during composition and an outline is usually not flexible enough to accommodate them. It does mean I have to go back and stitch up the odd plot hole later on, but I can’t imagine discovering an interesting tangent and thinking, “Well, that’s a good idea but I can’t really pursue it because Martha has to develop cancer in chapter ten.” I want to follow my nose.
Q:  What qualities do you instil in your heroes?
To be honest, I don’t dwell much on my characters’ qualities. Character development has always come to me instinctively and I have never written so much as a single ‘character note’. Looking back over my published stories, however, it seems like I specialise in making unlikeable characters likeable (or at least sympathetic). Gina Hall, my heroine in Hollywood Hearts Ablaze, is a perfect example. She’s a man-eater who abuses her position of power, but from the first we also see she is lonely and capable of self-doubt.    
Q. Coffee or tea?
Coffee! I started the habit fairly late, in my early twenties, and while I don’t drink a lot of coffee - only one or two cups a day - I feel out of sorts if I don’t have a good espresso in the morning. Back in 2009 I did the Darling River Run through outback NSW. The only coffee on offer for the best part of a week was International Roast, which might as well have been bilge water. I didn’t cope well. I’ve since been to the outback several times and the coffee situation has improved, but it’s surprising how often you can get stranded in a remote area where instant coffee is the only option.
Q. Beach or countryside?
I love them both. I grew up around surf culture and spent most of my first twenty summers at the beach, but I also love the quietude and beauty of rural Australia. I’ve been lucky, as a sometime travel writer, to see plenty of coast and country.  
Q. Do you write about the places you know or prefer to take your readers to exotic places?
Again, a little of both. I’ve set some stories in plain old suburbia (because that’s what I know best), while Hollywood Hearts Ablaze is, as the title suggests, is set amid the glitz and glamour of Hollywood. I’ve returned more than once to the Australian outback and I began setting stories there long before I had been there myself. There is something romantic and haunting about it that makes a good backdrop for just about any tale.
Q: Where do you get your inspiration?
I believe the tendency to get ideas and turn them into stories is a genetic character trait, like blue eyes or red hair. I’m forever running ‘what if’ scenarios through my head, which is usually where inspiration arises.  
Q: Would you change anything in your life to make writing easier?
I loathe - and I mean loathe - writing synopses. It’s the one part of the publishing process I find utterly joyless. Like all authors, I could also use some more free time. But in the end, writing is like exercise – you either make time for it or you don’t, and anything else is just an excuse. “I wish I could find the time to write,” is a common refrain from wannabe authors... yet they somehow find the time to watch four hours of television every night. 
Q: We have all suffered submission rejections. How do you cope? Do you have any advice to other writers on coping with rejection?
A habit I’ve developed over the years is to scan the first paragraph of the email, and if I see any of those familiar yet ominous phrases that indicate a rejection, I stop reading and go do something else while my disappointment is at its rawest.
Within an hour or two, I’ve usually become more philosophical about the rejection (unless it’s a shortlist rejection - those take longer to get over) and can bring myself read precisely why the editor or slush reader nixed it. More often than not, these days, it’s an unenlightening form response. Occasionally the remark will expose the reader/editor as a nitwit who missed the point of the story entirely. But now and then, you’ll get some advice as to what was wrong with your story. This advice is golden. I can think of at least one story of mine, ‘Trouble With the Locals’, that became publishable when I accepted a slush reader’s critique that it was way too long.
Q: What do you like to read and who are your favourite authors?
I’ve been a Stephen King fan ever since I was old enough to read adult books. I started with Pet Sematary and have now read everything he has ever written (except for his Dark Tower fantasy series, which I’ve never been able to get into). John O’Grady, who famously wrote They’re a Weird Mob, is another author who influenced my work. I’ve read his books to pieces. The English science fiction author John Wyndham (Day of the Triffids) is probably my third key influence. Beyond that, my tastes are eclectic indeed. Mark Twain, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are three of my favourite ‘classic’ authors. Even though I’m the ‘wrong’ sex, I quite enjoy the work of Aussie chick-lit author Liane Moriarty. And I recently finished reading Junky by William S. Burroughs.
Q: Do you write one novel at a time or do you move between works in progress?
I usually only write one novel at a time, but I have been known to stop work on a novel for a week or two if a juicy short story idea pops into my head.
Q: Do you have times when the Muse is away on holiday?
I can sometimes go three or four months without a story idea. I used to get stressed when that happened, but I learned over the years that another idea would turn up sooner or later. I go through fertile periods as well, where I’ll get three story ideas in three weeks. 
Q. What motivates you to write?
I’m a high concept guy. That’s what gets me started, the sense of possibility and anticipation that comes from, “What if such-and-such happened?” Once I’m underway, I just enjoy writing. It’s as simple as that. Sure, I have off days, when the words refuse to emerge and I feel like I’m turning a silk purse into a sow’s ear, but usually I close my laptop on a high.
Q. What advice would you give to unpublished authors approaching an e publisher?
Writing a novel is the easy part. It’s all the tedious stuff that comes later – the editing, the presentation of your manuscript, the (goddamned) synopsis – that will attract a publisher’s attention. Also, get a feel for what sort of fiction the publisher wants. Sending a paranormal romance novel to a publisher that only does mainstream romance is not only a waste of your time, it also makes you look like a novice and a fool. 
Q: Is there anything you would like to share with us about upcoming releases?
If anyone wants to try some of my horror writing, ‘The Devils of Cain Island’ was recently published in issue #31 of Dark Eclipse. It’s a little unusual, in that it switches perspective between the 18th century and today. It’s historical horror!
Q: Can you tell us a little about your current novel? What inspired you to write this story?
A few years ago I was trying to sell a horror novel without success. Around the same time, I visited my local Borders – back when Borders still existed – and was appalled to discover the horror section had been lumped in with science fiction and amounted to one shelf of Stephen King books and a few miscellaneous authors. I was bemoaning this situation to my mother-in-law and she said, “Well, why don’t you write something popular, like romance?”
I was doubtful, but I mulled it over for a while and eventually decided good writing was good writing, no matter the genre. Besides, it wasn’t like I had no knowledge of romance. I’d read everything by Jane Austen and my wife had force-fed me a steady diet of romantic comedies over the years, so I began to try and cook up an idea.
I spent many years as a film critic and entertainment journalist, so Hollywood and its internal workings were familiar. I also knew the area from a couple of trips to California, so I decided to set it there. Then one day I got thinking about Hollywood’s infamous ‘casting couch’ and wondered, “What would happen if the traditional gender roles were reversed?” That was the high concept I needed and the story grew from there. I was surprised how much fun it was to write. As well as a torrid romance yarn, it’s a redemption story for the post-feminist era: rather than finding the strength to overcome adversity in a patriarchal world, my heroine starts out powerful and has to find the courage to be vulnerable if she’s to have any hope of happiness.  
Gina Hall is a beautiful and ruthless Hollywood executive who uses her power and influence to get what she wants from up-and-coming actors. Her ‘auditions’ usually involve the casting couch.

But while she is strong, independent and hard working, Gina is also 32 years old and lives alone in a penthouse apartment with her cat. One day, a handsome actor, Jack Triton, refuses to submit to one of her auditions and storms out of her office. Gina begins to re-evaluate her life... and the man who stood up to her.

She asks to meet with Jack to apologise, and during lunch Jack sees the sweet California girl behind the man-eater fa├žade. The pair begin a tentative relationship that quickly blossoms into a steamy love affair.

But old habits die hard and Gina finds her icy business persona and the woman Jack loves coming into conflict. When Gina and Jack’s hot new relationship becomes fodder the paparazzi, things begin to look shaky. Will this Hollywood glamour couple survive, or will Gina’s unscrupulous past tear them apart?

“I’m sure you’re a wonderful actor,” Gina said. “But how much do you want this part?”
“I want it more than anything!” Tony said, sitting bolt upright. “This is my first feature film, it’s what I’ve dreamed of since I was--”
“No, Tony,” Gina said, getting up from her plush office chair. She walked around to him, her high heels silent on the thick carpet. She ran a finger down his smooth cheek and along the defined line of his jaw, then placed her hand on his chest, feeling the hard chasm where his pectorals met. “How much do you want this part?”
His eyes showed an exhilarated terror. “I want it very bad. As bad as you can imagine.”
“Show me, Tony. Show me how much you want to be the star of Dark Flowers.”
His eyes darted to the door. “Here?” he said.
Gina squeezed his arm, her heart fluttering at its solid shape, and lifted him to his feet. “We won’t be disturbed. Grant knows better than to bother me during a casting session.”
She led him to an enormous futon-style lounge that sat beneath a window with distant views of the coast. She stroked his chest and let her hands run over the hard ridges of his stomach. She continued on and discovered that, intimidated or not, Tony Cantori liked what he saw.
He liked it a lot.
He gave a small grunt at her touch and then tucked his thumbs under the lapels of her business jacket, sliding it off her slender shoulders. Their lips met, a furtive brush to begin with, but then they opened up and she savored his taste.
They broke the kiss and began to strip off one another’s clothes. He fumbled with Gina’s bra hook, but he looked upon her exposed chest with such wide-eyed appreciation that she could forgive him. When they were naked they kissed again, his hardness slipping and straining against her.
Tony tried to push her down on the lounge but she resisted and said “Uh-uh” and swivelled him around. He lay back obediently and she straddled him.
Gina had to hold back a moan as he entered her--he was like a good meal, filling, satisfying. His hands found her breasts and cupped them, his fingers twitching her nipples. She looked down and saw his face harden.
“Not yet,” she said sternly. “This audition isn’t over yet.”
Tony stopped thrusting but it was too late. His face screwed up and he gasped--one part pleasure, one part despair.
Gina crossed her arms and let out a huff.
“I’m sorry!” Tony blathered. “We can go again! Just give me a few minutes and I’m sure next time--”
“This audition is over,” Gina said, stepping off. She felt dirty and sticky and her labia were outraged. Half the blood in her body seemed to be pulsing and pounding in her loins.
“Ms Hall, please, just let me--”
“Get dressed,” she said.
He looked at her with hurt puppy dog eyes.
“And stop staring at me,” she said.
Tony put his clothes on in a hurry. Gina stood by, naked and impatient, her arms still folded under her chest.
When he was dressed, Tony looked at her sideways, not quite daring to meet her eyes. “Do I ... have I got...”
“Don’t call me, I’ll call you,” Gina said.
Tony scuttled out of the office. When he was gone, Gina sighed and padded into the ensuite bathroom to take a shower.

Buy Link:

Author’s links:
Twitter: KrisAshtonWrite


  1. I enjoyed reading the interview. Congrats on the new book, Kris!

  2. Congratulations on your new book Kris. A great interview with HC. Well done.

  3. Thanks, guys. And thanks to H.C. for the opportunity!