About the Author:
John Ashley lives with his family on an apple orchard in Western Arkansas. He is currently a senior at Booneville High School and plans to attend Harding University in the fall of 2013. With a spectrum of interests as broad as the worlds he writes about, John Ashley enjoys everything from the great outdoors to amateur astronomy. He is currently hard at work on the Xavier Series, piloted by his very first novel, The Scrolls of Xavier.
Connect with John:
Website/Blog | Facebook
MF: You are about to graduate from high school and yet you have written two novels and are working on a third. There are thousands of writers still struggling to achieve what you have. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a young writer?
JA: When I first started out, I was very scared that people wouldn’t take me seriously, or, just as bad, go easy on me because of my age. I wanted my writing to stand on its own merit, and not be judged one way or another because of how old I was. Over time, however, after gaining more and more positive feedback from people on writing forums to whom I had not revealed my age, these concerns started to fade. Other than that, I like to think that it has had no bearing on my writing and publishing save a little publicity I might have not gotten otherwise. As with any author, this entire process has been a learning curve that is paved with both failure and success. Every day is a different struggle, but as long as you’re struggling, you’re trying. As long you’re trying, you’re setting your self up to succeed.
MF: You write in the fantasy/sci-fi genre. Is world-building difficult or does it come naturally to you? Do you have any tips you want to share about world-building?
JA: In creating the world of Xavier997 the only planet besides Earth that plays any real part in the series, my main goal was to make it scarily similar to the world we live on, but so much more dangerous. Even overlooking the most innocent feature of this world could cost you your life. I think in world-building, you have to find that one concept that will captivate your readers and expand on it from there. Mine was the idea that what we know, what we’re used to, can frighten us more even more than the bizarre. There’s undoubtedly a lot of strange planets out there (especially when science fiction gets involved) but what if there was one almost exactly like our own, but with far different inhabitants. That was the concept that I went with in creating Xavier997.
MF: Tell us about the Xavier series. What makes your series stand out among other titles on the shelves today?
JA: There are a lot of books that deal with humanity’s first contact with alien life, but very rarely does that contact take place on their planet. Also, much science fiction can be put into two categories: The dystopian kind where humanity is in ruins, and the grand triumphant kind where we have conquered the galaxies. In writing the Xavier Series, I wanted melt these lines. I wanted to see what would happen when a defeated and desperate race used the last of their resources to reach a planet they hoped would be their salvation, only to find that it and its unwelcoming inhabitants might be their final destruction. I wanted to blur the concepts of who is right and who is wrong. Are we really the good guys when we’re the ones invading them? Does the fact that they are even more violent and evil than we are, or the fact that we have no other choice really give us the right to take their home? These concepts and settings (I think) make the Xavier Series different from any book I’ve ever read.
MF: You’ve done book signings and interviews to promote your work. How do you balance school, writing and marketing?
JA: Not nearly as effectively as I wish I could. My schedule is pretty straightforward: Go to school until the afternoon, come home and market until dark, then write until I go to bed (If I have no homework). On breaks and holidays (along with some downtime, I’ll admit) I focus more heavily on the writing. In fact, the majority of my second book was written over Thanksgiving and winter break. I did more in those combined three weeks then I did the rest of the four months it took me to finish it. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to focus solely on writing, and maybe someday I can, but for now that isn’t an option. To cut back on marketing, school, or the time I take to relax and do what normal teenagers do would be detrimental.
MF: You plan to attend Harding University this fall. What will be your focus of study? How will your writing compete with your education responsibilities?
JA: I plan to study mechanical engineering in the hopes of one day getting a job in the areospace industry. Writing is my passion, but I’ve never counted on it being my career. If that kind of money comes along, (and I’m certainly working to make it happen) then so be it, but otherwise I plan to pursue my second passion in the world of cutting edge technology and space exploration. As to how much this and the studying involved to get there will limit my time to write, I haven’t given it too much thought. Writing is something I will never give up, and just as I always have, I will find the time to keep crafting tales. Even if that means spending a few extra weekends behind a computer.
MF: What has been the toughest criticism given to you as a writer? What has been the best compliment?
JA: Post-publication, I haven’t really had to deal with any harsh words, though I know that they will no doubt come eventually. I’ve often heard it said that you know you’ve made it big when you start getting hate-mail and fan-mail alike. Pre-publication, however, I endured plenty of criticism, both fellow writers, beta readers, and friends and family who were reading The Scrolls of Xavier as I wrote it. Looking back, I am so glad that each of them were courageous enough to tell me when I was messing up. Otherwise there’s no telling what path the story would have taken. As far as the best compliment, I don’t think I could narrow that down. Each and every time I hear back from someone who read my books and loved them, it’s amazing. As long as I’m entertaining them, then I feel as if I’ve done my job.
MF: What do you read? What do you re-read?
JA: Believe it or not, this is quite possibly the question I will have the hardest time answering. The things that catch my interest are so random and sporadic that it’s hard to narrow them down to a few lines. I read a lot of Stephen King, and I absolutely loved The Hunger Games and the I am Number Four series. When I was younger, I was addicted to the Redwall books by Brian Jacques. I’ve read every single one of them, and many of them twice, and I think that those books were the first ones that opened my eyes to the power that a good storyteller has. Other than that, if it catches my eye and I’m still interested past the first page, I’ll give (almost) anything a try.
MF: What is your favorite writing tip or quote?
JA: “Beauty is in the details”
While this could apply to a lot of things, I think its relevance in writing is profound. The more you can convey, the more senses and emotions, mental pictures and subtle details you can invoke, the more immersed a reader is going to be in your story. With immersion comes enjoyment. After all, isn’t that the reason they’re reading it in the first place, to be transported to another realm? Don’t just tell them a story, make them live it.
MF: Do you have any advice for other writers?
JA: Everyone always talks about following your dreams, about bursts of inspiration and overnight success, and that’s fine. You certainly should follow your dreams, and we all wish for success. However, no one likes to talk about the work that’s involved in achieving your goals, that for every overnight success there’s a thousand more who have to work their tails off in order for their dreams to see the light. Having said that, my advice to other writers would be not to fear this, but rather to relish it. No one said that writing a book or a story or a poem was going to be easy, and certainly no one said that publishing and promoting it once you’re done would be either. But if everything came without a struggle, if there was no such thing as failure, how would you define success? Don’t just chase your dreams, work, and strive, and struggle at all costs until you’ve finally caught up with them.
MF: If you could jump into a book, and live in that world … which would it be?
JA: Well, certainly not my books. My life-expectancy would be too low. I think I would have to pick the Redwall series. There, adventures are abundant and good always triumphs. There’s a child-like sense of innocence in that realm that’s hard to explain, an understanding that even through the most dangerous part of the adventure, things will all work out. If only the real world came with that assurance.
In the year of 2067, a new world is discovered amidst the dark expanses of the universe. Harvesting the resources of this vast planet, known as Xavier997, may be the only hope a post-apocalyptic Earth has for survival. Upon arriving, however, the explorers of this promising new world soon discover that the treacherous and, most shockingly, inhabited realm of Xavier may also lead to mankind’s final undoing. In order to shed light on the dangerous secrets of this world, Captain Michael Dawn must lead a team of earth’s most skilled soldiers across its globe in search of five mysterious items known as the Scrolls. What seems like a routine mission, however, goes terribly wrong as Dawn and his team quickly realize that Xavier does not give up her treasures without a fight. To find the Scrolls, Captain Dawn must risk everything, including his love, his career, and his life. Without the Scrolls, mankind’s final hope is lost. With them, it might be even worse.
Three years have passed since the Sirujians were defeated and at last, the planet Xavier is at peace. A few light years away, however, lies a world that is not so fortunate. Earth—a planet ravaged by countless wars and totalitarian governments is on the brink of collapse, but even in these darkest days a slim hope shines. In a few short weeks, a lucky group of individuals will be chosen to colonize the promising world of Xavier997. Clay Morton and his fiancé Charity Collins are two of these hopefuls. Yet as the day of the Xavier Drawing swiftly approaches, an old enemy rises from the ashes, and this time in terrifying force. Separated during the chaos, Clay and Charity soon find themselves thrown into the ultimate battle for survival. Should they lose, so will all humanity.
For beneath the sands of a forgotten desert lies a force known only by them, a force that even the Sirujians fear and that has the power to be either mankind’s salvation or their final destruction…