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Ashley Herring Blake: On Letting Characters Lead

Award-winning author Ashley Herring Blake discusses the process of writing her new romance novel, Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail.

Ashley Herring Blake is an award-winning author. She holds a master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and cold weather. She is the author of the romance novel Delilah Green Doesn’t Care, the young adult novels Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish, and Girl Made of Stars, and the middle grade novels Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James, and Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea.

She’s also a co-editor on the young adult romance anthology Fools in Love. She lives on a very tiny island off the coast of Georgia with her family. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Ashley Herring Blake: On Letting Characters Lead

Ashley Herring Blake

In this post, Ashley discusses the process of writing her new romance novel, Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail, the questions she asks herself in the writing process, and more!

Name: Ashley Herring Blake
Literary agent: Rebecca Podos at Rees Agency
Book title: Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail
Publisher: Berkley Romance/PRH
Release date: November 22, 2022
Genre/category: Romance
Previous titles: YA—Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish, Girl Made of Stars. MG—Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, The Might Heart of Sunny St. James, Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea. Adult Romance—Delilah Green Doesn’t Care
Elevator pitch for the book: When perfectionist interior designer Astrid Parker meets her match both professionally and romantically in Jordan Everwood while working on a home renovation show, Astrid has to decide between the life she wants and the life she’s always been expected to lead.

Ashley Herring Blake: On Letting Characters Lead

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What prompted you to write this book?

Astrid’s story was always going to be the second installment in the Bright Falls series. I wanted her to find her own HEA and, as a character who can certainly be an acquired taste—she’s prickly, particular, and a bit snobby—it was really fun to dive into her psyche and really explore why she was the way she was.

I also wanted to a write a later-in-life queer awakening, as I think that’s really relevant in our world of compulsory heterosexuality. Astrid’s story is very near and dear to me, so it felt even more important to write it.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

As Astrid is the second book, wheels were already turning for her story, though I will say it changed quite a bit from the time I knew I wanted to write her story next to the time I actually started writing it in earnest. At first, Astrid was straight and she was going to be with Josh, Claire’s ex and co-parent from Delilah Green Doesn’t Care. But as I pondered and planned this, it just didn’t feel right.

I realized that Astrid’s own journey was a bit more fraught, a bit more interior and personal for her. She was always going to deal a hearty helping of mommy issues, but her romantic story took a while to come to fruition—but once it did, it felt perfect. I’d say from that first planning to November 2022, when it will publish, took about 18 months.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Every book is different, so there are always things I learn along the way, though I like to think I’m getting more efficient in my process the more I do it. Still, each project has its own challenges, its own journey, so no two processes are ever the same.

For Astrid particularly, my first iteration didn’t include a home renovation reality show. It was a magazine feature. But then I realized I really needed to increase the stakes for both Astrid and Jordan Everwood, so I changed everything to a show, which added a whole other layer of camera crews and producers and filming. It was absolutely the right choice, though, and I had a blast writing it.

I think those are the challenges I usually face for my projects at this stage in my career—what change or plot point or character arc is best for this story? It’s an important question, and sometimes it takes a lot of work to answer it, but it’s always worth it.

Ashley Herring Blake: On Letting Characters Lead

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

There weren’t many surprises so much as little plot adjustments as I went along. As mentioned, the biggest change was from a magazine feature to a show, but other than that, I encountered a pretty “normal” number of changes and surprises as I wrote the book.

By that I mean that the characters usually do something unexpected or change what I think they were going to do. I have a pretty complete synopsis written before I start writing, usually around five or 10 pages, so I have a good idea of my plan. But that plan always, always changes.

As I get to know my characters more, they tell me what’s right for them, what they would do, what they shouldn’t do but do anyway, and why, so it’s still exciting when I’m writing. I try to let my characters lead me where they need to go, and that’s usually into some very bad decisions before they figure things out. Which is what makes it so fun to read and write!

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope readers will see themselves in either Astrid or Jordan and realize that their happiness, their dreams, what they want out of this short life, matters. It’s important and it’s okay to prioritize those desires and dreams. I also hope they know, as Astrid discovers, that it’s never too late to be yourself.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Keep writing. You’ll only get better with time and by constantly honing and hammering away at your craft, you’ll learn what works for you more and more each day. My process isn’t yours and yours won’t be like your peers’. It’s yours and that’s what makes it beautiful, but you can only get to know something if you spend a lot of time with it.

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