Interview with Ashley M. Carmichael, Author of “Valerie’s Vow”

91B1ylE3rmL._SL1500_What is your book about?

My debut novel is Valerie’s Vow. It is a story of loss, love, and loyalty but more than anything it is a story of friendship. Though it’s been six months since she has lost her best friend to cancer, Valerie spends the majority of the novel dealing with her emotions over this traumatic loss. She meets and reacquaints herself with men from her past and present as a way to figure out where her future lies. As a romance writer, I enjoy having my main character find love, but as an inspirational writer the lessons that she learns, particularly about life, love and friendship are what I truly value.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

In November of 2013 a dear friend of mine passed away. She had spent several years battling a very aggressive form of breast cancer. She was in inspiration to everyone who knew her as a teacher, mentor, and most importantly as a friend. While Sarah and I are not as close as the characters in the book, she was still the inspiration for the story and I did my best to honor her legacy while writing.

How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?

There is a lot of me in this book, but don’t be mistaken—I am not Valerie. I did use some of my experiences to help me write (like how I met my best friend, the fact that I’m a teacher, some of my Sunday School Lessons and students). What is entertaining is talking to the people who know me after having read the book. One of the girls in my Sunday School class read the book and came to me and said, “Can I guess who is who?” referring to the kids in the class vs. our class. We laughed, because while the kids were not one and the same, she was pretty spot on with her guesses about who I’d based who on. So the next question she, and everyone asks, is who are the guys?

Like almost all characters, they are based on men who either have been in my life or are in my life in some capacity or another, but to what extent and who they are…well, I think that’s better left a mystery.

Who is your most unusual/most likeable character?

I love Cooper, and as far as I can tell, most people who read the book love him too. He’s a likeable character because of all that he does for Valerie, but also because he’s somewhat mysterious. And who doesn’t like that?

Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?

The message can be summed up in a quote from the novel: “Go, do, see. Don’t spend your life in the shadows of someone else, the past or even the future. Just go live. But make sure you do it for God, because in the end He’s the only one worth living for. You are beautiful, you are special, and your life is worth living.”

What has changed for you personally since you wrote your first book?

Since I first wrote this book I have joined Winston Salem Writers, attended many writing programs and classes, joined a critique group and even joined a group via meetup.com to focus on The Artist’s Way. By increasing my networking, I have become a better writer and overall a better person. I love this new community I have become a part of and, to be frank, it has made me more confident as a writer.

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

When I’m in my writing peaks I strive to write about 2000 words per day. To keep myself motivated, I will often keep a spreadsheet to track the number of words I am writing. However, I came to realize that writing was only a part of the ultimate process and it wasn’t and shouldn’t be my sole focus. I also needed to turn some of my energy into editing. I now strive for at least 250 words minimum per day and a least a little time editing or re-writing as well. I try to do some writing in the morning, as this is when I am at my peak intellectually. As a morning person I know this is crucial to my success. Working full time as a teacher, this is not always possible, so as long as I continue to make sure I do some writing every day I feel as though I am on track.

What are you working on right now?

I am currently editing 3 novels. They are written, beginning to end, but need a lot of cosmetic work. Hopefully they will be ready for publication in the next few months. I’m also in the process of finishing a YA book, I’m not sure it’s my genre, but it’s been an interesting adventure writing and I look forward to discussing it as a part of the critique process. I’m also starting the research process for a historical based on the set of letters my grandmother gave me. They are from my great-grandmother’s ex-fiancé. There’s definitely a story in there and I look forward to this adventure too.

How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your head?

I have characters who are constantly talking to me and swirling around in my head. Sometimes I dream them. Right now, I think I could count about 7 stories, each with individual characters. At times, I seem like I’m being anti-social…but really I’m creating new societies. I’m glad I have such supportive friends and family, otherwise they may have had me committed a long time ago.

What writer influenced you the most?

I would have to say the C.S. Lewis is one of the most influential writers. I got lost in a wardrobe when I was a kid and I’m never really sure I ever came out. I could probably quote him all day long, but when I’m writing I think about one in particular: “Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again; even now.” Because that is what writing is to me—returning to my inner child who is searching for answers in a story that I can both connect to and relive over and over and that is what makes me glad.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about writing?

Power through to the end. Writing to the end of a story is always the hardest, but once you’ve come to the end, it’s like you can suddenly breathe. It’s a kind of validation. I’d spent the greatest part of my writing life prior to this novel writing, editing and rewriting the first few chapters so I could never get past or even to the climax sometimes. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to write, it was just that I couldn’t get past the unperfected parts to get to the end. Once I stopped trying to perfect it along the way and just powered through to the end it was as if I’d opened a floodgate and suddenly I was able to move forward with more direction and focus than ever before.

If you could have lunch with one person, real or fictitious, who would it be?

I’d want to have lunch with Jo March. She is a brilliant, strong writer (yes, I know she’s fictitious, but she’s based on Louisa May Alcott, so maybe that’s who I really want to have lunch with) who faced derision and rejection and not only overcame it but rose above and conquered those who told her she couldn’t succeed. She turned down a life of comfort (Laurie) for adventure, or at least for a life that would teach her more. And then she opened a non-traditional school for boys and she mothered and taught them about life, love and living. She would be an amazing person to know.

Where can we learn more about Valerie’s Vow?

From Second Wind Publishing: http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/#!product/prd15/2506087281/valerie’s-vow and Amazon

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