Part one can be read here.
Airship Ambassador: What are some initial reactions to La Clochemar which you’ve heard about?
Charlotte Ashley: So far, the response has been really positive! Readers are having fun and coming away with things to think about, without feeling preached at. I have also been fielding a variety of veiled questions about my own history, so let me put it out there – I am not Ojibwe or Anishinaabeg, and I do not identify as indigenous in any way. I am definitely writing this as a white outsider. I have tried to be as respectful and informed as I can, but the story should not be taken as an indigenous narrative.
AA: I think your goals have been reached with your approach to the story. How long did it take to write, and rewrite, La Clochemar? What were the deadlines and publishing schedule like for you?
CA: “La Clochemar” was really unusual for me, in terms of my timeline. Dominik (the editor) approached me about writing for Clockwork Canada in mid-April of last year, and the anthology deadline was the end of April. He allowed me to push the deadline to mid-May. So I went from no ideas at all to final product in a month, during which time I was in England having a nervous breakdown. I had written the first draft inside of two weeks, then I melted down, took my kids to England, and rewrote it right before the deadline. How surprised I was to find, in mid-May, that my first draft was actually pretty good! Maybe adrenaline and hysteria are good motivators for me.
AA: LOL, I guess it’s that or caffeine! Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What have your publishing experiences been like?
CA: My experience has been almost magical. Like most writers, I dabbled around and wrote a few bad novels for about ten years, never thinking I’d ever actually publish. Then I got pregnant and realized I might like to actually make some money from home, so I took my best terrible novel and polished it up. In 2012, I put it on Wattpad where the response was positive enough that I thought I might actually have a shot at this writing thing. I also realized I needed a crash course in plotting, so I took up writing short stories as an exercise in telling actual stories in a finite space.
I wrote my first short stories in 2013. At first I wrote them for challenges in writing forums, but I won almost every single one of those mini-contests and thought I’d better up the stakes. The very first thing I sent off on submission actually made it to final consideration for an anthology, so that bolstered my confidence. I submitted a dozen stories probably a hundred times over the next year, getting enough personal and encouraging rejections to keep at it. I sold my first story in there somewhere.
I just kept writing and submitting, and made my first pro sale (to F&SF) at the end of 2014. 2015 was a disaster for me on a personal level, but I had enough stories out at that point to continue making sales and seeing stories in print, even thought I wasn’t writing as much as I was. So by early 2016, I found myself a published writer with a pretty good track record. I had a half-dozen stories in great venues, another few in the pipe, and I came out of my horrible year pretty much intact. This year, I have been writing more than ever before. I like my stories, and so (it seems) do editors and readers. Like magic!
AA: That’s a good story about learning on the job, and being persistent. For the aspiring writer, what lessons have you learned over time about having an editor, their feedback, and your writing?
CA: I’ve learned that it helps to have this balance between all the ego and none at all. This is a job and publishing is a business, so you have to be confident enough to know you can do the job, withstanding a lot of rejection and criticism, but flexible enough that you can do the rewrites and take the suggestions without getting too prickly about “your voice” or “your art” or whatever.
I mean, obviously, you don’t want to become a sold-out compromise machine, but at the same time, you can’t resist taking criticism. You have to listen and incorporate the lessons that seem to make sense. My voice, I have learned, can withstand a lot of editing. Nothing is lost when I change something – it’s still me, just me with slightly different specs. Anywhere, there’s always another story, another chance, another editor, another publication. Just keep writing.
AA: That’s a very good lesson for everyone, in every job. Have you been on book tours and to conventions? What has that been like, and the fan reaction?
CA: I’m still pretty new to this. I have small children, so I can’t travel far from Toronto. But I jump right in to anything I can get to. I love talking in front of people, love reading. So far the weirdest thing to me about fan reaction is that there is any. I’ll be up there, talking about Utopias or agricultural imperialism or something, and someone raises their hand and says, “Hey, I just wanted you to know I really liked ‘La Héron’.” It’s incredibly flattering and I’m still working out how to respond. I mean, thanks? I’m pleased as punch, and maybe we can go talk about utilitarianism after the panel? I’m really approachable and love talking with people, but I’m not quite sure yet what a fan wants from me, specifically. Hopefully, they will continue to let me know!
We’ll break here in our chat with Charlotte.
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