By Leah Golder.
We are very happy to welcome Ashley Herring Blake to The Reading Corner to discuss her upcoming release Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail, out November 8th!
For Astrid Parker, failure is unacceptable. Ever since she broke up with her fiancé a year ago, she’s been focused on her career—her friends might say she’s obsessed, but she’s just driven. When Pru Everwood asks her to be the designer for the Everwood Inn’s renovation that will be broadcasted on a popular home improvement show, Innside America, Astrid knows this is the answer to everything that is wrong with her life. It’ll be the perfect distraction from her failed love life, and her perpetually displeased mother might finally give her nod of approval.
However, Astrid never planned on Jordan Everwood, Pru’s granddaughter and lead carpenter for the inn’s renovation, who despises every modern design decision Astrid makes. Jordan is determined to preserve the history of her family’s inn, particularly as the rest of her life is in shambles. When that determination turns into a little light sabotage, ruffling Astrid’s perfect little feathers, the showrunners ask them to play up the tension. But somewhere along the way, their dislike for each other turns into something quite different, and Astrid must decide what success truly means. Is she going to pursue the life that she’s expected to lead, or the one she wants?
Hi Ashley! Welcome to The Reading Corner and thank you for your time.
I’d just like to begin by saying that I loved your novel Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail! I devoured it in just one day and found myself really connecting to the characters and plot. I especially loved your depiction of a female friend group and hope my besties and I stay like Astrid, Claire, and Iris – totally supportive and always a shoulder to cry on.
Your previous published work spans a diverse age range, with features of middle grade and YA novels, how did you find the process of writing for an adult audience? Did you face any challenges throughout the process?
By the time I started on Delilah, I had been writing YA and MG for several years and I was ready for something new, so I was very primed to dive into adult. It was really fun writing about people a little closer to my age who were dealing with things I had more recently dealt with, like jobs and kids. But one thing that is pretty constant in all of my writing is the way I develop backstory. I think how we grew up—our family situations, siblings, childhood trauma—really affects the way we are as adults. The older I get, the more I believe that, so I always weave a pretty extensive backstory related to growing up into my characters. This is true if I write a twelve year old or a twenty nine year old.
Your choice of romance is interesting as the series features so much turmoil and turbulence. Did you feel romance was the best genre for exploring the turbulent lives of the friends of Bright Falls?
I decided on romance because I love it and wanted to write queer people falling in love and getting their happily ever afters. I don’t think that necessarily means that these characters cant’s also experience some trauma. I think both Delilah and Astrid are light and fun and romantic read, but my favorite romances are those where the characters have some real heartbreak in their lives. I think this resonates with most people because…it’s real. It’s impossible to go through life without hurt, and I think the stories where characters overcome that pain—or better said, live full lives through and despite that pain—to find a happily ever after and love are the most powerful. At least, those are my favorite kinds of stories, so those are also the ones I like to write.
Following on from the previous question, were there any aspects of the romance genre that you changed or completely disregarded to fit the trajectory of the novel and Astrid’s journey? For example, I noticed a hint of the enemies to lovers trop within the relationship of Astrid and Jordan, was this a conscious choice like a classic romance novel or did it just seem right for the characters?
I enjoy all the romance tropes, and there are definitely times when I’ve been like “I want to write second chance romance” and formulate the characters and situations that way. However, for Astrid, I created the situation first and then it just happened to fit into rivals to lovers. So really, each book is different. Sometimes I start with a trope, and sometimes I start with the character and situation.
Your choice of narration in the third person is very interesting and provides an almost ‘access to all areas’ aspect to the novel. Was this always a given for the novel, or did you play with Astrid being the sole narrator?
I enjoy reading adult romance in third person, so for me, it was a natural choice when deciding how to write these romances. I do write a close third, however, so really, you only get Astrid or Jordan’s POV at any given point and time, and I switch between the two from chapter to chapter. I think omniscient third is really difficult to write and also difficult to connect with as a read sometimes, so a close third felt like the best choice for me.
Despite being a romance novel, you expertly craft a multitude of relationships. One that really stood out for me was the relationship between Astrid and her mother – a daughter desperately trying to please her mother’s absurd standards. Was it important for you to show a tense and troubled familial relationship amongst the success of friendship and romance?
Like I said before, I think the best novels, no matter the genre, are those with characters that are fully realized and developed. To me, that means fleshing out all parts of their lives, not just the romance or the things they might encounter day to day. It means digging deeply into why they are the way they are. I began Astrid’s relationship with her mom in Delilah’s book, and so I knew that would be a big part of her journey in Astrid’s own story. The friendships in the book are also extremely important to me. From the start, I knew I wanted to depict a very tight-knit queer friend group, a type of relationship that is, often, even more important than a romantic one.
Here at The Reading Corner, featuring the amazing work of female, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC authors is at the heart of our mission. What has been your experience, as a female author, in the writing industry?
I think a really important thing to acknowledge first is that intersection is vital. I’m a white woman and, in most cases, I can pass as straight. I’ve certainly encountered situations where I faced challenges because I’m queer or I’m a woman, or I’m a queer woman. Cis men are still prioritized, even today. But so are white women. So are straight passing authors. I have a lot of privilege here, and it’s really important to acknowledge that, to use that privilege for good and help make room at the table for authors of color, as well as trans authors, disabled authors, and neurodivergent authors. That being said, we still have a long way to go for all marginalized identities. I don’t think that battle will ever be over, but I’m so encouraged by the gains we have made in the last several years.
Your novel explores crucial ideas such as the importance of pronouns, with the camera crew all establishing their pronouns when meeting Astrid and the Everwoods, and questioning sexuality. Was it important for you to create a work based solely on queer characters and relationships and normalising establishing pronouns and preferences when first meeting people?
Well I think you said it right there in the question—we need to normalize queerness and asking for pronouns. We need to normalize all kinds of love, all kinds of identities, and all genders. While I only feel comfortable writing main characters (POV characters) with whom I share a queer identity, my books will always be filled with all kinds queer characters, because that is the world we live in. Queer people are everywhere and shouldn’t have to hide, shouldn’t have to come out a million times in their life with every new person they meet. These identities, theses human lives, are normal, and should be treated as such.
Following on from the previous question, did you feel as though there was a necessity for queer representation? Are there any books you’ve read previously which inspired this work or was it the lack of representation which pushed your writing of this novel and the Bright Falls series?
I want to write queer romance because that’s what I enjoy reading. But yes, very close to that motivation is the desire to put as many queer, specifically f/f, stories into the world as I can. As I mentioned before, huge progress has been made in books for all ages in terms of queer representation. Kidlit—YA and MG—specifically has exploded in the recent years, though I still hold that I don’t believe we’ll ever reach a level where we say “that’s enough.” We’d never say that about hetero stories, so we should never say that about queer stories, or any story featuring marginalized stories and characters. Adult romance in particular has been a bit behind kidlit. That’s not to say queer romance isn’t out there. Adult romance too has made a lot of progress in publishing queer stories and I’m honored to be a part of that. So yes, I write to pour these stories into the world. I write for queer readers like me, who, if they’d seen a book with queer characters when they were younger, might’ve had a very different experience. I write for readers who crave seeing relationships like theirs on the page, getting HEAs and finding where they belong. I write for all readers who want to learn empathy and embrace everyone around them. I write to put all the queer stories I can into the world.
I loved your writing and crafting of the female friendship group Astrid belongs too. Their loyalty and love for each other is touching and a refreshing constant throughout the narrative. Is the steady constant of supportive friendships a must for you in your characters lives?
For the Bright Falls books, yes, writing a group of friends who were close, ride-or-die, found family was very important to me. Specifically because, particularly in queer communities, these friendships are our very lives. And I don’t say that hyperbolically. Queer friendships and friend groups and communities save lives, and it is our reality that our family is very often those people we choose to bring into our lives, even more than the family in which we are born.
With the release of Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail so close, and a teaser of a future novel with Iris at the centre, what can we expect for the future of Bright Falls and the group of female friends?
Well, I guess you’ll just have to read and see. But one thing I can say is that all the members of my Bright Falls crew end up very happy, very loved, and very queer.
Ashley Herring Blake is an award-winning author and teacher. 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 young adult novels Suffer Love, How to Make a Wish, and Girl Made of Stars (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), and the middle grade novels Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World and The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James. Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World was a Stonewall Honor Book, as well as a Kirkus, School Library Journal, NYPL, and NPR Best Book of 2018. Her YA novel Girl Made of Stars was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. She’s also the author of the adult romance novel Delilah Green Doesn’t Care, and a co-editor on the young adult romance anthology Fools in Love.
Ashley’s Instagram: @ashleyhblake
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