Posted on December 2, 2010 by Flames
Novelist Ashley J. Barnard has a new novel called Shadow Fox from Champagne Books. In this design essay she tells us about that initial fear of releasing her work to friends and family.
How a Nice, Shy Girl Passes Off Dark Fantasy to Her Family
One of my older sisters recently compared me to Giselle from the movie Enchanted. It’s a fair comparison; I sing when I clean the house, I love animals, I’m a hopeless romantic and I have a bright and sunny disposition. I want everyone to love me so it’s shocking to me when I annoy someone. The biggest difference between Giselle and me is that Giselle doesn’t write dark contemporary fantasy with heroin use, violence, occasional S&M and a liberal sprinkling of the F-bomb throughout. And if she did write it, she’d probably use a pen name and would die before letting anyone read it.
While I don’t use a pen name, I used to be very private about my writing. I didn’t share early drafts of Shadow Fox and its sequels with many people, and when I did give it to them I would worry about offending them or changing their perception of me. These early writings were very much in-your-face; I hadn’t yet learned any subtly as a writer whatsoever, and so nothing was left to the imagination. I would force you to see every tiny detail of a threesome or a homoerotic encounter, whether you wanted to or not. And then I would worry. Uh-oh. They’re going to think I’m this perverted freak. If some of them did think this they were kind enough to spare me their revelation. I think I would have been devastated otherwise. I was 24 and barely had a sense of who I really was, with absolutely no foundation with which to say, Think your worst; I am who I am.
Now, at 36, I am finally seeing Shadow Fox getting published. It’s gone through several drafts, and while it’s still racy and often graphic, I feel like I’ve reached a good balance between tastefulness and edginess. It can always be improved upon, but I’m glad to say that I am proud of it. I refuse to be ashamed of it; so much of it reflects my inner being and I’ve finally allowed myself to love that part of me. I might warn someone that they are probably going to be surprised, maybe even shocked, but I will never again say to someone, “Oh, you can’t read this. You’ll hate it and/or me.” I’ll allow them to make that choice for themselves. The state of being offended is a choice as well. I have no control of this, and I’m finally at the point where I no longer care. If someone chooses to be offended by my books, I won’t hold it against them. I was tested just recently when my mother-in-law read the first chapter on my website. I think I actually felt the earth shift on its axis, and all she could say in response was, “I like the reference to St. Louis [where she lives].” With the F-bomb in the very first paragraph, there’s no escape. But I was okay with this. In fact, I was a little smug. I think I’m ready to show the world that there is so much more to me than singing with a broom in hand or trying to make everyone happy. Now, I’m not entirely reformed. I still can’t think about my dad reading it without squirming. To him I’ll always be his little girl, and it will never be easy for him to reconcile this adult not-so-innocent me to the child me. But if that’s my only hang-up, I’m doing great.
What I hope friends and relatives will discover upon reading my books is that I’m still me, the sweet and happy Ashley they’ve always known, but with many more facets to my personality that actually make me a more interesting person. I hope that they won’t come out of it feeling deceived. I really am sweet and happy. But I’m also very passionate, and delving into the shadow of the human psyche is something I enjoy doing. And just because I write about heroin use or threesomes doesn’t mean I partake in them personally, just like listening to Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson doesn’t make me a Satanist. It’s hard to avoid trying to pigeonhole people. When my best friend from high school and I reunited on Facebook after 20 years, I’ll be the first to admit that her tattoos and her own death-metal band threw me. But she has the one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know, and she routinely calls on angels to help ease the suffering of those less fortunate than she.
This year my debut novel went on sale with Champagne Books, and I recently found out they are publishing the two sequels within the next twelve months. I’m ready to shed my chrysalis and let you see the butterfly that was hiding there all along. Don’t worry: that sweet caterpillar that likes to snuggle is still there. But these wings are ready to take you for a wild ride.
Ashley J. Barnard – 2010
Ashley is the author of seven novels, as well as three published stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s books. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and daughter, and up until recently she and her husband ran their own Shakespearean theater company, Actors’ Renaissance Theatre. Shadow Fox is her first published novel, and its two sequels will be published in 2011 with Champagne Books.