Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Edward Ashton

Edward Ashton is the author of the novels Mickey7, Three Days in April, and The End of Ordinary. His short fiction has appeared in venues ranging from the newsletter of an Italian sausage company to Escape Pod, Analog, and Fireside Fiction. He lives in upstate New York in a cabin in the woods (not that Cabin in the Woods) with his wife, a variable number of daughters, and an adorably mopey dog named Max, where he writes—mostly fiction, occasionally fact—under the watchful eyes of a giant woodpecker and a rotating cast of barred owls. In his free time, Ashton enjoys cancer research, teaching quantum physics to sullen graduate students, and whittling.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Ninety percent of the time, titles are the worst part of the entire process of crafting a story for me. As a result, I generally don't want to put the effort in until I'm sure a project is going to make it across the finish line. During the drafting process I'll use a working title, which is usually just the first name of the protagonist. That's exactly what I did for Mickey7, obviously---but then when I got to the end, I realized that in this case the working title was perfect. The name "Mickey" tells the reader right up front that this book isn't taking itself too seriously, and what's with the 7? Gotta figure that out, right? It's a simple title, but it pulls you right into the story.

What's in a name?

My character names are just names. I try to pick ones that roll off the tongue if I can, but I'm not into the whole Roger Chillingworth thing. I do put a bit of thought into my place names, though. Mickey's expedition departs from Midgard, which in Norse mythology is the home of men, and travels to Niflheim, which is a frozen land inhabited by a giant dragon. One of the failed colonies Mickey describes is called Roanoke, and another is Long Shot. These names don't mean anything to the characters, because they're so far removed from our world in both time and space that the meanings have been lost, but the reader hopefully gets an idea of what they're getting into right from the jump.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

For me, writing a novel is like rolling a boulder down a hill. The first couple of chapters are always an absolute slog, but as the story grows and the characters reveal themselves momentum builds, so that by the final few chapters I can barely pull myself away from the keyboard. I don't usually know exactly how the story is going to end when I start writing (it would be much more boring if I did, no?) but generally by the time I reach the half-way point I do, and I'm increasingly impatient to get there.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I make a conscious effort not to insert myself into my stories, but particularly when I'm writing in the first person it's tough not to put at least a bit of my voice into the narrator's mouth. It's usually worse in first drafts, because I put some effort during the revision process into making sure that each character has a distinct voice that's not mine, but even so, bits and pieces of me often wind up sneaking through.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Every experience you have influences your writing, doesn't it? My stories are littered with bits and pieces of stuff that I remember (probably badly) from my philosophy classes, with ancient history, with contemporary politics, with things I've learned from my day job as a cancer researcher, with things I overhear in restaurants, etc., etc. I feel like my job as a writer is mostly just to synthesize all that detritus into something that's both meaningful and entertaining. I feel like I managed that reasonably well with Mickey7. Hopefully most of my readers will agree.
Visit Edward Ashton's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mickey7.

--Marshal Zeringue