This isn’t a game anymore.
The fall of the Safe Havens is close. A series of keys have been lost throughout the Four Worlds, causing our wildest dreams to come to life. As deceptions fuse with the truth, one girl is chosen to follow her people’s legacy and unlock the secrets that keep the worlds bound. These secrets are just the beginning, for she unravels a puzzle that she never could have imagined.
Led by a mysterious entity and a series of magical objects, she journeys to the unknown to meet the ones who started it all. However, defying magic comes with some consequences, as she risks exposing her secret. On this quest, failure is not an option, for once she starts, she can’t go back. There is nowhere to go. They are coming for her.
Interview with Ashlee McNicol
Dune: What inspired you to write this book?
McNicol: The story idea first came to me when I was in sixth grade. I had a dream about a girl who was falling off a cliff. A strange woman pulled her up as she nearly drowned. A charm bracelet dangled from her wrist, and she said, “A debt is a debt that must be repaid.” That is a huge theme in the book. That also sparked the story idea. I didn’t stick with all of the original ideas, but the entire story folded together out of a series of detailed dreams. The latest dream revolved around two family members of mine. Everything just folded together perfectly.
Dune: Can you give us an interesting fact about your book that isn't in the blurb?
McNicol: The main character is kidnapped out of her world in a paradox land and brought into a new dimension. The story gets even more complex from there when she discovers that things really are not as they seem, and the ones who are closest to her may be hiding the most.
Dune: How did you choose your title?
McNicol: A central theme in the story is debts being repaid, as I alluded to in an earlier question. I chose the title because it reflects why the debts need to be repaid in this story. The unforgiving truths were the reasons the worlds broke apart. There is a really detailed background and reasoning to this, which you will learn when you read the story.
Dune: Tell us about the cover and how it came to be.
McNicol: I sought a cover artist using the World Literary Café resources founded by New York Times Best Selling author Melissa Foster. She connected me to the wonderful Laura LaRoche, who created my cover. I searched her site with the hope of having a custom cover completed, but it just so happened that I found a premade cover that fit my story concept perfectly. I couldn’t have designed something better. Laura has been extremely helpful in responding, creating, and meeting my artwork needs.
Dune: Did you self-publish or publish traditionally and why?
McNicol: I have done a lot of research over the years regarding self-publishing vs. traditional publishing. I think both options are great. I am definitely not opposed to traditional publishing, but I chose self-publishing because I like to be in charge of the entire publishing process. I have an extensive background in marketing and great networking connections, so that part is convenient for me. I intend to complete my MBA in project management, and I found this to be a great avenue to launch writing as a business just as much as a passionate hobby. I think it offers more control in terms of what the author can do.
Dune: What do you consider the most important part of a good story?
McNicol: The most important part of a good story is the connection between the main characters. I think main characters lead the story, so they need to be very well developed, with backstories and feelings that make them come to life. These characters create a world of their own and contribute immensely to a fantastic storyline. I like characters who tell their own stories and don’t need me to do that for them. These characters are even better in a great setting. If you are a writer, make sure the reader can imagine themself in your setting. Bring their senses to life.
Dune: What is your writing process?
McNicol: No matter how busy I may be, I ALWAYS write. If I am absolutely swamped, my writing minimum is about 2,000 words. This almost never happens. I never set a maximum because I like to just write and write and write. I never want to stop once I get started. My usual word count is between 6,000 to 9,000 words. I have gotten as much as 12,000 done, but that takes a lot of work, and a lot of quietness. I love writing in the early mornings, but I am always far more inspired in the late evenings because I am such a night person. I write, write, and write some more. Then, I edit and edit until the story is great in my eyes before I send it off to the professionals. When I am not working, I try to write up to 16 hours a day. It isn’t a job for me. It is fun, and I like the challenge.
Dune: How did you get started writing?
McNicol: I finished my homework early in second grade one day. My teacher kept ideas on the window of things that we could do once finished with our daily work. One of them was “Write a book.” I thought, ‘Hey, I could write a book. I love reading and writing.’ From there, my dream came to life. I got some paper, glue, staples, and scissors, and put the book together. I proceeded to read the book, among hundreds of others, to classes all around my school. The passion and drive for writing hasn’t went away in the past twelve years I have developed as an author.
Dune: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
McNicol: I am a heavy pantser, light plotter, as I like to say. This last story idea came from a dream. I wrote it down and continued to write several chapters in the story. Towards the middle, I outlined a bit. This one was way more pantser style, but I do love the organization of outlining. I have used outlining on several other books and I intend to use it more heavily in the future. It helps to keep all of my thoughts and plans organized when writing.
Dune: What part of the writing process is the hardest for you?
McNicol: The hardest part is writing the middle of the story. When I write, I often first complete the rough draft as more of a template because I hate adding pointless details in a story to fill a page count. I like quality stories. Therefore, I like everything to have a meaning. Filling in that page count is definitely not my number one goal because I want readers to remember what I write or what they read from others. I love knowing that what I read will have relevance later in a story. I am working on pulling the pieces together when not so much action takes place. Straying from the action is the hard part because you don’t care so much about that part all the time. It takes a different mindset.
Dune: What tips can you give on how to get through writers block?
McNicol: I recently wrote a blog about this very subject. I would say: 1. Do characters interviews. 2. Take a break and go for a walk. 3. Freewrite. 4. Pull out the old pen and paper and write that way. 5. Write in a place that you usually don’t write in. 6. Take a few hours to relax yourself (Ladies: face masks, candles, pedicures). 7. Outline. 8. Schedule your day accordingly. 9. Skip the chapter. Skip to the action. It will inspire you to go back. 10. Write a backstory about a character.
Dune: What kind of music do you like to listen to while you write?
McNicol: I usually don’t like listening to music when reading or writing. I am much better at it when doing mathematics. However, if I do happen to be in the mood to listen to music while writing, it is usually a meditation on Pandora, or a low beat song. Two songs that are really easy for me to write during are Sweet Love by Jane Love, featuring Ian Smith, and Runaway Love by Ludacris, featuring Mary Jay Blige. I love all kinds of music from country to classical to hip-hop. Those particular songs just really relax me when I write.
Dune: Read anything good lately?
McNicol: Oh yes. I love reading. Recently, I read a book by debut author Natalie Berger called The Towers. I loved it so much that I recently interviewed her on my blog at www.ashleemcnicol.wordpress.com, too. It was a fantastic YA sci-fi dystopian book surrounding two characters named Spade and Stratus. She did a fantastic job writing it. It kept me hooked the whole time.
Dune: What do you like to do when you're not writing?
McNicol: I wish I could spend all of my time writing. When I’m not writing, I love to spend time with my friends and family. I really enjoy getting to spend as much time with them as possible when I can since I do not see them a lot. I also love trying new recipe ideas, making homemade cosmetic remedies, and exercising. This keeps me in a great mood almost all of the time. HA!
Dune: What advice would you give an author just starting out?
McNicol: Learn the ropes in marketing. Read up on blogs that discuss the subject. If you want to be successful, you have to know how to sell, but most importantly, you must learn to establish connections with your readers. Work on making your brand.
Dune: What's your next project?
McNicol: As I finish up the last bits of this series, I will be launching into a dystopian series around the idea of natural selection. I am really excited to get that going. The story is outlined in detail, waiting for me to dig in. Now, I just need to force myself to go to sleep and dream about it. That’s when the stories really come to life.
About the Author
Ashlee spent her childhood bringing imagination to life by writing short stories that she converted to books with the help of some glue, paper, and staples. By the time she was nine, she completed hundreds of short stories that soon lined the shelves in the local Washington state elementary library.
Those short stories shaped her writing career, which has now launched to include over fifty full-length young adult novels, waiting to be read. Ashlee holds a Bachelor’s Degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing from Eastern New Mexico University and serves as her own publicist. Currently, she is crafting the Secrets of Ghastillanda Series and hopes to have all five books released by the end of 2015. You can expect this to happen because if you know her personally, you know she never backs down from a challenge.