Ashley J. Barnard is the author of the award-winning Shadow Fox series (Champagne/BURST), as well as In Byron’s Shadow and Cast of Illusions. She has three published stage adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, and is a staff writer for Fantasy-Faction.com. Visit her website at http://www.ashleyjbarnard.com.
I asked Ashley to write a little something about her experiences with writing urban fantasy, so keep reading to learn more about it in her words. Enjoy.
When Nice Girls Write Dark Fantasy
by Ashley J. Barnard
I’m a nice girl. A very nice girl. I’ve been told many times that I am the nicest person so-and-so has ever met. And happy too! I sing Broadway show tunes when I clean the house. I wave at fellow Beetle drivers, especially the yellow ones like mine. In fact, my car looks like one giant happy face. I despise conflict, and I want everyone to love me. I go out of my way to help people, and have a bad habit of lavishing compliments. People who know me as a mom from school, a next-door neighbor, or that lady-who-always-sings-while-she-shops, probably envision my nightlife consisting of sewing, watching Friends re-runs, or organizing the next PTO meeting. To them, I am Giselle from the movie Enchanted.
The niceness is genuine; it’s not a face I put on. But that’s only one part of who I am. When I sit down at the computer, however, I like to write about dark, nasty urban fantasy, with sexually dysfunctional drug- and alcohol addicts. A couple of my books contain threesomes, gay sex and S&M. Bad things happen to good people: there is sexual abuse and rape, limbs lopped off in battle, attempted suicides and insanity. The F-bomb is not only present, but ubiquitous. In essence, the things I write about are the last things on earth most people would associate with me. So you can imagine what usually happens when someone finds out about them.
Last summer, my husband took me to Missouri to visit his in-laws. They are a conservative bunch: they go to church every Sunday and many of them have biblical sensibilities about gays and so forth. They are not my ideal target audience. I’ve kept my writing a secret from them for almost seventeen years, but my mother-in-law read – and, to her credit, was pretty nice about it – one of my books and told them that I was a writer. They cornered me at a pool party and wanted to know everything. What are these books about? Where can I find one? I set it up with my usual disclaimer to warn them about the content, and watched their eyes glaze over and their faces slacken. When I checked my website stats that night, sure enough there was a big spike of hits from the Missouri area. They all had to check it out, but when I saw them again the next day, they were very quiet. Needless to say, I haven’t heard from them since. The same thing happened with some of the moms at my daughter’s school. They all wanted bookmarks with my website on them, and since then they’ve never brought it up again. Although one of their husbands came up to me and said he bought the first book and was enjoying it. Whenever I see his wife, however, it’s like the giant pink elephant in the corner.
Fortunately my shocking people can also have really good results. People who thought I was rather shallow and two-dimensional have been delighted to discover the opposite is true. More than one friendship has deepened as a result of someone reading my books. I’m more approachable now as a flawed and, well, basically fucked-up person. The beauty of it is, now that they know the “truth,” I can be more genuine with them. I’m still nice, but we can skip the small talk and discuss things that really matter. I guess my books sort of act as a filtering device. Since I despise small talk anyway, my writing scares off the people I’m not compatible with, while attracting the ones to whom I am.
But regardless of whether or not I make or break a friend over my writing, the important thing is that I stand by it no matter what. I ought not to be ashamed. I can warn people, but really – I shouldn’t start fidgeting, ripping off my cuticles and getting heart palpitations when someone I don’t know very well says they’re going to rush out and buy one of my urban-fantasy novels. One day – and I am getting better – I’d love to be able to say to myself: This is who I am. What you think of it does not change that, nor does it really matter. I am being true to myself, and so should we all.
Okay, here goes. To the gal who always gets my deli meat at Safeway, my neighbor who says “Howdy” everyday, and the mom who wants me to get involved in Girl Scouts: Go ahead. Try the Shadow Fox series. I dare you.
You can click HERE to learn more about Shadow Fox via its product info on Amazon.com.