Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Gregory Ashe
Odyssey graduate and bestselling author Gregory Ashe will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop.
Gregory is a longtime Midwesterner. He has lived in Chicago, Bloomington (IN), and Saint Louis, his current home. He primarily writes contemporary mysteries, with forays into romance, fantasy, and horror. Predominantly, his stories feature LGBTQ protagonists. When not reading and writing, he is an educator.
For more information, visit his website: www.gregoryashe.com.
As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?
The most important thing writers can do is keep trying. That’s not just general encouragement, although I do believe that persistence and hard work will probably pay greater dividends than waiting for genius, talent, or inspiration. I also mean keep trying new things: new genres, new points of view, new narrative structures, new character types, new lengths. As with so many crafts, failures in writing often teach more than successes, and trying new things will force you to stretch and grow—and it may help you see your own strengths and weaknesses.
You’re a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. What made you decide to attend?
When I decided to apply to Odyssey, I had been writing for seven years. I felt like I’d made a lot of progress and seen a lot of improvement, but I didn’t know how to take my writing to the next level. My goal was to have a career as a writer; I wasn’t sure if that was a realistic goal, and I didn’t know what to do to get better. After researching several writing workshops, I decided Odyssey seemed like the best fit for me.
How do you feel your writing and writing process changed as a result of having attended Odyssey? What insights did you gain into your own work?
Like so many Odyssey graduates, I found the workshop to be transformational. Critiques from Jeanne, guest lecturers, and fellow students helped me see both errors and weaknesses in individual stories as well as systemic problems in my writing. Just a few of the important lessons I learned are the importance of the causal chain, how to use character goals and conflict, the three-act structure, the role of theme and resonance, and effective point of view. I also learned how to read fiction more critically, which has helped me continue learning after Odyssey.
Your latest book, Stray Fears, came out in October 2020 and is a paranormal/horror mystery. What are some of the challenges of writing across genres?
Writing across genres presents a variety of opportunities and challenges. Genre-bending or genre-blending works may appeal to a wider audience, for example, and they allow writers to incorporate a greater variety of plot devices and play on (or with) more conventions. On the other hand, cross-genre stories are always at risk of disappointing audiences—mystery fans, for example, may not enjoy the supernatural elements, or horror fans may want more monsters and fewer clues. In addition, because each story always has a limit to what it can contain, writing across genres also requires authors to make sacrifices—it’s a struggle to fit in all the beats and plot points expected in each genre.
You’ve published six books in your Hazard and Somerset mysteries. Do you tend to outline your books and series ahead of time, or do you tend to figure things out as you go along? When you started the series, did you know how many books you would write and where your characters would end up?
Although I have become more and more of an outliner, there is still an element of excavation and discovery in each book I write. One challenge I’ve faced as a writer is that I tend to write long books—and if I’m not careful, they become massive. Outlining helps me control the size of the story, as well as ensuring that I hit the right beats and turns when and where I want to. The excavatory and exploratory side of storytelling tends to happen, for me, between those major plot points. I have written quite a few books without an outline at all, but that is less and less the case. The same is true for series. The Hazard and Somerset series essentially took shape as two parts: the first four books, and then the last two. I learned from that, and when I wrote ‘season two,’ Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords, I had a fairly comprehensive outline for the five-book series. I now tend to write all of my series this way, with an outline to guide the pacing of the series as well as the individual books.
You’re a prolific writer in addition to working as an educator. What does a typical day look like for you? When and how do you set aside time for writing, and how do you remain so productive?
The short answer is that I don’t have much of a life! During the school year, I wake up at 5 and write until it’s time to go to work. When I get home, I spend a couple of hours revising, eat dinner, and read. That’s pretty much it—in the summer, I have more time to relax, but for most of the year I keep to a fairly rigorous schedule. While I have mixed feelings about word goals, I do find them useful, and I aim to write two to three thousand words every day. I don’t always keep all of those words, but I believe there’s value in getting into the right headspace (flow, self-hypnosis, whatever you like to call it) and spending as much time as possible in it.
What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?
Let’s see: the third book in my The Lamb and the Lion series (The Same End) comes out at the end of January. Then I have a four-book series that follows up on my Borealis Investigations books—this series is called Borealis: Without a Compass. Then I have more Hazard and Somerset, and I’m hoping to squeeze in a follow-up horror/mystery before October. Maybe a new project will surprise me along the way—it’s been known to happen!