I have the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful souls through Twitter – today I’m welcoming I.A. Ashcroft to the spotlight. We swapped books for reviews, and if you’re a writer, you know there’s so much to learn about someone through the story they write. I could tell I had an interesting book in my hands from an interesting author. If you’re interested in dark fantasy and strong characters, Raven Song is for you. There’s a live giveaway today!
I. A. Ashcroft’s first book, written at age seven, featured the family cat who befriended dragons and eagles, all while hunting an evil sorceress. Now, the author dwells in Tempe, AZ and writes almost exclusively in the realm of darker fantasy, entertaining adults with stories of magic, wonder, despair, violence, and hope. When not buried in a book, one might find Ashcroft learning languages, charting road trips, and playing tabletop RPGs with clever and fun people.
You can win a digital copy of Ashcroft’s book, Raven Song, by retweeting my pinned tweet @sydney_writer. Good luck! There’s an excerpt below after the interview.
Jackson, a smuggler, lives in the shadows, once a boy with no memory, no name, and no future. Ravens followed him, long-extinct creatures only he could see, and nightmares flew in their wake.
Anna’s life was under the sun, her future bright, her scientific work promising. She knew nothing of The Bombings, the poisoned world, or the occult. One day, she went to work, and the next, she awoke in a box over a hundred years in the future, screaming, fighting to breathe, and looking up into the eyes of a smuggler.
The Coalition government has turned its watchful eyes towards them. If Anna and Jackson wish to stay free, they must learn what they are and why they exist.
Unfortunately, even if they do, it may be too late.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was seven, there was nothing I wanted more than to be a truck driver. One, they got to blare that amazing horn, but two, they got to travel across the country, nothing but the road and the journey. Admittedly, I don’t really have a need to honk that horn anymore (I lie, I so would if the chance was offered,) but the wanderlust never really went away.
What do you do now?
Presently, when I’m not writing strange fantasy stories, I do web development. Coding, like writing, is part art, part science.
I’m giving you a super power that will make your biggest dream come true–guaranteed. What’s going to happen?
I’d get the power of Being Very Wealthy, like Batman or Green Arrow! Seriously, though, my dream is to leave code behind and write full-time, and while I hope I can make that happen in the next few years, I don’t think there’s anything more I’m dreaming of now that I don’t already have in my life.
Did you ever give up on your dreams?
Yes. From high school on, I wanted to be an animator. I breathed the idea of visual storytelling – I studied film theory in college, and drew in my free time (I couldn’t afford to attend an animation program or an art school). Then the time came that it was time for me to either graduate and find work doing something else, or audition for a two-year animation school with my portfolio of work.
I was not the artist I wanted to be, however. Animation school did not work out. The ending of that story is that I went on a bender and threw 99.9% of my years of artwork into a tub of water, irretrievably destroying it. It was very dramatic, but cathartic. I desperately needed a reset button.
I’ve made the written word my home, and ultimately, I’m happy things worked out this way, far happier than I think I would have been as an animator (or a truck driver) knowing what I know now. It took years for me to pick up the pencil and doodle again, but it doesn’t pain me at all anymore. I even enjoy it more than I did before now that it’s just for myself.
What advice do you have for people who are trying to decide if they should chase their dreams?
Do it. If you succeed, you’ve gained much. And if you fail, like I sometimes did, you will learn. More dreams will come. You’ll be better armed to chase them, and eventually, you’re going to catch one.
If you were a superhero, who would you be and why?
Mystique. The ability to shapeshift was always an idea that fascinated me. To become anything with only a thought…
A boy lay on the broken sidewalk, eyes closed. He was pale and thin, looking not a day over ten years old. His half-clothed body shuddered against the chilly night air. His bony frame scraped against the grime of the street as he curled into himself, trying to keep back the cold. Overhead, the stars hung bright and lonely.
In the alley, almost invisible against the midnight darkness, a man stood tall over the boy. His well-pressed suit was as black as the shadows, as his skin, and as the raven on his shoulder. The way he hovered over the child, he seemed a strange guardian. But his eyes were turned upwards to the sky, away from the boy’s plight, as if it was no real matter. In those black eyes the stars were mirrored, impossible and brilliant. Those eyes stared back into the past, when the celestial lights were loved and revered, when each constellation had a story.
Once upon a time… this was when the world had sung to him, the dream-walker, the song-weaver, the star-stringer.
Once, before humans had forgotten his name.
Now, the starry sky was almost hidden by the glowing blue haze of the Barrier, a shield cast over what was left of the city: proud New York, ruined, rebuilt, defiant.
The stranger kept staring upwards into oblivion, even as the boy let out an unhappy whimper, chills wracking his weak frame. The raven flew from the stranger’s shoulder then, alighting onto the sidewalk, picking past the weeds and rubble. It rejoined its fellows who had settled amicably around the child, oblivious to the fact that ravens were all supposed to be dead. One hundred years ago, poison had leeched into the earth, into the grass, into the grazers, and into the corpses left behind. The blight spared little, its kind no exception. Regardless, this impossible creature affectionately brushed at the boy’s dark hair with its beak.
At the touch, the boy awoke with a start. His wide, uncomprehending eyes took in the world as he struggled to sit up, his head swinging around wildly, past awnings and high rises he had never seen, past scrawled words and graffiti he could not understand. He teetered to his feet, then fell back down again as his knees gave out, sending the birds around him into flight.
He saw no starry eyes in the darkness, no stranger standing nearby. He was half-naked, shivering, hungry, and alone, his head aching down to his teeth. The nameless boy shook off the dreams he couldn’t remember and wondered where he was.
If there had been any passersby on that cold autumn night, they would have sworn that this boy hadn’t been there a minute ago, and no stranger or ravens had been there at all.
Q & A About Raven Song:
What makes Raven Song unique?
I talk a lot about its connection to old stories and magic in a dark future—not something headlining a lot of fantasy right now, and something I love—but what really makes this story special is its characters. All of them have their own tragedies, heroism, fears, and loves at their core, all human, even when they’re doing terrible or wonderful things. New York City has always been a diverse place, bubbling over with different people and viewpoints, and I tried very hard to keep that feeling alive.
And the two that share this tale, Jackson and Anna, are inextricably bound up together. Their stories are almost mirrors, one in shadow and dreams, the other in light and rationality (albeit rationality attempting to cope in such a world). This adventure simply could not happen without them both, and I’m told most readers, based on their own perspectives, tend to resonate very strongly to one or the other, which is fascinating to me.
How many more books are planned?
Four, and presently, as I write the second, I’m only hoping that number doesn’t press to five. There are a lot of stories I’d love to share with you, and Anna and Jackson’s… it’s only the first, though what a story I hope it will be!
I also have a New Adult series planned in the same universe, and am beginning to scheme a standalone dark comedy from the perspective of a demon.
Who will like your writing the most?
I’m willing to bet it will be people that like what I like: stories like the ethereal dreams Neil Gaiman pens, the sense of fantasy and adventure J. K. Rowling flourished, or perhaps the darker, gritter worlds of fiction such as Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, or Charlie Human’s Apocalypse Now Now.
This story blends elements of several genres, and I’d be willing to venture that even if not every one of those items appeals to you, you’ll still find something you’ll very much enjoy here.
What made you decide to write this series?
Raven Song began life very differently! My gaming group—think something like Dungeons and Dragons— was working on a campaign together that featured superheroes in a post-apocalyptic society. It was very X-men in feel, with a Lovecraftian monster villain and the occasional alien space battle. In other words, a lot of it was nothing like this book. But, there were some familiar personalities and ideas: a brilliant scientist, a smuggler with secrets, and a government agent ridden with guilt. The seeds were there. And an idea began to gnaw at me.
I began to realize I craved magic and monsters in dystopian fiction, a genre I loved, but one that typically bent sci-fi instead of fantasy. So, I started writing about primordial gods most humans had forgotten, delving into how magic might operate in such a place. As time went on, I re-imagined the characters and the setting, throwing a lot out that wouldn’t work in a tightly-focused novel, but wanting to preserve the soul of the game and people that inspired me.
I think by this point, I realized something special had grabbed me and wasn’t letting go. I’d never written anything book-length in my life. But, the words kept coming. The dreams kept getting stranger.
A year and a half later, Raven Song was sitting in front of me, so different from what I think anyone thought it would be. It was still fantastical, but more human and vulnerable, the dark elements seeping in through the cracks, the magic laced in every aspect. It had become solidly dystopian fantasy, character driven and unusual in its premise.
It was then I realized there was so much more to this story, so much magic to discover, and I might never stop writing again.