We at Cabin in the Woods are so excited to bring you our first Indie Author Interview – with one of our founding members, no less!
Holly Ash is the author of the underwater science fiction series The Journey Missions. She has worked for the last ten years as an Environmental Engineer after receiving degrees in Environmental Science and English Literature from Central Michigan University. Her first published novel, Crystal & Flint, debuts one month from today!
Crystal & Flint follows Lieutenant Commander Crystal Wolf as she races to finish construction of the mega submarine, Journey, in order to calm political tensions on the planet Neophia and cement her already stellar military career. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Desiree Flint is facing the end of her own military career; determined to rebuild her reputation on Neophia, no matter the cost, she sets her sights on dethroning Commander Wolf in order to prove her own superiority.
When Journey is attacked by someone from Crystal’s past, the two women must find a way to work together to save the ship, liberate an underwater colony from an oppressive government, and prevent a war.
We can’t wait to have this book on our shelves!! To tide us all over until the book’s release, check out this CITW-exclusive interview with the author:
1) I’ll give you the traditional starting question that all readers are dying to know: Where did the idea for Crystal & Flint, and the Journey series as a whole, come from?
Back when I was in junior high a friend and I used to write fanfiction for an old 90s sci-fi TV show called Seaquest. We had each created a character, Crystal was mine and Desi’s was hers, and put them into the story. When we both fessed up to doing this, we decided to combine them into one and spent the better part of a school year passing printed copies of our fanfic to each other in the halls, since this was back before it was common for everyone to have the internet at home. We stopped writing the fanfic once we entered high school but the characters always stayed with me.
Years later, when I still considered writing more of a hobby, I wanted to do something with these characters that meant so much to me, so I decided to give them their own story. I started to think of ways I could move the story away from fanfiction, while maintaining the elements I loved of the original work, mainly the soft military themes and the submarine. From there the planet of Neophia, the genetic mutations that give the Sertex and Aquineins their special abilities, the political tensions with Earth were all born. Crystal and Flint is the readers’ first introduction to this world and a chance to really get to know all these characters before the rest of the series starts to change them.
2) I love that Crystal and Desi have been around with you for so long. They needed their story to be told, no matter what – and what a story it is! People love to do the whole “Book is X meets Y.” How would you pitch Crystal and Flint in that way, and why those sources?
I like to say the Journey series is Star Trek goes underwater. I think the two stories have a very similar feel with the soft military themes and heavy character focus, with some cool action scenes thrown in. I didn’t want to write a hardcore military novel, especially since I was never in the military myself, so you’ll notice that the LAWON military in the story is much more lax with more freedoms for the soldiers than what people typically think. And of course the story doesn’t take place in space, hence the whole underwater part.
3) Star Trek goes underwater is such a unique premise, especially since, like you said, most Sci-Fi is space-based! Judging from the synopsis, readers can bet they’re in for an amazing Sci-Fi experience, space or not! Were there any themes in particular you went into the story with, or did Crystal and co. develop the story’s moral as you followed them?
I really wanted to normalize having females in typical male roles. We have Crystal and Desi both act as combat leaders with male and female soldiers reporting to them which would typically be a male role or called out as a special situation that it’s a woman leader. I didn’t want to have any mentions like that. They are simply the best qualified for that position. We also see Crystal leading a major construction project, which might be the more gender-bending role. I’ve spent a lot of time working in manufacturing and construction and more often than I’ve been the only female sitting in a room full of men. I wanted to show Crystal and Desi in these situations without a lot of the barriers that women in typical male roles face today. Kind of like a light at the end of the tunnel for working women, without really throwing in in the reader’s face.
By the same token I wanted to write my male characters to subvert male stereotypes while still being believable. By far, the softest, most emotionally open and romantic character in the book is Justin. Then you have Grady who on the surface has all the traits that are typically deemed male, but he has no issues following or putting his complete trust into Crystal, who besides being female is also younger and attractive. Grady never once questions her judgement or tries to undermine her authority because he knows that Crystal knows what she is doing.
4) It’s always so inspiring to me when writers work from their own experiences, like you with the only-woman-at-the-table situation. It makes the story so unique to its creator! So tell us a little about your process! What did it take to get Journey from a finished draft to this polished beauty we see before us today?
This book is 8 drafts, 2 complete rewrites and 10+ years in the making. I wrote the first draft of Crystal and Flint while I was in college and still had naive ideas about what it takes to be an author, like it’s easy and writing only when you’re inspired. Needless to say I didn’t make a lot of progress those first 8 years, there was even a two year gap where I didn’t write at all after my son was born. It was a little over two years ago that it hit me that if I wanted be a serious writer I needed to stop thinking about it as an art that can only be created when the muses are smiling, and start thinking of it as a business. I trained myself to write when uninspired, to develop the habit of writing every day. I realized that I need concrete goals with strict deadlines to help keep me motivated. I still write several drafts for each book since I tend to write lean first drafts and work to flesh out the story in the next couple of drafts, but I’m able to get them done much faster than I did in the past. It’s not a perfect system, I didn’t write for several months this year when I was pregnant with my daughter as I was too sick to function for most of it, but it works for me. It also has helped me tremendously to have found such an amazing group of writers to work with and hold me accountable.
5) I am all about writers finding the system that works for them, and the idea of writing even when the muses aren’t smiling is super motivating! What about balancing writing and the demands of your daily life? How do you make time to work on Crystal’s story while juggling day-to-day stuff?
Balance is really a relative term. I think it really comes down to setting priorities. Some days writing is my top priority and that’s where I spend my time and energy, some days it’s my kids that need me more, sometimes its work, or family obligation and once in a great while I focus everything on self-care. There are little things that I do on a day to day basis to make sure I get my writing time in too. I’ve learned to focus quickly and write or edit in short burst. Some days the only time I have to write is fifteen minutes while dinner is cooking and the kids are watching tv. I’ve taught myself to recognize those small pockets of time and capitalize on them. I also have a really involved and supportive husband and does bed time with the kids most nights so that I have forty-five minutes of relative peace in the evenings to work. He is also really great about honoring and respecting my writing time, so if I say I want to go write at the coffee shop for a few hours Saturday morning he will do everything in his power to make sure I get that time and I’m not thinking about what’s going on at home.
6) Priorities and support system are SUPER IMPORTANT, and can I give three cheers for your husband? Best. Partner. Ever! Switching gears a bit – what made you choose self publishing over traditional publishing for Crystal and Desiree’s story?
I have control issues. Seriously though, I have such a personal connection to Crystal and Desi that I wasn’t comfortable with some suggestions agents and people in the publishing industry were making in order to make the book more marketable. I also knew that no matter, even if barely anyone reads the series, I wanted to be able to write it till the end. I knew that if I went with a traditional publisher there was a decent chance that I wouldn’t be able to write and publish all five books in the series like I wanted to.
7) I hear you about needing control. It’s a huge breaking point for many who choose the self publishing route, and your choices are inspiring, especially in your dedication to telling the whole story! One of the benefits of self-publishing is total rights to series length! Can you give readers a hint of how many adventures they can expect to see in the Journey series?
The Journey Mission series will have five books. I originally had ideas for roughly 9 stories but I wanted the overarching plot of the series to be the buildup of war between Teria and LAWON so I cut out the stories ideas that didn’t tie into that. I have toyed with the idea of doing a Lost Missions series that would cover those other story ideas and I have a few ideas for spinoff books as well, at the moment I’m most excited about the possibility of a spin off book that would focus on Crystal and Gray’s time working counter terrorism together.
8) I AM ALL ABOUT 9 STORIES IN THIS SERIES! Yes, please! I’ve had the privilege of knowing these characters before the story was even finished, and I have to say my favorite is a certain member of Crystal’s crew who often encourages her to take a load off! Who was your favorite character to write in Crystal & Flint? How about your least favorite?
Grady is by far my favorite character to write, especially his interactions with Crystal. He is so sarcastic and witty and the way he supports Crystal no matter what is awesome. The two of them have such a rich backstory that is makes writing their scenes so easy. My favorite thing about Grady is that he wasn’t supposed to be major character in the series. I had only planned for him to add a little comic relief and operate more in the background, but the character wouldn’t stand for it. When developing the story I needed to give Crystal a deeper reason to be so protective of her career and the military other than she is really good at it. Grady represents that connection to her. He is her family more than anyone else in the story.
On the other hand Justin is hands down my least favorite character to write. I had such a hard time getting his character right. My critique partner told me after reading an early draft that Justin came across as a needy puppy with creepy stalker tendencies and not in a cute way. It sounds harsh, but she was spot on. I think part of the reason I’ve struggled so much with him is that of all the characters his personality is the furthest from my own. That’s why I think it’s so interesting that he is one of your favorites. I guess I got him right in the end, which is what really matters. But boy was it hard work getting him there.
9) I would never have guessed Justin caused so much trouble! Clearly, having critique partners who tell the hard truths is VITAL to helping us get the story right! (And I definitely love the newer versions of Justin!) Considering your own journey, any advice for your fellow self-publishing authors? What’s been the best part of this process for you?
The best advice I can give is that it’s ok to slow down and do things at your own pace. I think there’s a lot of pressure for indie authors to publish quickly. I’ve attended a lot of conferences and talks about self-publishing and they all say pretty much the same thing: the faster you can put your books out the more you will sell. Which is great once you’re already established and know what you are doing. I think it’s important to remember when listening to speakers about self-publishing who put out 4+ books a year that they’ve been doing this for a while and are experts in it. That’s why they are being paid to give the talk in the first place. New authors need to remember that it’s ok to go slower than that. To take your time and learn the process and make sure that you are producing quality work you can be proud of. The best part of self-publishing is that you have all the control, so if it’s a year between putting out your first and second book there is nothing to say you can’t start remarketing the first book a few months before the second book comes out to increase sales on both. You have that flexibility that you wouldn’t get with a traditional publisher. It’s not all or nothing right out of the gate.
10) Okay, we are soooo hitting you up for a blog post on self-publishing insight, because you clearly know what you’re doing! Love all of this advice! Last but not least, give us a snapshot of what makes Crystal & Flint memorable—why you would pick it up from the shelf, even if it wasn’t your book!
The most obvious thing that set’s Crystal and Flint apart from other science fiction series is that it takes place on a submarine, instead of on a spaceship. Personally I feel submarines are a highly underutilized ship. On a deeper level though, this story doesn’t have the reluctant hero storyline that has become so common. Crystal and Desi didn’t find themselves sacrificing and risking so much through some unfortunate series of events. They willingly chose this for themselves. They volunteered to put their lives on the line not out of desperation to save someone they love, but because they felt it was the right thing to do. They don’t ask why me or lament about their bad luck. They step up and face it head on so that others don’t have to. I think there is something truly honorable and amazing in that.
Like what you see here? Want to journey with Crystal and Desi and the rest of their crew on their self-chosen mission in the deep? You can purchase Crystal & Flint on October 15th at Amazon.com! Check out our Associated Books page for a purchase link as it becomes available!