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Tuesday, March 26, 2024

SPFBO 9 Finalist Interview: R.K. Ashwick, The Author of A Rival Most Vial

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: By day, R.K. Ashwick herds cats in the animation industry. By night, she writes, bakes, and herds her literal cat around her living room. She lives with her husband (and said cat) in California.

If you like fancy coats and silly ramblings, you can find R.K. on Tiktok and Instagram.

A Rival Most Vial links: AmazonGoodreads

When not writing, R.K. Ashwick loves to bake and draw. She lives in California with her husband and her cat, Leia.

(Yes, like Princess Leia.)

If you like fancy coats and silly ramblings, you can find R.K. on Tiktok and Instagram.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little about yourself.

Hi! I’m R.K. Ashwick, a cozy fantasy romance author. When I’m not writing (or, you know, working), I love to draw, craft, bake, and play cozy video games.

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it?

I do indeed! I work in animation production. Yes, that does mean I get to write serious emails about fart jokes.

Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influencers?

Two of my core influencers are Diana Wynne Jones and Tamora Pierce- they basically injected dragons into my DNA. In terms of current favorites, I’m really enjoying Megan Bannen and T.J. Klune, among many others.

Can you lead us through your creative process? What works and doesn’t work for you? How long do you need to finish a book?

I’m still very early on in my writing career (I only have two books out), but it takes me a year to a year and a half to finish a book. I’m a huge plotter- I have not outlines, but outlining charts- and it takes me many, many editing passes to get to a finished product. First, the garbage draft, where it’s just words on a page, then many iterations of noting, re-outlining, rewriting, and editing, just to get it to a place where I can share it with beta readers. After that, I do a few more passes, then kick it over to a line editor and proofreader.

What do you think characterizes your writing style?

I can only hope this comes through in my writing, but I really try to focus on paragraph flow and rhythm when I’m editing. And I mean rhythm in almost a literal sense- I often have a pattern of beats in mind that I want to wrap the words around. For example, I’ll know I want a series of short, choppy words leading to a joke at the end, or a fragmented run-on leading to a crescendo, then a quick, punchy line to cut it all short. These ideas start out as beats without actual words assigned to them- after that, it’s just a matter of staring at the Word doc until I find the right words. (Sometimes there’s crying and cookies involved.)

What made you decide to self-publish A Rival Most Vial as opposed to traditional publishing?

I’ll be honest, I’m too impatient to slog through the querying process. It was either to wait years to fail in the query trenches, or keep total control over my book (and the cover and illustrations!) and see it released within a year.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of self-publishing?

Favorite parts: maintaining creative direction over all elements of the book, like the cover, formatting, and illustrations. Also, just holding my book in my hands? Wow. Crazy. Still can’t believe it.

Least favorite parts: oh my god the marketing.

Contrary to many self-published authors, you went wide instead of being Kindle exclusive. Why? Did it pay off?

KU is really great for romance authors, particularly spicy ones, but my books don’t quite fall into that genre, so I wasn’t confident I’d see the same success there. I also didn’t want to be completely beholden to the whims of the ‘Zon for my money and distribution.

Why did you enter SPFBO?

A friend on a writing Discord posted the opportunity, so I figured why not! It sounded cool!

What would you do if you won the SPFBO?

After explaining to my parents what SPFBO stands for? Probably bake a cake and eat it.

How would you describe the plot of A Rival Most Vial if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

Two rival potioneers apply for a lucrative joint commission and soon find a particular sort of chemistry brewing between them.

What was your initial inspiration for A Rival Most Vial? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea?

I was falling asleep one night when the phrase “rival potion shops” dropped into my head. As you can tell, that core idea stayed very much the same over the year that I worked on it. I knew I wanted two men, a grumpy/sunshine pairing, and an adorable family of merchants around them, but a lot of the details surrounding that evolved. I added dual POV after the first test draft, Sherry went from being an orc to being a human, and Tom the Automaton didn’t exist until draft three.

If you had to describe it in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Queer cozy fantasy!

Is it part of the series or a standalone? If series, how many books have you planned for it?

Series! A Rival Most Vial is the first in a trilogy.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to A Rival Most Vial’s protagonists/antagonists?

I will happily talk about my beloved potion trio.

Ambrose Beake: potion master and owner of The Griffin’s Claw potion shop. He’s the grumpy of the grumpy/sunshine pairing and one of our POV characters. Pale elf with blue hair, rigid posture, formal tone, and…so much trauma. Please, someone, give this man a hug.

Eli Valenz: the outgoing owner of Eli’s Elixirs, which just opened across the street from The Griffin’s Claw! A marketing whiz, a dazzling conversationalist, and he’s handsome to boot. Ambrose wants him gone.

Dawn Kerighin: the ambitious, prodigious owner of The Whirling Wand Emporium- and Ambrose’s oldest friend. She’s as bright and bubbly as her firework wands, and she is going to be famous for her work, burnout be damned.

Does your book feature a magic/magic system? If yes, can you describe it?

Look, Ambrose would do a much better job explaining the minutiae of potioneering in this world, but I can tell you that it’s a hard magic system all based on magical artificing. No one in Laskell is born with innate magic- it all comes from natural materials in the world. So, rather than someone just shooting magic from their hands, it has to come from a crafted good of some kind, whether that’s magical jewelry, clothing, armor, wands, potions, or food.

Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of A Rival Most Vial and the artist?

I knew I wanted something bright and fun, and personally, I’m obsessed with highly illustrated, meticulously composed covers. I sent my designer Andrew Davis a few reference covers along this vein along with the types of objects I wanted to see (like swords, potion bottles, dragon wings) and he totally knocked it out of the park. I also worked with Andrew on my cover for The Stray Spirit.

Which question about the book do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Question: hey, how many personal Dungeons & Dragons references did you add to this book?

Answer: So many, thank you for asking! I’ve got at least seven hidden references to my friend’s DnD characters, my own characters, and my husband’s campaigns.

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2022/2023? [I think you mean 2023/2024?

I’m aiming to release the audiobook for A Rival Most Vial this month before Thanksgiving! After that, I’m hoping to release The Spirit Well (the sequel to The Stray Spirit) in March and A Captured Cauldron (the sequel to Rival) in October.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

I hope you take a chance on the cozy fantasy genre in general! It spans such a wide range of books; I know you’ll find something you love there.



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