Christmas, anytime

Sometimes I wonder if I start celebrating Christmas too early. I really don’t think there’s such a thing, but yes, that’s me. I start thinking about Christmas in July, I skip over Halloween for the most part, and consider Thanksgiving “Christmas Prelude”. I think Christmas isn’t uppermost in my mind probably from mid-February until the beginning of July, only. And, well, I could be lying.

At any rate, I wanted to share this video, which was my introduction to the incomparable Lindsey Stirling (thank you, Mark!), because my watching it is the start of all things Christmas-y for the year. So, yeah, I watched it in July and haven’t stopped yet. I love her other Christmas music videos and watch them, too, along with the Piano Guys. I’ll put on a bunch of them in a wonderful YouTube line up and go about my business for the day with them playing in the background. Enjoy!

The Shadows We Make – Reader Question #3

As you may know if you’ve read prior posts, I invited the followers on the Jo Allen Ash Facebook page to send me questions they might have about The Shadows We Make—characters, settings, something they might be wondering about the writing process, or whatever (within reason) interested them. The third question, from D.H., is:

Are you ever surprised by the characters’ stories and how they lead you forward?

Answer: For me, a one-word answer to this question sums it up: Always. I think most authors will tell you how characters have a life of their own, coming into their brains sometimes as total strangers, although before long taking up deep-rooted residence in the grey matter with their own unique personalities and motivations. Often, then, when a person is writing, the character so embedded into the subconscious will dictate where the story is going next, or at least their portion in the telling. It is, of course, the writer who is doing this, but it doesn’t feel that way and the results are often surprising and gratifying, because you can sense the “rightness” present in the character’s decision. As long as the author keeps true to the goals for the story, those multitudinous moments when the character takes you by the hand and says, “No, not that way! Over here. Come on,” works out to be the best direction for the story in the long run. I know many of my characters deserve my deepest gratitude for their assistance!

If you want a visual example of this process, watch the movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” about Charles Dickens’ writing of A Christmas Carol. It’ll be the perfect time of year soon to indulge yourself with it anyway, and you’ll remember this blog and say to yourself, “Oh, well heck, so that’s how it happens.”

Thanks, D.H.! Who’s next?

Whew, finished!

For now. Until the next one. It’s been a challenging learning curve, but I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve made the below book trailers for the three books released this year. The Shadows We Make, a critically acclaimed debut YA SF dystopia written as Jo Allen Ash and Hurry Home for Christmas, written as Robin Maderich and a re-issue (2nd Edition) of the first book in the Connor Falls Christmas series. Hurry Home for Christmas, with new cover and updated content, is available now in celebration of the upcoming When the Heart Brings You Home: A Connor Falls Christmas Collection, which is a three-novella in one volume November release, filled with all the holiday “feels”!

The Shadows We Make – Reader Question #2

As you may know if you’ve read prior posts, I invited the followers on the Jo Allen Ash Facebook page to send me questions they might have about The Shadows We Make—characters, settings, something they might be wondering about the writing process, or whatever (within reason) interested them. The second question, from Bella M., is:

You mention that Grace and her brothers get their names (as well as Grace’s green eyes) from her mother’s side. Who is her mother? Where do the names come from?

Answer: Although not explained in this book (The Shadows We Make) and only touched on in the next (The Thrice-Gifted Child), Grace’s mother, whose name is Aine, is a descendant of an extremely ancient line with ties to Earth. When her ancestry is discussed, the land from which her mother’s people are said to have originated is referred to by the ancient name of Eire. There will be more about this lineage and what it means to Grace.

Thanks, Bella M.! Who’s next?

Small Batch? Splendid!

Last weekend, my eldest son drove me around for some errand running. It was quite a bit past lunch time and we were contemplating whether we should stop and grab something or head home. Well, by chance (not really by chance, I insisted we head over that way) we pulled into the parking lot for Hometown Creamery over on Gravel Pike in East Greenville—Pennsylvania, for those who aren’t familiar. We’d both been talking about checking it out. Not a place for lunch, as far as I could tell, but, hey, you gotta live a little, right?

Egads, try live a lot, especially if you’re an ice cream lover.

In high anticipation, we exited my son’s vehicle and strode up to the front door of a building that has been many things over time, but which now houses, as the sign indicates, Hometown Creamery – Small Batch Ice Cream – Donuts – More. Like I said, not exactly a place for lunch. Definitely a place to satisfy a sweet tooth in the most wonderful way.

We paused beneath the green awning, glanced at the store hours, agreed we were skipping lunch after all and going straight to dessert, and went inside. Oh my. Oh, oh, oh my.

It’s a wide-open area upon entry (I believe all the seating is outside on park-type benches and an umbrellaed picnic table or two, but I may be mistaken—might have to go back again to check and, yeah, get some more ice cream) with a very friendly young woman directly ahead at the register. She instructed us with a smile to go to our left where we would await our turn to order. We happily complied, perusing the menu of delights with mouths open and an occasional swipe at drool.

I ended up after much indecision getting myself a fudge brownie with chocolate ice cream sundae, complete with whipped cream and maraschino cherries (I did say we hadn’t had lunch, didn’t I?) and my son had something called Tootie-Fruity with more words to follow. I can’t remember them right now. I have a feeling I was way too concerned with my own choice.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take this picture until I’d scarfed down a good bit of it!

Initially, and why I had delayed in trying out this wonderful new establishment, was a fear the ice cream would be stale. That happens sometimes in places where the flavors that don’t get eaten sit awhile. No such worries here. They mix their specialty ice creams in small batches, ensuring freshness every time. Add to that the wonderful creaminess, the sweetness, the OMG goodness and a rather old-time atmosphere, and, well, can you say ‘hooked’?

I’ll definitely be going back. In fact, once we’d finished our delectable, small-batch, ahem, lunches, I did return inside to take pictures for this blog. What I hadn’t noticed the first time around (due to my hyper-focus on the ice cream) was the long table covered with baskets of old-fashioned individual candies (nostalgia, anyone?) and the refrigerator filled with other dairy delights.

So, people, if you’re fans of ice cream, especially fans of the best darned small batch ice cream, head on over! It’s worth the trip, even if you’re not around the corner.

You can also check them out on their Facebook page (which I looked up) at: facebook.com/hometowncreamerypa

Happy eating!

The Shadows We Make – Reader Question #1

I recently invited the followers on the Jo Allen Ash Facebook page to send me questions they might have about The Shadows We Make—characters, settings, something they might be wondering about the writing process, or whatever (within reason) interested them. The first questions, from Don J., is:

How do you decide when to switch from one character to another during the story?

For those of you who have not yet read the book, The Shadows We Make is written entirely in the first person through the point of view of three different characters. Each character has her or his own unique voice. What Don wants to know is how I choose to switch the character/point of view throughout.

Answer: It’s not unusual to switch back and forth between points of view (POV) in fiction, but in this case, the switching is taking place between characters speaking in first person, making the task a little more challenging. As to how the decision is made to switch from one person to another, it is, after all my years writing, a matter of instinct, so it took me a while to figure out how to answer Don’s question.

I’ll start with the reason a writer (or at least this writer) switches from one character/POV to another character/POV. The switching over from one character to another helps to keep the pace going, keeps the tension up and, especially in the case of first person POV, offers glimpses into another character’s thoughts. Thoughts which are otherwise hidden to the reader, especially if what a character says and what he or she thinks, feels and does is entirely different from their verbal cues, or even their physical actions.

I am not an outliner (although, I’ve occasionally been forced into it), so I am unable to describe the switch as a decisive point along the storyline. For me, an answer to Don’s question is going to run something like this: The switch is not a concrete, has-to-be-this-way decision. The switch comes when the story and the characters demand it. It’s sort of like driving. You make a turn in the road when the time comes, when you subconsciously (or consciously) recognize the needed change in direction. It’s as though I find the characters waving me down, saying, yes, yes, this is the way. Wait until you discover what we have in store for you down here. As long as I don’t diverge too far off the path, the story I’m carrying in my head together with all the characters’ voices, emotions, motivations, contrariness, will get me and them where we’re meant to go.

Thanks, Don! Who’s next?

Again, with the peonies?

Of course. I love my peonies. I’m probably boring everyone with photos of peonies, but every year they fill the air with the most wondrous fragrance and the blooms grow more abundantly each season. I love the ethereal look of them, the way the ants industriously get them to bloom, the delicate, soft feel, the way they sit in a container so prettily… Okay, enough already, right?

I can’t help it. I love my peonies. And I guess they’re not really mine. They’re nature’s peonies, but they happen to reside in my garden.

This magenta variety has a different scent then the others, a much lighter one, but still nice.
I set them outside on the porch so I could brush the ants away as they appeared, then brought the bouquet inside to place on the windowsill.

Might I boast?

Silly thing to ask, but I’m not used to tooting my own horn. However, I received the most fantastic review for my upcoming release (July 14, 2022) of my debut as a young adult author with the dystopian, sci-fi/fantasy novel, The Shadows We Make, written using the pen name Jo Allen Ash.

When I first received the email advising the review had been completed, I actually got a bit sick to my stomach because, true to form, I wasn’t sure what to expect and felt nervous about looking at it. In fact, I delayed until hours later. What I found when I opened it made me grin until my cheeks ached and caused me to quickly text the exciting news to, well, everyone.

This is the quote I am using (although there are plenty I can pull, because it was all so wonderful, and I likely will for varying purposes):

“…intricate worldbuilding … complex characters … beautifully crafted … will appeal to readers of all ages.” – BookLife review

If you’re interested in reading the whole review, you can find it here.

Grace Irese, sixteen-year-old desert warrior with a chip on her shoulder, is gifted in ways she does not yet realize. Duncan Oaks, teenage member of the Grif-Drif con-artist guild, is a boy who has made one bad choice too many. Finding themselves remanded to an off-world juvenile facility with lifetime sentences, Grace and Duncan plot an escape into the horrific environment beyond, determined to save Duncan’s young sister from Grace’s war-torn world.  Can they and their unlikely companions survive their quest unscathed, or will they find they’ve been forever altered?

Set in dark alien worlds and told in the first person with three separate voices, The Shadows We Make is a fast-paced tale filled with conflict, bravery, a touch of strange magic and characters bound by unexpected friendship.

(PS: The Shadows We Make is available for pre-order now at on-line retailers and also from brick-and-mortar bookstores.)