‘Ariadne, I Love You’ Blog Tour: An interview with J. Ashley-Smith
The Horror Tree Presents- an interview with J. Ashley-Smith
By Ruschelle Dillon
Ruschelle: I’m thrilled to welcome dark horror author J. Ashley-Smith to my scary little branch of the Horror Tree. His newest offering, Ariadne, I Love You, is making herself pretty for her Meerkat Press debut in July. Authors plan their upcoming works ‘coming out’ parties so it gets the recognition it deserves. What do you have planned so your newfound fan can follow the journey?
J. Ashley-Smith: Thank you, Ruschelle. I’m stoked to be here.
Ariadne, I Love You launches on 20 July, and we’ve got a whole bunch of great stuff lined up to celebrate. Meerkat Press has been working tirelessly to arrange a sweet blog tour, and I’ll be stopping by some friendly sites to say hi, answer questions, talk about the book, share a guest post or two, and for certain there will be a playlist in there as well. You can hook into the tour on the Meerkat website.
I’ve got my fingers crossed that there will also be a real, live, in-person book launch at some point in the year as well (Australia only, at this stage).
Ruschelle: You were a musician in your past life. A bass player! Let’s be honest, once a musician always a musician. How did your experience as a musician inspire your novella Ariadne, I Love You? What experiences from you being a musician made their way into your novelette?
J. Ashley-Smith: Yes, for my sins. I was in a band at uni that got signed not long after, which carved my twenties into a very particular shape. There’s a kind of all-excluding hunger that anyone who’s ever aspired to success in a band will recognise. You live for it. The music itself is a world, and you want to live in that world alone. And yet there are all these burdensome responsibilities outside of that—the whole uncomfortable “real world,” of jobs and bills and rent and feeding yourself—which, unlike the music, you cannot control. That hunger and its consequences drove a good deal of the plot of Ariadne, it shaped the character of Jude, and gave me an entry point to the world and the time in which it was set.
Ruschelle: As a writer of the dark and spooky, like the ghosts in The Attic Tragedy, do you believe in the supernatural? How about cryptids, or aliens or, since you live in Australia, Bunyips or ((gulp)) evil drop bears?? Have you had any strange ‘experiences’ of your own?
J. Ashley-Smith: Growing up, I was always obsessed by the idea of the supernatural. I lived in an old Edwardian house in Cambridge and had a number of experiences there that spooked the hell out of me. I loved all those Mysteries of the Unexplained type picture books, with photos of kids floating above their beds, cups and saucers being flung around by poltergeists, mediums excreting ectoplasm, and the like. It’s an obsession that carried me well into uni, where I had access to grown-up versions of those books – classics like Raudive’s Breakthrough and histories of paranormal research in the USSR. A friend of mine did a psychology dissertation on modern spiritualism, and the two of us (for several years) visited a local spiritualist church – an experience that fed directly into my own creative projects at the time. I was always hungry for life to be more, for there to be a hidden side to everything that could not simply be explained away.
All of that definitely shaped the stories that interest me and sets a kind of tone in those stories. These days, I’m a lot more cynical (a position borne out by having never, ever, once seen a drop bear). But the world is a mysterious place, and the mind that perceives it is a mystery too. There’s still so much that falls outside the tiny beam of our knowledge and awareness. Who knows what’s out there? (Cue the Twilight Zone theme…)
Ruschelle: In 2016 you were a judge for the AWHA short story competition. After years of submitting your own stories for publication, waiting for an acceptance or the disappointing rejection, how did you feel being on the other side? How easy was it for you making the hard decisions?
J. Ashley-Smith: Sadly, I did the years of rejection thing in reverse. One of the first stories I ever submitted was published in an Australian horror anthology. The next story I sent out won the Australasian Horror Writers Association short story competition. The years of rejection came after those two lucky breaks.
Being a judge for that same competition was a great honour and a genuine pleasure. But unlike editing an anthology, judging a comp is binary – a story either wins or it doesn’t. I read so many stories that I loved but which weren’t quite there. I wanted so much to reach out to the authors and say, “This was fantastic, and with a bit more work, a few more tweaks, it would be *chef’s kiss*.” But if it needs more work, the bottom line is that it’s not going to win. The stories that won that year were weird, original, creepy as all hell. They each stood out in their own unique way.
Ruschelle: From that experience, do you now write from a ‘judges’ perspective? Meaning, do you look at your story and write it as how you think it will fair in a hard critique or do you just write what you feel makes your story great?
J. Ashley-Smith: I write from the inside out. What brings a story to life for me, what sets me on fire, is that moment when one or more of your characters become realer than flesh and blood people in your own life. That’s when a story starts to move, when it begins to write itself.
I never think about a story from the perspective of “What will people like?” or “What would make this win an award?” I don’t think about categories or genre. So many aspects of the writing life – especially those relating to books and stories once they’re published – is completely out of your control. The only bit that is truly yours is the story itself. If I let go and let the story tell me what it wants, and if I listen closely to that, pursue that, I know I’ll end up with something that I love.
Ruschelle: Have your children made their ‘debut’ in any of your stories? Have they inspired any characters?
J. Ashley-Smith: I’ve never (yet) written my kids into any of my stories—not in a straight, one-to-one translation anyway. Having said that, the experience of parenthood has influenced me hugely: watching from the front row the weird tragic comedy of human life becoming itself. Many of my stories do feature children, and many of those children exhibit this or that characteristic “borrowed” (read: stolen) from my kids or the kids of friends.
Ruschelle: Musician question! If you could write a strange and sticky tale about a famously deceased musician, and not be haunted by them- or their lawyers still on retainer-who might it be and what might you craft for their story.?
J. Ashley-Smith: Wow, that is a wide and fertile field to reap. Of all the died-too-young musicians I could write a story about, the one that would interest me most would have to be Nick Drake. What kind of ghosts and visions haunted that quiet, solitary young man, who created such aching music, and yet found life so intolerable that he overdosed (intentionally or accidentally) on his own antidepressants. Ultimately bleak, melancholy AF. Hmmm… *reaches for notebook*
Ruschelle: Authors strive to create works that are perfect. Sometimes, after a story or book has been published, we wish we might have done something different in our creation. After-the-fact, have you ever felt that way about anything you have written?
J. Ashley-Smith: God, yes. But you have to let it go.
I’m never unhappy with the stories themselves, it’s only ever the execution. And that’s mostly caused by the yawning eons between when a story is written and when it finally sees print. As author, you are aware of all the things you didn’t quite nail, all the weaknesses you bolstered with literary gaffer tape. And the passage of time makes all those things seem bigger, more all-consuming.
But I’d rather accept that a story is a record of my obsessions and abilities at a particular point in time; accept it and move on. Put all that energy into the next thing.
Ruschelle: Horror is made up of many sub-genres; Splatterpunk, Gothic lit, Slasher, Supernatural etc. What does your writing, and reading gravitate towards? Is there a genre you’d like to try and is there one which you have no interest in dipping into?
J. Ashley-Smith: I don’t think about genre at all when I’m writing a story—and once I’ve finished I mostly end up looking at it askance and going, “What even is that?” Most of the stories I write tend to hover around the ‘quiet’ end of the horror spectrum. I like it when the creepy stuff is in the background. It feels more lifelike (to me, at least), and I find it more scary that way, more unsettling. I read a lot of horror when I was a kid and I have a formative memory of reading a book by Dean Koontz that scared the crap out of me—right up until he showed the monster. As soon as I saw it I was like, “Oh. That’s a bit shit.” And all the terror and tension was gone. I’ve always remembered that and it continues to influence how I write.
While I favour the quiet and the understated, I’m not averse to explosions of terrible violence and gore. But, when I go there I want it to feel surprising and inevitable, as horrific and confronting as violence in the world outside of fiction.
Ruschelle: People either enjoy reading a book or they don’t and wish to have stories read to them. Which, I must say is a hot commodity in the world of Audible. Do your plans for your books, current and forthcoming, include audiobooks?
J. Ashley-Smith: Indeed they do! Ariadne, I Love You will be released as an audiobook at around the same time as it comes out in non-sonic formats. I’m super excited about this. For one reason, I love audiobooks, and listen to at least as many books as I read. Mostly, though, I’m excited because I’ll be the one reading it.
My favourite part of almost every day is story-time with each of my boys. Even as they get older, it continues to be a great pleasure—perhaps more so now we get to read more complex and interesting books. Of course, recording an audiobook is quite a different beast, but I’m getting the same amount of enjoyment out of it. It’s an enormous buzz to bring your own stories to life in such a visceral way.
Ruschelle: Okay, your bio mentions gathering moth dust. Do the moths mind you stealing their dust? What do you do with said dust?
J. Ashley-Smith: Harvesting dust without objection from the moth is the art of the dust gatherer. A pinch rubbed into the corner of the eyes will induce visions and euphoria. A sharp inhalation of moth dust brings knowledge and messages from the beyond. The dreams inside a cup of moth-dust tea are more real than reality itself, last many lifetimes, and bestow upon the dreamer extraordinary powers: astral flight, precognition, and dissolution of the self across packs of wolves, murmurations of starlings, and (of course) eclipses of moths.
Ruschelle: ((Note to self- start snorting moths)) Spook Tapes is the name of your online author site. Would you give us a little insight to why you use that particular name? You can make up something outlandish if you’d like, we’re all spinners of tall-tales here.
J. Ashley-Smith: I think it comes out of my abiding obsession with Konstantin Raudive’s investigations into electronic voice phenomena. Raudive taped thousands of hours of roomsound under what he described as “strict laboratory conditions.” From these tapes issued the voices of the dead. Raudive and his collaborators documented these utterances—their hallucinatory weirdness made a deep impression on me.
Either that, or I’m paranoid AF about being bugged by the FBI.
Ruschelle: What project or projects are you working on that we all can look forward to reading, listening or watching?
J. Ashley-Smith: This is a big year for me, for finishing big things. I’m just putting the finishing touches on a collection, and, once that’s done and dusted, will turn to the final revisions of a novel I’ve been chipping away at for the last five years. It’s very exciting to be so close to finishing both projects. I can’t wait to tell you more about them… soon.
Ruschelle: Thank you so much for hanging out with me here at the Horror Tree! It’s been a pleasure. So, will you please tell your newfound fans how they might find you on the www?
J. Ashley-Smith: Thank you! It’s been a blast. You can find me online at spooktapes.net, or reach out to me on Twitter @SpookTapes. Hope to catch you there.
ARIADNE, I LOVE YOU by J. Ashley-Smith
RELEASE DATE: July 20, 2021
GENRE: Dark Fantasy / Horror
BOOK PAGE: https://meerkatpress.com/
Jude is dragged out of Alt-Country obscurity, out of the dismal loop of booze and sadness baths and the boundless, insatiable loneliness, to scrub up and fly to Australia for a last, desperate comeback tour. Hardly worth getting out of bed for—and he wouldn’t, if it weren’t for Coreen.
But Coreen is dead. And, worse than that, she’s married. Jude’s swan-song tour becomes instead a terminal descent, into the sordid past, into the meaning hidden in forgotten songs, into Coreen’s madness diary, there to waken something far worse than her ghost.
J. Ashley Smith is a British–Australian writer of dark fiction and other materials. His short stories have twice won national competitions and been shortlisted seven times for Aurealis Awards, winning both Best Horror (Old Growth, 2017) and Best Fantasy (The Further Shore, 2018). His novella, The Attic Tragedy, was released by Meerkat Press in 2020 and has since been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award, an Australian Shadows Award, and a Shirley Jackson Award
J. lives with his wife and two sons in the suburbs of North Canberra, gathering moth dust, tormented by the desolation of telegraph wires.
Ariadne, I Love You is now available from Meerkat Press.
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Ruschelle Dillon is a freelance writer whose efforts focus on the dark humor and the horror genres. Ms. Dillon’s brand of humor has been incorporated in a wide variety of projects, including the irreverent blog Puppets Don’t Wear Pants and novelette “Bone-sai”, published through Black Bed Sheet Books as well as the live-action video shorts “Don’t Punch the Corpse” and “Mothman”. She also interviews authors for the Horror Tree website.
Her short stories have appeared in various anthologies and online zines such as Strangely Funny III, Story Shack, Siren’s Call, Weird Ales- Another Round and Women in Horror Anthology Vol. 2, Sanitarium Magazine, Dark Voices and Fear and Fables. Her collection of short stories, Arithmophobia published by Mystery and Horror LLC, is available through Amazon & Barnes and Noble. Summer 2020, Black Bed Sheet Publishing will release her dark Novella, The Stain.