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Today I’d like to introduce Ashely Caggiano author of The Weary Traveler

Tell me about yourself. What inspired you to write?

I didn’t start speaking for an abnormally long time after I should have according to all the developmental books. My mom says it was because I was just listening, and while it was much more likely because of some pretty intense anxiety, she wasn’t necessarily wrong: I was listening too. I’ve always enjoyed observing the world and the people in it, figuring out why things are how they are and making up reasons when there wasn’t an answer. That’s where stories come in—the intersection of “why,” “I don’t know,” and “what if?” I found that I liked telling stories, but that whole being quiet thing ended up counter to ever being listened to, so writing became the best way to express myself without being interrupted. See, you just read this whole paragraph, didn’t you?

I turned to fantasy fairly early and never left because it always has more to give. Magic can be terrible, but it’s also fun and ridiculous, and its ability to cut a reader off from the “real world” while still representing actual struggles people have is a great tool for storytelling. Plus, I love love, and isn’t that the most magical thing of all? Ew, gross, I know, but that’s the other part: fantasy lets you be corny and get away with it. Sometimes readers even like it.

While I’ve always liked observing, I’ve also always wanted to fix things and help people. I don’t really have the ability or the tools to do that in most cases, but I know for myself, stories have always been a place of escape, healing, and ultimately growth. So if I can give that to anyone else, then maybe I am capable of doing a tiny bit of that fixing after all.

Describe your desk / writing space.

I’m a nomadic writer, but I do have my favorite spots, depending on what stage I’m in. I brainstorm and plot from a desk with a whiteboard beside it, every surface covered in notebooks and sticky notes and colored pens. I do first drafts from a big, comfy armchair or couch, nested in blankets, an oversized sweatshirt, and noise-cancelling headphones to discourage me from getting up. Most of my rewrites and edits are ping-ponging between those two, though lately I’ve been using a very small standing desk so I can do a lap of the room while I fill in plot holes and sort out dialogue. The necessities for any of these spots is a very hot or very cold drink, the ability to talk to myself without looking crazy, and at least one cat.

Do you have a writing routine or do you write when inspired?

I’m very lucky in that writing is my fulltime job, so it’s essentially what I do for the entire day. I find I’m most productive in the morning and late in the evening, so I start my day with a cup of coffee or tea and a short session of reading to get me in the right headspace, and then I use timed sprints to draft or hour-long blocks to edit. My afternoons are much of the same, but with more business tasks interspersed like writing emails or blogs. In the evening, after chores and dinner, I’ll pull my laptop out again and review what I thought was good that morning and either applaud myself or leave scathing notes for my future self to fix.

What was the hardest scene for you to write? Which scene was your favorite to write?

I’ve been finding lately that utilizing details from my real life, even when I add a fictional twist on them, has been hard. Write what you know, it’s true, but that doesn’t make it emotionally easy, yet those scenes are usually a lot more satisfying in the end. Lorelei goes on a tirade to the hearth sprites in The Weary Traveler about why she ended up at Moonlit Shores Manor, it’s very much stream-of-consciousness, rambley nonsense, but it’s meant as exposition and to give the reader a sense of who Lorelei is early on. While I only rewrote it once or twice, conceptualizing it and figuring out how to get it right was a real struggle.

My favorite scenes to write in the Vacancy series seem to be when Lorelei gets overwhelmed and has an outburst, like in the third act of book two when she confronts Mr. Carr (not a spoiler, it’s inevitable). It’s very cathartic to just let her unload on somebody and to say the things she’s had pent up for so long. I also love a good romance scene, but I end up rewriting them a lot to turn up or down the steaminess like at the Valentine’s Day party in The Wayward Deed.

Also, dirty jokes. If I manage to sneak one in, my cockiness knows no bounds.

What inspired your book/series?

I’ve always felt television was the perfect medium for storytelling, and I used to dream up this sitcom with a supernatural vibe that was a mix of Charmed, Fawlty Towers, and Friends. That’s Vacancy. It was originally a serial on my blog, but I knew I would reach more readers (and actually finish the dang thing) by novelizing it. I wanted to see a group of people with individual struggles come together to solve their genuine problems while constantly being interrupted by “real life,” and I wanted that “real life” to be full of absurd magic and campy situations.

Who is your favorite character from your book and would you get along?

From the Vacancy series, I have to say Bridgette just might be my favorite character, but she’s objectively awful, so we would absolutely not get along. In early iterations of this story, she was pretty one-dimensional and easy to dispassionately hate, but in novelizing the story I didn’t want her to be a caricature of a “mean girl” who just fulfilled “the other woman” role, so I fleshed her out and then fell in love with how she sees the world. Her view is grossly solipsistic and shallow, but in a twisted way she thinks she’s doing the right thing, and while her actions aren’t exactly justifiable, she ended up being complex in a way that I really hope translates to the page by the end of the trilogy. All that said, she does absolutely despicable things, but her snotty, valley girl lines are a lot of fun to write!

If you could live anywhere, in this world or fantasy, where would you live?

I fear I would get killed off in most of the fantasy worlds I love, or at the very least couldn’t stand them without daily access to a hot shower. The world of Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle is just so bright and magical and lovely though, it’s like a fairy tale and it has a bathtub, so it might be tolerable! In our world, I’d like to live on a secluded beach where I can sit in the sand and listen to the waves and the gulls while I type away endlessly. I’d just need a laptop that can handle sand and sunshine.

How do you come up with the title to your books?

Only after realizing I hate every single word and every possible mixture of them?? Titles are the worst, but I’ve come up with an okay method: make a list of important words, phrases, and concepts that convey the ambiance and theme of the book, then rewrite the list by combining words over and over in different orders while keeping the genre in mind. I try to write all my ideas down, even if I hate them (for a long time book two of Vacancy was called Occupancy), because it either gets the bad ideas out of my head, or leaves them there for future me to look back at and realize they weren’t so bad after all. (Spoiler: the latter is extremely rare and even more delightful!)

What are you working on next?

After Vacancy’s third and final book, The Willful Inheritor, is published this fall, I have a one-off sword and sorcery romcom in the works (working title Bad Blood, but you know how I feel about titles). I’m playing around with villain tropes and classic Halloween monsters and a more traditional, medieval setting for this one. It’s lighthearted while attempting to ask the question “what is evil, really?” I’m restricting that story to a standalone novel for my own sanity.

I’ve also got a vampire romance called Creatures and Covens on Kindle Vella that needs to be finished and then brought to ebook, and a weird, holiday horror/black comedy novella that I keep just failing to complete in time for December, so we’ll see if I can pull it off this year or if it’s fated for Christmas 2022. After that, I have a trilogy for 2022 called Blightwood that’s my first stab at a more serious fantasy epic with a slightly darker romantic subplot. Knowing me, that dark romance will morph into something a bit brighter, but the world revolves around a blighted forest, “dark” elves, and conflict between what is essentially heaven and hell, so it won’t be too bright.

What authors or books have influenced your writing?

Obligatory Harry Potter mention, of course. I look to Neil Gaiman when I’m trying to understand beautiful prose and how to submerge a reader into a world, and I read Gillian Flynn for a how-to on punching a reader right in the gut and crafting an unputdownable story (all stuff I’ll forever be a student of). If I could emulate even one percent of the joy and laughter I get from Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams, I’d consider my life fulfilled, and Diana Wynne Jones is the culmination of everything I want to inject in my writing: fantasy, comedy, heart, and the tiniest bit of good sense in the face of ridiculousness.

What is your favorite meal?

A box of generic-labeled mac n cheese and a diet soda. I don’t think I need to explain why.

Coffee or tea? Wine or beer?

I’m boring and don’t drink alcohol (my bitter receptors work overtime), but I love both coffee and tea! Of course, some people would say I’m not drinking either since I add lots of creamer and milk to a medium roast cold brew or hot chai, but if you dump a scoop of protein powder in either you’ve got a pretty good breakfast going, and the perfect way to wake your brain up for some writing!

Describe yourself in three words.

Really likes cats.

Author Bio:

Ashley is a self-published author who likes to write silly little stories that hopefully bring readers joy. She likes cats, guacamole, feminism, and the internet.

Lorelei Fischer desperately needed somewhere to spend the night, and, as if by magic, Moonlit Shores Manor appeared.

But there’s a cost for everything, magic included.

More than willing to escape her old life and fill the open position at the bizarre bed and breakfast, Lorelei quickly learns of the dangers waiting for her. She’s only human, after all, and casting spells, shifting into wild animals, and caring for mythical creatures aren’t exactly in the wheelhouse of a former barista and art school failure. At the manor, faeries might pull tricks on you while washing linens, werewolves might try to rough up your bellboy, and a shadowy presence in the woods might be your undoing if you ask too many questions.

With the help of her supernatural, live-in coworkers, Moonlit Shores Manor could be Lorelei’s sanctuary from her past mistakes. Though as the truth of the manor’s history unravels, it could just as likely become another place Lorelei must flee to save not just her reputation but her life.

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