Today I’m pleased to introduce you to R.K. Ashwick, one of my long-time friends on writeblr and the author of A Rival Most Vial which I reviewed last week, thanks to an advanced reader copy. I’m thrilled to have her on my blog today to talk about her upcoming release and publishing journey! This was such a fun interview and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed conducting it!
1. For a general introduction, can you tell me about yourself, how long you’ve been writing, and what you write?
RK: Sure! I’m R.K. Ashwick, a cozy fantasy romance author. I’ve been writing since I was kid, but writing seriously for almost three years now. In my spare time, I also draw!
2. Your new book, A Rival Most Vial, is your second self-published work. Was the experience going through the publishing process much different for ARMV as compared to your debut, The Stray Spirit?
RK: I’d like to think it was much smoother! With The Stray Spirit, I had to learn all about distribution sites, proper formatting, pre-order and release strategies, etc. With A Rival Most Vial, I knew a little more about what I was doing, which made it less stressful. Hopefully they just keep getting easier from here!
Etta: That’s good to hear! I know the publishing industry changes a lot year to year so I’m sure it’s a relief when the learning curve isn’t quite as steep.
3. I’ve seen A Rival Most Vial be compared to the popular cozy fantasy Of Legends and Lattes. I’ve not read that myself yet, but I’m curious, are there any other works that specifically inspired you to write ARMV?
RK: Ooh, good question! First off, I’m thrilled people are comparing it to Legends and Lattes. That style of slice-of-life cozy was definitely an inspiration, and it’s the biggest cozy fantasy on the lists right now. But weirdly, I was also inspired by cozy video games. There are several, like Littlewood, Stardew Valley, Moonlighter, and Potion Permit, that really focus on the everyday lives of villagers who live in an otherwise very large world, and I wanted to tell a story set in a place like that.
Etta: Oh that’s so fun! I’ve only recently started playing video games, but I remember during the Lockdown Years that cozy games like those were a big comfort and escape for a lot of people, so that’s delightful knowing it was an inspiration for a book that’s also a comforting break from reality. Thanks for the recommendations!
4. Now onto a question about the story itself: do you relate more to Ambrose, Eli, or one of the other characters? Who did you find easier to write and why?
RK: This one made me laugh because it’s absolutely Ambrose. Both Ambrose and I are major introverts and have similar feelings on things like parties and loud crowds. But I also can relate to the issues that both Eli and Dawn go through. Eli’s just trying to figure out what to do with his life- something that a lot of my peers are going through in their early 30’s- and Dawn is experiencing burnout, something that I and many of my co-workers have gone through. So while Ambrose may have been the easiest to write, there’s a little piece of myself in all of them (and I think many other writers can say the same).
Etta: Haha, that makes a lot of sense! I’ve gone on record before saying that I make characters by smashing my personality into little parts with a hammer and then giving each piece a name, so it’s funny to hear that yes, that is a similar experience to other writers. I found all of their struggles relatable too for the reasons you just described, so I’d say you did a very good job of making them each well rounded and real people, not just caricatures. Ambrose and Eli both feel like people you could walk up to on the street, going far beyond just a grumpy/sunshine dynamic.
5. You have so many lovable supporting characters in the other shopkeepers on Rosemond Street! Is there a chance we’ll ever get short stories about their lives and escapades, or more details in later books?
RK: Ambrose, Eli, and Dawn will always be our POV characters (Dawn will have POV chapters in books 2 and 3, with a secret unknown fourth person getting a POV in book 3), but I do hope I can deepen the side characters in future books! I’d also like to write some novellas that cover sillier elements of the street, like bake sales and such, but those are a bit trickier to market and fit into my writing schedule. Those may end up just being freebie short stories or reader magnets later down the line.
Etta: That makes a lot of sense! I loved all the scene snippets where they were bantering together, and so I’m happy to hear we’ll be seeing more of that. I’m sure a bake sale would be a lot of fun, with Sherry completely taking the cake (ha). I’m also very curious to see who the secret POV character will be but I suppose I’ll have to be patient about that.
6. Now for a fun worldbuilding question: If you could have any of the potions mentioned in the book, which one would you want to try?
RK: Oh man, it’s gotta be the birthday commission potion- but, like, souped-up. I don’t want just low-level levitation and sparkly dragon wings. I want full-on flight, I want fire coming out of my hands, I want the works! None of this ‘safe for kids’ garbage. I’m an adult, gimme the real stuff, Ambrose.
Etta: Hahaha! I laughed out loud at that last line. big mood. There’s a potion commission for the next book then!
7. You’ve done a number of Alternate Universe stories with the ARMV characters before it got published – I remember one about pirates that you co-wrote with someone on tumblr, and then a crime modern-day setting called Icefall. Do you mind talking a bit about how the process of writing these helped you develop the final version of ARMV?
RK: Sure! Yeah, at the end of the day, I wrote three AUs before publishing ARMV: Icefall, a modern day crime AU; The Pirate and the Potioneer, a pirate AU; and Potions & Pirates, a crossover AU with a Tumblr friend (at least, I think that’s the title). And you know what, I forgot about the college AU. That’s four. They were all just for fun, and mostly came out of the fact that I was obsessed with writing about Ambrose and Eli. (Still am.) But it was fun to experiment with Ambrose and Eli’s behavior in these scenarios: if Ambrose were a villain and already had welcomed a found family into his life, how would he comport himself? Would he fall for Eli faster or slower? And conversely, if Eli was a pirate captain with his career and community already in place, how would he approach Ambrose? What sort of pirate and leader would he be? I think considering these scenarios helped me further cement the OG Ambrose and Eli. (And they were just fun.)
RK: Oh, also: they love each other in every universe. That’s a given.
Etta: That’s a lot of fun! It’s neat to see how these different versions of the same characters were able to help you cement their personalities so solidly in the book, and I’m glad it was so helpful for you! It sounds like very useful strategy for all writers, especially with getting unstuck from a writers block, so I should try it with some of my own stories as well.
8. Do you have any favorite headcanons/flash-fiction pieces that didn’t make it into the final cut? (Other than the AUs and if they aren’t spoilers)
RK: Hmm. Off the top of my head, nothing’s really coming to mind- but there are things that I’m excited to explore in future books and stories! There’s a lot I haven’t mentioned about the sinkholes, the other merchants’ backstories, potion conventions, and more.
Etta: I’m excited to read about them in the future as well!
9. You’ve described the world of ARMV being inspired by DnD in your promotional materials, and I think you mentioned you play in a campaign yourself. Did any of the events in those games inspire parts of the story, or did any cameos from your home games make it into the book that you’d be willing to share?
RK: YES I’m so glad you asked this! While no events in the book are taken from past campaigns, I absolutely tried to fit in as many character names as I could. Sir Terrance, Tiegan, Hickory, and Widdershins all came from my friends’ DnD characters, and I tried to make non-named nods to other characters whose names didn’t quite fit. I’m hoping to add more references in future books, too.
Etta: Oh that’s delightful! I’m sure your friends will be thrilled to read those cameos. Did you tell them you were adding the little tributes or will it be a surprise for them?
RK: I did tell them, yeah!
Etta: How fun!
10. If there’s anything you wanted to talk about that we haven’t touched on yet, feel free to tell us about it now!
RK: I do have one little treat tucked in the center of the book that doesn’t typically come up in my posts! I wanted to have some artwork in the book, kind of like those special edition books at the Scholastic Book Fair that had posters and cool art in the middle. So, I illustrated one magical blueprint for each shopkeeper on Rosemond Street and added them to the book after Step 19. I had a lot of fun making them, and I think others are enjoying them as well!
Etta: Oh yes!!! I loved those!They all show such character – Ambrose’s is all neat and organized complete with little hazard labels and Eli has funny doodles of dragons next to the scorch marks. It’s such a fun way of bringing the story to life just a little more, and there’s no reasons kids should get all the fun illustrations. I’m thrilled you’re bringing them into your books 🙂
RK: Thank you! I’m really excited about the illustrations for books 2 and 3 as well.
Lastly, where can people find you and your work on the internet?
RK: Sure! rkashwick.com has all my book info in one place, including purchase links. You can also find me on FB, Insta, and TikTok under rkashwickbooks!I’ve also got a monthly newsletter where I send out stories, artwork, and updates on my work! Right now, the reader magnet is a short story about teenage Ambrose’s first potion convention.
(etta here, that facebook link might not work because I don’t have a facebook and can’t get to the profile, but I promise the page exists)
Thank you again to RK for agreeing to do this interview with me and for sharing such thoughtful answers! If you enjoyed this, be sure to go check out her other work, and read my review of A Rival Most Vial from last week. If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!