Gregory Ashe’s Hollow Folk series has not only stormed its way into my Best of 2018 list, it’s currently lounging on the extra-cushy VIP sofa reserved for the top three and getting fed grapes. There are also nymphs and satyrs giving it full-body massages. It’s having time of its life, really, and I’m pretty sure it’s not budging anytime soon. You can read my review here but, honestly, no words can do these books justice. So please, please go check them out. They’re only $3 (USD) each on kindle!
In the meantime, I’m so excited to be presenting my interview with Mr. Gregory Ashe himself! There’s also a giveaway for an ebook of MR. BIG EMPTY (HOLLOW FOLK 1) at the end!
1. Thank you so much for agreeing to the interview, Greg! To start off, can you tell us a little about yourself and the books you’ve written?
Thank you for having me. This is a huge honor, and I really appreciate that you’ve invited me to be here. Like most writers, I’ve been writing on and off for most of my life, but I didn’t start working on it seriously until about ten years ago. Since then, I’ve been pretty dedicated to improving my craft and writing the best stories I know how. By day, I teach high school, and the rest of my time goes to reading and writing! It’s a pretty great life.
I’ve written across a variety of genres, but more and more I find myself drawn to writing stories with strong gay protagonists–I’ll say more about that below.
2. How did the idea for the Hollow Folk series come about? What made you want to write about a gay psychic teenager solving crimes in a small town?
The Hollow Folk series actually came about from a very real tragedy. After a bad divorce, a friend moved her family to a very small town in Wyoming. Soon after that, one of her sons tried to die by suicide. Although there were a lot of underlying issues (and that friend is nothing like Vie’s mom!), one of the causes for her son’s attempt was the move. That got me thinking about a boy stuck in Wyoming. And the more I started thinking about that boy, the more he started to take shape!
I mentioned above the focus on gay protagonists in my recent writing; a lot of that has to do with the fact that, growing up gay, I had very few strong gay role models. That has changed to some degree, but it’s something that I want to explore. I love mysteries (most of what I write is structurally a mystery, even if it has other genre elements). And I love sci-fi, fantasy, and paranormal fiction. The more I thought about Vie, the more those elements coalesced.
3. Vie is a character with a lot of demons. And I can only the imagine the emotional toll that comes with being in his head. I hope I’m not prying, but can you share with us the mental process of writing a character who forces you to draw on so many personal experiences?
I’m lucky that I can say I share relatively little with Vie. Although I’ve struggled with depression and suicidal ideation, I have had a very happy life (and a relatively sheltered one). I tried to work backward from the authenticity of my feelings so that the story would be as ‘true’ as possible; for me, another underrepresented group is people struggling with mental health, and so I wanted Vie to be someone who is flawed but who is honestly trying his best. The reality, though, is that writing this character was hard precisely because of how powerful those emotions are. That’s one reason I had to take a break from the series. The final book, which should be out by the end of this year, will see Vie struggling to find healthy ways of coping with mental health issues (and, since he’s Vie, you can probably imagine that he’s going to be hard-headed about the whole thing).
4. One of the things I love about Hollow Folk is how complex and messy all the teenage characters are. With your experience as a high school teacher, is that something you specifically wanted to explore?
What a great question! I feel very self-conscious writing about high school as a teacher because I don’t want that to dominate my work (or, for that matter, my life). But the reality is that I see so many interesting kids every day, and their stories are funny and sad and powerful. I’m careful not to take anything directly from what I see, but it definitely provides a lot of fodder. High school is a fun age to write about because everything is, as you said, complex and messy! Teenagers still don’t know who they are, no matter how much they tell you otherwise. And that’s a good thing–that’s one of the things that should give everyone (including Vie and his friends) a lot of hope!
Another reason that I chose to set Hollow Folk in a high school age group was the rising suicide rates among LGBT youths, especially in Utah. YA literature has a growing amount of LGBT characters, but very few of those characters are heroes in genre fiction. Much more frequently they are in literary or ‘realistic’ fiction (whatever that means). So I saw this as another opportunity to explore!
5. From what I’ve seen, your books genre-hop quite a bit. The Hollow Folk books have elements of paranormal, romance, and mystery (all of which you nail!) and you’ve also written historical, thriller, and fantasy. What makes you experiment with all these different genres?
Thank you so much for saying that! A lot of my experimentation, as you call it, was exactly that: experimenting. I was trying to figure out what I could do well, what I wanted to do well, and what I needed a lot more work at! For me, an important part of improving as a writer has been to challenge myself with different genres, different narrative structures, different points of view, etc. Over time, I started to realize that genre was a less helpful way for me to think about my writing than about the emotional experience that I wanted to create for myself and for the reader. That’s why my writing has begun to converge around mystery, romance, and the paranormal. I really find myself drawn to the emotions that those elements raise, and I feel like those are the stories I want to tell right now.
6. Over the course of the series Vie and his friends get mixed up in all sorts of criminal activities–drug and sex trafficking to name a few. What was the research process for that like?
Oh dear. Well, to be honest, when I got to the sex trafficking, I paid for a VPN subscription. I was (still am) worried about a government agency seeing a pattern in my research and assuming I’m a serial killer / Unabomber / drug trafficker / etc. The research also took me down a lot of rabbit holes! I found that I finally had to draw a line in the sand and make myself start writing rather than keep researching. When possible, I’ve also tried to use people as sources–a few friends have been willing to provide insight into their areas of expertise, and some of that includes law enforcement!
7. What are some of the benefits and challenges you’ve encountered with self-publishing?
Great question. Benefits? The freedom to publish stories that I want to tell; access to niche audiences that traditional publishing has underserved; and higher royalty rates. Challenges? Sigh. A lot. Learning to do everything. Not doing it well. Trying again. Doing it slightly better. Lots of time invested that way! I have sold a few rights to my work when I wasn’t sure how to move forward (my first audiobooks came about this way), but more and more I think self-publishing is the way to go (although I’m always researching and trying to stay up with the industry).
8. Can you share with us any soon-to-be published stories or WIPs you have on the horizon?
Yay! So exciting! In November, book six of the Hazard and Somerset Mysteries is coming out. I hesitate to call Criminal Past the last book in that series; it’s definitely the last book in this arc, but I’m so invested in those characters that I have a feeling I’ll be back to tell more stories about them.
Then, in December (fingers crossed!!!!), the final Hollow Folk book will come out. I don’t have a title for it yet, but tentatively I’m calling it The Mortal Sleep (could change; might change; no guarantees!). After that, I’m starting a new mystery series, but I’m keeping that one under wraps for now!
For people who enjoy the Hollow Folk series (or any of my books), I give away a free short story through my mailing list with every new release. So there will be another H & S short story in November, and a Hollow Folk short story in December!
9. What are some books–of any genre–you can recommend?
So, so many. This is hard! I’ll limit myself to three:
Stephen King, The Shining (I know, it’s old; I know, it’s horror; those are automatic turn-offs to some people, but it’s just so dang good. If you’ve already read it, pick up It)
Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins (great m/m Lovecraftian horror + mystery!)
Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways (nonfiction; one of the best prose writers alive, in my opinion, plus he always chooses fascinating topics)
10. And lastly, if you could form an adventuring party with any three people–fictional or real–who would you pick?
I love this question. I would want to be the wizard, so I’m going to leave out Gandalf and Raistlin and all the Weis and Hickman / Sanderson magic-users I love! For a rogue, I would want Han Solo. For the cleric/priest, I would want either Reverend Lovejoy or Father Brown (I know, that’s a cheat; I guess I’ll pick Father Brown!). And for our fighter, I would want Jack Reacher.
Thank you so much for inviting me to do this interview. I had a ton of fun, and it challenged me to think about my work from some new angles! I really appreciate this opportunity!
(This is the second interview I’ve done and it’s the second time I’ve asked that adventuring party question and I’ll probably continue asking it in future interviews :D)