About the Author: “Ashley Poston (that’s me!) loves dread pirates, moving castles, and starry night skies. She graduated from the University of South Carolina with a BA in English, and went on to work at both Kodansha USA and Bloomsbury Publishing. But the dazzling bright lights of New York City couldn’t keep her away from old country roads, so she moved back home to pursue a full-time writing career. Her books have been on the Indie Next List multiple times, and have been featured in Teen Vogue, Seventeen, Entertainment Weekly, Hypable, and Buzzfeed, among others. She has also been a Goodreads Choice Finalist in 2017 for Geekerella, and a semi-finalist for The Princess and the Fangirl in 2019. She also has a critically-acclaimed space opera series, the Heart of Iron duology, which was named on 2019’s Rainbow List. When not writing, she can be found playing Dungeons and Dragons and writing fanfic. She lives in South Carolina with her bossy cat, and they are firm believers that we’re all a bunch of weirdos looking at other weirdos, asking for their username.” (Bio and headshot taken from the author’s website.)
A special thank you to Ashley Poston for the following interview and to Kelsey Hoffman for making it all happen! Don’t miss Ashley’s Once Upon a Con series, Heart of Iron duology, or recently released standalone Among the Beasts and Briars!
And check out our blog about Geekerella here!
Warning: Spoilers for the Once Upon a Con series below!
Wendy Waltrip: Your books in the Once Upon a Con series are nerdtastic fairy tale retellings that had me laughing out loud and cheering for a happy ending. What can you tell us about the world and characters of this amazing series?
Ashley Poston: The Once Upon a Con series is my love letter to all of the fandom friends I’ve made in my thirty years of being alive. Until Geekerella, I hadn’t really read any books that really felt like fandom to me. There’s Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, but she doesn’t really go into the fandom aspect of it; it’s more fanfic, and not even the juicy part of fanfic, which is where I grew up. I grew up on fanfiction forums and fandom GeoCities and Angel Fires and LiveJournal. And so I wanted to basically write a love letter to all of the friends I made and the different kinds of friends I made, and I wanted to just have a small little bit of happy in this really terrifying world sometimes. I wanted readers to know, when they started reading, that there would be a happy ending. There was never going to be stress, and like, “Oh my gosh, will these characters get together or won’t they? Will everything pan out in the end?” Because that’s kind of the allure to fairy tales is that you know in the end—with the exception of Hans Christian Andersen and all those really depressing endings—especially today, having grown up on Disney and Don Bluth, there’s always this really tidy happy ending, and the ending isn’t the important part of the story; it’s how you get there and the friends you make along the way, and so that’s kind of what I wanted to reflect in the series.
WW: What originally drew you to the literary world? Have you always wanted to be an author, or is that something that you found out later in life?
AP: I always wanted to be an author…well, okay, that’s not exactly true. Until I was ten, I wanted to be a marine biologist, but then I found out that science was involved, and I’m really not great at the STEM stuff like that and the sciences…I am sub-par at best. But when I was around ten or eleven, that’s kind of when I found fanfic, and I found out that I really liked writing. When I was younger, I had a really bad speech impediment. I would stutter a lot, and I would get made fun of a lot for it. With writing, I found out that everything in my brain transferred so well to paper! I was like, “There is no stuttering! What is this magic?” So that’s kind of where I started in story-telling and writing. I just started to write down my ideas, and then, I happened upon this story on the internet that had my favorite characters in it, and I was like, “What the heck is this?” As it turns out, it’s fanfic, and that just blew the door open wide, and I was like, “Oh, this is so cool!” So, I’ve definitely been a very prolific fanfic author since I found it.
And that’s kind of how it all began. I always knew I wanted to try and get published, and I was very lucky that a lot of the things I did outside of writing also pertain to publishing and writing, like book blogging and journalism classes, and so when I went to college, I majored in English but minored in Advertisement and PR. So I got to transfer a lot of that knowledge to the internships that I did and then later on to working in publishing, which I did for a few years, and all throughout that, I was writing the entire time. I didn’t really expect to be published so early. I thought I wouldn’t really make it until forty or forty-five. And then I got really lucky, and that’s really all there is to it. There are so many amazing storytellers out there that are just struggling and trying their hardest, and I just got really lucky. I’m an okay storyteller, but I just got very lucky very young.
WW: As a huge fan of fairy-tale retellings, I love how you twist certain elements of well-known fairy tales into your plots. What first inspired this series and the idea to combine fairy tales and fandoms?
AP: When I first got my agent, I got my agent with an Anastasia in space re-telling called Heart of Iron, and we were on submission for Heart of Iron when my future editor for Geekerella came to me and was like, “Hey, I read your e-books that you published a while ago that no one ever talks about, and I really liked them. So do you want to try out for this IP project?” An IP is basically a work-for-hire. She gave me a paragraph, and she was like, “Okay, go at it and write me two chapters, and you can audition for this role.” And I read the paragraph, and I was like, “Oh, this is kind of like that contemporary I was trying to write for the last four years but has never actually coalesced into anything.” So I took my idea with fandom, and I combined it with her Geekerella pitch with, you know, a geeky girl working at a vegan food truck named the Magic Pumpkin, and so it was basically a marriage of the things I loved and the story that Quirk wanted me to write, and it was really a fun experience. I really enjoyed it. Obviously, I got the role, and I didn’t realize that Geekerella was the book I needed to write until I started writing it because I was in a really weird part of my life. I thought that I had to be an adult and like adult things, and I hated a lot of adult things. I still do. I’m like, “Oh, this is so boring!” And so it helped me realize that I’m an adult, and I can write whatever the heck I want to; it doesn’t really matter. So, that’s kind of how Geekerella came to be, and then Quirk and I worked on the next two books together, and it was just a lot of fun. It was a great marriage between what they wanted in a series and what I wanted to bring to the table.
WW: What does a typical writing day look like for you?
AP: I am definitely a night writer and a day editor. So, what that basically means is that I don’t start writing until like 9:00pm, and I go to sleep around 3:00am, and so I wake up at like 11:00am, and I start it all over again. But then when I’m editing, I have to get up pretty early to start to edit because that’s the way my brain works. So it really all depends on what stage of the process I’m in. If I’m writing, I like to do late-night writing, but if I’m editing, I like to do morning edits because that’s when my brain is fresh and I still remember what I did the previous day. It’s very different, depending.
WW: I personally have never been to a Con before, but your books have inspired me to check one out (after the pandemic, of course). What message are you hoping to pass on through your characters about nerd culture and fan culture?
AP: I’m really hoping to pass on through my characters that it’s okay to like the weird stuff that you like, and it’s okay to fangirl what you like to fangirl, and it’s really not okay to gate-keep other people or to say, “Oh, you’re a fan of that? You really shouldn’t be.” I’m really not into the whole gate-keeping of fandom, and I think that that makes a lot of what we enjoy in the community tired, and it also makes sure that only certain people are allowed into the community, and I don’t think that’s healthy for fandom in general. But I also want to impart to treat everyone like humans and that everyone has their own story, and even if you’re anonymous online, there’s still a person behind that username. So like, if you’re a Finn/Poe and someone else is a Reylo, if the Reylo is racist, then yeah, definitely don’t like them. But if they just ship the Kylo/Rey ship and they’re not problematic, you shouldn’t hate them just because they like a ship.
WW: I love how detailed the Starfield TV show and movie are in this series. Where did you come up with the idea for Starfield? When planning the books, did you end up creating entire episodes of Starfield so you could reference them in the stories? What was this process like?
AP: So when I got the IP for Geekerella, they were like, “Hey, you get to write this thing! Also, there’s an entire TV series attached to it.” And I was like, “Well, frick.” So before I wrote any more, I ended up writing a synopsis for every single episode in the Starfield canon because I knew how I wanted the story to present itself, but I also knew that if I was going to have characters interact with these episodes in the story, I had to know it, and I couldn’t just make things up willy-nilly whenever I wanted to. So that’s basically what I did. Somewhere on one of my computers, I still have a detailed episode list of all the episodes and what happens. And since they don’t air in synchrony, (so that basically means they don’t air Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3…you could watch Episode 34 and then Episode 15 and that’s fine, like with most Star Trek episodes), so I wanted to be able to build it like that, and honestly, I spent way too long on that. So that’s basically what I did, and I just pulled what I love from Star Wars and Star Trek and Mass Effect and a lot of the bigger sci-fi IPs, and I just took what I wanted and ran with it.
WW: All three books in the Once Upon a Con series involve wonderful romances between celebrities and Starfield fans. What was the idea behind this? What do you think your novels say about celebrity culture in the U.S.?
AP: So I’m a really big fan of Disney’s Starstruck. It’s a Disney Channel original movie, and when I first watched it, I was like, “Oh my god, everything’s so cute!” But I don’t really know why I gravitated towards celebrities and fans. I guess because I like the dynamic of it because especially in today’s fandom society, a lot of fans think they have ownership over the character or ownership over the story, and I liked playing with that juxtaposition of like, “No, this is an actual person behind this character, and I do not own this person, and I also don’t own the character either.” I really like playing with those kinds of dynamics. And it’s also just kind of fun! It’s like a peasant falling in love with a prince. It’s just like one of those things where the power dynamic is kind of skewed, and so you want to try to reevaluate it and correct it, and I like playing in those sorts of stories. In Geekerella, clearly Elle wouldn’t have given Darien the time of day if she knew who he was. So I like playing with that sort of thing and those tropes because I am a sucker for those kinds of tropes, like a prince disguised as someone else, and then you find out he’s a prince, and oh my gosh! Stuff like that. I think that’s definitely from my fanfic groups because I just love those kinds of tropes so much!
WW: What were your favorite moments in any of the books in this series to write? Were there any parts that you found more difficult to write?
AP: I found the second book a lot more difficult than either of the other two, and it was mostly because The Princess and the Fangirl isn’t a straight romance, in both senses of the word. It’s about a friendship and how these two girls connect with each other, but it’s not a romance between them because early on in the process of drafting this, I was like, “Oh! Two people who look alike probably should not fall in love.” That would just be real weird. So it was really hard for me to plan that out, especially when most other YA books that I look to for inspiration are all straight romances. There aren’t a lot of really solid friendship romances (friend-mances? Whatever). So I had to pull from my own experiences with my friends, especially my friends online. It was also really hard to write because I was writing it during the whole Star Wars thing where a lot of Star Wars fans were hating on Daisy Ridley and especially Kelly Marie Tran. So it was just a very toxic time to be talking about toxicity in fandom. I was like, “Oh, well this is great. I’m really happy I chose this story now.” So that was really the hardest to write.
But my favorite moment in any of the books… I actually have two of them. One of my favorites is when Elle and Darien meet face-to-face for the first time. That’s just…I was waiting for that moment for a long time. And then another one of my favorites is in Bookish and the Beast when Vance definitely goes Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle. I knew I wanted to add that, and my publisher was like, “Okay yeah, let’s keep it.” And I was like, “Yes!”
WW: Having now gone through the entire publishing process several times, if you could give any advice to the version of yourself writing the first draft of Geekerella (or to any aspiring authors out there), what would it be?
AP: Your first draft is going to absolutely suck. It’s going to suck really, really bad. But don’t get discouraged, and also don’t show anyone your first draft unless you really admire the person, and you know they’re going to give you good feedback. And also, take every criticism with a grain of salt because if you feel in the deepest part of your writing soul that the edit they’re requesting is not one that you need to go with, don’t go with it. You know your story better than literally anyone else. So that’s probably what I would tell baby me or any aspiring author: just suck until you don’t.
WW: Finally, I understand that Among the Beasts and Briars was just released on October 20, 2020 (and I can’t wait to read it)! What’s next for you? Are you planning on continuing the Once Upon a Con series? Can we expect a romance involving Calvin in the future?
AP: Oh man! Okay, so fun story with Calvin. Calvin is 120% super gay! And me being a female-cis-queer person, I was like, “Maybe I shouldn’t be the person to write that story.” So, I do not think that there’s going to be a Calvin story in the future, simply because I want a gay man to write a gay fandom love story because I think #ownvoices, especially in fandom and in any part of the book community, is really important right now. So Calvin is never going to happen. There might be, like, a short story of him and his beau in the background, but probably not.
I don’t know what the future holds for Once Upon a Con. I think I might take a break for a bit and go down some other roads less traveled. I have a few things in the pipeline, but nothing I can really talk about yet. But I love Among the Beasts and Briars so much. No offense to the Once Upon a Con series, but Among the Beasts and Briars is definitely my favorite book so far.
PRR Writer, Wendy Waltrip