Interview with Janine Ashbless
Last month, I was lucky enough to share a book launch with Janine Ashbless, one of my favourite erotica writers, at Sh! Womenstore in London.
We read from our new books, chatted to readers, drank lots of bubbly, kindly provided by my publisher, Black Lace, and generally had a wonderful time. (You can read more about the event on Janine’s blog.) Afterwards (and this is where it starts to go wrong), I went to the pub with Zak Jane Kier and later, left behind my own, heavily-annotated reading copy of Undone and Janine’s brand new book.
The very kind barstaff found my books and kept them safe. However, when I returned to collect them a couple of weeks later, I managed to almost lose the damn things twice again in the same evening. Fortunately, I now have both books under lock and key, and Janine is here so we can have a more coherent conversation than any we might have had at our book launch!
Janine, you very kindly signed my newly-bought copy of Cover Him With Darkness at our joint book launch the other week. Since then, over the space of a fortnight, I managed to almost lose the book three times at pubs and takeaways in London and Brighton. Is your book haunted? Does it not want me to read it?
LMAO! More likely it wants to get out there and mug a stranger!
Ha, I do like dangerous books! Cover Him With Darkness is the launch title of Tempted Romance, a new imprint from awesome indy publishers, Cleis Press. Tempted describe themselves as publishing “only the smartest, sweetest romance”. You’re smart, I know that, but – no offence! – I’ve never thought of you or your work as “sweet”. Have you joined the other side?
Good grief no! It’s not sweet. Lots of emotion, yes, but much of it dark and fearful and torn-up, the protagonists battered by betrayal and guilt. Love is the light in the darkness.
You know. Marketing puff is just that.
I know Cleis commissioned you to write this novel because they loved a short story you’d submitted to one of their anthologies, and they wanted you to develop the piece to full-length. When you wrote the short, did it feel like a story with a lot more mileage?
I wrote the short with a totally open ending – about as open as it could possibly be. I didn’t even know who the male protagonist was. So it always felt like the start of … something. But at the time I got a lot of pleasure out of the not-knowing!
To which of your other books is Cover Him With Darkness most similar?
Probably The King’s Viper, at least in tone. Both have got a dark hero, the central relationship is morally problematic, and everyone is having a really rough time except for the moments they’re having sex.
You’re a very visual, descriptive writer. I love the opening to Cover Him With Darkness which you read at Sh! with its emphasis on Azazel’s bound, muscular body and the corresponding grime and physicality of the hard, ancient rock of the cave where he’s imprisoned. Do you have a clear sense of how characters and places look before you start writing? Or are they nebulous? And if so, does the process of writing bring them into being, or maybe concretise them for you? Basically, show me your writer-brain. I’m fascinated.
My writer-brain is completely visual. I picture places, lighting, weather. I run through all dialogue scenes like a director – every tilt of a head or tip of a hand – often mumbling everything to myself and acting it out. Like it’s my own private movie.
The exception is faces. Did you notice my descriptive writing rarely extends to faces? I’m actually pretty face-blind in real life, which can be a real problem. I deal with this in several ways: I might “borrow” real faces from movie stars and paste them on my imagined protags. I might give them strong “hook” features (particularly facial hair, or strange coloured eyes) which I can recognize. Or I might not describe them at all. I actually had little idea what my heroine Milja looked like (except that she had dark hair and eyes) until I found this picture. But that was long after the book was written!
You’ve received some wonderful reviews for Cover Him With Darkness so far. Which one has made you glow the most?
Oh … I’m torn between: “Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, only much better written and with much more sexiness involved.” – Clitical
And: “Janine Ashbless is one hell of a writer. I got so caught up in the story that I couldn’t put the book down. It’s dark and ugly and absolutely beautiful. Really captivating. The kind of book that leaves you feeling exhausted when you finish, and anxious to go back to the beginning and read it all over again. Which I did.“ – Kate Douglas
Which scene in the book is your favourite?
I love the sequence where “nice guy” Egan first meets the fallen angel Azazel, not just because it’s hot ‘n’ dirty, but because it’s full of hidden plot (like the lipstick writing) that will only become visible later in the book and make readers go “Oh!”, and because it completely shreds the nascent relationship between Egan and Milja, forcing them to re-evaluate each other. It’s a pivotal moment.
Cover Him With Darkness is the first book in a potential trilogy – potential because Cleis are waiting to see how sales are before committing to parts two and three. How nerve-wracking is that? Have you started writing part two yet?
The uncertainty is … difficult.
And of course I’ve started writing it!
Thanks Janine. I can’t wait to read, and here’s hoping it’s a trilogy!
Janine Ashbless is a writer of fantasy erotica and steamy romantic adventure – and that’s “fantasy” in the sense of swords ‘n’ sandals, contemporary paranormal, fairytale, and stories based on mythology and folklore. She likes to write about magic and mystery, dangerous power dynamics, borderline terror, and the not-quite-human.
Janine has been seeing her books in print ever since 2000, and her novels and single-author collections now run into double figures. She’s also had numerous short stories published by Black Lace, Nexus, Cleis Press, Ravenous Romance, Harlequin Spice, Storm Moon, Xcite, Mischief Books, and Ellora’s Cave among others. She is co-editor of the nerd erotica anthology Geek Love.
Her work has been described as: “hardcore and literate” (Madeline Moore) and “vivid and tempestuous and dangerous, and bursting with sacrifice, death and love.” (Portia Da Costa)
What happens when the daughter of the village priest falls in love with an archangel banished from heaven? Milja’s heart is struck when she catches a glimpse of the preternaturally beautiful prisoner her father keeps captive beneath his church’s altar. Torn between tradition, loyalty and her growing obsession with the fallen angel, will Milja risk losing her family, and her eternal soul, for the love of this divine being? Janine Ashbless will transport you to a world where good and evil battle for true love.