That’s Betsy Ashton – the one with the book. You’ll find her reading one; researching, writing or promoting one; or she might be encouraging others to do exactly the same in the Valley Writers Club. President of the statewide Virginia Writers Club, she lives at Smith Mountain Lake with a room for writing and a deck with a view.
Her first mystery, Mad Max Unintended Consequences, was published in 2013. The second in the series, Uncharted Territory, a Mad Max Mystery came out in 2015. And after recently signing a contract for the third, Unsafe Haven, she took some time to chat.
BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke: Betsy, you seem to always be working on at least one new project. What gets your motor running, fuels your creativity?
Betsy Ashton: Reading, walking, meditating. Living.
BCR: That sounds pretty sedate for a mystery writer. Where do most of your ideas come to you?
BA: Mystery writers are always looking for a twist. Anything can give me an idea. For example, I saw a baby’s sock lying on a sidewalk in Blowing Rock, NC. I wondered why it was there. Was the child all right? If not, what happened to the child? From that mundane sock, which probably fell out of a diaper bag, came a story about an abducted child who was murdered. It’s in an upcoming novel in stories.
BCR: What challenge are you currently addressing in your writing?
BA: I’m working to find the right balance between writing and promoting my books.
BCR: Someone said to me recently that those two things don’t naturally fit in one person. But you seem to get a lot of pleasure from both. Which is harder for you, writing or promoting?
BA: I find both writing and promoting challenging, because they use different skill sets. Writing is a solitary sport. Marketing is less so, because it leads to interaction with readers. I try to split my time with 60% writing, 40% marketing, but it doesn’t work out that cleanly.
BCR: Which is more fun?
BA: Writing. I love creating the idea of a character and then getting out of her way and letting her rip.
BCR: How is your heroine, Maxine Davies, a model for how we might live today?
BA: I deal with social issues in my fiction (traumatic brain injuries, racism, modern-day slavery, among others. I hope that Mad Max handles herself with strength, balance, and a sense of right and wrong. By doing so, she can serve as another beacon to follow.
BCR: And you’ve spent a lot of time with her. Has she changed over the course of the series? Did she surprise you in this third book?
BA: Max has grown into her role as a second-time-around parent. I think she surprised herself in how much fun she’s having. In the third book, Max told me she had to face a life-changing crisis, not that losing her daughter to murder and nearly losing her granddaughter Emilie to a rapist, but this had to be so devastating that she wouldn’t be able to go in if the crisis came true.
BCR: Where would you, Betsy Ashton, be most likely to run into Mad Max?
BA: I’d most likely run into Mad Max in Manhattan on the Upper East Side. She frequent one of the little restaurants on a side street, one where I’d go often.
BCR: Is there anything about Roanoke or the region that inspires your writing?
BA: I’m starting a new series set in Roanoke, so the community, neighborhoods and people will find themselves in the series.
BCR: That sounds risky! I hope the people are behaving. No untimely ends for folks we know I hope…
BA: The main character is an outsider, who moves to Roanoke for a new job. In settling into his house, he finds clues that lead him into a deadly mystery. I’m not sure who all will die. Do you want to volunteer, Doug, or should I save your character for one of the good guys?
BCR: Hmm…I may too superstitious to volunteer for the victim role! But I bet some residents of BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke would love to appear. So let’s give a character away.
GIVEAWAY: In cutting Betsy’s illustration, we placed a natural symbol of death and renewal. It’s there in a couple of places. Sign up as a resident of BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke and tell us what you see. You may end up as a character in Betsy’s next mystery. We’ll draw one name from the entries. Enter using the form below by May 19 or in person on May 20 at READ LOCAL: A Celebration of Local Authors at the Salem Museum. Betsy will draw the winner that day.