Jenna Chamberland never wanted anything more than to be a wife and mother. That is, until she realized that her life was ending after a three-year battle against breast cancer. Now, all she really wants is more time.
With 4,320 hours left to live, Jenna worries for her loved ones and what she knows awaits them on the other side: Gabe will have to make the slip from husband to widower, left alone to raise their seven-year-old daughter; Mia will be forced to cope with life without her mother by her side. In a moment of reflection, Jenna decides to record a set of audiocassettes — The Milestone Tapes – leaving her voice behind as a legacy for her daughter.
Nine years later, Mia is a precocious sixteen-year-old and her life is changing all around, all she wants is her mother. Through the tapes, Jenna’s voice returns to teach Mia the magic of life, her words showing her daughter how to spread her wings and embrace the coming challenges with humor, grace and hope.
THE MILESTONE TAPES is the journey of love between a parent and child, and of the bond that holds them when life no longer can.
I am very happy to have Ashley Mackler-Paternostro stop by with an interview. Please joy me in welcoming her.
Thanks again for being a guest on my blog. It is a honor to have you.
No … thank you for having me! I love doing guest posts and popping into other blogs.
What inspired you to start writing?
I really love to read. I mean really love to! I have always been the sort of person who could sit down with a good book and a few hours later look up and realize how much time had passed. At my prime, I was inhaling two to three books a week. But writing was different, it wasn’t something I ever thought I could do (I’m a girl from the midwest who went to cosmetology school!) and in my world, obviously, writers were hugely important, successful people with a gift for putting their thoughts on paper.
I was 28 years old, to the day, when I decided to write. I’d just left my career in the beauty industry which, surprising, had brought much success but the passion I had for it at eighteen ebbed and eventually evaporated. At the same time, my life was totally settled. I was married, the dramas and heartaches of my early twenties were over … I was … peaceful, there just weren’t the same distractions there had once been. It was sort of the perfect recipe for being really reckless and wild.
I just started writing, sat down with my MacBook and told myself — one chapter, write one chapter and then you’ll know if you can do this. So, I did. And like with reading, one chapter turned into five and five into ten … and eventually I looked up (four months later) and I had one-hundred-thousand words and they were mine.
And now … like with reading and writing The Milestone Tapes, I find writing is just natural. I can’t imagine how I didn’t do this sooner … but hey, better late than never.
How did you come up with the title(s) of your book(s)?
The Milestone Tapes was easy … I’m not even really sure if I ever consciously titled it. There was no brilliant “ah-ha!” moment.
However, I’m working on my second novel In The After, which goes to the editor … TOMORROW!! Now that title, yes, I slaved for. The topic I was going with for my sophomore effort was fairly deep — deeper even that the death of a parent which I tackled headlong with my first.
I live in Naperville, Illinois. Our town’s next door neighbor is Bolingbrook … the home town of Stacy Peterson. I won’t even lie, when she went missing in the fall of 2007 on the heels of Lisa Stebic (another, less notarized woman who went missing from the same area a few months prior) I was captivated. How could this be? I wondered. These two really beautiful mother’s just gone. It was heartbreaking. I participated in the searches and watched all the coverage of the senseless, tragic story. But, like with most ideas, I had a “what if” question burning in my brain. Since I won’t be able to discuss that “what if” question openly (because doing so would be a total tell) I’ll just summarize how that title came to be.
When women get married they want it all; the happily ever after, the prince astride a white horse who isn’t only handsome but generous and loving, the five, four and door house with a perfectly painted white fence. But, what if there wasn’t a happily? What if there was only in the after? What if a women gets trapped in an abusive marriage? What if the only person she tells is her best friend? And what if that best friend is asked to make an impossible decision of her life to save her friend? Welcome to In The After.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There is always a message.
But what I write into a book isn’t always what a reader walks away with. I hate to say “this is what you should think or do or feel because this how I see it” … reading is such a person journey. It’s like my favorite quote says “ … you bring to a novel, anything you read, all you know of the world. You bring your history and read it in your own terms” (Angela Carter) … that is the message I want my readers to walk away from my novels with. I want them to find inside the pages their own messages and not ones I’ve planted in their heads because I’ve said so.
What books have influenced your life the most?
For me, in my little reading-world, I find that really different books inspire me in different ways. I can read a Wally Lamb novel, for the sake of conversation let’s say She’s Come Undone, and inside the prose I will uncover what pain really is and hope can really come from within us. Then, on the flip side, I can take a book like Twilight and find such whimsy in a world too perfect to exist but there is this underlying current of really understanding what love is and fighting for that.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I would have to say David Adams (Lacuna, The Sands of Karathi) is a huge influence.
A lot of my favorite authors (Gillian Flynn, Wally Lamb, Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Wiener) don’t share my playground. They have totally and entirely different journeys to publication that I do. While I admire them, of my peers who do play in the same sandbox, I have to say David Adams sets a brilliant example. He is full of advice, support, his head in the business game is razor sharp … but most importantly, he’s an overall good guy, which matters.
What book are you reading now?
I’m not. My time is being stretched so thin between finishing In The After and promoting The Milestone Tapes and this other little WIP I have on my screen that any free time I do have, I just want a clean break. However, as soon as In The After is out of my hands, it’s game on. I’m so excited! I have bought about fifteen books that are waiting patiently on my Kindle for some much needed undivided attention.
Do you see writing as a career?
Do I see writing as a career, yes. Is writing my career right at this moment in time? I wish.
I just had this really ironic moment this afternoon, which I think will help explain my statement above: My husband and I bought a mattress. We totally needed a new one. We paid whatever we paid for it and as we were checking out I realized … in an entire month of selling books, I couldn’t afford to buy this bed, actually, I couldn’t afford it with all the money I earned in three months of book selling. I couldn’t afford to buy groceries. I couldn’t afford my car payment … and forget my mortgage. Those are just the bare essentials of life. Scary thought.
I take writing incredibly seriously as if it were my one and only. I wake up extra early to write and when I get home in the evening, I spend another six hours working the business (some days it’s writing, some days it’s promotion, or collaboration on covers, formatting, editing). I work at it every single day — birthdays, holidays, weekends, vacations. I treat writing like it how I put food on the table and gas in the car because ultimately that’s my goal … but I’m just not there yet.
I really want to know who designed the covers to your books?
I work with an incredibly talented woman named Renu Sharma. She just has this really brilliant mind when it comes to figuring out what works for a specific book when it comes to imagery. She’ll tell you “working with the writer is important” but ha! In my wildest dreams I could never capture intellectually or explain to her with words what I want … what she just does, she does because she can and what she comes up with is seriously the perfect doorstep to a novel … I envy her talents in almost every way.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I guess the biggest lesson I’ve learned would be … believe in yourself and your story. That the most important part of publishing is knowing that you’ve told the story you wanted to tell on your own terms — beyond that, everything else is background noise. There will be people lining up to tell you “no” … and there is no one who hands out gold-star stickers for effort. But if you can say at the end of everything, regardless of sales or reviews or viral frenzy or inked deals or none of the above, that you lived up to your expectations of yourself and did it all genuinely … you’re doing all right.
I still remember the first time an agent rejected me after a full read — we’re not talking a stock letter you get when your query doesn’t sing, we’re talking someone who read the book and didn’t want to take it on. I was heartbroken of course — I think I cried for an hour and seriously doubted this whole writing/author thing. I had a moment, when I stopped with the waterworks, that I really thought about just shelving the book. I was prepared to let it die on my hard drive and it was my husband, not my foresight, that convinced me otherwise. I mean, an agent who does this for a living didn’t like it … what chance did I have with readers? I loved The Milestone Tapes … but this agent didn’t like the characters, and my novel is character-centric. In reviews later on readers would go on and on about how these characters resonated with them … but I didn’t know that in the moment. All I knew was that this book meant the world to me, I’d worked so hard to get to this place … and I’d done it all wrong.
But after some coaxing from my husband, I let that “no” go … I ended up self publishing. Readers, the ones who matter, have responded well to my book — not all, but some. It makes me thankful I trusted myself, my characters and my husband. When I made this confession elsewhere and a reader thanked me for me … that was touching.
Ultimately, you have to know there is going to be self doubt … but it’s how you deal with that self doubt, and not the doubt itself, that will define who you are as an author.