Published by: The Story Plant
Publication Date: February 21st 2017
Number of Pages: 260
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Middle-aged brothers Jason and Tom Prendergast thought they were completely done with each other. Perceived betrayal had burned the bridge between them, tossing them into the icy river of estrangement. But life – and death – has a robust sense of irony, and when they learn that their cruel father has died and made his final request that they travel together across the country to spread his ashes, they have no choice but to spend a long, long car trip in each other's company. It's either that or lose out on the contents of the envelope he's left with his lawyer. The trip will be as gut-wrenching as each expects it to be . . . and revealing in ways neither of them is prepared for.
At turns humorous, biting, poignant, and surprisingly tender, Ashes puts a new spin on family and dysfunction with a story that is at once fresh and timelessly universal.
An Interview with the Author:
When I was young, my grandfather was an amazing storyteller. Although he never put pen to paper, I was awed by the power of words—to make people laugh or even cry. I knew then that I wanted to be a storyteller too.
I’d just returned home from Operation Desert Storm, and was working as a prison investigator in Massachusetts. Needless to say, there was great negativity in my life at that time. I decided to return to college to finish my degree in Criminal Justice. During one of the classes, the professor talked about police work but nothing else. I finally raised my hand and asked, “The criminal justice system is vast. What about the courts, probation, parole – corrections?” He smiled and told me to see him after class. I thought I’d done it! In his office, he explained, “There’s no written material out there on corrections or prisons, except from the slanted perspective of inmates.” He smiled again and dropped the bomb. “If you’re so smart,” he said, “why don’t you write it?” Nine months later, I dropped the first draft of 6-5; A Different Shade of Blue on his desk. From then on, I was hooked. I was a writer.
What inspires you to write?
My children. My family is the foundation on which I stand. I am constantly inspired—and grateful—by their support.
What kind of research goes into your book?
I spend a lot of time working on character development. I also conduct as much research as I need to turn fiction into something even I could believe. One of the tricks to being successful is to write a story that you (as a writer) believes. Meticulous research—from real-life experiences to online searches—is the key to making that happen.
What are you working on at the moment?
Three Shoeboxes (a novel): A successful advertising executive, blessed with a loving family, is brutally ambushed by P.T.S.D. Left to contend with ignorance, an insensitive justice system and the struggles of an invisible disease, his family is taken from him. Yet, in Three Shoeboxes, this father’s undying love may be just enough to make things right again.
How did you come up with the idea for your current story?
As I’m nearly fifty years old, the conversations I used to share with my two brothers—Billy and Randy—have significantly changed. When we were young, we discussed career choices and romantic pursuits. As the years unfolded, the talks focused on raising children and juggling hectic schedules. Now, these conversations are peppered with reports of doctors’ appointments and where we stand with our retirement plans. The evolution of our conversations is as bittersweet as it is comical to me—and was the basis for Ashes.
In Ashes, two brothers—estranged for fifteen years—are brought together under circumstances that neither can avoid. By trapping them in a car for several long days, I was able to play out some deep, dark emotions that quickly rise to the surface. The outcome proves to be biting and comical exchange that the reader can experience as if they’re sitting right there in the backseat with the box of ashes. Although there are several twists and turns along the way, the goal was to keep the journey real and relatable—proving that every family has its fair share of dysfunction, as well as unbreakable bonds.
I think readers will really enjoy the characters in this book, as they’re both real and relatable. The brothers carry the storyline and will make readers laugh, cringe and maybe even shed a tear.
Please share three interesting facts about the characters in your book.
• They are real and relatable.
• They were intentionally created as polar opposites.
• They prove that the bonds we create as children—no matter how much distance or miscommunication separates us—are unbreakable.
If you could pick any famous author to review your book who would you pick and why?
Stephen King—he is a master at the craft and the greatest of our generation.
Have you read any books that have inspired you to improve or change yourself in any way?
Every book I read influences me as a writer—most in positive ways, other not so much. I am drawn to books that evoke emotion as much as thought. The most impactful read to me has been To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. To me, this is literary perfect (if there is such a thing)..
Name three things that you believe are important to character development?
• I (as the writer) have to know them completely before I introduce them to the world.
• Use all 5 senses when creating the character, but don’t over detail. I believe that if you give readers 80%, their imaginations will fill in the rest—and they’ll attach themselves.
• In my opinion, character development is the most important task toward evoking emotion within any storyline.
Do you ever experience writer’s block? If so what helps you to get over it?
Honestly, I don’t believe in writer’s blocks—though I understand that they’re quite real when perceived as such. True story: I have a friend—let’s call him Jack. Anyway, he phoned me one night complaining that he was agonizing over a terrible writer’s block. “How does your story end?” I asked him and he went on to explain the ending in detail. “Good,” I said, “so write the ending and then all you have to do is fill in the middle.” He did just that. The lesson is this: Most books aren’t written from point A to point Z. If you get stuck at a certain crossroad, begin to write a passage from a different point in the book. This maintains momentum and confidence (if lost, the two causes of a perceived block). Again, I write novels like creating complicated word puzzles—only to put it all together in the end in order to paint the grandest picture I can. Do whatever works for you, but keep moving. The last thing you want is for a story to go cold on you. You could risk losing the passion, if you wait too long to finish it.
What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most?
Although I enjoy every stage in the writing process, I think I enjoy the final edit the most. It’s where all the pieces come together to reveal the entire picture.
Do you know the ending of your books before you finish writing them?
So far—every time.
What is the best piece of advice you have received, as a writer, till date?
Lou Aronica, my publisher and mentor, has taught me the value of creating a detailed storyboard before embarking on the write. It’s saved me so much time and wasted effort.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone that wants to get into writing?
Perseverance is the key to success, You have to believe in yourself and your work long before anyone else does. NEVER, EVER QUIT!
Anything else that you would like to share with your readers?
I’ve always believed that good writers make people think while great writers make their readers feel. I’ve always aimed for the heart. If my work does not connect me to other humans and move them emotionally (confirming that none of us is ever alone), then the time and effort to do the writing just isn’t worth my time.
After all I’ve experienced, I’m most comfortable writing heartfelt stories—which sometimes surprises even me. But without my readers’ support, none of this would be possible—and for that, I’m eternally grateful!
Steven Manchester is the author of the #1 bestsellers Twelve Months, The Rockin’ Chair, Pressed Pennies, and Gooseberry Island as well as the novels Goodnight, Brian and The Changing Season. His work has appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CBS’s The Early Show, CNN’s American Morning, and BET’s Nightly News. Recently, three of Manchester’s short stories were selected “101 Best” for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
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