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Interview: Ashley Mackler-Paternostro, Author of The Milestone Tapes

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Ashley Mackler-Paternostro was born in Naperville, Illinois, where she still lives with her husband Mark and their three dogs. A hairstylist by trade, Ashley will often say that some of the best stories she has ever heard were told to her while working behind the chair. A life long reader with an insatiable appetite for good books, she decided to merge her love of great stories — both told and written — into her own brand of story telling.

When she’s not being held captive in her home office by words, Ashley fancies herself a flea market hunter with a weakness for Japanese glass floats and repurposing vintage goods.

Her latest book is The Milestone Tapes.

Visit Ashley at www.ashleymacklerpaternostro.com.

Could you please tell us a bit about your book? The story? The characters?

The Milestone Tapes, at it’s heart, is a love story. It circulates around a mother and her daughter and the bond that will hold them together when life and time no longer can.

From the start of the book, you are dropped right into the middle of Jenna’s worst day, and then you are on journey with her towards the end of her life as she’s watching it come together by pieces. It’s a novel of inches…inches towards the end, and then inches towards healing.

Jenna Chamberland is a mother, and that role is all she ever really wanted for herself. Now, her life if ending. Only mere months remain in her all out war against the breast cancer that has defined her existence for the past three years. Now, she will be forced to watch as the people she loves are standing on the edge of an uncertain future, one that will not include her. All she can do is prepare them, to think a few hundred steps ahead, and realize what her true wishes are for her family.

Mia Chamberland reemerges from the death of her mother, as a smart, somewhat snarky teenager. On the cusp again of huge changes, she’s thrust again into unknown territory as her life is changing all around her at once — and all she wants her mother. She is pulled between what she has always known, and the future that’s coming no matter what.

I’ve pulled together a supporting cast of characters that help keep the story ebbing along. What Jenna’s death will mean to them is something different and those bonds unfold as the story does.

How did you come up with the title and how much say did you have on the cover design?

I knew the title before I ever started the novel. I knew what was at the center of this story, and I knew what an incredible role the tapes would play getting that center into sharp focus. I decided to simply call it what it is … this novel is a book about the milestones of life through the eyes of child.

The cover was predesigned by an incredible artist Renu Sharma working out of India. I actually already had another cover that I collaborated on with a graphic artist and it was all ready to go, but the truth is … I didn’t love it. I know, at least to me, how important that doorstep of a cover is … how a cover will be the first impression of a book and readers do judge a novel on what they first see.

When I saw the image that would become The Milestone Tapes cover, it haunted me. I kept going back to visit it, again and again basically stalking it until I broke down and just decided I had to have it. Renu was so communicative as we pulled the remaining pieces together, like the font and falling leaves, that in the end I really believe this cover was simply waiting to be found and used in just this way.

Do you have a favorite line or excerpt that you would like to share from your book?

“So now she was left with the unknown. All of the things that couldn’t possibly be known. It was no longer a question of science, medicine and time. Now it was a matter of fate, faith and the natural unfolding of things. Jenna had resolved that, although everything moving forward would be unknown, she would plan and prepare and hedge her bets like a mother would, she would bet on her daughter, and leave behind her voice.”

What are some of your favorite ways to promote your work?

I love the soft sale. I enjoy just writing for other writers or readers that stumble upon my blog, or website, and find something inside that resonates with them. It’s lovely to just explore the experience of the journey–the fears, frustrations, excitement, and joy that comes with writing.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

I keep insane hours. I write early in the morning and late at night and periodically throughout the day. I don’t set a schedule or work a timeline. For me, being rigid does not translate well on a page. Sometimes things just pop into my head — something a character should say, or a scene that needs to be explored — and I will drop everything to get it down on paper. I have always said that my characters write my novels, I just do the typing. So, when they are ready to share something with me … I am ready to write it out, whenever that may be.

What are some ways that you like to relax?

I read. Truthfully, I was a reader long before I was a writer. I believe my Kindle is magic and all of that. I can lose myself in a good book and not resurface for hours … and when I do come up for air, I feel revived.

What author/s do you think are overlooked in the writing/reading world today?

I would have to say Wally Lamb is one of the greatest voices of literary fiction, and while he’s had success from his exposure with two novels featured by Oprah for her Book Club, I don’t think he is as widely celebrated as he could or should be.

Wally Lamb has done some amazing things with the written word that reaches far beyond his four novels. He has published a series of essays from women incarcerated. Lamb goes into the prison to teach a class on writing, but it sounds more like therapy with the written word … and those essays are the accumulation of his class. It’s incredible. I think I read both in the span of two or three days, I simply could not put them down. Lamb is a vessel of amazing stories — whether he’s writing them himself, or simply giving a voice to the voiceless.

What author would you most like to meet and why?

I’m going to piggyback off my last answer and say Wally Lamb.

When I was younger, I got my hands on Lamb’s novel She’s Come Undone. Since my first read of it, I have revisited that story numerous times … it’s rather brilliant. As a man, he completely delves into the woman’s mind and writes with a female voice so convincingly. I find that to be incredible, and not easily accomplished. He sheds his gender in that novel and slips totally into female form effortlessly. If you were to read the book without knowing the author was male, you would never know or even think to question it. I would like to pick his brain for a bit.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share with readers?

I am currently working on my sophomore effort, In The After. It is such a different story than The Milestone Tapes and it has been a book building inside me for so long — about the past four years.

In The After circulates around the disappearance of a woman through the eyes and emotions of her best friend. It’s a dark novel, and is essentially a wandering through that first week of hell.

What is something about yourself that would come as a surprise to many people?

I speak a lot when I write. When I am working on dialog, it’s not unheard of that I actually talk it out, or role play the conversation. Doing this, I learn a lot about the desired spacing of the words … what feels forced or disingenuous, and what works, what flows naturally, and what feels spot on correct in that moment.

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