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When Nice Girls Write Dark Fantasy

Giselle from Enchanted I’m a nice girl. A very nice girl. I’ve been told many times that I am the nicest person so-and-so has ever met. And happy too! I sing Broadway show tunes when I clean the house. I wave at fellow Beetle drivers, especially the yellow ones like mine. In fact, my car looks like one giant happy face. I despise conflict, and I want everyone to love me. I go out of my way to help people, and have a bad habit of lavishing compliments. People who know me as a mom from school, a next-door neighbor, or that lady-who-always-sings-while-she-shops, probably envision my nightlife consisting of sewing, watching Friends re-runs, or organizing the next PTO meeting. To them, I am Giselle from the movie Enchanted.

The niceness is genuine; it’s not a face I put on. But that’s only one part of who I am. When I sit down at the computer, however, I like to write about dark, nasty urban fantasy, with sexually dysfunctional drug and alcohol addicts. A couple of my books contain threesomes, gay sex and S&M. Bad things happen to good people: there is sexual abuse and rape, limbs lopped off in battle, attempted suicides and insanity. The F-bomb is not only present, but ubiquitous. In essence, the things I write about are the last things on earth most people would associate with me. So you can imagine what usually happens when someone finds out about them.

Army of me by Ash-3xpiredLast summer, my husband took me to Missouri to visit his in-laws. They are a conservative bunch: they go to church every Sunday and many of them have biblical sensibilities about gays and so forth. They are not my ideal target audience. I’ve kept my writing a secret from them for almost seventeen years, but my mother-in-law read – and, to her credit, was pretty nice about it – one of my books and told them that I was a writer. They cornered me at a pool party and wanted to know everything. What are these books about? Where can I find one?

I set it up with my usual disclaimer to warn them about the content, and watched their eyes glaze over and their faces slacken. When I checked my website stats that night, sure enough there was a big spike of hits from the Missouri area. They all had to check it out, but when I saw them again the next day, they were very quiet. Needless to say, I haven’t heard from them since. The same thing happened with some of the moms at my daughter’s school. They all wanted bookmarks with my website on them, and since then they’ve never brought it up again. Although one of their husbands came up to me and said he bought the first book and was enjoying it. Whenever I see his wife, however, it’s like the giant pink elephant in the corner.

Fortunately, my shocking people can also have really good results. People who thought I was rather shallow and two-dimensional have been delighted to discover the opposite is true. More than one friendship has deepened as a result of someone reading my books. I’m more approachable now as a flawed and, well, basically screwed-up person. The beauty of it is, now that they know the “truth,” I can be more genuine with them. I’m still nice, but we can skip the small talk and discuss things that really matter. I guess my books sort of act as a filtering device. Since I despise small talk anyway, my writing scares off the people I’m not compatible with, while attracting the ones to whom I am.

Shadow Fox by Ashley J. BarnardBut regardless of whether or not I make or break a friend over my writing, the important thing is that I stand by it no matter what. I ought not to be ashamed. I can warn people, but really – I shouldn’t start fidgeting, ripping off my cuticles and getting heart palpitations when someone I don’t know very well says they’re going to rush out and buy one of my urban-fantasy novels. One day – and I am getting better – I’d love to be able to say to myself: This is who I am. What you think of it does not change that, nor does it really matter. I am being true to myself, and so should we all.

Okay, here goes. To the gal who always gets my deli meat at Safeway, my neighbor who says “Howdy” everyday, and the mom who wants me to get involved in Girl Scouts: Go ahead. Try the Shadow Fox series. I dare you.

Title image by Ash-3xpired.



  1. Avatar Autumn2May says:

    Great article! My cousin keeps saying if/when I make it big, I’m going to disappoint a lot of fans for the same reason. They are going to end up at panels expecting a dark, brooding, serious person. And they’re going to get the actual me. The girl who uses 😀 too much online, never curses, and makes people cookies for Christmas. XD

  2. Avatar Fordy says:

    Just as a counterpoint – I’m a complete twunt, and nobody’s in the least bit surprised when they read the violent, potty-mouthed stuff I write!!
    Hope this helps 🙂

  3. We’re in similar crowds, although my own YA preferences put me in more of the gray area.

    One thing that I lament is that I’ll be unable to read many of my passages in author events, since I stay away from the mildest of curses in real life, while my characters…it’s nothing severe, but thrown in the suggestive sensuality and LGBT themes, and there’s going to be difficulty marketing this to my classmates and teachers.

  4. Thinking about it, it seems like the dark works that aren’t written by those with depression are written by…perkier, nicer people.

    Florence + the Machine can be macabre at times, especially when water is involved, but Ms. Welch comes off as more plucky in interviews.

  5. Avatar Larik says:

    I’m generally an upbeat person, though I’m far from nice. My book’s main character is a mass murderer, and oh wait, he’s also dead. And his successor is a mercenary that enjoys killing. People keep telling me how depressing and anti-religion my book can be, though (despite my being a Christian xD) so this really brought me some fun memories. xD

  6. Avatar Nicole says:

    My opinion? Write what you want.
    A friend of mine is exactly the same, in fact I think her middle name is happy go lucky. She just finished writing a book where on the first page the main character gets beaten over the head by her farther with her hair brush for having a shower without asking. Page two is worse.
    I don’t think any less of her for what she wrote, though I was surprised. I asked her why she writes this stuff and she shrugged and said when i write that’s what comes out it may surprise people but I’m not any less myself because of it. It just means I have an avid imagination and can explore things that are totally opposite of me. Why should it be taboo for people who don’t have a dark past or who were never involved in this stuff to write them? It’s double standards. If deeply depressed, emoish people who are just coming out of rehab are allowed to write children’s books then Why can’t I write about abused children and the hardships of growing up without love? Though i never had that happen to me?
    I myself write fantasy I have never actually thrown a fire ball or levitated a car off someone but it doesn’t stop me from writing about it. Write whats in your imagination and if other people don’t understand it then they clearly where never meat to be writers…
    Hope that helps…and uh I was never one for dares though I’ll pass it along

  7. Avatar Marc Davies says:

    I know where you’re coming from, Ashley. I’m just waiting to see the reactions from people I know once they’ve finished HIVE. But guess what? If they have a problem with the content, then they weren’t worth knowing in the first place. I’ve got my response all lined up. “Didn’t like the violence and swearing in my book? That’s fine. Everyone has their own opinions…but next time, don’t bother reading my stuff :)”

  8. Avatar J.A. Garland says:

    Very impressed with you. We are all more than the sum of our ‘visible’ parts. And I can relate, I too wonder what everyone at work will say after they read my first release, but I’m trying not too 🙂

  9. Avatar Rita Bay says:

    I Glad you’ve found the support that everyone deserves.I’ll be sure to pick up a copy of Shadow Fox on my next excursion thru the shelves of Champage. Rita

  10. Avatar January Bain says:

    Wow, refreshingly honest blog! I too have this concern. My first series through Champagne is not too uncomfortable to have my neighbours read and I tell my high school students they have to be 18 but there really isn’t anything that worrisome in them, but of late I’ve taken a pen name I’m thinking I will definately not be sharing with anyone in my town or countryside as I found an interest in dark, erotice paranormal fiction that would knock the sock off anyone I know!

    Really glad to have you back and so pleased for you that you’ve got your life on track. it’s not easy being human (maybe that’s why I write about vampires!)


  11. Funny how what you do can be such an influence. I taught Home Ec for years, especially child care and family living, but it wasn’t until my sexy historical romances got published that the kids really began to listen. After all I had to know something to write those kinds of books.

  12. Shine on, Ashley! You have a lot to be proud of and share with the world.

  13. Avatar Jude Johnson says:

    Ah, well done, you! It’s not easy being the elephant in the living room but it can be a real kick to watch the consternation you cause. Your books are fantastic, emotionally charged, and memorable. Keep ’em coming!
    And keep defying the pigeonholes!

  14. Avatar Linda Kage says:

    I so admire your bravery to stand up for your books and what you love to write. Keep out the good work!

  15. Avatar joyce proell says:

    It’s so inspiring to hear you stand tall by your work.

  16. Avatar Cathy Coburn says:

    Very nice Ashley. I have a new book coming out that I almost changed my name for because it’s not what people preceive me to be. I changed my mind and like you I said this is who I am read it or not, I love the book.
    So glad the single life is working out for you and your daughter. Glad to see you back

  17. Thanks for all the great comments, guys!

  18. Avatar Sam Kearns says:

    Never trust the quiet ones. The nice ones.
    There’s madness in there.
    Frothing over.
    Into novels.

  19. Avatar Overlord says:

    Wonderful to hear you being so brave with telling people about your books, Ashley 😉 At the same time, though, you shouldn’t really have to. Oh well, if people’s perceptions of you are changed by your writing then they don’t want to know the real you and perhaps you are better off without them.

  20. Avatar Skythief says:

    Very interesting. Haven’t gone through a lot of dark fantasy as far as reading goes, but I love the Dragon Age games and dark manga/anime, so I might give it a go.

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