Q&A: CMU alumna, sc-fi author discusses her books, strong female characters, self-publishing

Ash will be at Motor City Comic Con between Oct. 14 and 16


When the apocalypse strikes the near future, Central Michigan University’s dorms could be a shelter for survivors. 

That is, if you are a fictional character in Holly Ash's most recent science fiction novel.    

Ash is an independent sci-fi author who wrote “The Journey Missions” and “Cleansing Rain” series. Ash graduated from CMU in 2007 with degrees in environmental engineering and English. 

This September, she published her second novel in the “Cleansing Rain” series, called “Crashing Tide.” The story takes place on CMU's campus. Ash has been invited to Motor City Comic Con from Oct. 14 to 16.    

Central Michigan Life spoke with Ash about her journey as a self-published author, her views on strong female characters and participation in Motor City Comic Con.

How did you find out you wanted to be a writer?

I have always loved science and books. I was making up stories and making my friends act them out on the playground before I even knew what I was really doing. I started writing sci-fi and fan fiction type stuff in middle school. But I knew it was really hard to get a publishing contract and self-publishing was not an option when I was in school.

I had chosen CMU to go to the journalism program, but then I realized I didn’t really like interviewing people. I wanted to keep with the writing though, so I found an environmental science degree, and my second major was English. I thought that was perfect – I could do the science part that I love and the writing side that I love.

What are your books about and how did you get an inspiration to write them?

“Crystal and Flint” is the first book of “The Journey Missions” series. It was based on the characters I created in middle school. When I was around 12 years old I started writing fan fiction for the ‘90s sci-fi show “seaQuest DSV” with a friend of mine. We started exchanging stories and building up our worlds. 

I took those two characters in that underwater sci-fi world and that eventually became the inspiration for my first series. 

“Crystal and Flint” is a soft military sci-fi. It is like “Star Trek” military vibes, but it’s all under water. It takes place on a far future distant planet that has been colonized by humans. Each book in the series is a different mission, in which two main female characters start as rivals but learn how to work together. There are four books in the series so far, the fifth one is coming out in the end of the next year. 

My other series is a two-book series: “Cleansing Rain” and “Crashing Tide”. They are about conspiracy theories and ecoterrorism. It is set in a near future, in Detroit. It is a suspense thriller type with sprinkles of sci-fi.

The main characters are CMU alumni. A large portion of “Crashing Tide” takes place on campus and around Mount Pleasant because where else would you want to write all the apocalypse rather than in the dorms?

What places at CMU do you describe in “Crashing Tide”?

“Crashing Tide” takes place the most in Beddow Hall, because that’s where I lived. The greenhouse outside Brooks is where the characters are going to start their farming. The cannon from the football field makes an appearance. The characters use it when they see somebody new coming to town. 

How do you create strong female characters in a type of literature that lacks representation?

All of my books have different versions of strong female characters. Whenever anybody thinks that, they think of a warrior or an exception-to-the-rules character, and I have a lot of issues with that. I also find that in literature they pit female characters as if it’s okay to have one strong female character, but they can’t have all of the female characters strong. 

In “Cleansing Rain” and “Crashing Tide” I wanted to show different kinds of strength with Zoe. We see her cry, confused what to do, make mistakes throughout the book. But she keeps getting back up. I wanted to show something realistic that people could relate to.

Characters from my other book, "Crystal and Desiree," fit more into that stereotypical role. They are warriors. Crystal’s story is a lot of how to find a balance between strength, emotions and love.

What can college students learn from strong female characters?

It is having the courage to stand up for what you believe in. Don’t accept anything less than you deserve. 

There is a scene in “Crystal and Flint” when Crystal and Desiree start working together, and a member of Crystal’s combat team makes a sexually suggestive comment about Desiree and she shuts him down immediately. She kicks him out of the team and ends his career. That’s what zero tolerance should look like.

I had a 12-year-old reach out to me and say how important that scene was for them. They didn’t know that they didn’t have to accept talk like that. That really hit me.

As an independent writer, how do you write and publish a book?

It takes a ton of work. For me it takes a year from when I start drafting and I publish. I typically do work on two books in a time. 

There is still a lot of stigmas, unfortunately, that self-published books are a lower quality than traditionally published ones. It’s not been my experience. 

When I started to do “Crystal and Flint,” I did send it out to agents. I had five or six agents who were reading the whole book, but the feedback I was getting on how to make it marketable – how to sell it – would have changed the story in a way I wasn’t comfortable with. One agent said that Desiree is not really likable in the beginning. She knows she is awesome and she is not afraid to say it. The agent said that they loved the story but they needed me to change Desiree into a male character, because a woman cannot be so arrogant. I said, 'no.' 

Traditional publishers are looking at how to sell the book. I wanted to tell my stories and maintain that creative control. When you do that, you are in charge of everything, so you have to find and hire your own editors, cover designers, proofreaders and you do your own marketing and formatting. 

How do you feel about Motor City Comic Con?

I love doing Motor City Comic Con, I love getting out and connecting with readers. I will be there this weekend selling and signing the books. I have done it a couple of times, and I get readers coming back every year, and it is really just a great energy. 

To me, the coolest place to hang out at the comic con events are tables with local and independent artists.

What advice would you give yourself as a CMU student and only starting to write?

When I started writing, I thought it was an independent solo career, something that you do by yourself. But that is so wrong. 

You need to have a community that understands your struggles, that can help you and support you. There are also so many amazing online communities for writers. You are not alone, there are so many people who want to help you put your story out there. 

Find your people. Writing is hard if you don’t have people cheering you on and supporting you.