I’m so excited to be sharing an interview with author Ashlee Cowles with you all today!
Ashlee Cowles is the author of Beneath Wandering Stars and Below Northern Lights. Y’all have hear me rave about Beneath Wandering Stars before in my post “7 Books About Military Kids.” Guys, if you haven’t already, READ THIS BOOK. It is honestly one of my favorite books, and I was so excited when Ashlee Cowles agreed to do an interview. She is not only a great writer, but also so kind, inspiring, and all-around amazing. Keep on reading for my interview with Ashlee!
Tell me three random facts about yourself!
- I once swam a few feet away from a shark…only I didn’t know it until I got out of the water and saw the fin! (Maybe this is why I now prefer swimming in the Great Lakes to the ocean!).
- My high school prom was held in a German castle.
- I’m pretty sure I could live off of olives, cheese, and fresh baguettes.
How did growing up as a military kid influence you and your stories?
So far all of my stories are rooted in locations I’ve either lived in or traveled to, in large part because of my mobile military upbringing. I love stories with a strong atmosphere and sense of place. I think living in different regions and among a variety of different cultures has given me an ability to recognize the little details that make all of those places “home” in some way (because most military kids don’t just have one home — they have certain memories that feel like home). For example, I can still remember the sound of cicadas from spending my early childhood years in Alabama and Texas, I know what it feels like to not see the sun for weeks during a Pacific Northwest winter, and one of my favorite scents is the smell of cinnamon almonds roasting at a German Christmas market. Those are the kinds of special details I try to incorporate into my stories to make them feel real, but mostly, I just love writing about people from vastly different backgrounds who are trying to work together and figure out how to make their way in this complicated world. Growing up in the military community gave me a lot to think about in that regard.
Where did you get the inspiration for you novel, Beneath Wandering Stars?
My own upbringing as a military kid was definitely a major source of inspiration. There is a huge population of teens who know what it’s like to change schools multiple times because your family has to move every few years, and who know what it’s like to have a parent or loved one deployed to a war zone for months at a time. Yet I hadn’t read any Young Adult novels that focused on this unique upbringing, so I decided to follow Toni Morrison’s advice — “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Your story is set during a pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago. Why did you choose that as the setting for Beneath Wandering Stars?
I knew I wanted to set my military kid story overseas on a U.S. military base in Europe (since that’s a unique experience many military kids have at some point), but I also wanted my protagonist (in this case, Gabi) to go on some kind of adventure that would cause her to grapple with the challenges that are part of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. After I walked the Camino de Santiago myself in 2011, I finally knew what my “adventure” would be and the rest of the story kind of fell into place! The Camino is a real-life “Hero’s Journey” and a fantastic setting for fiction — you meet so many interesting people who are walking the route for all kinds of reasons. I knew it would be the perfect setting for Gabi to encounter other characters who would stretch her and help her grow.
What message do you hope readers take away from Beneath Wandering Stars?
Whether or not you grew up in a military family like Gabi, I think a lot of us feel are longing for more connection and feel a little “homeless” right now, like there isn’t one physical location where we feel like we belong. The last line of the book will probably always be my favorite — “People are the only home the Army issues.” Because that’s what “home” ultimately means to me — it isn’t just a place, it’s the relationships and memories we carry with us no matter where we go.
If you had the chance to go on a trip with one of the characters from Beneath Wandering Stars, who would it be and why? Where would you go?
What a fun question! I would probably want to go on another walking pilgrimage, and I would love to take along Homer, the German Shepherd, who makes an appearance at the end of the book. He’s such a loyal companion and he would make me feel safe if I wasn’t traveling with other people (Homer also plays a major role in the sequel to Beneath Wandering Stars, Below Northern Lights). I’ve had serious wanderlust for Italy (and gelato) lately, so I would probably want to hike the Way of St. Francis — a pilgrimage route from La Verna that passes through Assisi and ends in Rome.
What are three of your favorite books?
Three recent favorites are A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly, Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, and Pilgrim’s Inn by Elizabeth Goudge.
What is your favorite quote?
I love this quote so much that it’s actually on the homepage of my website: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” ~T.S. Eliot
Lastly, what is your number one piece of advice for writers everywhere?
To write well, I think you first have to see well. By that I mean you have to notice details and pay attention to what moves you and what moves other people. That’s why I’ve kept a notebook of quotes and poems and little snippets of writing that I love — it helps me to pay closer attention to what kind of words ring true and why they make me feel something long after I’ve finished reading them.
Thank you so much, Ashlee! I’ve loved having you on my blog and reading your fantastic answers.
About Ashlee Cowles
Ashlee Cowles is the award-winning author of BENEATH WANDERING STARS (Simon Pulse), BELOW NORTHERN LIGHTS, and WISDOM FOR THE WAY. Raised in a military family without roots, Ashlee enjoys traveling the world almost as much as she loves telling stories. Learn more at ashleecowles.com.