Author Interview - Allyson S. Barkley
Allyson S. Barkley is the author of A Memory of Light, the first of the Until the Stars Are Dead fantasy series, and many other never-to-be-published novels, short stories, poems, and essays. Her second novel, A Vision in Smoke, is set to be published in spring of 2022.
Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, Allyson grew up an avid reader, writer, and horseback rider. She finds herself particularly inspired by hikes in far-off places, strangers in coffee shops, and clever music lyrics.
Allyson earned a degree in Global Studies and Hispanic Literatures & Cultures from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives in Durham, North Carolina with her partner and their two cats.
Genre: YA/NA Fantasy
Q1: What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
My latest book is called A Memory of Light. It is the first book in my series Until the Stars Are Dead. The second book is going through final editing stages now and will release early in 2022. A Memory of Light was born from some solo traveling I did about five years ago and started as a story about a young woman on an epic journey. That soon evolved into something that wrapped up all of my ongoing struggles and experiences into a much more complex four-book series.
Q2: When you’re writing an emotional or difficult scene, how do you set the mood?
I plan my writing in the sense that I outline the story arcs, but I don’t force myself to write certain scenes when they aren’t coming to me easily. I tend to jump around and then come back to tie them together. The most emotional scenes are usually written in moments when I’m feeling particularly emotional – whether joyful or grieving – about something and need to put it into words. Pouring that feeling into my stories is the best way for me to process those moments.
Q3: What authors, or books have influenced you?
Jane Austen, J.R.R. Tolkien, Fredrik Backman, and Cormac McCarthy. Each of them contributed something very important to my writing, though they are all very different authors. Austen’s character development is so full of beauty and depth. I admire how she makes every moment critical, how a single look or moment of silence can speak volumes. Her stories are about everyday life and yet she manages to enthral readers centuries later because she is such a master of character work. Tolkien is – of course – a king of fantasy. His quests are legendary and inspired Ari and Ely’s journey in my series Until the Stars Are Dead, to an extent. I also love his grand, biblical style of writing. It’s not exactly how I write, but there are hints of it there in certain moments. Backman is my contemporary hero. He can twist and turn a phrase like no one else. Each of his characters and every piece of his dialogue are absolutely real and true and cut to the heart. I aspire to write words that speak to the humanity in all of us. McCarthy has a similar way with dialogue. I love how simple it is. He understands that you don’t need fancy words to ask the big questions. And he can write angst and fury and despair like almost no one else.
Q4: When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been writing since I was old enough to hold a pencil. It wasn’t until I had graduated from college that I realized my work might be worth publishing. That idea was freeing and terrifying, but I haven’t looked back since!
Q5: What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?
Write something almost every day and write everything. Every single experience and observation can serve as inspiration so pay attention to the little details in the world around you. Writing is not about creating content out of nothing; it’s about taking what is in and around you and turning it into something different. Each moment and each feeling is worth being shared. Journaling and note-taking are great ways to keep those creative juices flowing and remind your brain to look for the little things.
Q6: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
Just how much of myself I put into them. I knew that I was drawing on certain experiences but I didn’t realize until a few years after my first drafts were done that I’d written myself, my grief, my trauma, and my hope into them so explicitly. Writing has become a critical part of my emotional and mental health care routine but it took me a long time to realize how important it was for my mental processing. Now that I know, I’m never looking back. There is something so powerful about putting those emotions into fictional characters, like trying on different clothes. You can ask questions or experiment with solutions that you might be afraid to try in real life. Putting my characters through these paces has allowed me to come to some interesting and impactful conclusions about myself and my life.
Q7: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I don’t have one specific experience in mind, but I think I understood this idea from a young age. I loved stories and reading and was fascinated by the ways words could make me feel so many different things. My dad also taught us that language is important – that learning grammar, understanding new words, and using them persuasively is critical. My perspectives changed even more when I learned Spanish and travelled to different Spanish speaking countries. This had such a huge impact on me and my understanding of how language works and how important it is.
Q8: What was the first book that made you cry?
I have cried over so many books that I’m not sure! Probably something like Black Beauty or Little Women when I was young.
Q9: What are you working on now?
I’m working on the second book of Until the Stars Are Dead. I’m incorporating my beta feedback and plan to publish in early spring. A Memory of Light ends on a bit of cliff-hanger, so I’m very excited to give my readers the next instalment!
Q10: What are you currently reading?
I’m listening to Tarnished Empire on audiobook and plan to start For the Wolf soon. I also just read Lovely, Dark and Deep by Claudia Cain and highly recommend it to anyone interested in spooky fantasy books! She is a fabulous author.
A Memory of Light is available in paperback and ebook format. Keep scrolling to read the blurb and excerpt that Allyson so kindly shared with us!
An exceptionally-skilled thief, Ari lives deep in the forest with no one but her bobcat Jagger for company. She is determined to keep to herself as civil war drags on around her, but when a mysterious stranger appears with an unexpected job offer, she has no choice but to leave her quiet life behind.
Unwillingly paired with chatty, optimistic magician Ely, Ari finds her patience, wits, and skill tested when the journey quickly proves to be far from what either of them bargained for. Ari must face one of the greatest tests of her thieving career - and come to terms with the many secrets she has been hiding.
With an exciting heroine and a diverse cast of characters, A Memory of Light is the first title in the fantasy series Until the Stars Are Dead, which follows Ari and Ely's adventures navigating the dangers of their complicated, quickly-changing world.
And here is a brief excerpt:
"The next several hours seemed to drag on, or rather, they passed so quickly that Ari felt they were not making any headway at all. The sun hurried across the sky while the three travelers raced it on much slower horses. She was growing tense, the pressure of her own expectations making her grumpy and particularly anxious to get out of the open air. Picking up on Ari’s stress, Jagger glanced back at the two humans behind him and lengthened his smooth stride to cover more ground. Ari followed his lead, pushing herself forward despite the many hours they had already logged that day. Ely’s footsteps came from the rear in the same steady pattern, pounding the purple grass down into the soft earth.
As they moved on, the plains darkened with the evening light, turning a deep blue, almost black against the still-bright sky. Ari got the sense that they were running upside-down, with the sky in the earth and the earth in the sky, everything hanging by a thread so that they might fall at any moment. She wondered, if they did fall, whether they would land on the ground or fly among the stars until they were lost for good. It did not seem like it would be so bad to be stuck up there, as long as Jagger was with her.
Dav had always spoken to her of the stars, of the creatures that went to live there after life was done, and Ari had loved his stories, but never believed him. It was too dangerous to believe in anything that she could not see. What remained of the world was a battlefield, and she figured that there weren’t many humans left who had souls worthy of the constellations anyway."