Ashley Mackler-Paternostro was born in Naperville, Illinois, where she still lives with her husband Mark and their three dogs.
“We have such a normal life and for that, I’m really so thankful. My husband Mark is absolutely the biggest supporter of my writing, we’ve fit this career into our lives really well.
I often say I left my heart in Seattle and that’s true. Yes, I live in the middle of the Midwest, but if you’ve ever read one of my novels, you know I’m a Pacific Northwestern girl at heart.”
Ashley considers herself a bit of magpie, picking up parts of her stories from everyday experiences and observations. This coincides peacefully with her life long love affair with novels, and what she describes as 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.
“People will tell you ‘life is stranger then fiction’ — and they’re right!
Life is so incredibly strange … people can do some really crazy things when left to their own devices. In my former career, as a stylist, I was privy to all of that; people just want to still down and talk — and they all have something to say. Sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it’s hysterical. But, that’s real life — it’s kind of messy and heartbreaking and fun and manic.
As a reader, I need to lose myself in the book. I cherish the sort of story that I can really invest myself in. The kind that has unforgettable characters, each of whom unfolds to simply pull me deeper in. I have realized that, in the books I love, there is always a point where I can viscerally understand these imaginary beings as though they were dear friends — their motivations, their hungers, their desires and heartbreaks, what they fight for and what they fall for and ultimately the all-important ‘why’ — that is where the lines of what is real and what is unreal become blurred.
When you take all that normal stuff and blend it with the edge of fantastical — the dire circumstances, the crippling sadnesses, the unlikely hero or heroine, the all encompassing, totally consuming love — you can really find yourself in a beautiful place.
When I read, that’s what I’m looking for … and when I write, that is also what I’m looking for — that unique intersection. I have no problem walking away from a book if the characters aren’t telling me their story. They have to flesh themselves out, I have to believe in them in order to work with them. The novels I love and my own personal books are both absolutely, without a doubt character driven … just like real life.”
When she’s not being held captive in her home office by words, Ashley considers herself a flea market hunter with a weakness for Japanese glass floats and repurposing vintage goods.
“There is such bliss in the things from once upon a time. I can’t walk past a piece of furniture without wondering how I can change it, rekindle it, reinvent it. I can’t see pretty glassware and not want to own it. I look at these ordinary objects and wonder: What’s the story behind this, how did it end up here? Where has this been? Who loved this? I can really get swept away in that sort of wondering.”
Writing was always in her blood from the time she was a little girl but it wasn’t until a trip to the Olympic Peninsula in the spring of 2011 that she had the vision.
“You know, it’s sort of cliche how this all started. I was turning 28 and my husband took me on vacation — we went to the Olympic Peninsula for five days to hiking and beach combing and decompressing from the demands of our life.
On my birthday I stood on Rialto Beach. If you’ve never been, it’s not your average beach, Rialto is incredibly this violent coastline constructed of rocks and black sand and pretty much, more or less, a driftwood graveyard. It was the most breathtaking moment for me. I wasn’t at a crossroads — at least, not that I was aware of — but when I came home from Washington State and I was inspired. The Olympic Peninsula centered me. But what was most surprising was that I had ‘this story’ inside my head — ‘the story’ would eventually become The Milestone Tapes — and it was so loud, I couldn’t seem to quiet it down, I simply had to tell it.
So, I sat down and just started writing. I didn’t really think about what I was working on as a ‘novel,’ which, in retrospect, I’m grateful for — once you call something ‘a novel’ there is a lot of pressure and expectation and excitement that comes along with that moniker, to work without any of that, especially the first time, was a gift. But seriously, it never dawned on me that maybe what I was working on was something publishable or even worth publishing, let alone a career path. Way back in the beginning, I was just having so much fun.
Once I hit 30,000 words I knew I’d stumbled into special territory and I did consciously acknowledge that what I was doing during my off hours — the thing I was waking up early and staying up late for — was pretty serious. But still, it all felt very natural, as though this was just how it was supposed to be for me, that this whole ‘writing a novel’ thing was exactly what I should be doing … so I let go and let the story unfold.
Looking back now, I understand that I was at the beginning of a very exciting journey and I ended up with a novel about life and death and love and parenting, wishes and hopes and harrowing choices and, frankly, even I couldn’t believe it.”
Ashley’s writing style reflects the sort of books she herself enjoys reading. Never one to shy away from the uncomfortable or heartbreaking, her novels often ping into the defining moments of life in the middle of great conflict.
“I’m a writer a of real life. I actually really like real life. I enjoy putting my characters into very hard situations and seeing how they’ll figure it out. What never fails to surprise me is that, much of the time, I have no idea how they’ll do it.
What I’ve also figured out is that, in character driven pieces, the factious lives I’m giving my characters can feel very real, and once they do, these characters are usually the ones to give me clues on what comes next for them, and often times, it’s different then what I originally imagined. That’s when I know the time has come for me to surrender almost all control and abandon the notion that the way I see it — or saw it — is the only possible way for the story to be told.
Good endings aren’t always as simple as ‘boy and girl run off and get to live happily ever after’ … that happens sometimes, sure …. but it’s not always genuine. If bad things happen, my characters need to be able to figure out how to adjust and live within the new landscape of their lives … that is something that can’t be forced to fit a mold. I’m not the driver of my novels for very long — maybe the first two or three chapters, but at some point my characters push me out of the way and start telling their own stories and I simply become the typist. That is what I’ve figured out about my writing, and on the page that’s just what translates well for me.”
Ashley’s debuted her first work of Women’s fiction in the spring of 2012 and went on to publish her sophomore effort in the fall of the same year.
“THE MILESTONE TAPES, IN THE AFTER and whatever comes next, for me personally, those stories will always more than just books that fill up shelves … each represents the years of my life, my personal journeys and each one is a whole new chapter for me. I am beyond thrilled to be in the position to share my words and the tales that live inside my head. This really is a dream — a wild dream — come true.”