I’m delighted to have historical fiction author Ashby Jones as a guest on my blog today. He’s the author of The Crossing, a novel set in 1920s New York that presents a fantastic cast of characters and reflection on many meaningful matters.
You can read my review of the novel here.
The Crossing is quite a puzzling story, quite unusual, so I had a few questions for Ashby.
Here’s what he told me.
Hi, Ashby. Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey as a writer.
My journey as a writer started the day I was born, grew as I became an orphan, continued to expand under the tutelage of best-selling author, William Hoffman, screenwriter, Leonardo Bercovici and editor, David Groff. From college, where I wrote my first (never published) novel, the challenging events in my life accumulated to create thematic material in my heart and literally in the nooks of my soul – healing, forgiveness, retribution, shame, guilt and love. These qualities blend and fight for resolution and escape in my characters, as they have in me.
The Irish 1920s are a very complex time, no doubt about it. I can see why authors are so fascinated with it. You refer to many real historical events. How did you choose which were right for the theme of your story?
The historical events key to The Crossing emerge in the interaction between and among characters, unwrapping the plot and letting the story unfold. A few examples – Bigotry and racism? where better than the surreal surroundings spotted in the hospitals and streets of Hell’s Kitchen after the War and during Prohibition. The need for reconciliation and forgiveness? where better than Johnny reading Esme’s passionate love letter on the steps of St. Brigid’s Church. The resolution of the difficult leap between Then and Now? where better than on a pier when the past sets sail? And how are these connected? when the power of healing refuses to let them stand alone.
Speaking about themes, I think the one at the core of your novel is very powerful. To me, that theme is healing, which is particularly relevant in today’s world. Do you think you would have addressed it anyway if we hadn’t lived through a pandemic?
Re, healing and the pandemic. The pandemic was at play after The Crossing was written. It had no impact, but World War 1, in many ways a much greater pandemic, certainly did.
One of the things I enjoyed the most about your book is the surreal quality many episodes have, especially (but not only) those regarding Esme. How did you decide that a straight historical novel was not enough?
Surrealism is typically defined as the emergence of the unconscious mind. I would change the word to the subconscious mind, those thoughts, feelings, dreams and tragedies that lie just below the surface and are called upon to rise and come together in an attempt to see beyond the moment, allowing folks to paint a picture of the moment as they wish it could be. It may come from afar, time past, perhaps created by the architypes of one’s past. The subconscious can become a great place to escape the present and enter a world where fantasy can become hope, where the unused can become fruitful, where beauty can be enhanced by the possibility of love.
The ‘crossing’ is a symbol. The novel starts with an actual crossing and ends with an emotional one (this is how I read it, anyway). Tell us a bit more about the title of your novel.
The title is best described by the blurb on the cover: “When love is trapped in the maelstrom between then and now, the crossing cannot be made.” How often is forgiveness denied when at fault we cannot return to the past and confront it, asking ourselves if we had it to do over, would we do the same as we did then? To avoid coming to grips with the past infects the heart’s ability to change, leashing the opportunity to understand not only ourselves but others, tying us to the post of devolution where anger, shame, guilt and remorse deny growth.
What are your future projects? Will they still be linked to Ireland?
Future projects. Thank you for asking! The Little Bird, a novel based on two true stories, wed in fiction in an attempt to bring forth the truth in each. It is introduced this way: “Shane came home to kill a man. Suzanne came home because she already had. Co-incidence is God’s way of showing He cares.” Would love to discuss further, if interested.
Ashby Jones has been writing historical novels for 50 years. With degrees in Literature and Clinical Psychology; Creative Writing at UCLA under the guidance of Leonardo Bercovici. Jones previously published: The Angel’s Lamp in 2017 which was well received and reviewed by the Irish Times. Jones’s passion is writing literary fiction that attempts to understand mankind’s never-ending battles with irony, tragedy, blatant contradiction, and the anomalies of love. Such is the focus of The Crossing, a stand-alone sequel to The Angel’s Lamp, his first novel. He studied under such notables as William Hoffman, a best-selling author, and years later at U.C.L.A. under Leonardo Bercovici, a highly regarded screenwriter.
This post is part of the Reading Ireland Month, a March event organised by Cathy Brown from the 746 Books Blog. It celebrates everything Irish, from books (of course!) to films, arts, food, culture and history – and much more of the Emerald Island.
Go have a look. It’s great fun!