Spotlight: Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles, Plus Interview, Excerpt, & Giveaway!
Today we're spotlighting Ashlee Cowles' novel, Beneath Wandering Stars! Read on for more about Ashlee and her novel, plus an interview, excerpt, and giveaway!
Meet Ashlee Cowles!
Ashlee Cowles grew up an Army "brat" and subsequently worked with a nonprofit that supports teens in military families. She holds graduate degrees from Duke University and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and teaches literature and
philosophy. As a student, Ashlee studied abroad in Spain and walked part of the Camino de Santiago.
Meet Beneath Wandering Stars!
After her soldier brother is horribly wounded in Afghanistan, Gabriela must honor the vow she made: If anything ever happened to him, she would walk the Camino de Santiago through Spain, making a pilgrimage in his name. The worst part is that the promise stipulates that she must travel with her brother's best frienda boy she has despised all her life. Her brother is in a coma, and Gabi feels that she has no time to waste, but she is unsure. Will she hesitate too long, or risk her own happiness to keep a promise? An upclose look at the lives of the children of military families, Beneath Wandering Stars takes readers on a journey of love, danger, laughter, and friendship, against all odds.
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
Ashlee Cowles: Beneath Wandering Stars was born of many experiences, the main one being my own upbringing in a military family. My dad was an officer in the Army for twenty years, so we moved eight times by the time I was eighteen. I can’t recall ever reading or hearing about a novel told from the perspective of a military kid like me‐‐ something that seemed strange since there are so many people who have grown up in this unique subculture. So when I decided to try writing a Young Adult novel, I figured, “Hey, I can write that story!”‐‐the one I’ve been waiting to read. From the very beginning, I wanted the book to be set on a military installation overseas in Germany (that’s where I spent my high school years and it was such an awesome experience). I got the idea for including the Camino de Santiago trek after visiting Spain and walking part of this route. Although Beneath Wandering Stars is fiction, it was definitely inspired by a lot of personal experiences.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
AC: I would have thought Gabi was my favorite character given that I spent so much time inside her head, but I actually think my favorite character is Seth. Gabi feels like someone I created (and I love her!), but Seth has always felt real in a different way‐‐ like he could actually exist outside of my own imagination. He also embodies the emotions and contradictions and struggles that come with the military lifestyle, which is probably why he rings so true to me. I also love his sense of humor‐‐he’d make a great boyfriend. :)
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
AC: I knew this had to be the first book I published after writing the scene where Gabi and Seth reach a mysterious, medieval chapel on the Camino de Santiago near the village of Eunate, which is said to have been built by the Knights Templar. I visited this otherworldly spot years ago and the place has stuck with me ever since. Not only is this the scene where Gabi and Seth’s relationship takes a decisive turn, it is also the scene where they both realize why they are making a pilgrimage across Spain in the first place. I also think it’s one of the most visual scene of the book‐‐I can see every detail in my mind, and I hope it’s the same way for readers!
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
AC: The book cover is exactly what I always envisioned‐‐I’m not kidding! I remember telling my best friend (before I ever had a publishing contract) that my ideal cover would be bright blue and have stars on it, but they would be funky and contemporary‐looking rather than realistic. It turns out the people at Merit Press are not only wonderful to work with, they’re apparently mind readers!
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
AC: I like aspects of both. I love the initial burst of energy and imagination that is part of the drafting process...but I also know that the first draft is going to need a lot of work. So if I had to choose, I’d say I enjoy the revising process most because that’s when the story really comes together. That said, I’m starting to plot my novels more by using outlines, so maybe that will make the first draft more enjoyable.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2015?
AC: This book wasn’t published in 2015, but I read it in 2015‐‐A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. The YA novels I love most tend to have a certain “timeless” quality. In other words, they are stories that can be enjoyed by many age groups and will be just as beloved 10 or 20 years from now as they are today. A Northern Light definitely fits this description. Donnelly’s writing is beautiful and her secondary character, Weaver, is probably one of my all time favorite YA characters.
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
AC: Although I haven’t been involved with all of these organizations yet, the research I did while writing Beneath Wandering Stars led me to several nonprofit organizations that are doing wonderful work on behalf of the military community. My novel deals with the healing and inner transformation that can take place as a result of going on a physical journey‐‐or just a really long walk! This theme made me wonder if there were actually veterans going on these kinds of walks when they returned home from war, which is how I discovered a fantastic organization in the UK called Walking with the Wounded. The Battle Buddy Foundation and the Military Child Education Coalition are also doing great work in service to veterans and their families.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
AC: I’m currently finishing up revisions for two Young Adult novels. The first is a story about two teen girls‐‐one in the present day and one on the Titanic in 1912‐‐who are united across time by a family mystery that takes place in a Downton Abbey‐ish manor in England. The other novel is a contemporary retelling of Dante’s 14th century epic poem, The Divine Comedy, set in the atmospheric world of modern‐day New Orleans. If you’re interested in either of these stories you can stay updated on publication developments by signing up for my author newsletter here‐‐you’ll also receive a little Beneath Wandering Stars welcome gift from Gabi and Seth! :)
Mail service in the midst of a war. It’s crazy when you stop and think about it. Some guy’s job requires him to dodge bullets just so messages like the one that arrived in my mailbox today can make it from soldiers to their families.
The book in my hands is almost as tattered as the manila envelope it came in, postmarked in Kabul. There’s no letter, no note of explanation, only this dogeared paperback that’s seen better days. An image of a golden galley—one of those ancient
Greek ships that wandered the waves of the winedark sea—sits in the center of the cobalt cover, right below the boldfaced title.
“That from your soldier?”
My soldier? For the record, I will never have a soldier.
I look up from the book and meet the smiling eyes of a stocky lieutenant. I can tell he’s a first lieutenant because of the silver bar on his camouflage uniform. His name badge reads Martinez. Idle chitchat doesn’t fly in the Army, so it’s best to have vital info up front and out in the open.
Soldiers are getting off duty, so the post office is crowded. I slam my mailbox shut. “It’s from my brother.”
The smile in the lieutenant’s eyes travels to his lips. “Always fun to get a gift from the Sandbox.”
“Lucas isn’t in Iraq,” I reply. “He’s in Afghanistan.”
“Even better,” says the lieutenant, shuffling through his junk mail.
I can’t tell if that’s sarcasm in his voice or not, so I return to the equally cryptic communication from my brother, to the book that makes no sense. Lucas left one clue, scrawled on its title page:
Do you remember that day, Gabi? How much we wanted to see the lights in the sky?
I do. Only instead of lights, we saw the sky crash down 110 flights of stairs.
I was young, but I can conjure up every detail of that September morning. How excited Lucas was to glimpse the green swirls of Alaska’s northern lights. The sweet smell in the car from the banana bread Mom packed for our breakfast. That Odysseus was about to outwit the Cyclops when Dad switched from my audiobook to the radio, and we heard the news about the towers, the Pentagon, the planes. How my father—who wasn’t in uniform, but still wore the insignia of the military in the pinched corners of his mouth—looked more anxious than I’d ever seen him, which made me more afraid than I’d ever been.
Most of all, I remember the way Lucas held my hand. He kept holding it through all the moves, goodbyes, and deployments that followed. Lucas is only eleven months older, so we’ve always been close. But after that day, he never let go. Not until he followed in Dad’s footsteps and joined a war that started when he was still playing with G.I. Joes. “You okay, kid?” asks Martinez, who’s watching me stare at this book like I’m famished and it’s food. “You look like you’re about to pass out.”
“I’m okay,” I lie.
Lucas and I never talk about 9/11. That means this book isn’t
It’s a message.
Sweat beads along the back of my neck as I flip through the paperback and notice specific verses highlighted in neon green. One reads, Ares in his many fits knows no favorites.
Weird. Ares is the Greek god of war, but what exactly is Lucas trying to tell me?
My brother deployed six months ago. He’s pretty good at keeping in touch, thanks to e mail and Facebook, but Lucas and I aren’t exactly oldschool pen pals. I’d expect him to send a souvenir from an Afghan market, or maybe a stash of flavored shisha tobacco for the hookah he had me hide in my closet. But a book?
Now, I love books. They’re the most portable friends a military brat can have, but this isn’t any book. Lucas and I used to listen to the audio version of the children’s Odyssey during long drives and crosscountry moves. I’d imagine our family’s station wagon was our galley ship, the open road our Mediterranean Sea. The only thing missing was our Ithaca—the home we were trying to return to despite the detours.
I haven’t read or listened to the Odyssey since that dark day over a decade ago, but I’m certain we have a copy buried in a moving box somewhere. Why would Lucas send another one?
Maybe it’s a warning.
Or maybe I’m just paranoid.
Beneath Wandering Stars
By: Ashlee Cowles
Release Date: August 18, 2016
Two winners will receive a hardcover copy of Beneath Wandering Stars (US only).
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First off I love the cover, it's pretty. Also this book sounds interesting. I can't imagine how hard it would be to lose a brother.
All I can think is that I hope her brother comes out of the coma! The cover is not as striking as I'd expect....I'd like to see something from Spain!
I think this book will let me travel to another country that I've never visited and experience what life is like there. I'm looking forward to it.