We are so excited to spotlight R.K. Ashwick today, who writes in our new favourite genre — cosy queer fantasy romance! Join us as we chat to Ashwick about her newest release, A Rival Most Vial, which is a potion-filled M/M romance for fans of Legends & Lattes!
And if you want to be in with a chance of winning your very own paperback, don't forget to check our Instagram later today to enter our giveaway!
Tell us about your newest book, A Rival Most Vial, and what inspired you to write it.
A Rival Most Vial is about two rival potion shop owners who collaborate on a joint commission for the mayor and—you guessed it—discover a different sort of chemistry brewing between them.
Like many other cozy fantasy books, this story is an ode to NPCs. Instead of writing about the questing heroes, I wanted to write about the little guys instead—the ones who sell the healing potions and the fifty feet of rope. What are their lives like? What’s high stakes to them? And, very importantly…how do they fall in love?
Can you tell us a little bit about your characters? Which, if any, did you identify with most and why?
The two rival potioneers, Ambrose and Eli, are peak grumpy/sunshine. Ambrose is a meticulous, brilliant half-elf who’s spent his whole life brewing potions and doing little else. Eli’s a charming, outgoing man who’s still trying to figure out what to do with his life. Surely opening up a new potion shop will work out for him, though, right?
As an introvert myself, I identify most with Ambrose. He and I have the same strategy when it comes to attending (and getting out of) parties, and our idea of a good evening involves a lot of cookies and books.
What initially drew you to the cosy fantasy genre?
As much as I love sword and sorcery adventures—that’s what I grew up reading, after all—I got so excited when I discovered that I could tell other, smaller perspectives within that same kind of world. And the best part is there can still be excitement, and romance, and stakes, and heavy emotion! I can have all my favorite things, wrapped up in the magical minutiae of a potion shop! What more could I ask for?
The book features an enemies-to-lovers romance! What other tropes do you enjoy writing and are your preferences as a reader any different?
I am such a sucker for the lovely narrative arc that enemies/rivals-to-lovers provides. I’m also in love with the idea of found family—of people deliberately choosing you and caring for you, and you doing the same for them. I’d also love to try out the fake dating trope in a future book, because hello, the pining potential there! Magnificent! Pining’s my favorite.
I also love hurt/comfort and can’t write a book without it. Sorry not sorry.
How did you build a strong magical setting for this novel? Did you draw from other places, real or fictional? What did your writing process look like in regard to world-building and why did you decide Ambrose would be half-elf?
(Fun fact: Ambrose was originally a quarter-elf, but it was too difficult to explain in an already packed first chapter, so I just went with half-elf.)
In terms of world-building, I based the structure of the city on Antelope Canyon, then focused on RPGs and games for what a reader would expect from an NPC city. What would an adventurer want to buy on Rosemond Street? What would be on Ambrose’s shelves versus Eli’s shelves given their differing levels of expertise? What would be considered an illegal or dangerous potion, and how does that relate to the abilities, limits, and sources of magic in the overall world?
For me, world-building is a maze of circular dependencies. Your magic system, setting, characters, and plot all influence each other. What I try to keep in mind is: they all need to service the story and its sequels. (So, make it coherent for your book with enough wiggle room to expand.)
Did you come across any challenges while writing A Rival Most Vial? How did you overcome them?
Yes, absolutely! Pacing a rivals-to-lovers arc was a tricky, delicate balance for me. You want to properly devolve their relationship first, so when they’re forced to work together, they can’t stand each other in a trackable, well-justified way. But then you also need to build that relationship back up at the right pace, or else the readers will either get bored or not buy the arc. It was really difficult and stressful to figure out, since their relationship is the emotional core of the story.
You have another book named The Stray Spirit. Tell us a little bit about what readers can expect in this one!
Yes! The Stray Spirit is a higher-stakes cozy fantasy in a pseudo-Regency setting, all about a bard who gets a talkative forest spirit trapped in his lute. He joins forces with his scholarly ex-girlfriend to return the spirit home—but deep in their spirit research, the trio discovers a forgotten threat looming on the horizon.
(And, just like with A Rival Most Vial, there are illustrations in the book!)
Is there any representation you wish you saw more of in media?
As both a reader and a writer, I’d appreciate seeing more mentally and physically disabled characters. I’m working on a character in a sequel who has a physical disability, and I’m realizing that it’s a little tough to find books for research-reading that have handled this sort of thing before. As a reader, I’d love to see those broader perspectives, and as a writer, I honestly think it would give me more confidence to branch out in my own work.
We’d love a hint about any of your current projects! Are you working on anything that might please or even surprise your readers?
I’ve got a lot going on, actually!
The Spirit Well, the sequel to The Stray Spirit
A Captured Cauldron, the sequel to A Rival Most Vial
Bonus scenes for both series are coming out soon as newsletter reader magnets!
Two short stories are also coming out this year! One is about Emry’s recovery in Senne, and the other is about a bake sale on Rosemond Street.
Have any other shows, movies, books, or games influenced your own work at all?
Absolutely! Dungeons & Dragons, How to Train Your Dragon, His Majesty’s Dragon (don’t judge me, I know that’s a lot of dragons), The Hobbit, Legends & Lattes, Stardew Valley, Harvest Moon, and so many others.
In my books, I want the cozy feel of Harvest Moon and the heartfelt emotion of How to Train Your Dragon. If I can hit that sweet spot, I’m good.
If you could give any advice to indie authors set to make their debut, what would it be?
Yes! And it would be: evaluate your goals, abilities, and limits before you jump in. Do you want to publish for fun or as a career? Can you do your own covers and editing, or will you need help? How fast or slow do you write, and how does that align with your goals? What sort of budget and marketing time do you have?
Be honest and non-judgmental with yourself. Writing for fun isn’t better or worse than writing as a career. Not being able to do your own covers isn’t a moral failure, nor is avoiding BookTok for your mental health. We all can and can’t do different things, and that’s okay!
I realize those aren’t fun things to think about, but if you don’t give yourself a solid direction at the start, it’s far too easy to get lost in a spiral of comparing yourself to others. Remember, other authors have different goals, abilities, and limits. If you find yourself going “well, I’m not like that one guy who writes full-time, has no kids, and publishes 20 books a year,” when in reality, your goal is to write a book a year for personal fulfillment while juggling a job and kids—well, you’re just not gonna have a good time! And I don’t want that for you. I want you to have fun and be fulfilled. That’s all.
Our podcast focuses on media we’re currently loving. Are there any books, shows, movies, games, or podcasts you’re enjoying this Pride month? Any recommendations for our audience?
Yes!! I’d like to give a shout-out to D.N. Bryan’s m/m vampire books, particularly Bite Your Neighbor and Win a Wager. If you’re looking for queer contemporary vampire romance, check it out.
By day, R.K. Ashwick herds cats in the animation industry. By night, she writes, bakes, and herds her literal cat around her living room. She lives with her husband (and said cat) in California.
The Stray Spirit (fantasy) released in August 2022.
A Rival Most Vial (queer fantasy romance) releases in March 2023.