For fans of My (Not So) Perfect Life and Jasmine Guillory’s While We Were Dating, a disarmingly fun debut novel follows Carlisa Henton as her life comes undone after a chance meeting with a rising pop star.
Carlisa “Carli” Henton is a musician and songwriter hoping to follow in her father’s musical footsteps. But, biding her time until she makes it big in the music industry, she works as a junior account manager at a big-name media company to cover her New York City rent. Carli meticulously balances her work with her musical endeavors as a songwriter—until a chance meeting with rising star Tau Anderson sends her calculated world into a frenzy. Their worlds collide and quickly blur the strict lines Carli has drawn between her business and her personal life, throwing Carli’s reputation—and her burgeoning songwriting career—into question.
A smart, timely, energizing romance, Good Morning, Love shows us what the glamorous New York’s music scene is really like and takes us into the lives of a rising but somewhat troubled R&B star and a promising protégé who knows her job better than she knows herself.
With fresh and honest prose, Good Morning, Love examines the uncertainty of being a new professional looking to chase a dream while also trying to survive in a world that’s not always kind to ambitious women
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview you, Mrs. Coleman! Congratulations on publishing your novel, Good Morning, Love!
Introvert Interrupted: Can you tell readers about yourself and your journey to publishing Good Morning, Love?
Ashley M. Coleman: I am a writer and music industry executive. I’ve worked in music over ten years and so in many ways, it feels like Good Morning, Love is the debut novel it took a lifetime to write. Starting as a young person pursuing a career in music, I always felt like great stories lived there and like the people I was meeting were these larger-than-life characters. I started the story of Good Morning, Love to try to secure a writing fellowship and when that didn’t work out, I decided to keep going. I had a twenty-page sample that I liked so I kept writing. I was swirling around with this idea of what happens when a playboy falls in love? And that birthed the story of Tau and Carli. Thankfully, I was able to secure my agent in early 2020 and by the spring, we’d sold the manuscript to 37Ink/Simon &Schuster which has honestly been a dream come true.
II: How did you come up with the characters of Carlisa “Carli” Henton and Tau Anderson? Did you have any specific music artists in mind?
A: I like to say that they’re a composite of many artists. I absolutely love music. I listen to a lot of it for pleasure and for work. So, I took pieces of all the great artists I know both known and unknown to carve out the characters of Tau and Carli.
II: Carli’s story resonated with me as we see her walking a fine line in Good Morning, Love between having a “stable job” as a junior accounts manager and following her passion for becoming a singer and songwriter. To side characters, like Dylan and Red, Carli’s writing partners, Carli’s life feels charmed, causing her to receive flack for hustling to pursue her dreams.
In a time when some readers may also feel that they are being forced to choose between their passion and making a livable wage, what would you want readers to learn from Carli’s hustle mentality?
A: I would want readers to know that it is possible to do both. So often when we are from underrepresented communities, we don’t have the privilege of solely pursuing a creative dream. It’s a lot of hard work for sure which we see with Carli. But she has this knowing deep inside that there is something more for her. We don’t have to give up the dream for our survival. There may be some long nights or early mornings, but I think Carli’s character shows that it can be worth it.
II: Outside of being a wonderful storyteller, you also have a way of transporting your readers to a specific space and having us feel as if we’re there with the characters. Readers can see examples of this when Carli is in clubs performing her music or at the studio writing with her team and Tau. How did you learn to become such an atmospheric writer?
A: Having a bit of a background in journalism helps. It’s all about observation and so I’ve had practice in the area of trying to set the scene with words. The world of music is something I know intimately, so going to a place in my mind of a concert or open mic is so natural for me. I also like to try to put myself in a space when writing. For me, that’s music that helps set the tone for what I’m writing. It’s lighting a nice scent. All those things ground me in my story which I think helps translate that sense of atmosphere onto the page.
II: Carli and other women in Good Morning, Love are often hyper-aware of how their actions can be negatively perceived by their peers and the workplace. Yet, many male characters like Tau tend to act first and think about the consequences later. Was there a particular message you meant to convey with this outlook about the differences between your male and female characters’ approach to obtaining their goals and navigating the music industry?
A: I don’t think it’s something I did consciously, but as a woman who works in and around music, it’s something I’ve had a lot of conversations about with other women. Honestly, in many industries, women tend to think a lot about how they will be perceived. Whether they come across angry, too bossy, too sexy, the list goes on. I think it’s simply the nature of living in a patriarchal society. More specifically with music, it can be tricky because it is a social business where lines can easily be blurred. This aspect of the business, I think, gives women that hyper-awareness that we see in Carli’s story.
II: There are several instances where sexual assault is mentioned within your novel. Unfortunately, with cases like the R. Kelly case and the ongoing Russell Simmons case, your depiction of how women feel unprotected in the music industry and the world at large is very relevant. Why did you feel it was important to show this reality of the music industry in your novel?
A: It was most important to me to showcase how conflicting it can be when you are trying to get ahead but may have to work around people who make you feel unsafe. I guess more so I wanted to highlight how it’s not always the easiest decision it seems like it would be to simply walk away when so much is on the line. I wanted to show that sometimes it’s not always the extremes like the cases that you mention, but sometimes even in more nuanced ways.
II: While you combat challenging topics in your novel, my favorite part of Good Morning, Love is that #BlackLove is on full display with Carli and Tau’s relationship. How did you manage to write the chemistry between these two so effortlessly?
A: I love love stories. I mean I just eat them up. So, I think part of that ability really came from studying chemistry over the years in both books and film. It was somewhat easy to reference the moments when I find myself cheesing too hard watching or reading something and then being able to recreate those types of feelings in Good Morning, Love. The great part about fiction too is your characters become almost like real people. When you know them well and have flushed them out fully, you can visualize them interacting in a very three-dimensional way.
II: Good Morning, Love is such a vibe! Carli is often seen speaking about her favorite music artists. Outside of the Black Love Summer Playlist from Refinery 29, are there any music artists or albums that inspired your novel and characters?
A: I would just say R&B music in general. You know, a film like Brown Sugar focused on hip-hop and I would say that Good Morning, Love is almost like the cousin to that with a bit of a focus on R&B. I’m such a big fan of artists from back in the day like Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight to contemporary artists like Alex Isley, PJ Morton, and Lucky Daye among others. The feeling that a great R&B song gives you, to me, is what inspired both the book and characters.
II: Like Carli, you are a writer and media maven who has writing credits for major publications, such as Essence, song credits, and even a successful podcast and online platform for writers called, Permission to Write. What advice would you give people looking to find a good work-life balance and jumpstart their writing career?
A: I would say prioritize your writing. Too often I hear writers say, “I never can find the time,” and most often it’s because they are trying to fit it in where they can. So much of my initial draft for Good Morning, Love came together in 30-minute sprints before I started my workday. When writing is my very first thing, I feel so much better about taking on a busy and full day. I can always say to myself, “at least I’ve written.” So, prioritize and protect your writing time.
II: Do you have any other projects you’re working on that readers can look forward to?
A: I’m pretty excited about a forthcoming short story called “Breakfast for Dinner” that will be featured in the Heartbeat newsletter, free, weekly short stories celebrating love curated by Hannah Orenstein and Georgia Clark. And of course, I am always just writing! So, there are many more stories where Good Morning, Love came from.
II: Thank you so much for your time, Mrs. Coleman! I’ll be looking forward to your short story, “Breakfast for Dinner!”
Have you all picked up your copy of Good Morning, Love?
About the Author
Ashley M. Coleman is a storyteller and community builder moonlighting as a writer and project manager. Whether she is working with music makers or writers from marginalized communities, creating safe gathering spaces and education for creatives is at the center of her world. Her freelance writing has been featured in ZORA Magazine, GRAMMY.com, and The Cut among others and covers culture, lifestyle, and personal narrative. Currently, she is working on her forthcoming novel with 37Ink Books, Good Morning Love. You can catch her co-hosting the EightyTwo NinetySix podcast with Gabrielle Hickmon, tweeting often, indulging in Hip Hop and R&B music, and laughing at her pit/boxer mix Coltrane.