BERLIN – A local author blends the rational with the fantastic in a novel that tells the tale of a scientist fighting the spread of a deadly disease in a post-apocalyptic world.
Ocean Pines author Barbara Witherow—who writes under the pen name Julia Ash—released her debut novel, “The One and Only,” this week. For Witherow, who retired from a position with Worcester County Public Schools to pursue a career in writing, the publication of the book is a dream come true.
“I have always been passionate about creative writing from as early as I can remember,” Witherow said. “When it came time to think about life after career and retirement I thought I’d pursue my longtime desire of being an author.”
“The One and Only” tells the story of Ruby Spencer, a microbiologist working for a government think-tank charged with finding solutions when a Chinese bioweapon leads to a devastating zoonotic disease. While much of what occurs in the novel is plausible, Witherow introduces elements of fantasy with the disease, which is the result of “Zoonosis Mutated Bacteria”—also known as ZOM-B.
“Now the farfetched component is crystal clear,” Witherow said. “Although the book doesn’t completely shy away from these freakish anomalies threatening to end humanity, the story has little to do with the zombies.”
Witherow’s favorite books and movies are what inspired her to include elements of fantasy in the novel. She references the Mel Gibson movie “Signs,” which includes an attempted alien takeover, and the novels “The Passage” (Justin Cronin) and “The Boy on the Bridge” (M. R. Carey).
“My favorite reads are contemporary or near-future which push into the imagined,” she said. “‘The One and Only’ lands squarely in that sweet-spot.”
While those who knew Witherow as the local school system’s coordinator of public relations might be a bit surprised by the storyline, Witherow says she’s always seen herself as a “melding of extremes.” After all, she was raised in a house considered haunted and raced Jet Skis at the national level before joining Worcester County Public Schools.
Since retiring in 2015, Witherow has devoted the majority of her time to writing and research. It didn’t take her long to realize that the transition from drafting press releases to writing books wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d expected. “The One and Only,” her third completed novel, is the first to be published.
“I learned that fiction writing has a lot of structural rules,” she said.
Once it became clear she needed a better understanding of book structure, Witherow committed herself to learning the proper process. She participated in numerous workshops, webinars and critiques in an effort to hone her writing skills. She worked on creating character profiles, developing synopses and plotting chapters. Eventually, she was able to turn the premise behind “The One and Only” into an actual novel. “My biggest piece of advice to new authors is not to start writing before you know book structure,” she said, adding that it would be like building a house without architectural plans.
She said the most challenging part of the overall process was making sure details stayed consistent throughout the 377-page book.
“Everything has to make sense and line up,” she said.
In addition to the advice she received from her editor and beta readers—those who provided initial feedback on the manuscript—Witherow said support from her family kept her motivated during the writing process. Friends and former coworkers have also expressed interest in the book.
“Their encouragement and enthusiasm mean so much to me,” Witherow said. “I’m very fortunate.”
Now that it’s complete, Witherow is eager to see what readers think of the novel. She expects it to have broad appeal as it’s quick-paced and full of twists yet has deeper messages to get readers thinking.
“I think that ‘The One and Only’ is appealing as a beach read and as a book club selection,” she said.
Though she hasn’t scheduled any events yet, Witherow said she was looking forward to meeting with area book clubs and hosting signing sessions. She’s also hard at work on a sequel she plans to release next year.
“In ‘The Tether,’ I have new twists and turns for Ruby Spencer,” she said. “I’m just so thankful that I have the opportunity to pursue my dream.”
Witherow’s book is available in paperback on Amazon as well as on her website, https://juliaashbooks.wordpress.com. The e-book is currently available for pre-order.