Aspiring Writer Interview: Alison Ash

Alison was lucky. I asked her to do this a whole week in advance. I'd like to take the time to apologize to my previous interviewees for the stupidly short amount of time I gave them. (But they all rose to the challenge and helped me out, so thanks guys!) I met Ali last year, when I responded to an ad for a writing group looking for members. I was really nervous about talking to anyone about writing at that point (I was still in the "writing closet"), but she was extremely nice and when all was said and done, they accepted me into their group. As some of you may know, I refer to this as my "pretend writing group", because I've only made it to three meetings. Ever. But they are all great people, so they haven't kicked me out yet. Some day, I'll make it I promise! Anyway, Ali is the group leader, and has a book of her own, one that I have had the privilege to read (half way so far, and loving it). She's startlingly hilarious, and somehow manages to hit my funny bone at least once per page. I really hope to see her published someday, so I can say "I liked Alison Ash's stuff before it was cool" or something hipster-y like that. Alright, let's get to the questions.

Alison Ash
How old are you?
I just turned the very unremarkable age of 31.

Are you married? Kids?
Single. Two spunky daughters age 10 and 6. It feels strange having a daughter who is a decade old.

Where do you live? 
Utah, west side!

How long ago did you start writing? 
My first book was written when I was five. It was called The Duck Robbers and I made several copies. It was about a robber who stole baby animals from the forest. Looking back, the villain didn't have a very strong motivation. He just seemed to get his kicks off locking up woodland creatures under his stairs and then disappearing so the parents of those creatures (fully-equipped with opposable thumbs) could unlock the cage and free the babies. After this emancipation, the robber must have died or left for Hollywood because he never came back for a sequel. He also looked suspiciously like the Hamburgler.

Have you published anything? 
Does 40+ rejection letters count? No? Oh.

What are you working on right now? 
I will speak to the novel I finished in early 2011, tentatively titled The Lost Location of Sunday City. I am in the submission stage.

How long have you been working on The Lost Location of Sunday City
I began writing the book during a bad bout of the flu in January 2007, but fashioned the idea in my head while driving years earlier in 2002. At the time, someone I cared had been victim of a violent crime and had changed tremendously as a result. As I drove, I remembered how she used to be as a child, very bright and innocent, and probably the most beautiful girl I had seen in real life. After the crime she was changed. Her eyes were hollow, and she spiraled into a ghostly waif of a person. All the spark and life had been sucked out of her. As I passed a ruined building with a missing roof and only window wells left, I imagined her adult self standing on the inside and her child self on the outside. The adult was warning the child about what was to come, so it could be avoided and innocence preserved. I then wondered what I might warn myself about if I could could speak to my child self. I passed that building daily with this image in my head. Eventually I combined the idea with the phrase "Time Trees" (a cast-off from a novel I started but never completed) and dreamed up the idea of a grove of trees that were tied to time. The idea seemed very simple and I thought I could write a quick little book about a boy who warns his past self about misfortunes in the future. I made a primitive outline while high on cold medicine. I wrote diligently for six months and had a nice little first draft of the first act (which was looking less and less like my hasty little outline, but isn't that always the way?) when I decided to rebuild my computer. I won't get into the technical details, but suffice it to say, I thought I had backed up my novel only to find the file had been permanently deleted! To say I was devastated is an understatement. I cried for the first day, went through a deep depression for the following two weeks. I had difficulty eating and sleeping. Neighbors started knocking, asking if someone had died. Eventually I started again, only to have the same thing happen a few months later after a virus hit our server. Luckily I only lost a couple of chapters that time. I was so angry with myself I couldn't bring myself to rewrite those chapters. I decided to start on the second act and go back later when my emotions had settled.

Other strange things started happening surrounding the novel. When I would go to write, something would always prevent me (an illness, emergency, etc). I began to have dark dreams about it. Also, the overall quality of my life was lowering. Several disasters had strained me and my family. One day I realized the bad luck all started after that flu in January when I decided to write the book. I joked with myself that the novel must be cursed. It was at that moment that I realized my main character should be cursed! I rewrote those lost chapters with that element and it ended up dominating the entire novel.

I thought often about those lost efforts and realized something. The rewrite was much better and far stronger than the chapters I had lost. Had I never experienced the pain and depression of losing a combined eight months of work, I would have never come up with the key elements of the plot. The idea of good coming from suffering became the theme of the entire book and the lesson the main character learns.

(Incidentally, my friend who was the victim of the crime did eventually recover and is now a happy, productive adult)

Tell us a little about it.
The novel concerns Gabriel Gussie, who's got himself a Muxy—a family curse that causes terrible things happen on his birthday. Cow pie rain, flukes in gravity, trailer-park terrorizing tornadoes, each year the disasters get worse. The entire community is afraid of him, kids at school avoid him, and his parents are sure that someday they’re going to wake up dead. But when Gabriel starts seeing visions, warning him that his curse will cause the death of his baby brother on Gabriel’s thirteenth birthday, he knows he must find a cure quickly.

A mysterious family friend named Tuck shows up, promising just that. If Gabriel will come with him to Sunday City, a ghost town closed to outsiders for a century, he will find his cure.

But Gabriel is in for a surprise. Upon arrival, he learns that not only does everyone in Sunday City believe that Tuck died thirty years ago, but Gabriel is the heir to his vast hoard of gimcracks—antiques with magical properties. Tuck has plans for Gabriel and his Muxy. As Gabriel’s birthday looms closer, Tuck’s dark secrets reveal a plot to destroy Sunday City from beyond the grave. His weapon of choice: the Muxy.

With the clock running out, Gabriel must dodge possessed deer, thwart greedy gimcrack-grabbers, uncover the history of his Muxy, save his brother’s life, and rescue the city he has come to call home before his birthday curse blows out more than candles.

In The Lost Location of Sunday City you somehow manage to cram a massive amount of humor into every chapter, most of it of the crazy variety. How do you come up with the ideas for all the intensely strange things people say and think?
A lot of the humor are real-life failed jokes put in the correct context and given the right timing. That's the beauty of writing, you have time to decide if you've gone too far. In real life that luxury does not exist, so unfortunately, my friends and family do a lot of head scratching after they are done talking to me. But I am laughing in my mind, so that's what counts!


What are your goals for The Lost Location of Sunday City
I grew up with a desire to be traditionally published. However, I have seen a lot of authors gain success in self-publishing. I don't believe we can predict where technology is going to eventually bring books, but I am excited to see that publication is no longer run by "gatekeepers." I have no plans to self publish but that may change.

What is your favorite book or author? Why? 
Dr. Seuss was a prophet. I believe Oh, the Places You'll Go should be government issued to new parents. But I can't rule out Shel Silverstein's The Missing Piece which is a perfect allegorical representation of the duality of human nature and how we crave both individualism and coupling. I have a copy on my coffee table and pick it up when I need a good, unanswerable question.

What has been the hardest part about writing your current work? About writing in general? 
Finding time is always a challenge. Especially with children, a full time job and a host of extra hobbies. I often have to take entire weekends and dedicate them to whatever writing task is at hand. 

What has been the best or most rewarding aspect of writing? 
Reading the entire work from start to finish and realizing it makes sense and is actually a book! The first time I did so I reached the last chapter at two-a.m. with surprise. I couldn't believe it was over and wanted it to continue. I wanted to know what would happen next with Gabriel and Ebony and their friends. It was a strange, disconnected moment. Stephen King describes it as "'like reading the work of someone else, a soul-twin perhaps."

Do you have any "technical" suggestions for new writers? 
One thing I hate is the cliche. I really try to avoid the first solution that pops in my head. When I need to brainstorm new ideas I talk into a tape recorder for as long as it takes for the "Eureka!" moment to come. This has helped me puzzle out scenes and integrate threads into later chapters. It gives me an artificial sense of collaboration, as if I am discussing my book with my future self.

Do you have any sage advice for new writers? 
I really believe if we all just keep pounding at it, dedicating at least an hour a day at our books, we will eventually see publication. You never hear of a person who wrote and wrote and kept submitting their whole lives that didn't eventually see publication. We may write a few scrappers first (I wrote two horrible ones in my twenties), but that's just the awkward adolescence of talent that everyone has to go through before they become good at their craft. Just keep swimming!

Well, there you have it! It just goes to show that we can never give up, you and me. So get back to writing!

3 comments:

  1. Your story sounds like a great read. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Another great interview Trevor. Ali - I like your advice for writers and wholeheartedly agree with you on your favorite books. Your book sounds really good! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Anonymous10:31 PM

    Thanks for the opportunity! It was a lot of fun. I will come back and read more of your blog! :)

    -Alison

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