Some writers are like the hatchlings of highly venomous snakes. Even with a long future ahead of them, they already display a potent bite. Ashley Perez is one such writer. She is a graduate of Antioch University’s M.F.A. program. Her short story The Crow Letters was published this year in The Weekenders Magazine. In August, her story A Claw Hammer to the Nuts was included in First Time: An Anthology About Lost Virginity. She is currently a blogger for the online literary journal The Rumpus. Ashley’s essays on the craft of writing have appeared on Bleed – the blog for Jaded Ibis Press – and she also runs the online publication Arts Collide. She is also working on her first novel. I recently spoke with Ashley about writing and the themes of her work.
How did you get into writing in the first place?
Writing was always a thing I wanted to do but never did and kept it a secret desire. I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously. That fear is still there. Almost three years ago, after I graduated from my B.S. program, I was in a depression about what to do with my life. In a serendipitous moment, I came across an ad for Antioch’s M.F.A. program and though to myself that if I am going to be in debt for the rest of my life, I’d better be doing something I loved rather than something I hate.
What is the single best piece of advice you’ve gotten from another writer?
That is pretty difficult. From writers that I don’t know, I would say anything from Stephen King’s On Writing or Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art is good. As far as personal advice, I have heard this in several different formats, but it’s just to get it out of you. Don’t worry if it’s shitty, just get it out.
When you write, is there a specific person in the audience you’re trying to reach?
I don’t know about audience per se, but there are certain people that I want to impress: my mentor from grad school, my editors, certain friends, my man. After those people, it is really out of my hands how strangers or an “audience” takes it. I am happy with feedback whether it’s good or bad, so long as it’s constructive.
You talk about project burnout in your essay Doubt or Death, and it seems to affect novels more than short stories. Why do you think it happens more with long fiction than others?
I think that initial burst is like a drug high. The first time you get it is intense, but after that, the high is a lot more difficult to sustain. I struggle to finish stories, so trying to write a novel is extremely difficult. I think the process is different though for everyone. I started out writing short stories, so trying to sustain a larger narrative is a struggle for me.
Speaking of novels, what can you tell us about the one you’re working on now?
I am taking four linked short stories that I previously wrote and expanding them into a longer narrative. It is moving rather slowly, but I hope to have some progress made during 2014. It is about a special kind of prison that houses special types of prisoners. I suppose that is all I can really say about the actual story.
A Claw Hammer to the Nuts is about losing virginity. The Crow Letters is an intimate correspondence between a man and a woman. If someone approached you and said you’re a romance writer, what would you say to that?
I would have to laugh. Aside from those two examples and another essay I am writing, I have never (not that I can remember anyway) written romance, which in my head translates as a physical scene. I am an awkward person in real life, so writing about romance is even more awkward. Although I did write a character that had a succubus-type quality. Does that count?
I suppose in a Buffy the Vampire Slayer way. So do you think there’s really any point in referring to writers by genre, or is it more a “go with the flow” kind of thing?
Everyone has heard this before, but genre is a labeling thing that let’s you know what section of the bookstore to look in. I am not a fan of it. I think a lot of writers get mislabeled in an attempt to put them somewhere, and because of that their work can get ignored by readers just because they don’t read that genre. The stories I write have horror elements, but I would not say I am a horror writer.
One way to look at The Crow Letters is to say that there’s a connection between love and insanity. Do you think the two are inherently linked? Can you have one without the other?
Of course the two are linked. The very essence of love is that your brain is flooded with chemicals that it‘s normally not. I don’t think that is a bad thing. I think if I am with someone that can handle my kind of crazy and I can handle theirs, then we have a shot of being something special. As to having one without the other, who knows? I think that depends on what your version of insanity and love are.