A bit of a funny story…I could have swore that I met Ashley Blooms at WorldCon this year. However, when I emailed her I found out that, no, we had not, in fact, met. However, the premise of her novel, EVERY BONE A PRAYER intrigued me, and I wanted to find out more about Ashley and her writing process.
You signed with your agent, Alexandra Levick, back in July. How did you know she was the right agent for you?
This is a great question, especially since I was so nervous during the querying process. The thing that worried me most was how I would know when I found the right agent. How could I ever be totally sure that I had found the right person to represent my work?
But then I spoke with Allie on the phone. She called to make a formal offer of representation, but also to talk to me about my novel and her process and her goals as an agent. We talked for about an hour that first time and the more that we spoke, the easier it became. We laughed and joked and talked about why we were in this business as agent and writer. She told me what she loved most about my novel and the things she thought could be strengthened. She seemed to be the perfect balance between passion and practical business savvy. Allie shares my belief that stories are powerful things with enormous potential to do good in the world. She cares deeply about many of the same issues that fuel my work, like the inner lives of women, trauma and violence and how we work through pain toward something hopeful, and a love for language in all its flexibility and beauty.
When we ended the call that day, I already knew that I wanted to work with Allie. I believed with all my heart that she cared about my book. That she really understood what I was trying to do and wanted to help me make it stronger. I believed that she would fight to find the right home for my novel and would stick by me and support my future projects. I trusted her then and I still do now.
So all that worrying and confusion turned out to be dispelled by a single phone call with the right agent. I suppose it’s like a lot of scary choices that I’ve made in life—I just had to listen to my gut.
A very important thing to do. You’ve also published short stories in Shimmer and Strange Horizons. What do you love most about writing short fiction and in what ways, if any, do you feel it’s helped you grow as a writer?
I feel like I appreciate short fiction even more after spending so much of the last year working on my novel. I love that short fiction ends. That it requires brevity and that it can hold so much in a few thousand words. Sometimes the sheer size and scope of the novel could be overwhelming, but with short stories, the moments when I feel lost are more bearable. I’ve learned to appreciate that feeling of wandering, stumbling through the forest unsure of where the path went and then, suddenly, there, a clearing, suddenly, an end.
Short stories have also taught me to get to the point, which is something I needed to learn, and am learning still. They’ve taught me how to find the heart of my work, how to interrogate what my characters want and make that evident. Short fiction has taught me a lot about structure and holding my reader’s interest and that sometimes what brought me into the story as a writer is not the same thing that will lure my reader into the story.
Those are definitely some helpful lessons! What inspired your book, EVERY BONE A PRAYER, and what did you learn from writing it?
The book actually grew out of a short story that I wrote called “Fallow”, which was published in the May 2017 issue of Shimmer. In that story I wanted to explore the repercussions of sexual abuse. As a survivor, it’s a topic that’s very close to me but also deeply complicated.
Once I finished the story I couldn’t stop thinking about Misty. I wanted to write about how she coped with what happened to her and all the many influences and forces that were working to keep her silent. I wanted to write about the relationship between memory and trauma and identity.
I learned so much about myself as a writer and a person from writing this book. I learned that I often have to write something the wrong way before I realize what it needed all along. I learned how to keep going even when I felt like I’d ruined the whole thing and like I had no idea what I was doing, because I could fix that later, because there’s always revision. I learned how to spot the moments when I flinched away from something that needed to be there—a scene or a description or an interaction. Writing this book helped me come to terms with my own past and my own struggle to understand myself. Misty’s curiosity and compassion was contagious for me and made me take a harder look at the ways in which I could be kinder to myself. I learned there is no easy answer to the way we come to know ourself, and that it’s sticky and circuitous and often contradictory, and that translating that experience into words was often the same.
I think the next novel I write will be infinitely better because I wrote this one and I know that I’m a better person for it.
Indeed. What are some of your current projects?
I’ve been working on short stories for a few weeks now and dabbling with essays, but I think I’ll be diving into a new novel soon. I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment.
Ashley Blooms was born and raised in Cutshin, Kentucky. She received her MFA as a John and Renee Grisham Fellow at the University of Mississippi. She’s been awarded scholarships from the Clarion Writer’s Workshop and Appalachian Writer’s Workshop, served as fiction editor for the Yalobusha Review, and worked as an editorial intern and first reader for Tor.com. Her stories have appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and Shimmer, among others. Her nonfiction has appeared in the Oxford American. She currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi with her husband and their dog, Alfie. She’s at work on a novel & collection of essays.
You can find her online at Twitter.