I featured Ashley Blooms’ debut novel, EVERY BONE A PRAYER back in 2018, and when I saw the premise of her new book, WHERE I CAN’T FOLLOW, I couldn’t wait to spread word about it:
Walk through the door and leave all your problems behind…but you don’t know what’s on the other side. And once you leave, you’ll never come back. Will you go through?
Maren Walker told herself she wouldn’t need to sell pills for long, that it was only means to an end. But that end seems to be stretching as far away as the other side of Blackdamp County, Kentucky. There’s always another bill for Granny’s doctor, another problem with the car, another reason she’s getting nowhere.
She dreams of walking through her little door to leave it all behind. The doors have appeared to the people in her mountain town for as long as anyone can remember, though no one knows where they lead. All anyone knows is that if you go, you’ll never come back.
Maren’s mother left through her door when Maren was nine, and her shadow has followed Maren ever since. When she faces the possibility of escaping her struggles for good, Maren must choose just what kind of future she wants to build.
In our last interview, you said, “I learned that I often have to write something the wrong way before I realize what it needed all along.” In what ways do you feel this has most helped your writing process overall?
That part of my process hasn’t changed since Every Bone a Prayer, and I believe it’s helped me develop patience and trust, which are not qualities that come easily to me. Patience to know that I don’t have to get everything right in the first draft, even though I’d really, really like that to happen one day. But until that does happen, it’s okay to make mistakes and get messy and try things, which is better than holding back or judging my work too soon. And trust both in myself and the people I work with, that I will find the right path even if it takes me a while, and if I don’t, I have partners (like my agent and editor) who are there to help me find my way again.
It’s reassuring to hear that not everyone gets it right the first time–and you’re right; having patience and trusting yourself are definitely key. I love the use of doors in the worldbuilding of WHERE I CAN’T FOLLOW. In what ways, if any, did this novel surprise you when you wrote it?
I think every project has at least a few surprises. I’m not normally drawn to first-person narratives as a writer, though I enjoy them as a reader. So, the fact that WHERE I CAN’T FOLLOW came to me in first-person was a surprise, and something I felt like I couldn’t resist. The book simply needed to be told in this fashion. Writing it made me grow as a writer, to expand my concept of what was possible, which is something that happens often. My stories always seem to be a little ahead of me, and I have to work to catch up. The book also ends with a letter written by the narrator, which only made its way into the novel in very late drafts. It wasn’t something I had planned originally, but when the idea came to me, it felt like the perfect way to end the story. That was one of those lovely surprises that makes a story feel complete.
Very intriguing! I also love the imagery you use in your writing. Do these come to you while drafting, or are they found in revision, or both?
A little of both. I find that much of the language and imagery comes naturally as I’m writing, but I also make time to read my drafts aloud before turning them in. I take that time to listen for many things (rhythm, pacing, dialect) but also for passages where I might linger a little more or cast my gaze a little further to draw in more details. It’s one of my favorite parts of the process.
And it sounds like a very useful process! If you could tell your younger writer self one thing, what would it be and why?
I think I would tell her to remember that her work is enough, just as it is, and so is she. It’s easy to lose sight of that when you start publishing. Suddenly there are all these measures and lists and numbers to place value on your work, so many ways to feel like you are failing or falling behind, which is only heightened by living under capitalism. It can feel like you are never doing enough, that you are never enough. I’ve had to learn a lot about detaching from the external these last couple years, and instead find my way back to the things I really value. My stories have always been able to hold all of me, even the parts that I find hard to accept. My stories can hold all my questions, my curiosities, my fears and hopes. My stories have challenged my perspective, my experiences, my truths, and in doing so, made me better. They make room for exploration, imagination, and failure, and they invite me to do the same. In the end, that matters more than anything else.