Ashley Rich Talks About Her NaNoWriMo Book
Every First Draft is Poop
After I stumbled upon NaNoWriMo a couple weeks ago, I immediately knew I needed to participate. I’ve been lacking the drive to write down any of the stories that my mind has been working on recently. I spent a lot of time researching it and then creating the outline. Then I became curious to find other people who have a drive to write but, sometimes, need a little push. I became interested in learning if anyone had written the first draft of their novel during NaNoWriMo. This search taught me that some of the book from one of my favourite series, The Lunar Chronicles, were written during NaNoWriMo.
After this discovery, I wanted to find an up-and-coming writer whose soon to be published (or recently published) novels were written in their first draft during November. One of the people who I came across during this search was a woman named Ashley Rich. Her book Lavender Fields will be published early next year. Like me, Ashley Rich’s love for writing and stories was sparked during childhood. While other kids hated English and writing assignments, we thrived in it. Rich is a huge fan of R.L. Stine. He was her inspiration and partly the reason why she “was inclined to weave stories of the creepy and often strange.”
I knew from Rich’s website and social media accounts that she was a very interesting person. I wanted to learn more about her than what I saw on her website so I asked her if she wanted to participate in an interview.
* The questions below are based off information from her website *
BRIANNA BENTON:What was your seventh grade book assignment about? What types of things did you include in your nearly twenty-page outline?
ASHELY RICH: Write a book, the teacher had said. Some of us groaned, some sighed, I lit up like the brightest bulb on top of the Christmas tree. Write a novel? Um, yes please. So, I did. Part of the assignment (and in hind-sight I think this was the actual lesson) was to outline a cohesive plot. Who are the characters? What’s the point of the story? How many arcs? I spent so much time on that stupid outline and to be honest, I don’t even remember half of what went into it. I do recall the main plot was about a stalker who was horribly obsessed with his ex-girlfriend. The story was told through the POV of the girl. I can’t for the life of me remember my protagonists name, but my villain’s name was Hank and he had lanky black hair and hung out in cemeteries, which is why they broke up in the first place. Why that would matter I have no idea, but I was twelve-ish so it made perfect sense. In the end, she chopped off his head with an axe and then started hanging out in cemeteries as some sort of her healing process, bringing the story full circle. Now that I am thinking about it, why did Mr. G read that out loud and why wasn’t my mother called? LOL
BB: On the day that your seventh grade teacher read your book aloud, what made you realize that you were going to be a published author?
AR: I think it was the rush of hearing my words recited to a room full of people. I remember looking around the room and seeing everyone in the class. Some were snoozing, some were snickering, but there was a small handful who appeared to be clinging onto every word. Or maybe they were straining to hear. Mr. G who was extremely soft spoken. Either way, it started the “I’m going to be an author” fantasy.
BB: How many years have you participated in NaNoWriMo? What made you decide to participate? Why do you continue to?
AR: This will be my third year participating. My first year, 2015, was a impromptu decision and I had no plot, no outline, just a wild thought about how to knock up an old lady and make it believable. Working in the medical field for over half my life, I have seen several patients crumble to age and mental illness, specifically Alzheimer’s. These elderly people are suffering, how could life get worse? What if one of them was pregnant? And thus, Lavender Fields was born. Pun intended.
The reason for taking it to Nano? I had never finished a true novel, aside from the 15,000 or so word count ‘novel’ in the seventh grade, but, that doesn’t really count. The idea of a forced structure, set word counts and the competitive edge, both with myself and strangers who I met in the program pushed me to completion.
would see other’s word counts shoot up and I would have to get at least one more word than them before bed. After thirty days of that, I finished Lavender Fields with a hair over fifty-thousand words. A year of edits and critiques later, it was over sixty-thousand and ready to submit.
In 2016, I signed up to be the Municipal Liaison for my area. I hosted a kick off at a local diner in Halloween costumes, and we got together weekly to write. During that year, I revisited, a story I had been kicking around since I was about fifteen or so. I started it over from scratch, made some changes from POV and tense, and while that novel isn’t done, it is a lot closer to finished. If I had to guess, Consuming the Marrow, is about five to eight thousand words from completion. I’ll wrap it up soon, but I’m letting a few ending idea percolate a bit longer.
Unfortunately, this year, I chose to step down as ML. With Lavender Fields release fast approaching and some other personal goals and family stuff, I just felt I couldn’t give the position the attention it deserves. But, I am still going to participate. This year is going to be an interesting one. My husband wrote up a very rough outline and wants me to write the story. The pressure to please is intense. But, our bonding is worth every minute.
BB: From the description I read, Lavender Fields seems to be a very personal story, filled with intriguing characters. What was your inspiration for this story? What about the characters?
AR: For the last fifteen years, I have worked at a four-surgeon ophthalmic practice. Naturally, many of our patient demographic consists of elderly people. Some of them come in monthly and we as staff tend to grow a tight bond with them. They become comfortable and almost family, and then one day, they don’t recognize your face and can’t make eye contact. Then, the evil writer in me thought, how could I make their situation worst? How could I use this illness, but raise the stakes? Pregnant at eighty-eight with Alzheimer’s would be awful. So, I sat down to see where that story could go.
BB: What was the hardest part about writing Lavender Fields during NaNoWriMo 2015? What about after NaNoWriMo?
AR: Always have an outline, no matter how loose it is. Which is why I think the main part of that assignment all those years ago was the outlining part. Lavender Fields was written entirely from the seat of my pants, and wine. A lot of wine, which is probably why Lexi, one of the characters was such a lush. I remember staring at the screen thinking how the story was all over the place and I had no idea where it was going other than a pregnancy. I will never try to write like that again. After Nano was over, I had to filter through buckets of word vomit. It was bad. Bad. There was at least two pages droning on about chewing broccoli and another five about making a sandwich and a few more pages about a quiche. I’m sure glad the first draft of Lavender Fields is far behind me. It was a mess. I can’t stress outlining enough. Outline, outline, outline.
BB: How did you get Curiosity Quills interested in your book? What’s been the most rewarding thing so far? What about the most challenging thing?
AR: I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February 2017. At the conference, they talked a lot about Twitter for building a platform and as an excellent writer’s resource for agents, editors and publishing houses. I brushed it off because I was a Facebooker, not a tweeter. In April of that year, I decided to dink around and see if I could tweet. In about thirty minutes of trying to figure out the point and what exactly a hashtag was, I somehow stumbled onto #MSWL. The concept was easy, pitch your novel using the hashtag. It was tricky because you only get, what? one-hundred and forty characters? I took a shot at it and Curiosity Quills liked my pitch and requested a query. Then a full MS, and now Lavender Fields is set for publication May 15, 2018.
BB: Do you have any advice for writers?
AR: Have an idea before you try to sit down and flesh out a full-blown novel. Even if it is just a few bullet point plot ideas and some mild character development, at least you’ll have something. Magic word? Outline. Also, don’t quit; every first draft is poop.