Interview With Writer Ashleigh Hatter
CJ: Hi Ashleigh. How are you doing? Tell the readers a little about yourself.
AH: Hello! I’m a bourbon loving Kansas Citian, blissfully ignorant of my local sports culture, but a total snob about our barbecue. I have been known to squee when I stumble across old copies of Bradbury books in thrift stores, and I’m a firm believer that a good pair of pajama pants can brighten any day.
CJ: True words of wisdom. Speaking of words, when did you first start writing? Is it something you’ve always been passionate about?
AH: Writing is definitely a great passion of mine, though I haven’t the slightest clue about when that fire was kindled. I never really gave my writing much thought, truthfully. When I was growing up, it was just something I did; telling stories to live out my dreams. And, moving into my horrific teen years, it was a way for me to process new feelings, conflicting emotions, and a buffer to keep my budding depression in check. Now, as an adult, I’m discovering new ways to use writing to explore faith or problems, desires and questions ranging from the big to the menial. It’s very nifty to know that writing has been with me since I learned the alphabet, and it’s awesome to see that the art is evolving with me as I grow; always remaining relevant.
CJ: I think writing can really keep one’s mental state in check. The releasing of emotion through writing is really healthy. Plus, you get the added bonus of learning all kinds of great things. Even simple stuff like how to properly focus and work efficiently. Which brings me to my next question. What is your writing process? Are you a coffee shop writer or do you need to be distraction free to write?
AH: Sadly, my writing process, in some ways, is incredibly cliché. While writing, I drink copious amount of black coffee, smoke hookah, and I’m never without whiskey or absinthe nearby. But honestly, I think that’s where the stereotypes end.
As far as atmosphere, I’m a distraction-free writer. I can’t have lots of movement going on around me, or noises (outside of my music), otherwise I struggle to even write the word ‘the’. To remedy this, I typically sit in a corner, opposite a doorway, with the window shades shut. It’s like a self-imposed time out, in the name of increased focus.
CJ: Interesting. I suppose you can say writing is like a time out from the real world. Not like that is a bad thing. You mentioned music. What is your stance on listening to music while writing? Many writers feel it completely ruins their flow while others need it for inspiration. I take it you’re the latter?
AH: Oh, man! I definitely love writing to music. Once I find the right song, I set that sucker on repeat until I’ve finished writing the chapter, or story. Normally, I can’t write to music with lyrics, so I venture into the realm of soundtracks, which are some of my favourite anyways. There’s a great variety of emotion found within the songs encompassing a soundtrack, and that can be a bevy of inspiration.
CJ: Soundtracks are great to write specific scenes to. The instrumentals have a way of eliciting specific emotions which can really improve upon the writing process. And while were on the topic of emotion, this piece is quite sad—yet speaks volumes about the current state of our technological and social media dependent society. What made you decide to write it?
AH: When I sat down to write this piece, I was very angry. Social media was blowing up with some “change your avi to this picture to show your support” thing for a humanitarian crisis in Africa, and they were spreading outdated pictures of victims from completely different disasters. It was like the internet was concerned with appearing concerned, and it didn’t matter if the photos matched the crisis. I’d received many invites and messages asking me to change my picture to support the cause, and to pass word around about it.
I remember thinking, “How the hell does that help anyone?” I’d scroll through to see if these people changing their pictures were doing anything to act on their public “conviction”, but aside from a short post about their “outrage” there was nothing more about it six hours later when the crisis stopped trending. Thinking on it, letting it dwell and ruminate, I became more and more upset with this trend of “slacktivism” and sat down to write out my frustrations.
CJ: And that’s a real problem. As you pointed out with this piece, many hit social media to express their outrage for various injustices in the world. But most of these people seem to only do it for show—to make it seem like they care while they actually sit back and do nothing. Do you feel like the youth of today is socially conscious of what’s happening in the world around them? Or do you think we’re on a downward spiral of people not caring and there’s no turning things around?
AH: Personally, I think what makes the entire situation so frustrating is that so many people are aware, but there is so little action being taken. I’ve interacted with people who have admitted that they want to help, but they aren’t sure where to start, so I don’t think we’re on that downward spiral just yet—and I pray we’ll never be. However, I think this excuse is flimsy at best. With all of the search engines and social networking going on, it’s truly not difficult to find a way to contribute to a cause that touches you.
CJ: You would think with everything we have access to now, helping others would be much easier. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case for most people. Do you find dwelling on these kinds of topics to be depressing? Or does writing about them give you hope that people may read them and want to change for the better?
AH: Thinking on these topics, even briefly, is incredibly depressing for me. As a writer, I believe that to convey emotion and, more importantly, to elicit a response, the author needs to feel something when putting pen to paper. And while I know of many writers who can simply will the emotions to well up within them, I’m not so talented as that. I let myself plunge into whatever emotion is needing to be wrung out onto the paper, and with stories like this one, it can be very difficult to step out of that.
However, I also do have hope that this story can serve as a self-examination. I’ve had a few beta readers tell me that this story made them very uncomfortable, and I almost couldn’t keep from jumping up and down! I was thrilled that this story had brought out a response—my desired response—within those few readers, and that it hung with them. Change can’t happen unless people are rocked, and this story sets out to make some waves.
CJ: Well it definitely rocked some people. Our associate editor read it and he also felt uncomfortable. Which is why I felt it needed to be shared with a larger audience. Also, this piece was written in a very particular style. Do you outline your work or are you what is referred to as a discovery writer (a person who just comes up with stuff as they go)?
AH: Outlining is a skill that I admire in others, but that has never worked for me. Honest to God, I’ve tried to outline stories, step-by-step, figuring out where the story is going to go every step of the way. But when I’d go to write it, the story would diverge from the outline, almost at the get go. So, I’ve given up on attempting to write in this way, and I’ve embraced the discovery method, which is extremely exciting.
I love having a vague idea of where a story might go, and then being gobsmacked when it veers off in a new direction that I’d never considered. When I sit down to write a new story, I just start out with a fun first line or a vague topic and open the flood gates to see where the current takes me.
CJ: I’m in a similar boat. I try to do detailed outlines but almost all of my work ends up being written on the fly. But like I always say, if it works for Stephen King, who am I to deny the method? He’s only one of the most successful writers in history. Anyway, enough about Stephen King; he has enough media coverage. We’re here to talk about you. Do you have any other projects in the works right now?
AH: At the moment, I’m cleaning up my first novel which follows the lives of four individuals and the consequences of having a god intervene. Then I’m starting another that’s looking into solipsism, whilst working on an anthology of weird, paranoid fiction that I haven’t figured out how to explain yet. So, it’s a busy, wondrous life.
CJ: As long as you have ideas and keep writing you’re in good shape. And it sounds like you have a lot on your plate already. But let’s get a bit more specific. What are some of your ultimate writing goals for the future?
AH: Right now, my big goal is to get that acceptance letter for my first book, and honestly, that’s about it. I love writing, being able to dissect ideas and bring to life impossible concepts, so this job is an absolute dream come true. Getting to share it with others, and to hear that my writing inspired them in some way would rock my non-existent socks off.
CJ: Well, we sure hope you get that acceptance letter sooner than letter. But before we let you go, we have one final question we ask all of our featured writers. Besides buying fancy pajamas, what advice would you give to aspiring writers who haven’t found their voice or style yet?
AH: Let go of your want to impress.
When I started out, I was emulating the authors I read, because I knew that people liked them. Surprise! Those authors had already written in their style, so no one wanted to read my work, or if they did they’d just call it a rip-off. Then I began writing in the way that I thought my future audience would enjoy. Another surprise; that audience didn’t exist, so I was writing for absolutely no one.
So, when you sit down to figure out your style, to define and shape your prose, do it solely for yourself, not for others. Otherwise it will continue to elude you.
CJ: That’s really great advice. I’ll have to keep that in mind for my own personal writing. Thank you so much for speaking with us. It was a pleasure reading your work and talking with you.
AH: I appreciate it, and thank you very much for having me!
Ashleigh is a barbecue and bourbon loving citizen of Kansas City. When not got going through thrift stores in search of old books, he can be found locked away in a room writing and sipping fine spirits.
If you’re interested in finding out more, you can check out Ashleigh on Twitter.