Some Thoughts with ... Ashley Anglin
The first real novel Ashley Bevilacqua Anglin read, age 6ish, was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Never looking back, she’s still hanging out with valiant female protagonists at the intersection of contemporary fantasy, climate fiction, and the spiritual. Her passion for storytelling led her to a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Linguistics. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in Panthology, also from Shadow Spark; in Everything Change, Vol. I (as runner-up in ASU Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative’s Climate Fiction Short Story Contest); and online in Miniskirt, Minison, Full Mood, and Tree and Stone magazines.
Ashley lives with her Jamerican family in Virginia, where she is a longtime community college professor of Italian and Spanish.
Welcome to a new interview! Today we are accompanied by Ashley Anglin, Shadow Spark Publishing author, and writer of the recently published Undiscovered.
Let's dive in!
1.- How did you start writing?
I’ve always loved reading and writing. Growing up and in college, I wrote little things in notebooks that I never showed to anyone! I also enjoyed and did well with academic writing, which helped lead me to my career path. My graduate degrees are in literature, so at that point in my life, I was learning and absorbing things about storytelling even though I wasn’t writing very much. After graduation, I was a full-time working mom of two little kids, so not a lot of writing happened during that phase either.
I didn’t try to publish any of my work until around 2015, when I wrote a piece and entered it in a climate fiction short story contest. The story was a runner-up in the contest and was published in their anthology, which gave me a false sense of security about how easy breaking into the publishing world would be, haha! But it was really exciting, and inspired me to keep going. The very next thing I wrote was Undiscovered.
2.- How was the process of submitting and pitching Undiscovered?
Honestly, it was like a poorly-designed rollercoaster. Only rarely fun, and I felt pretty beat up by the time I got off the ride. As this book has an unusual mix of genres, as well as a more upmarket/literary style rather than being obviously commercially accessible, it wasn’t going to be an “easy sell” for traditional publishing. I did try to query agents and small presses for a few years off and on, though. I got some agent requests, as well as a full manuscript request from PitchWars, but in the end, nothing came of them except helpful feedback from some.
Meanwhile, I’d been interacting with a lot of writers on Twitter, both querying and self-published ones. That was how I found out about a call for submissions from Shadow Spark Publishing, a small indie house. I liked what I saw of their books, which represented a lot of variety within speculative fiction. And the SSP writers I met online seemed cool—we had quite a bit in common. I didn’t feel like the weirdo I had when trying for trad pub. I sent them my manuscript, and finally found someone who fell in love with it instead of telling me why it wasn’t right for them! Being with a small indie house has elements of trad pub and elements of self-publishing, so I’ve decided it’s a perfect in-between sort of home for my not-exactly-sci-fi, not-exactly-fantasy firstborn novel.
3.- What made you choose a sci-fi setting for such a fantastical creature as selkie? Why did you decide to use selkies as part of your book?
The first notion of this story that came to me was the image of an island somewhere on the edges of civilization, where some kind of disaster had taken place and caused a breakdown of the barrier between the ordinary world and something more magical. I didn’t know yet what kind of magic, except that the people there were human-like but with other abilities, including a long lifespan and a type of sensory telepathy.
Around this same time was when I became aware of climate fiction as a genre. I started picturing this story idea in that framework. So, researching places on the edges of civilization, I found the Shetland Islands would be a perfect setting. From there, it became logical that the magical people in the story would be selkies. I have always loved a good selkie tale!
In this story, selkies draw all their magical abilities from the relatively unpolluted North Sea around the islands. (After all, the ocean is the part of the planet we’ve explored/understand the least… creating endless potential for speculative fiction!) So, as humans have encroached on their territory and their life source, these folktale creatures have become an endangered species. I agree it’s an unexpected combination, but I love the way it works.
4.- Which part of writing Undiscovered would you say was the more challenging?
I have no one to blame for this but myself… I’m definitely a discovery writer. I tend to think in scenes rather than chapters, and often write out of order. So corralling all those wayward bits, and then connecting them into an orderly full draft, was the hardest part. That said, it was also thrilling! But I do hope to save myself some time and energy by providing my future novels with a little more structure from the start, even if I’ll never be a diehard plotter.
5.- I found that there are mixed spanglish words in the text. Why did you decide on this stylistic choice?
I’m a professor of Italian and Spanish and I love to play with languages! All my stories have some kind of language or linguistics angle, to one degree or another. I wanted to show how comfortable Arden is going from one culture to another—both in her personal life, as the child of one Caribbean parent and one European, as well as in her work with an international environmental agency. It’s also something fun and witty that she can share with her best friend, Vega. Last but not least, this is a story of hybridity (selkies having both a human form and a seal one, and thus belonging to two worlds). Linguistic shapeshifting is another way to represent that idea.
6.- What can we expect from Ashley Anglin in the future?
I still like to write short fiction and poetry, so at any given time I might be working on something like that, or have one of my existing pieces accepted for publication. As in Undiscovered, you’re likely to find interesting female characters, magical beings in unexpected places, climate questions, fun with languages, a sense of wonder, and a lyrical style in pretty much anything I write.
I’m also trying to wrap my brain around a second book set in the world of Undiscovered—not a true sequel, because Undiscovered is really a standalone story. This one, which is going by the working title Undreamt, will be set about 25 years after Undiscovered and will feature some of the same characters. Arden is not the protagonist this time, but you’ll definitely get to see what her life is like 25 years later.