Today at Literary Labors, we’re happy to have AshleyRose Sullivan with us. She’s the author of Awesome Jones, a new book that has just been released by Seventh Star Press. It’s available in paperback and Kindle editions, and below you can find details on how to enter to win one of two free copies we’ll be giving away here at Literary Labors over the next two weeks. In the meantime, let’s get back to AshleyRose and pick her brain about writing, reading, and cheese dips!

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Thanks for stopping by at Literary Labors, AshleyRose. So, you’re from Appalachia but you live in southern California now… Can you come up with five ways that they’re similar? 

I’ve always loved the mountains of North Carolina and the hills of Kentucky. When I first moved to LA, I had a hard time adjusting to my new horizon. I lived on the west side and all I could see were buildings and more buildings. Now we live a little north of the city, we’re situated in the red-brown, sandy hills, which green up in the spring and summer. They’re beautiful in a different, stark kind of way. Additionally, both LA and Appalachia have distinct food cultures. Their best foods sprung out of people making, serving, and eating food on the cheap. Whether it’s greens, beans, and cornbread in the hills where I grew up or the street tacos and extra greasy cheeseburgers wrapped in paper you get out here, it’s the same kind of soulful, delicious food that doesn’t cost a ton to make or buy. I’m sure if I went out more I could make more connections but I’m fairly reclusive no matter where I live.

I saw on your website that you live, paint, and write in Los Angeles with your husband and “many imaginary friends” – Who are some of these friends? It just so happens that I’m looking for an imaginary friend right now – would any of them be available to hang out with me in the next few weeks?

Ha! Well, we’re pretty attached to most of our friends. We’ve had them for many years. Still, you never know. Sometimes it pays to take a vacation—even if you’re imaginary.

In addition to writing, you create visual art. Are you equally creative in both forms or does one call to you more than the other? Do you have moods where you can only paint and draw and moods where you can only write?

I’m more of a writer than an artist, at least right now. I put a lot of pressure on myself with my writing and I use my art more as therapy. If I’m stuck, if I feel like I’m just running in place with a story or novel, I’ll sit down and sketch or a few hours. It gives me a lower pressure creative outlet and helps reset my brain. That’s not to say my art doesn’t also stress me out. I have folders full of work that I put away in frustration.

What’s the first thing you ever wrote? Do you recall the moment you knew you wanted to become a writer? How did you go about becoming a writer? 

Well, those things are all tied together for me. I wrote a novel and when I was done with that novel I decided that it’s what I wanted to do forever. Then, I spent several years writing that novel over again—fixing it. While I did that, I wrote a few other novels and several short stories and a short graphic essay. I went to school and got my MFA in Creative Writing. I got some stories published. I read a lot. And then it all came back around. That first novel I wrote was Awesome Jones and it’s just been released.

Do you have a favorite spot to write? How often do you write a day and for how long? Are you one of those people who can sit down and write entire pages nonstop or do you labor over each line?

I start all my novels in a spiral-bound notebook. Notes. Outlines. Character sketches. Dialogue. All that stuff goes in there.  Then I move into Word. I write in my living room and, once I’m immersed in the novel, I usually write all day. I stop if I need to. Walk around. Take a shower. Whatever I need to do to clear my head. But, for the most part, I write from an outline so I usually know where I’m going. I just write until I get there.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a writer?  What’s your favorite part of writing? Your least favorite?

I like creating worlds. I like inhabiting those worlds with people who have the simple conversations that, in real life, make me uncomfortable and anxious. I like mixing the ordinary and the strange. My favorite part of writing is the part where I move into the world I’ve created. My least favorite part is moving out.

What’s been the most rewarding or exciting part of your writing career to date? On the flipside, has there been an especially discouraging event? If so, how do you deal with discouragement?

About a week after Awesome Jones was published a woman emailed me to say that she had dreamed of superheroes thanks to my book. That completely intangible admission was somehow the most real, most tangible thing to me. Something I’d written had influenced another person’s dreams. That was extremely rewarding for me. As for the discouraging side of things—before Awesome Jones was picked up by Seventh Star, a few people were interested. One was another publishing house. The woman who received the manuscript loved it and passed it to her boss who passed it to his boss. This all sounds great except that they ended up holding my manuscript for over a year. I would occasionally hear from them. Yes, they were still interested. They had hard drive problems. They moved offices. Could I re-send? Ultimately, I was tired of waiting around on them. I emailed a couple of times to see whether they were still considering the novel and didn’t hear back. The whole experience ended up being a lesson in the difference between patience and a willingness to put up with poor treatment. If they had this much of a delay while considering the novel—while holding off on answering with a simple yes or no—what would it be like to work with them?

For those who might not know him, could you describe Awesome Jones, the subject of your newly released book? Where did he come from? Is there a story behind his name?

Awesome Jones is a completely regular guy who lives in a superhero world. There is a story behind his name. But, you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is.

I read in a blurb that your “super hero novel is more than just a comic book in prose because it’s a fairytale for adults” – Can you tell us a little more? What’s your favorite fairy tale, by the way?

Traditionally, in comics, there was a hero and there was a villain and they fought each other and the good guy won and that was the bulk of the story. The crime fighting, the action, the superhero battles took up most of the colorful, thirty-two pages. In Awesome Jones there’s more time for human stuff. This is a book about people eating dinner, falling in love, and trying to navigate life in a super-hero world. Of course, there’s also plenty of action. My favorite fairy tale? The Princess Bride. That counts, right?

Do you remember the first thing you ever read?  What was it? Are you reading anything interesting at the moment? Who are the authors and artists you admire?

I’m not sure of the first thing I read. I remember reading Little Bear and Frog & Toad very early though. Right now I’m on a detective novel kick, reading The Big Sleep. I’m also wrapped up in the re-issue of the 80’s British comic series, Miracle Man. I love a lot of stuff that the following people created: Haruki Murakami, JK Rowling, Kurt Vonnegut, Robin McKinley, Amy Bender, Hayao Miyazaki, Jim Henson, William Goldman, Agatha Christie, Wes Anderson, Jane Austen, Mike Mignola, on and on and on.

And let’s close with our obligatory set of questions:

Have you read A Confederacy of Dunces, our literary inspiration here at Literary Labors (and the Occasional Cheese Dip)? Do you like cheese dip, by the way? Would you share a favorite recipe with us?

I’ve never read A Confederacy of Dunces. I remember seeing my first ex-step-dad reading it when I was a kid and being amused by the title and cover. That’s as far as I ever got. I do like cheese dip. When I was about 12 I hosted a Murder Mystery party and was adamant about serving cheese dip, which I felt was the signature of grown up classy party throwing. I love writing about food. I do it almost by accident. I’ll start writing an action scene and end up writing a long paragraph about steamed mussels and crusty bread. As it happens, there’s an awful lot of food in Awesome Jones so I thought I’d share a recipe from one of the meals in the novel. This recipe was slightly adapted from my mother-in-law’s recipe for old-fashioned chocolate pie.

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Chocolate Pie

Make the crust first:

2 cups graham crackers
1 stick melted butter
2 teaspoons powdered sugar.

Crush the graham crackers and mix with the butter and sugar. Add a little extra butter if necessary until the mixture becomes a slightly tacky, slightly crumbly substance. Mash into your pie pan. It’s ok if it’s uneven. That’s part of its charm.

Now for the pie filling:

2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
4oz can evaporated milk (You can just use regular milk if you like. The evaporated milk just makes it a little richer)
3 egg yolks (save the whites in a clean bowl if you want to make meringue)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix cocoa, flour, and sugar in pan. Whisk together milk and egg yolks and pour in with the cocoa mixture. Combine and turn the heat to medium-low. Stir frequently until mixture thickens. (A lot of recipes suggest taking the mixture off the heat as soon as it starts to bubble but I tend to stir until it reduces and becomes the consistency of pudding. If you do this, stir continuously with a wire whisk and don’t let it stick.) Remove from heat and add vanilla. This pie tastes great naked but you can top it with whipped cream or meringue.

For meringue:

3 egg whites
1/4 tablespoon cream of tartar

Place egg whites and cream of tartar in a metal or glass bowl. Whip the snot out of those things until they form stiff, glossy peaks.

Top the pie and pop it in a 325 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until the meringue begins to turn a golden brown.

Side note: We had a very limited amount of space in our car when we moved to LA so I had to get rid of my mixer and mixing bowls and I never got around to replacing them. Thus, when I made this pie, I whipped the meringue by hand in a saucepan and my meringue only formed soft peaks and baked up a pretty flat. Still tasty though.

Thanks for joining us today, AshleyRose!

Born and raised in Appalachia, AshleyRose Sullivan has a BS in Anthropology and an MFA in Creative Writing. AshleyRose has moved 35 times. She’s been the oldest, the youngest, the middle and the only child. She has worked as a taxidermist’s assistant, a milkmaid, and a story time lady. She’s a power-lifter, a left-handed artist, and a right-handed knitter. Her library is organized by color. She lives, writes and paints in Los Angeles with her husband and their many imaginary friends.

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