The Practice of Creativity

For the Love of Crime and Crepes: Interview with Author Ashley Memory

Posted on: November 2, 2012

I had heard about Ashley Memory several months before I met her. People in my monthly writing group raved about her new novel, Naked and Hungry and asked me, “Did you know she works at UNC-Chapel Hill?” I didn’t and set out to correct that oversight as I’m always interested in meeting faculty and staff members at the university who are also creative writers.

In September, I had the pleasure of meeting Ashley at a ‘Sisters in Crime’ writers’ group when I gave a workshop about creativity. I learned quickly that Ashley is a woman of many talents and passions. She’s been a professional communicator for over twenty years and has experience in writing, editing, media relations, and strategic communications. For the last six years, she has served as Communications Director for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Her biography is long and distinguished, though you wouldn’t know that by talking with her because she’s so good at listening to her companion’s interests. Ashley has published essays and stories in Cairn, Portland Literary Review, Georgia State University Review, and North Carolina Wildlife. She has won the Doris Betts Fiction Prize sponsored by the N.C. Writer’s Network twice (!) and Eureka Literary Magazine nominated her short story Tamarisk for a Pushcart Prize. She is also an essayist; samples include  Missing the Dixie Superette and For Barking Out Loud.

Her first novel, Naked and Hungry, was named a finalist in the  2009 James Jones First Novel Fellowship competition sponsored by Wilkes University and was published in 2011 by Ingalls Publishing Group.

And, to top it all off she is a crepes aficionado and also writes about crepes!

She’ll be a featured panelist at the upcoming N.C. Writer’s Network Fall Conference.

We’re both in a course on short fiction taught by Ruth Moose. I appreciate the depth of literary knowledge and writing craft that Ashley brings to the class. I find myself paying close attention when Ashley comments on a story (esp. the elements that aren’t working in it). I’m so glad she made time to chat with me about writing and the writing life.

Tell us about your first novel, Naked and Hungry. What’s in store for readers?

 Naked and Hungry is a darkly humorous suspense novel featuring a former loan officer named H.T. McMullen who rejects materialism and moves to a one-room cabin in the Uwharries. There he finds his pristine wilderness tainted by dangerous pollutants. And when he dares to complain, he becomes the target of a deadly game of intimidation by the high-powered villains.

Justin Catanoso, author of My Cousin the Saint, executive editor of The Triad Business Journal, and an early reviewer of my book kindly offered the words: “In Naked and Hungry, Ashley Memory has written an entertaining and twisting first novel with a storyline pulled from today’s headlines. Bank loans gone bad, pollution for profit, unchecked law enforcement, reluctant heroes. With shades of Richard Russo, Memory’s characters are quirky and funny and often a little dangerous. And her sense of place — small town North Carolina — is vividly rendered.”

Besides writing novels and short fiction, you also have written a book about crepes, a food you love. Is there a story about your passion for crepes and interest in teaching people how to make them?

I’ve loved eating crepes since I was a girl. When I was eight years old, my parents took me to a restaurant in Greensboro named, appropriately enough, Frenchy’s. There I had my first crepe, which was wrapped around beef burgundy and baked again in the oven until it was crispy. It was simply divine.

Many years later, when my father and I were thinking of starting an online business together, we quickly landed upon the concept of crepes. At that time, there seemed to be a dearth of good crepe recipes on the internet. This inspired us to create our own collection and launch World of Crepes at www.world-of-crepes.com. This effort sparked a true culinary adventure that led from experimenting in the kitchen to winning first place in the 2009 Citrus Dessert Challenge for our recipe for tangerine crepes.

The timing was right for the creation of the website because crepes are enjoying a renaissance of sorts due to an appetite for healthier eating. Crepes are low in gluten and calories and relatively inexpensive to prepare. In fact, Michele, I bet I could raid your pantry right now and make you a delicious dessert based on crepes.  I would insist on bringing my own crepe pan, however, because I’m a bit finicky about the tools of my trade.

Do you conceive of a story in the voice of a narrator, or in key images or characters, or in events?

Great question. Occasionally an image, event or an overheard snippet of conversation will inspire me, but the most satisfying stories arise out of characters. A character is the shortest distance to a true story because they tend to drive the car, so to speak. When you plunk a believable character into a story, things such as motivation, action, and even physical description seem to write themselves. In these cases, it truly doesn’t feel like work! It’s more like a joy ride for the writer.

Can you give me an example?

Yes! The interactions and the mini-story arc in Naked and Hungry between my main character, H.T. McMullen and his office manager, Margaret Freeman, arose almost magically from my keyboard. With her MBA-wired brain, she was such a delightful antithesis to H.T.’s laissez-faire way of operating a business, it was as if I were operating a Ouija board rather than a keyboard.

What would you say to yourself if you could go back in time and meet yourself at the beginning of your writing career?

Never feel bad about losing yourself in a book, no matter what your parents say! Today, my parents would probably admit that there are much worse places a twelve-year-old girl could be than behind the couch secretly reading a copy of Endless Love. She could be doing the things in that book! The act of reading is so essential to writing that it should never be suppressed in any young person.

What’s the less glamorous side of a published writer’s life that aspiring writers often don’t see? And, how do you manage this side?

The book signings are fun, and these are the things that perhaps aspiring writers most envy, but for me, it’s the non-glamorous things that I most enjoy. It’s slipping away from a dinner party to write (headache, sorry!) or scribbling a random story idea on the back of a conference brochure. Fortunately for me, these things tend to manage themselves. The day job, the family life, and the obsession with cooking are also enjoyable, so I never feel as if I’m really sacrificing anything.

There is a little pressure nowadays to be promoting oneself on all available social media platforms, and I will admit to feeling overwhelmed from time to time. But while I have often regretted the time I’ve spent to set up and maintain a “presence” on the latest platform, I’ve never regretted a Sunday afternoon penning a new story.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished a follow-up novel to Naked and Hungry titled Born Again, Dead Again. After having taken a sabbatical from short stories for a while, I’m delighted to once again be exploring this short form. My career began with short stories and I’d be more than happy to go out this way.

What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?

It comes from an interview with Pat Conroy that I once read. I apologize, but I don’t remember his exact words. But the idea has never left me, and it’s worth a feeble attempt at paraphrasing.

When I have trouble with a story, Conroy said, it’s not because I haven’t done enough research on the details. It’s because I haven’t reached deeply enough inside myself. He implied that the answers to our struggles, be it writer’s block or whether a story is believable or not, lie within us.

So, when I find myself quibbling too much over a surface detail, I realize that the main problem with a story isn’t whether my character would have had depression glass in her cupboard but what would have motivated her to hurl this thing across the dining room at her husband. And it’s this – the emotional reality of a story – that’s the currency of a true writer.

See Ashley discuss Naked and Hungrhere!

You can read more about Ashley here.

Photo Credits: http://ashley-memory.com/

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4 Responses to "For the Love of Crime and Crepes: Interview with Author Ashley Memory"

[…] I just hope she takes me up on my offer to make her crepes one day! For more, read For the Love of Crepes and Crime. […]

Great interview, Michele. Ashley is articulate, intelligent, humorous — just like she is in person!

Loved this interview! Ashley sounds like a fantastic writer and resource. I am her newest fan. Your questions are wonderful. Thanks again for your blog. I can’t wait for every entry.

Hey Heidi,
It’s so good to hear from you!
Thanks for the kind words about my blog–getting to work with Ashley was so much fun and she gives a great interview!
I miss talking with you. Sharan and I are cooking up some fun ideas that you’ll be hearing about soon.

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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