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Ask the Writer: Ashley Cudiff
interviewed by Jen Knox
Ashley Cudiff (AC): I’ve always enjoyed writing and felt that written expression came naturally to me, but I never considered it a serious creative pursuit until I was in my early thirties. I have three children, an almost nine-year-old and four-year-old twins, and I had a big spurt of writing inspiration about two years after each birth. I don’t think that this timing is a coincidence; experiencing parenthood has opened up an empathy in me that has fueled my imagination on all subjects, not just parenting and children. It also took a few decades of life experience for me to develop the confidence to believe that other people could actually be interested in my words and ideas.
I started by writing some stories and essays and submitted them very sporadically until a couple of years ago, when I committed to drafting a novel, posting regularly on my essay blog, and submitting more regularly. Since then I have been busy "emerging” as a writer (for some reason that term always makes me feel sort of silly, like, haven’t I made it out of my cocoon yet? I’m forty.), and have placed a few short pieces for publication. I also completed the novel and I’m currently seeking representation for it.
I work full-time as a musician and college instructor and have family responsibilities, which combined with the slow publishing world means my journey as a writer has not been as speedy and exciting as I might like, but it’s been fulfilling, and at least some of the time, fun, and I’m pleased with any progress I might make!
JK: What is the best piece of advice you've ever received as a creative person?
AC: This is advice I received as a musician, but I’ve applied it to writing, and I think it’s true for any artistic pursuit: Be your own advocate. Even if you have zero self-confidence, advocate for yourself anyway! No one is going to believe in your work if you don’t at least pretend to believe in it yourself, so fake the confidence until you actually build some!
JK: Love this! It’s a message a lot of people will benefit from reading. Please share with us one (or a few) of your favorite lines, either from your own work or someone else's work, and explain what strikes you about the passage.
AC: I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Strout, and her novel Abide With Me is among my favorite books. It’s this gorgeous story of love, grief, and mercy set in a stark New England town in the 1950s. Anyway, the line I thought of in response to this question is: “Besty Bumpus had tears streaming down her cheeks the entire first year of her twins’ lives; she’d actually become dehydrated.” There’s not much to contextualize here; Betsy Bumpus is a minor character, and I think this is the only time in the whole book she’s even mentioned. Yet this brief and expository sentence paints her experience so well—it’s almost a little piece of flash fiction within the novel. I read this book for the first time fifteen years ago, when I did not yet have children, and when I read this sentence, I thought, I can imagine what Betsy is experiencing. Later, after the birth of my first child, I read it and thought, I can understand what Betsy is experiencing. Still later, after the birth of my own twins, I read it and thought, I am Betsy; I’ve been her the whole time. Strout’s writing does this to me so often—it’s simple, but so beautiful, and it explores the human experience in a way that is both intimate and universal—you can “get it” in so many different ways.
JK: How did you find your first publication?
AC: I think my first published piece was a guest post about twins on the pregnancy site/blog Pregnant Chicken. I’d used this site a lot through both my pregnancies because it was informative, but also fun. I submitted one essay which they rejected it with some encouraging feedback, and my second essay, the twin one, was accepted! I was really thrilled about it—having a piece published on a site I knew and frequented was a nice piece of early success that gave me more confidence to submit elsewhere.
JK: What are you working on next?
AC: I’m putting a lot of headspace into seeking representation for my novel right now, so I honestly haven’t been at my most disciplined when it comes to creating new work, even though I love the idea of distracting myself from query rejections with my next, even more brilliant, project. But I have written a few shorter stories and essays, and I’ve got some notes on two new novels—one that could be a possible sequel/companion to the completed one, and one middle grade one (I’ve never tried to write for kids before, but I’m drawn to it because I still feel the influence of so many books I read as a kid). I also try to post an essay on my blog at least every couple of months or so—I’m not active on social media, so it’s important that I keep up with the blog if I want to have an online presence.
I just did a really good job of making it sound like I have a lot going on in my writing life, but recently I’ve mostly just been sitting in front of almost-blank Word documents for twenty minutes after my kids go to bed each night, then refreshing my Query Tracker and Submittable pages about five hundred times before giving up and watching Twilight Zone with my husband. I am starting to feel a little restless creatively, though, so I’m hoping to find the attention span and energy to actually delve into another longer project soon!
Ashley W. Cundiff is a freelance musician, college music instructor, writer by night, and mother of three. Her work has appeared most recently in Mom Egg Review and Little Patuxent Review, and she recently completed a debut novel. Ashley blogs on parenthood, the creative life, and other odds and ends at www.thedomesticwilds.com.
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