Thursday, September 13, 2018

0 Ashley Little, author of CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE LEPER, on planning to do something very different than what you end up with

We're excited to have Ashley Little with us to chat about her latest novel, CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE LEPER.

Ashley, what was your inspiration for writing CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE LEPER?

Kind of a long story, but while I was doing my undergraduate degree in creative writing, a prof assigned our class a historical fiction piece. So we had to find something in British Columbia's history that interested us and then research it using three different sources (microfiche, interviews, encyclopedias, maps, etc. i.e. not the Internet) and then write a short story about it. I found out about a place called D'Arcy Island; a leper colony on a tiny island off the southern tip of Vancouver Island, not far from where I was going to university, in Victoria; it ran from 1891-1924. I did my research and wrote a short story from the perspectives of four men and one woman that had lived there. The idea had always stayed with me because it was so haunting, and the people sent there lived in really poor conditions and were basically sent there to die, not get better. So, about ten years later, I decided it was time to write a novel about D'Arcy Island; I went to the island and stayed three nights and visited the orchard they had kept and saw the foundations of the buildings that had housed them. I did about six months of research towards a historical fiction novel and then one night, Abby Furlowe started talking to me, and it turned into something completely different than I had planned. But instead of fighting it and trying to force myself back to the D'Arcy Island piece, I listened to Abby and went along with her on her journey, and I'm glad I did.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

Working on this book taught me that you can be planning to do something very different than what you end up with -- and that's okay. If you just remain open to the process and follow your intuition along little by little, it turns out fine in the end -- you don't have to fight everything that is not 'in the plan' and beat down the other voices that are coming up and wanting to say something. It taught me to listen, and to trust.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

While I was researching leprosy (now called Hansen's Disease) for the historical fiction novel I had planned (see question 1), I came across a news article that said something along the lines of: Leprosy is alive and well in the United States today in states like Texas, Florida, and Louisiana, because these states have high populations of armadillos and armadillos can transmit leprosy/Hansen's Disease to humans and vice versa.

And that, just that one line about it still being a disease in these modern times -- gave me the idea to do a young adult novel set in present day about a character who is very concerned with appearances and ends up contracting Hansen's Disease. The whole novel flew into my mind after reading that short article. And the next day, Abby started talking to me and there was no shutting her up.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

You're going to get knocked down 1000 times and you have to get back up 1001. If you can't get back up or you don't want to, then you need to go do something else.

What are you working on now?

A thriller for adults about a writer who has a stalker. It's called Creep.


Confessions of a Teenage Leper
by Ashley Little
Penguin Teen
Released 9/11/2018

Abby Furlowe has plans. Big plans. She's hot, she's popular, she's a cheerleader and she's going to break out of her small Texas town and make it big. Fame and fortune, adoration and accolades. It'll all be hers.

But then she notices some spots on her skin. She writes them off as a rash, but things only get worse. She's tired all the time, her hands and feet are numb and her face starts to look like day-old pizza. By the time her seventeenth birthday rolls around, she's tried every cream and medication the doctors have thrown at her, but nothing works. When she falls doing a routine cheerleading stunt and slips into a coma, her mystery illness goes into overdrive and finally gets diagnosed: Hansen's Disease, aka leprosy.

Abby is sent to a facility to recover and deal with this new reality. Her many misdiagnoses mean that some permanent damage has been done, and all of her plans suddenly come tumbling down. If she can't even wear high heels anymore, what is the point of living? Cheerleading is out the window, and she might not even make it to prom. PROM!

But it's during this recovery that Abby has to learn to live with something even more difficult than Hansen's Disease. She's becoming aware of who she really was before and what her behavior was doing to others; now she's on the other side of the fence looking in, and she doesn't like what she sees.

Purchase Confessions of a Teenage Leper at Amazon
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Ashley Little received a BFA in Creative Writing and Film Studies from The University of Victoria and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Her first novel, PRICK: Confessions of a Tattoo Artist (Tightrope Books, 2011) was a finalist for the ReLit award. The New Normal (Orca, 2013) won the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize. Ashley’s third novel, Anatomy of a Girl Gang (Arsenal Pulp, 2013), won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, was a finalist for the City of Vancouver Book Award, longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award, and has been optioned for television. Niagara Motel (Arsenal Pulp, 2016), was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and longlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award. Confessions of a Teenage Leper (Penguin Randomhouse) is forthcoming in Fall 2018. Ashley lives in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.


Have you had a chance to read CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE LEPER yet? Are you able to listen and trust when your story goes in a completely different direction than you planned? Are you able to get back up when you're knocked down? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Jocelyn, Halli, Martina, Erin, Susan, Shelly, Kelly, Laura, Emily, and Lori Ann

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