In May 2017, Shimmer published a story called “Fallow.” Now, its author returns to that world, to show us things we never dreamed of. Badger Lindsay Thomas sits down with author Ashley Blooms, to reveal all the bones.
The last time we spoke, you mentioned you were working on a novel based on “Fallow” that would allow you to include multiple perspectives and further explore the themes that story introduced. That novel became Every Bone a Prayer, coming out August 4. What made you realize you wanted to expand on the original story?
I think it was mainly a feeling that something was left undone after I finished “Fallow.” That there was more that needed to be said, especially from Misty’s point-of-view, about trauma, healing, and hope.
“Fallow” is told from the perspective of William, a ten-year-old boy with a complicated home life. Now we hear from Misty, who begins as William’s friend and neighbor before their connection takes a turn. In your writing, how do you discover whose stories need to be told?
I often follow my first instinct when it comes to perspective—it’s whichever voice comes to me first, whichever character appears in the scene that pops into my head, whichever made-up person wants to talk to me that day. But sometimes I’m also led by my own fears or discomfort. In the case of “Fallow” there were ways that it was easier for me to write from William’s POV rather than Misty’s, since inhabiting the perspective of a victim of sexual abuse was often difficult, even exhausting. I think I needed to work through “Fallow” before I could get to Every Bone a Prayer.
We’ve talked about the magic of geographical isolation and particularly of the Appalachian South, where the book is set. The transformative magic in “Fallow” is literally of the land; Every Bone a Prayer introduces a different sort of ability for Misty. What magical power would you choose for yourself?
When I was younger I would usually answer with invisibility but I find that far less appealing as an adult. I’d love to be able to teleport now. If I could blink to the woods behind my old house when I was stressed out or blink to my friend’s apartment on the other side of the country just so we could have lunch and look at memes together. To be able to connect and move so freely—I think it’s easy to see why I’d long for that now, especially.
If you had a sculpture garden in your yard, what would the sculptures depict?
A porch swing. A pane of leaded glass. My mother’s hands. A heavy door.
Have you ever caught a crawdad?
Many! There’s a creek that runs the whole length of the holler where I grew up and I spent a lot of time playing there as a kid. There was a hill behind it that grew up and even over the creek so there were shade trees and gnarled roots and brambles covering one side, which kept it cool in the summer. My sister and cousins and I would catch the crawdads and keep them in buckets for a while before releasing them back into the creek so we could catch them again later. There’s skill to the process—holding the crawdads in just the right place so you don’t get pinched, being careful enough as you move through the water so they don’t get startled and burrow into some unreachable place. And they were so alien from us with their shells and claws that somehow we never tired of watching them. They may not seem like the cuddliest creature, but there’s grace in them, and beauty.
What’s one myth or stereotype about Appalachia you’d like to correct?
I think there are too many stereotypes about Appalachia that I would gleefully burn to ashes, so I’ll settle for just expanding the way that it’s seen. I want to write stories about Appalachia that feel magical and strange and unsettling and beautiful—stories that reflect the way that I grew up there. Stereotypes are just so dull in comparison to that.
If we visited Kentucky, what would you recommend we see and do?
If I had to confine myself to one realistic trip then I’d have to send you to Red River Gorge, which is a system of canyons and woods along the Red River. You could rent a tree-house getaway off the grid, rock climb, go kayaking or canoeing, spend the day communing with the world and then go to Miguel’s for a pizza.
Is there an interesting bit of research you turned up for the book but couldn’t use in the end?
It wasn’t precisely research, but I’ve always been fascinated and disturbed by the photographs of juvenile skulls with the adult teeth still inside the jaw, waiting to emerge. I really wanted to work that into the book during one of Misty’s transformations but couldn’t find a realistic way to make it happen. There’s always another book, I suppose.
What’s in your iPod/Spotify/8-track player right now?
Well, I have one writing specific playlist called “Write the Damn Book” that I listen to often. It has mostly orchestral music and film/video game soundtracks with a fair amount of Daughter mixed in. It usually sets the right melancholy, pensive mood for me to get to work.
Tell us about something Great and Astounding you’ve read recently.
A friend recommended Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series to me recently and I tore through them. I just loved that the characters had these fears that kept them from connecting or even daring to admit what they wanted to themselves. Fears that have to be overcome not just by sheer force of will but with the support and love of others. And I’ve enjoyed the comfort of a Happily Ever After, especially in the midst of so much turmoil and uncertainty in the real world.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on my second novel for Sourcebooks so that’s getting most of my attention and care for the moment. After that, I’m really excited to get back to a middle grade book that I started a while back with a very spooky Halloween vibe.
Thank you, both! Readers, go grab a copy of Every Bone a Prayer. We already have. ♥