Ashley Lane’s novel, Minnie, and mine were both up for a vote to be the 100th title reviewed by the LL Book Review. (As it turned out, neither of us won.) That led to some writing talk across e-mail lines and, now, to some questions and answers about Minnie and the new projects on Ashley’s plate.
Ashley lives in Washington state. Her book was published in December 2007.
Q: What spurred the idea for Minnie?
When I was a sophomore in high school, it was required that each student volunteers for 24 hours before they could graduate. I volunteered at a nursing home, where the main character, Sadey, did, as well, and I enjoyed my experience. So, a few years later, I thought, “What if someone was forced to volunteer and had a bad attitude about it?” With this new thought, Minnie was born.
Q: Once you had a solid idea in your head, how long did it take from conception to completion?
It took me about two years from outlining to publishing on Lulu. Of course, I never consider Minnie absolutely complete, as I see things here and there that I can improve.
Q: You chose to publish with Lulu. Why that service? Did you query any agents?
I stumbled over Lulu one day and decided to give it a try. I’ve queried agents and editors before with other works of mine, but only to receive the famed rejection letter. So, instead of playing the wait-for-three-months-even-though-I’m-going-to-get-rejected game, I wanted instant gratification to hold my book. With Lulu, that was achievable for less than $10. I’ve queried agents for Minnie, but have only received kind rejection e-mails. Every now and then I’ll get this burst I feel in my heart to query an agent, just for fun. It’s easier when I don’t have a heavy heart involved.
Q: What are some of the lessons you’ve learned on your independent publishing adventure?
I’ve learned to write what I want to write, not what an editor wants. Since I’m not contracted with a publishing house, I’m freer to enjoy writing, rather than doing it for money and fame. When it comes to covers and interior formatting, I’ve used attractive books for models. For Minnie, I used Where the Heart Is for the interior layout and I’ve received lots of compliments on how professional my book looks.
Q: How much do you draw from your own experiences in shaping characters and stories?
Minnie was heavily based on some people and events in my life. To begin with, the whole opening plot was Sadey ending up volunteering at a nursing home so that she could get twenty-four hours of community service. As a high school sophomore in 2003, I volunteered at a nursing home to get twenty-four community service hours in order to graduate. I ended up with fifty-two and yes, there was a real Minnie, but alas, I only took her name for the title character. One of Sadey’s “friends” is named Wynter in the book, but in real-life, I had a friend named Autumn (get it? Winter/Autumn?) who was a bad influence … or tried to be. She never got to me and we didn’t stay friends long. As for other life-altering events in my book (neglect, falling in love, being pregnant, having a parent die, nearly getting raped), I have no experience with that and just did my research with those topics. Without volunteering in the first place, Minnie would not be in existence.
Q: Tell us a bit about how you work. What is your ideal environment for writing? Do you outline?
I have outlined everything I’ve ever written. If I didn’t outline, my pieces would be super-short and not very deep! Sue Monk Kidd didn’t outline The Secret Life of Bees and still managed to create a twisty and rich story. I’m jealous! Anyway, I make a bare bones outline with the beginning, somewhat of a middle, and how I’d like it to end, then I fill in all the intrigue and twists from there. I like to write late at night in bed, when my brain kicks it into high gear and can somehow carry me through typing five pages at once.
Q: Who, if anybody, helps you shape your work? Do you have a writing group? Trusted friends?
I know it’s highly recommended, but I’m not in any writing group and my readers don’t really tell me what to alter. I was in a Creative Non-Fiction course in college that I found remarkably enjoyable and even looked forward to the comments and constructive criticism, but since then, I’ve not let a single soul tell me what to do. Not by choice, of course, but because that’s how it has worked out for me. If I had an editor, that would change.
Q: You’re adapting Minnie for the stage. What has that experience been like?
Yes! It has been just as, if not more, exciting to imagine it as a play than as a movie. It has been somewhat painful to decrease the scope of my book for the stage because I’ve had to cut some characters and scenes. I pretty much have to condense thirty pages to a scene and I’ll most likely leave out some important events and just connect the ones I do leave in. However, it is nice to see that Minnie is still Minnie despite all the changes.
Q: Are you working on any new original works? How far along are you?
I have several ideas that are in pre-production. Next up is a piece I have titled That Feeling. It’s about running away from heartache, starting anew, and finding what you are really after. Another piece was inspired by an antique photograph I bought and on it is written “Sincerely, Mildred,” which will be the title, as well. It’s set in the 1930s and about a shy girl falling in love with a pilot she reads about in the newspaper. All I know is that I’m going to have to research the heck out of the 1930s, just like I had to research heart disease for Minnie. One idea revolves around equine therapy and then another is about leukemia (not inspired by or related to My Sister’s Keeper).
Q: What question would you ask of fellow writers who are trying to make a go of it?
What does it feel like for you when inspiration hits you? My heart literally jumps and feels like sunshine has entered into it.
You can find out more about Minnie and purchase the book here: www.lulu.com/laneaj