Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

December 31, 2015

Emergence & Depression: An Interview with Charlotte Ashley

Let’s get the statistics out of the way! 2015 was a solid year for you. What did you publish, and what have you got ahead of you?

Thanks! Yes, 2015 was weirdly consistent from a publishing point of view. I published five short stories – ‘The Will of Parliament’,  The Sockdolager, Winter 2015, ‘Eleusinian Myseries’, Luna Station Quarterly #23, September 2015, ‘The Posthuman Condition’, Kaleidotrope Summer 2015, ‘Sigrid Under the Mountain’,  The Sockdolager Summer 2015, and ‘La Héron, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction‘ March/April 2015. I also sold two more, forthcoming in 2016: ‘More Heat than Light’ to The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and ‘La Clochemar’ to an anthology, Clockwork Canada.

You were busy!

That’s the weird part: I wasn’t. I actually had a horrifying personal year and spent a lot of time depressed, in shock, and unable to work. My relationship was on the rocks, I lost my daycare subsidy and had to pull my kids out, was forced to drop to working part time, found a strange lump on my daughter’s neck, lost editorial work, learned way more than I wanted to about the mental healthcare system, the children’s aid society, and substance abuse; and got poison ivy – in my eye. Everything is a lot better now, but for a while there it was everything I could do to just get out of bed, feed my kids & show up to work. Write? Submit? Ha!

And yet, I sold more stories than I ever have before. And I sold them more quickly and easily, to better venues, than ever before.

Your craft must be improving!

Well, maybe. All of my “pro” sales were new stories – written in late 2014 or early 2015. Maybe these were better than the stories I wrote in 2013 and 2014. But most of them – including the stories I am most in love with and most proud of – are old. They’d been submitted 10-20 times. I’d trunked some of them, sure they’d never sell. And yet.

Blind luck?

Maybe. Swing enough times and, statistically, you’ll hit, right?

But something was different this year. The same stories that were form-rejected in 2013 mysteriously bypassed the slush pile and landed me sweet, thoughtful personal rejections from the top editors in the field in 2015. I had one story go from submission to published inside of a month.

And the best part? 4/5 stories I published this year were the “featured” stories from the issues they appeared in. My work was singled out by editors, reviewers, and readers. 2014 was the year of feeling lucky, or maybe like someone had made a mistake. In 2015, I started to hope I deserved the attention I was getting.

I think I see where you are going with this.

In Toronto, we have an arts grant that is earmarked for “emerging” writers. I used to think that was an odd designation – emerging. Because you had to have several professional sales in order to qualify as “emerging.” I thought of “emerging” as being a butterfly half-cracked out of its cocoon, or a baby that’s crowned but not delivered. Emerging. Not yet emerged. All writers are emerging. Surely a writer with pro credits has emerged?

I see now that “emerging” means something else. It’s a designator of momentum. It means “on the rise.” It has nothing to do with how much you have or haven’t written. It isn’t even an indicator of talent or success. It’s a muddier thing, a sort of metacultural sense that, at some point, you will break through. It draws the eye. Arts organizations like to invest in it. Publishers want to get in on it. Other people want to be associated with it, in the hopes it will drag them along in its wake.

That sounds powerful. So, you think you are “emerging”?

Well, not necessarily. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that is or isn’t, but I could see it this year. I was close enough to glimpse it and feel its effects on my career.

Do you think you will continue to “emerge” in 2016? 

I hope so. Traditionally, I am pretty strategic in my approach to – well, anything. I’ll capitalize on anything I can get hold of and leverage. Traditionally.

But I tell you what throws a wrench in that kind of ambition: depression. In my case, ambition is powered by a combination of hubris, manic energy, and a reckless love of new experiences. Depression is like descending to the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Everything is dark, oppressive, and heavy. You try to work yourself up, but it’s like wading through shoulder-deep mud. Nothing moves fast enough. Nothing sparkles. You get tired and need to lie down.

People talk about self-care, about just burying yourself in blankets, drinking tea, and binge-watching Outlander. But some days I feel like there’s a shooting star passing right over my head, and if I got out my net, I could hook it and ride it to somewhere amazing. But I’m mired in sludge, my limbs are too heavy, and I won’t get unstuck in time to catch it…

You’re starting to make me uncomfortable.

Ha! Sorry. But let’s face it: this is a conflict a lot of creative people feel. Madness and art has gone hand in hand for millennia, and I don’t know many creative people who don’t also struggle with one form or another of mental illness. A lot of us feel like our neurodifferences are what give us that creative spark and treating it can be scary. But the lows can be equally devastating. And all the while, the creative markets want the wildest, maddest parts of us. Those years when we are at our worst might produce some of our best work.

Where are you at right now? Producing your best work at your worst, or taking care of yourself?

I’m hoping to prove to myself that it doesn’t have to be either/or. I’m doing a lot better now. I’ve finished two new stories for submission and just started a new La Héron story that I love already. I feel like the act of just settling into a good story, not worrying about whether it will be publishable or “what people want”, is self-care in and of itself. One of my new stories is 100% catharsis – and I love it. Wouldn’t it be great if my best work was the stuff that makes me feel better?

Your work has never struck me as being very touchy-feely.

No, no, it isn’t. What makes me feel better isn’t tea and blankets – it’s kicking my problems in the face. There is a lot of ass-kicking in my catharsis.

Phew.

I know, right?

Do you have any resolutions for 2016? Where do you expect to be on January 1st, 2017?

I think my resolutions are probably going to be the same as they were for 2015 – only maybe I will succeed this time. Write more, read more, focus.

And January 1st, 2017? I expect to be here, doing exactly this. Though, maybe with a lottery win or an awards nod under my belt. How about it, life? *wiggles eyebrows* Come at me, 2016.

Charlotte Ashley is a writer, editor, and bookseller in Toronto, Canada. When she isn’t interviewing herself or engaging in her three professions, she is managing the affairs of her two genius daughters, training at parkour, playing Hearthstone, baking, and starting ill-fated secret societies. She really appreciates being solicited for submissions, interviews, and opinions. She can be reached at charlotte@once-and-future.com.