Ashley Woodfolk has loved reading and writing for as long as she can remember. She graduated from Rutgers University and worked in children’s book publishing for over a decade. Now a full-time mom and writer, Ashley lives in a sunny Brooklyn apartment with her cute husband, her cuter dog, and the cutest baby in the world. Her books include The Beauty That Remains, When You Were Everything, and the Flyy Girls series. Find her on Twitter or Instagram @ashwrites.
First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself and your upcoming book, Nothing Burns as Bright as You?
Well hello. I’m Ashley. I’ve been writing since I was a kid, but I’ve been lucky enough in the last few years to have a few different YA novels published. My latest, NOTHING BURNS AS BRIGHT AS YOU, is my feminist manifesto and the queer novel of my heart, and as much as I love this book, everything about it terrifies me. NOTHING BURNS is about two messy girls in a tumultuous relationship—they’re friends but also more than friends, with hardly any boundaries. On the day they set a fire, their relationship spirals out of control, and as the truth of their history is unraveled, their future is revealed.
How did you get into writing, and what drew you to young adult fiction specifically?
I’ve been writing poetry and stories since kindergarten, and I can’t say I was specifically drawn to YA on purpose. It’s just that when I sit down to write I almost always have young characters in mind. I think it has something to do with how unique the teen years are. They’re the first time you’re able to make your own decisions and yet, there are still so many freedoms you don’t yet have. It’s a time full of firsts and rife with opportunities to make mistakes while also being full of second chances. Teens can be so messy and so brilliant in the space of a few hours, and I find that resilience and versatility so fascinating—it’s such a cool thing to play with when writing stories. I also just think teenagers are the best people: so much more passionate and kind and motivated than anyone else I know.
In a beautiful essay you wrote for Catapult, “How Writing My Young Adult Novel Helped Me Reclaim the Queer Girlhood I Lost,” you talk about how writing a queer young adult story allowed you to access a version of queer youth you yourself didn’t get to have? Could you expand on this and the vicarious power of fiction?
I think that essay says it all. I didn’t see my own queerness for years despite the signs being everywhere. Attraction to multiple genders? Check. Romantic entanglements with multiple genders? Double check. Queer besties? Celebrity crushes across the gender/sexuality spectrum? Undying empathy for the queer community as an “ally”? Triple check. I have always been who I am, I just didn’t have a name for it, didn’t recognize it for what it was until I was well into my adulthood. And the pain I feel for what was lost—people I didn’t pursue or maybe didn’t even notice, relationships I destroyed because of an idea I had in my head about who I was…it troubles me sometimes. Through writing I’m able to work through some of that grief, some of my sadness about what I missed out on. I’m able to explore feelings that I suppressed without even realizing I was suppressing something. Through my own powerful imagination, I can write the stories I wish I had read; stories that may have helped me see myself more clearly years earlier. I felt invisible for decades. I just hope that the things I write are able to help someone else feel seen.
What are some of your favorite elements of craft?
Coming up with and building characters is by far my favorite part of writing any book.
Besides being a writer, what are some things you would like others to know about you?
I’m on a mission to help kids (and adults!) believe they’re worthy of love and acceptance simply because they exist. I try to plant that message in the heart of everything I write and say and do. Other than that, I’m a mama to a toddler and a pittie, a wife to a very cute guy I’ve loved since I was 19, and a lover of good food, emotional books, indie movies, and all kinds of music. I’m a card-carrying member of the frequent criers club, and I believe therapy should be free and widely available to everyone. But until then, I’ll keep writing books that I hope help people feel a little less alone.
What advice might you give to other aspiring authors?
Be relentless (you only ever need one yes to move forward at every step in this process, so don’t be too discouraged by rejections), and write like no one’s watching.
What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?
The characters in NOTHING BURNS don’t have names. Why not?
Names felt too restrictive, too tied to a single identity. I want these characters to be anyone. I want them to be everyone.
Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to talk about?
Working on lots of things, but nothing else I can talk about right now. ☹
Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?
Odd One Out by Nic Stone.
This Is What It Feels Like by Rebecca Barrow.
Simon Vs The Homosapiens Agenda & Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli.
I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson.