Interview with Ashley Memory: First Place Winner of the Q2 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest

Sunday, May 19, 2019
Ashley Memory finds inspiration in the ancient Uwharrie mountains surrounding her home in rural Randolph, County, N.C. She enjoys preserving what she grows in the garden she tends with her husband Johnpaul. She’s learned the hard way about wearing gloves when making jalapeno pickles!

Ashley’s poetry and prose have recently appeared in The Birds We Piled Loosely, Gyroscope Review, The Ginger Collect’s 2018 Halloween Mini-Magazine and numerous other literary journals and anthologies. New work is forthcoming in Okay Donkey and Coffin Bell. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a two-time recipient of the Doris Betts Fiction Prize sponsored by the N.C. Writers’ Network. A previous story, “Eula Dare Hampton Agrees to Edit the Quaker Ladies’ Cookbook,” earned honorable mention in the WOW! Winter 2018 Flash Fiction Contest.

Ashley loves sharing what she’s learned as a part-time instructor for Central Carolina Community College’s Creative Writing Program in Pittsboro, N.C. Follow Ashley on Twitter @memoryashley or visit her fruit-inspired blog at

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your first place win in our Q2 2019 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “How to Chop an Onion Without Crying?

Ashley: A weepy December night chopping onions after an emotional telephone conversation with my son was the catalyst. But no matter what I do, or what’s going on in my life, I always cry when chopping onions. Once my son and I mended fences, I decided to channel my angst into some research on the history of the onion, as it’s always fascinated me. And because I like to cook and bake, this essay has opened the door to many other possibilities for creative nonfiction, from ruminations on my lemon juicer to Grandma Wilma’s bread pans. Curiously, I recently read a memoir by Kathleen Flinn about her days at a French cooking school and she explained that if you use an extra-sharp knife and resist pushing down on the onion, you won’t release the chemicals that make you cry. This may be true but I’m not sure I could handle a real sharp knife very well if I’m wobbly with emotions! Don’t try this at home…..

WOW: You’ve also won one of our flash fiction contests, and write long fiction and poetry. Do you find one form of writing more challenging than the others? Are you drawn to one form more than the others?

Ashley: Wonderful question! The more I write, the more I see connections between ALL of them. More than one of my ideas for nonfiction have actually morphed into fictional short stories. And a good short story sometimes turns into a poem (and vice versa). It’s all about the language. Coincidentally, just this week I learned that my poetry collection, "Waiting for the Wood Thrush," was accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press in Kentucky. Several of the poems for this collection, which includes about 30 poems on love and longing, actually got their start as flash fictions. Needless to say, WOW's May/June 2019 ezine, Loving the Lyric, particularly the article on promoting your poetry collection by Marybeth Niederkorn, is just what I needed. Talk about timing. Thank you WOW!

WOW::  How cool that some of your poems started out as flash fiction! What is your writing process like? Please describe a typical day.

Ashley: While I’ve always admired those who can crank something out in the midnight hour, I do my best work in the morning, the earlier the better. So while still in this semi-lucid, semi-dream state, I crawl out of bed and write, roughly from 6:30 – 9:00 a.m. The rest of the day, trusty notebook in hand, is given to my work for the day, which these days means gardening, cooking cleaning, or chasing after my dogs. I can edit and revise at any time of day, which is what I may do in the afternoon or evening. But only that precious morning time yields those ephemeral moments, the best metaphors, insights, and the truly magical.

WOW: What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Ashley: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl, a memoir of her time as a New York Times food critic because I’m clearly in a foodie writer phase right now! On the fictional side, I’m reading Going to Graceland, a terrific new collection of linked short stories published by St. Andrews Press by my longtime friend and mentor, Ruth Moose, because I love everything she’s ever written. Her sense of humor and surprise are unmatched.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Ashley! Before you go, can you share a favorite writing tip or piece of advice?

Ashley: Everybody says this but it is so true, and I didn’t start doing it religiously until recently. Carry a notebook wherever you go, whether the dentist, hardware store, even the flea market (especially the flea market!), and use it to jot down descriptions, observations, overheard conversations, etc, that you can mine for details in your writing later on. It is so important to record these moments as soon as they happen because those delicious little tidbits of life can so easily get swallowed up by the business of life. And for me, it’s almost impossible to conjure them up again unless I stop what I’m doing and make a note at the moment. The other day, I saw a woman at a gas station in a Subaru with one of those car wraps advertising a zombie hunting business! That’s going to end up somewhere one day, I promise you. And yesterday our cat Little Puss crawled up in the wheelbarrow and took a nap. I’m pretty sure that “Cat in a Wheelbarrow” is going to end up as a poem AND a short story one day Probably an essay too. See the picture I attached—she just woke up!


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Marcia--Thanks for doing this interview and linking Ashley's story.

Ashley--I loved how you blended kitchen activities with thoughts of your son. And congratulations on the first place prize. I know there were lots of entries, so you should be quite proud.

(Cats are such amazing creatures, aren't they. They find the weirdest places to nap but for them, they're perfect places.)

Ashley said...

Thank you Sioux! Isn't it funny how the most routine tasks can set your mind all in a whirl?

Cats....yes. A wheelbarrow full of weeds, of all things. Someone, I forget who, once said "If dogs are prose then cats are poetry." (Or something like that.)

Anonymous said...

Ashley, congratulations on your first place win! I really enjoyed this interview! Your publication resume is impressive! How many pieces do you have out for submission at one time? And how much time do you spend reading/researching your markets? ( I'm probably not doing enough of either!)

Ashley said...

Mary Jo, sorry I missed this comment! Thank you very much for your note; I appreciate it. Great question. I've noticed that I get about one acceptance for every 10 things I send out. So I generally have about twelve things out for submission at one time. I do a few hours each week of research, but it is a very subjective art. The pieces that I'm sure will be accepted are often not, and the pieces that I'm not so sure about often are. A little like life, eh? Thank you again for your note!

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