It is snowing today in St. Paul—the first real snow of the season—and time for our second contributor interview. Today, we are talking with Ashley Belisle, who kindly allowed us to publish her fantastic short story, Up in Smoke, in volume one.
First question: How do you make time to write as a college student?
To be honest, a large part of my motivation to take writing classes during college was not only because I love to write, but also because I knew it would make me write. It is easy to push writing to the back burner when work, homework, extracurricular activities, friends, and sleep are all competing for attention during the limited hours of each day, but forcing myself to adhere to deadlines because they were for class really helped. I also served as the editor for my college newspaper, so I was writing weekly—news, opinions, and creative pieces—outside of class too. Incorporating writing into my weekly commitments was the most important way for me to make time to write.
Tell us three books you love.
This is a hard question! I appreciate that you asked me for “three books I love” instead of my “three favorite books.” That takes off at least some of the pressure, I think.
The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (this is a short story, but it is sometimes published as a book, so I think it counts)
Looking For Alaska, by John Green (all of John Green’s books are fantastic, and they are not only for “young adults!”)
A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
What was the hardest part to get right in “Up in Smoke,” the story you published in Runestone?
Though it may sound silly, I will say confidently that the most difficult part about that piece was starting it. I think I stared at my computer screen, lay in my bed, and asked for ideas from friends for at least a week before I even put a single word down on paper.
I knew I wanted to write a story that depended on the voice and perspective of very different characters, but I could not figure out how to turn such an abstract non-idea into a story. Eventually, I came up with the concept for this story because I took a road trip to visit a friend. I met knew people (one of whom appears as a fictionalized version of himself in this story), saw a new city, and had some new experiences. Stepping outside of my daily routine gave me the perspective I needed to finally start writing something.
Suppose the piece you published in Runestone has a soundtrack, much like the Book Notes at Large-Hearted Boy. What song(s) would it be, and why?
The soundtrack to this short story is “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens, and it’s not only because that is where the story takes place—although that certainly plays a role too. This song reminds me of autumn and change and the ways in which we are all connected, even when we cannot understand why are how. These are some of the central experiences that the characters in this story are facing, too.
Lastly, what are you up to these days?
Since graduating from St. Olaf, I moved to Chicago and am pursuing a Master of Science in Higher Education Administration and Policy at Northwestern University. I also work in Northwestern’s Office of New Student and Family Programs, planning orientation and various family programs, writing and editing newsletters and other publications, and working with student leaders. I will graduate in August.
Thank you, Ashley, for taking the time to answer our questions and for allowing us to publish your work!
Submissions are open right now for current undergraduates, but get them in quick; the portal closes on December 15th!