An Interview With Paula D. Ashe
Paula D. Ashe is a writer of dark fiction. Her preferred genres are: horror, dark fantasy, science-fiction, suspense/police procedural, crime fiction, erotica, and whatever abominations result by blending them all together.
Selene – Welcome to the Horror Tree, and thank you for agreeing to an interview. First, tell us a bit about yourself.
Paula – Thanks so much for having me! I’m Paula D. Ashe, I’m a writer of dark fiction, a mom, a wife, a Hellraiser obsessive, and I work in higher ed in diversity, equity, and inclusion and I’m also an educator.
Selene – What I’ve read of your work doesn’t allow ANY cross over of genres. You’re a horror writer, no question. What about the horror genre draws you?
Paula – For me, horror is honest. It gives me a space to process and explore some very uncomfortable and unsettling truths about the human experience.
Selene – In the afterword to We Are Here to Hurt Each Other, you mentioned you think that we live amid chaos and horror, and some people read for shock value and others for solace. Which do you find in horror? I’ve always said that horror appeals more to the optimist in me, because in a story the monsters can be beaten and sometimes there’s even a happy ending.
Paula – I think it depends on what I’m reading but I suppose I look for a mixture of both. I think what I (personally) value more is solace over shock value, but again that’s just me. I love how some people (like yourself) find horror to be hopeful or at least optimistic. And usually I don’t feel that way because I feel like a ‘happy ending’ is somewhat of a copout, but I tell you Eric LaRocca’s novella We Can Never Leave This Place (while certainly not a happy ending), really made me reframe how I see hope in horror.
Selene – May is Short Story Month (among other things), and you seem to work primarily in the shorter form. Do you generally prefer shorter stories, or would you consider writing a novel? Would you consider expanding one or more of the stories in We Are Here To Hurt Each Other into a novel? There are a couple of stories with worlds I’d read more about.
Paula – I have so many trunked novels. They aren’t trunked because they are bad (well, one might be) but because I’ve never finished them. I think I need to work up the stamina to fully complete a novel. I get bored so easily and boredom (for me) is a harbinger for self-doubt (“if you’re bored then you’re boring” – I don’t agree with this by the way, I just heard it during a formative time and it stuck), and once the self-doubt kicks in its hard for me to write my way out of it. I would and am working on an expansion of several of those stories (mainly the ones featuring that toothy fellow).
Selene – Were any of your characters or stories inspired by people you know? What did they think of their fictional depictions?
Paula – So I’m odd in that I rarely base my characters off of real people. The story comes with the characters and…I just write about ‘em. However, I will steal the shit out of some dialogue. I’m like the Ursula of dark fiction. I’ll snatch that diction and cadence in a heartbeat. At the same time, I will name characters after people I know, mostly friends and family and they are rather minor characters. I think it’s just a cool thing to do (if people are into it). Anything more than that would make me uncomfortable because my characters are…well, you know how they are.
Selene – Just for fun, if a movie were made of any of your stories (and my vote for a film would be “Telesignatures from a Future Corpse”), which actors would you like to see in the cast?
Paula – Actually myself and a good friend are potentially adapting Telesignatures into a screenplay…so yes, let’s use that one!
Sam Jay (Det. Liselle Loudon): Sam Jay is exactly who I imagine as Liselle. She’s Black, she’s butch, she has this smooth yet irreverent energy…that’s who I imagined as Liselle from jump.
JK Simmons (Det. Sean Simmons): So, this one is pretty obvious because I poorly stole that man’s name (that was entirely coincidental or at least subconscious, btw). But similarly to Loudon, JK Simmons was always Sean Simmons. He just seems like such a dapper dude who doesn’t take any guff.
Lauren Ambrose (Sherri Baystone-Loudon): Have you ever watched the AppleTV+ (or whatever) series, Servant? IT IS INSANE. SHE IS INSANE IN IT. I’ve been a fan of her work for years and I think she’d be perfect in terms of look and vibe.
Selene – With your educational background in Women’s Studies, here’s a question I’ve always wanted to ask. Way back when I was in school, we were studying women’s writing, and it was suggested that women authors tend to write shorter works, because they tend to write between taking care of children, doing housework, and so on. I think we were studying a poem about laundry (I think it was something by Anne Bradstreet but my memory’s not that good). Not to aggressively gender anyone, of course, but do you think there is any truth to this?
Paula – So, feminist literary history is not my forte but…I do think that’s true. I think it’s evident that that is true. Look at any marginalized group and their writing output and you’ll likely see the same demographic of folks who publish more are the same demographic of folks who get more leisure time. These are the folks who have controlled mainstream publishing historically for ages. It’s systemic and intentional. At the same time, when I was in my early twenties I would’ve said that was bullshit. And to a degree, it still is. There are women who write novels, women who write microfiction, women who write all sorts of things with a variety of demands on their time. In the 21st century, we’ve seen — especially during Covid — expectations for women’s productivity and caregiving remaining sky high, if not increasing in many ways. Speaking from my own experiences: absolutely. And I say this as a woman in a same-sex marriage. Like I said before, I get bored super easily so writing longer works is a big challenge for me, but also it’s daunting just to get started because I have so much on my plate. Societal expectations play an enormous role in that as well. I think the guilt hits different for parents and if you are in circumstances where you are expected to be the caregiver and keeper of the home…priorities are expected to shift or be non-existent.
Selene – How do you balance writing with everything else you do, including studying, teaching, and raising a young child?
Paula – Poorly, I balance all of those things poorly. I am endlessly grateful to have an extraordinary and supportive spouse, but I am still sort of constantly overwhelmed by everything. I just do what I can when I can.
Selene – We need to talk about THE MAN WITH THE FACE OF TEETH. Where did that particular nightmare come from? He shows up in a couple of stories early in your collection We Are Here To Hurt Each Other. (I’d also like to give a nod here to the AMAZING cover art by Don Noble!).
Paula – Ha! Yeah, Don’s cover just really knocked it out of the park on that one. So, The Man with the Face of Teeth came from a variety of sources. I learned a few months before my kid was born that everyone (y’know…with teeth) is born with several rows of teeth in their head. Where I thought baby and adult teeth came from beforehand, I have no idea. I am also the person (a lifetime urbanite) who was SHOOK to see what chickens had to go through before they made it to the store. Because I always just thought that chickens…came like that? It sounds very dumb but anyway…at night I also think “What’s the creepiest thing that could happen to me right now?” and I always come back to someone being in our bedroom, just out of nowhere, not moving, glaring at us in the dark. Ah! Ahhhh! All those things combined and created that creep.
Selene – More on inspiration, I guess the requisite author question applies here. Where do you get your ideas? Or is that something I really want to know? (I love the darkness in your writing, but BOY OH BOY is it a rough read sometimes).
Paula – Yeah in general it’s best not to ask where my ideas come from! In all honesty, I tell people a lot that my fiction is sometimes only barely fictional. The story Bereft was influenced by the actions and ‘legacy’ of an Austrian businessman named Josef Fritzl. It was (at the time and in many ways still is) the most horrifying instance of familial abuse I’ve ever heard of. I remember learning about Fritzl and what he did and I couldn’t process it. Bereft came from that. A lot of my stories come from seeing the things that people (myself included) do to each other and trying to process why. Why are we like this? How can we hurt some people so badly and be so kind to others? My fiction is also a way to work out a lot of my anxieties. Connecting to people is wonderful but it also opens up avenues to cause so much pain and hurt, even unintentionally.
Selene – I’d also like to ask about “Jacqueline Laughs Last in the Gaslight.” Great story title, by the way. What made you decide to reimagine the Jack the Ripper story?
Paula – Thank you! It’s one of my favorite titles. My wife and I were privileged enough to visit London several years ago and –if memory serves correctly – my wife wanted to visit Whitechapel. Obviously, today it’s nothing like it was almost two hundred years ago but there was something about being there, walking those same streets…I knew I wanted to tell a Jack the Ripper story, but for so long I was stuck on how to do so in a way that wasn’t…y’know, the way they are always done. The answer was obvious but then I was like, “Well…okay but how would that work and why?!” (These questions will make more sense after you read the story, if you have not already). I didn’t really know yet so I started doing my research. There’s SO much ephemeral information out there about the Ripper killings. I found a website that listed the weather patterns that occurred during the nights of the murders and that really helped (for some odd reason). It’s also one of the few stories I’ve written in third person limited and I was surprised by how well that worked. It allowed me to get close to Jacqueline but…not too close.
Selene – Each story in We Are Here to Hurt Each Other is pretty brutal, but which one did you find the hardest to write, and why?
Paula – They all sucked for different reasons, lol. The two that were the most difficult were Bereft and Telesignatures from a Future Corpse. Bereft because of the subject matter and Telesignatures because of both the subject matter and the dynamics of the plot.
Selene – You have a degree in Creative Writing. There’s often discussion on whether or not a writing education is worth it–what’s your opinion on that?
Paula – Um…I don’t know if I have one? Not to be flippant, but I suppose…if you feel like pursuing higher education in Creative Writing (at any time in your life), you should. If you don’t want to…don’t. As far as my writing education goes, I greatly appreciated it and learned a lot from it. When I was in college genre fiction was very much considered beneath ‘literary’ fiction. I’m thankful however that I had professors like Brady Allen, Jimmy Chesire, and Erin Flanagan who found value and worth in my work.
Selene – I guess reading for pleasure doesn’t get much time if you’re teaching, marking, and doing your own academic work, but what do you like to read? Who are your author influences?
Paula – My big three influences are Toni Morrison, Clive Barker, and Elizabeth Massie. Those are the three I return to again and again. But I also really love the dark fantasy work of Tanith Lee and China Mieville. I’ve recently really gotten into Gemma Files, S. P. Miskowski, Eric LaRocca (I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for his work), Joe Koch, Zin E. Rocklyn, Shannon Barber…there are so many great writers out there for every mood.
Selene – What’s the next project you’ve got planned?
Paula – I always have so many plans, but rarely enough time! One definitive thing I have going on is a novella that will be released in November. It’s part of a novella trilogy called Women Are from Hell, with two other women horror writers: Christy A. Aldridge (All the Pretty Hells You See, These Ghosts Bleed) and Judith Sonnet (The Clown Hunt, Torture the Sinners!, etc.). My contribution is tentatively titled Transubstantiation Blues and is a story about a female serial killer, demonic (?) possession, and BDSM (I promise I did my research y’all…interpret that however you’d like…).
Selene – Thank you again for talking to us here at The Horror Tree. Is there anything else you’d like to share before we go?
Thank you for the interview Selene and Horror Tree and thanks to anyone reading!
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Selene MacLeod is a night operator and sometime writing hobbyist. She holds a BA in Communications from Wilfrid Laurier University and resides in Kitchener, Ontario. Her work has appeared in several horror and crime fiction anthologies, most recently Shotgun Honey, Drag Noir (Fox Spirit Books); and the upcoming Freakshow: Freakishly Fascinating Tales of Mystery and Suspense (Copper Pen Press), and Tragedy Queens (Clash Media).She’s most excited about editing a charity anthology for Nocturnicorn Books called Anthem: A Tribute to Leonard Cohen, due out late 2017.