Tellest recently had the great fortune to learn a little bit about author Ashley Griffin when we promoted her twist on Sleeping Beauty in The Spindle. Not just a storyteller, but a fantastic entertainer with spectacular talent across the board, Griffin is certainly someone to look out for. In today’s interview, we’ll learn more about her, The Spindle, and many other great facets of her talents. Read on to learn more about Ashley Griffin!
Tellest: Hi Ashley! I wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to me about your first book, The Spindle, and all the great work that you’ve done that has led you here. With someone who has achieved as many accolades as you have, I know that you’re finding extra time where you can answer these questions, and I very much appreciate it. I’m looking forward to introducing you to a brand-new sort of fan and helping them to understand what sets you aside compared to a lot of other storytellers!
Ashley Griffin: Thank you so much! I’m honored to get to talk to you!
T: It’s pretty typical for me to ask a question about inspiration in the beginning of these interviews. It seems appropriate for every storyteller to have a story that was told to them that stuck in their head or their heart and had them ready to pick up the pen and start to jot down their first thoughts. Was there an author that you can think of who first had you ready to work on your projects? Or was there perhaps someone in your family or community that set you on that path?
AG: I’ve always loved stories and storytelling. My one rule growing up was I wasn’t allowed to put on shows in the living room before 7am. Anytime a babysitter came over all I wanted was to act out fairy tales. I actually made my performance debut when I was two – I’m not from an entertainment family and they ended up putting me in classes, and then letting me do shows just because they needed a break! I wrote my first musical when I was eight and performed it for my third grade class. But I used to think I would never be able to be a professional writer because, well, since I had started acting when I was two, and didn’t start writing full length plays until I was eight, I figured that was six years I lost of being able to work on my craft that I would never get back, and wouldn’t be able to make up for lost time. Seriously – my nickname (given to me by teachers) was Hermione Granger, and it is very appropriate!
But I actually had a very difficult childhood. I went through some tremendously challenging situations and stories honestly saved me. I especially loved fairy tales – specifically original fairy tales. One of my favorite things was to go to the library and comb through the fairy tales section and read every story and every adaptation. If you really go back and read the original tales, they’re very dark – and I think they share important messages about facing and surviving the dark things in life. Neil Gaiman has the great quote: “Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” An abusive caregiver is an abusive character whether you’re in a fairy tale or real life, and those stories didn’t shy away from the reality of that, but they also tell you that there’s still hope. Most of the things I write live in a place of magical realism and are influenced by mythic stories. I think they’re at the heart of all human experience. My mom is amazing and always read to me as much as I wanted and encouraged my love of stories and literature. In terms of specific writers, I adore C. S. Lewis – not just his well-known “Narnia” books, but his “adult” fare – especially “Till We Have Faces.” I love George MacDonald and Madeline L’Engle, and I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman and Lois Lowry – I think I read “The Giver” fourteen times when I first got it. The original “Little Mermaid” is my favorite story of all time.
But it wasn’t just a love of hearing stories, it was a need to tell them and interpret them. My first memories of writing stories were dictating them to my mom before I could write on my own. I don’t know where that came from – but it’s a part of my DNA.
T: So, we know based on that first question just what made you think about writing. You’ve done a lot of storytelling throughout your life, in different mediums. Was there always something in the back of your mind telling you that you were going to write a book at some point? Or was it something that came about because of your other creative outlets?
AG: Working in the theater will always be my first love and the place I’m most in my comfort zone. I love the experience of getting a group of people together and collaboratively telling a story, live. But being such a bibliophile, it certainly always crossed my mind that it would be wonderful to write a book. In some ways it’s exciting in the diametric opposite way of doing theater… In theater you tell a story in real time in a collaborative manner, and when the performance is done (other than potentially being filmed for archive) it lives on only in the minds of the people who were there. With a book, it’s one person writing a story and when it’s finished you can pick it up and hold it in your hands. You can send it all over the world and everyone will get to experience the exact same story. And you kind of get to be EVERYONE – you’re the actors, the director, the designers, it’s a fun way to jump into telling a story. It’s fantastic in a totally new way.
I love how Stephen Sondheim talks about “form follows function.” For me it wasn’t so much a matter of wanting to sit down and write a book, but rather I got an idea that clearly would be best served in the form of a novel. Not to say it wouldn’t be wonderful in other forms too, but it just seemed like the best way to serve this story initially was in the form of a book (where one of the benefits is you get an unlimited design and special effects budget J) It’s actually not the first book I’ve written, but it’s the first one to be published. Another book of mine, “Blank Paige” will actually be available within the next year, probably sooner rather than later.
But walking through a bookstore or library has always been a magical thing for me…it’s felt a bit like the “wood between worlds” in “The Magician’s Nephew” where you have rows and rows of doors to other worlds waiting for you to discover them. I always loved the idea that one day one of those doors would be something I made, and lead to a world I was the first one to know about. That was always a dream of mine.
T: So, we’re here, first and foremost, to talk about your new book, The Spindle, which is a retelling of the story of Sleeping Beauty, but from the perspective of a few different characters, most notably your dark fairy. You’ve got an incredibly infectious way of talking about your debut book, so what would you say gets you so excited about the story, and how would you size it up for people who are interested in it?
AG: Thank you so much! First of all, here’s a little blurb about it:
“The Spindle is the classic fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, retold from the dark fairy’s point of view…
“Set in the Celtic world of the fifth century, the Faeries, elemental spirits charged with caring for the earth and all its inhabitants, are being forgotten and facing extinction. In a desperate bid for survival, sweet, sycophantic Violet, faerie of beauty, love, and dreams, breaks the faerie law and gives the barren Queen a child, threatening to dismantle the future of human history. Her sister Nor, the faerie of death, who desires to be truly loved though she is shunned by all mankind, must right Violet’s wrong and restore Princess Rose to her correct place in time before it’s too late. Her plan is threatened by a prideful King desperate to maintain his power, the kind, poor gardener Arthur whose destiny is endangered by his deep love for the Princess he was never supposed to meet, and Princess Rose herself, an intelligent, passionate young woman fated to become one of the greatest rulers the land has ever known.”
This story has sort of been gnawing at the back of my mind for a long time, because I discovered a pretty major plot hole in Sleeping Beauty when I was very young, and I wanted answers about it. If you go with the assumption that everyone has one true love (in fairy tales) then, in Sleeping Beauty, the Princess’s one true love (the only one who could wake her up) wouldn’t even be born until almost a hundred years after she was…which means if the curse didn’t happen, and she never fell asleep…she would have gone her whole life without her true love? So, if that’s the case, was the curse really a curse?
Separately, I wrote an off-Broadway show called Snow that has had great success in New York. It’s a dark piece that explores the power and nature of storytelling through three disparate stories that all revolve around Snow White. The inception of that show is a story in and of itself, but I ended up creating a whole mythology around a character called Shadow, the faerie of death, and their siblings, other elemental spirits who had been forgotten and faded from the world. These characters and their mythology became very special to me, and others and I realized that it was the missing piece in the Sleeping Beauty story I had been mulling around for so long. So The Spindle is, in some ways, a prequel to Snow – it takes place thousands of years earlier when Shadow (who is called Nor (our protagonist) in The Spindle) and their siblings are very much present and active, but on the verge of being forgotten. Once I threw all those things in together it became a very personal, meaningful story that existed both within my unique mythology, and Celtic mythology, answered questions I’d had about Sleeping Beauty since I was a child, and told a story that I think would have been special and important to me if I had stumbled upon it when I was little. As much as people like to put books in a “box” for marketing purposes, this is a piece that I think can be enjoyed by people of all ages… It’s completely appropriate for children and young adults (though it is a darker take on the fairy tale), but adults can get a lot out of it too. I think everyone will find something special for them, unique to their stage in life and what they may be experiencing. It’s far from a typical YA novel and has more in common with, say, The NeverEnding Story and A Wrinkle in Time or even C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces than what one would normally imagine when thinking of YA fantasy.
T: Let’s dive into the other sorts of storytelling you’ve accomplished throughout your life. You’re the award-winning creator of an off-Broadway hit Trial, in which you collaborated with Lori Petty. You’ve got a massive list of credits on TV, stage, and behind the scenes. Where did all of that begin, and how do you wrangle it all into a life you can keep track of?
AG: You’re very kind. Theater has always been my first love and I’m so proud to be a working member of the Broadway community – as both a writer and performer. I grew up in L.A. and started working in the theater at a young age – purely because I was so passionate about it, I wouldn’t rest until I was given the opportunity to be a part of it. I certainly did not grow up with a stage family…
I was writing at the same time and had my first play professionally produced when I was seventeen. I have my BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and after graduating I stayed in NYC. I just kept working as hard as I could and pounding the pavement. I’m very fortunate to have had such incredible opportunities… My inspiration when I was little was Anthony Newley – most people probably know him as the writer of all the great songs from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory but he was the first person to be nominated for Tony awards for Best Performance, Best Book of a Musical and Best Score for the same show in the same year. I saw an old clip of him performing on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was little, and it became my dream to be the “first female Anthony Newley.” So, I would audition as much as I could and write as much as possible. Honestly, I wrote most of Trial backstage at various Broadway theaters, and I even wrote a whole chapter of The Spindle in the back of a van commuting to an out-of-town performance of Trial. For me writing is the reward I get when I get all my other things done.
Trial is an incredibly special piece…it’s the most personal thing I’ve ever written, and I can’t believe I get to say that it played off-Broadway, I got to be in it, and the great Lori Petty, who I’ve admired for as long as I can remember, directed it. And to have it be so well received… It’s actually in talks to come back next season off-Broadway (the pandemic put a wrench in a lot of things timeline wise, so hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later.) It’s been a lot of hard work, and a lot of God’s grace, and some unbelievable collaborators and supporters.
I’ve always been a Hermione Granger multitasker and I think having a lot of projects to work on is a great way to avoid writer’s block – continuing to be creative in numerous outlets keeps you open, and enthusiastic and allows you to come back to projects with a fresh outlook as opposed to pressuring yourself to “figure out the answer right this second because you have all your eggs in this one basket.”
T: When it came to all of your prior successes, did you start to conceptualize writing a book without any worry about whether or not you’d be able to accomplish such a feat? Was it a foregone conclusion that you were going to be able to notch one more thing off your to-do list, or were there some challenges in taking on this new task?
AG: That’s a great question. I’m a pretty brave, committed person and I’ve never really contemplated not being able to do something…needing to learn a lot before I can do it, sure, but I love hard work and I love learning new things.
I knew that writing a book would be a different beast from dramatic writing, but I’ve written for many different mediums from plays and musicals to T.V., film, journalism and even poetry (I’m a published poet and short story author.) When I started my first book, I went into it with the primary goal of “well, even if this doesn’t end up being a success it’ll make me a better writer.” I’m always looking for a challenge and a way to get my writing muscles stronger, so I figured it would only make me better when I went back to other mediums if I had wrestled with it, and at least completed a pass. To me, storytelling is storytelling, you just have to adjust to your format – I like to think of it like being a “bi” or “trilingual” writer. Just like lots of people speak multiple languages, but the heart of it, speaking, is still the same at its essence regardless of what language you’re doing it in.
I think anyone would be daunted to some degree by the prospect of writing a book. Books are measured in word count (plays are usually measured in pages…) I did the math and I figure out that one novel is approximately the equivalent of six or seven plays, so if you’re really staring down the barrel of “oh man, I’ve got to write seven plays at one go,” yeah, it’s a lot to wrap your head around. The thing that helped me was taking it a chapter at a time. I’m a very fast writer (I wrote “Trial” in nine days…) and a chapter is a very manageable chunk. I started by outlining my story and figured out what story beats I wanted to include in each chapter. Then I just set my goals along the lines of – “you’re going to write one chapter today” – which is much less intimidating than “you’ve got to get as much of this huge project done as possible!”
The thing I actually found the most challenging was the editing process. With a play, even a very long one, you can carve out a day, sit down and read it from beginning to end – feeling out the entire story arc. You can get a group of people together and do a reading – hearing the whole piece out loud, in one go. You can’t do that with a book. It’s not possible to sit down and really read a whole novel from beginning to end without stopping, and that was a bit scary for me because I didn’t know how I was really going to make sure the whole arc from start to finish was solid. Also, in the theater, plays are living, breathing things that continue to change and evolve through every production. Even if your play is published (a process I’ve gone through) you can still continue to make changes, and even put out new editions. And regardless, though your play will be read, that’s not its primary purpose. The purpose of a published play is so people can perform it. But with a book, once it’s set, that’s it. You can’t change a word later, you can’t fix some punctuation. And the pressure to get it in its perfect, pristine, finished form and then never touch it again was probably the scariest part!
T: So, you mentioned just now that you spent time figuring out your story beats for The Spindle. My assumption is that you are a super plotter, especially given your Hermione persona. When you’re working on your stories, in any medium, I suppose, do you ever surprise yourself with twists and turns that you weren’t expecting when you first set out? Or are you so well-organized that you’ve really got everything in neat little rows before the first words are even written?
AG: It’s interesting, I know, especially in the literary world, there’s the great debate between “plotters” vs. “pantsers” – “plotters” like to really structure and organize before they write, and “pantsers” like to let the story take them where it wants to. The truth is, I think, at least for me, there’s a sweet spot in between. I sort of think of writing like taking a road trip… You can have a lot of fun sort of going “where the wind takes you” but if you don’t at least know where you’re starting and where you want to end up there’s a very good chance you may end up stuck in a swamp with no gas… I personally like to know where I’m starting, where I’m going, and what the major tent poles are along the way. Also, I’m a performer and that, I think, helps my writing. I want to know what my characters’ objectives (meaning emotional wants and needs) are and what obstacles are standing in their way.
I’ll spend a lot of time sort of actively “daydreaming” about my story, asking myself questions, thinking through ideas, etc. But I generally won’t start writing until I feel like I have some sort of road map. From there I kind of let the characters and the situations “live” and do what they want to do… And there have been times I’ve definitely been surprised by what suddenly needed to happen. There have been many times that the story knows what it needs far better than I do. I don’t feel like I “made up” any of the fairies in The Spindle…they kind of all showed up and started talking. But I don’t think I’m truly in service of the story or the characters unless I’ve spent some time discovering the framework and making sure that I have a solid foundation upon which to let the story start “taking over.” Being too rigid about what you want can spell disaster, but likewise writing down every whim of your imagination can also be disastrous… but one of the benefits to really understanding structure is it gives you a tool kit when things aren’t working. It gives you a way to figure out what the problem is, and then you can solve it however you think is best. I guarantee that the most successful “pantsers” have an inherent understanding of beats and structure, and the most successful “plotters” allow unexpected twists and turns of the story to influence their framework.
T: You mentioned, particularly with the fairies, that they seem like they were already there, just showing up. I feel like in a lot of ways, that’s similar to what one of the masters said in “On Writing.” Stephen King likens telling stories to excavating fossils. It’s not our job to manufacture the details, but to discover them. Would you say that is kind of your experience with most of the things that you write? What about when you have to dig a little deeper?
AG: I 100% agree with that. I love On Writing and I also love Michelangelo’s quote: “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” Madeline L’Engle also has some great quotes about the story finding you and asking you to enflesh it. But I think at its essence it’s sort of like a dance… A story will find you, or a character will speak to you, and sometimes you’re just taking dictation, but other times it’s your job to dig, to ask questions, to clear away the rubble and make sure you can really see what you’re meant to be sharing. There is skill involved and there is also trust. The best artists know how to move in that dance, to know when to just be a conduit, and when they need to get their toolbox out to help facilitate the process. Your toolbox is there for the times when you’re having trouble hearing or seeing. But I think what keeps you humble. The best writers aren’t just fantastic geniuses creating great works by their own power – they’re people who are incredibly hard workers who take immense joy in being servants of the story they’ve been called to tell.
T: You mentioned something else above, particularly where it concerns getting your book right the first time and holding yourself to a pretty high standard. It is absolutely a daunting task beginning to unlock and train up a new skill. You certainly had the resources leading into your first novel to be able to tell a story well, and to weave everything together with wonderful prose and dialog. Even in this situation it sounds like you were holding yourself to those high standards. But you also mentioned that writing the book, even if it weren’t successful, would make you a better writer. Now, certainly it’s not the case where your book isn’t a stunning smash, but in the hands of someone who was new to everything, that might not have been the case. Had you, in your case, considered working with a pen name that separated your literary work from your stage and film persona? Would you recommend something like that for new writers as a way to create a distinction between their early, untrained work, and the more refined, distinguished work they might come to produce later?
AG: Well I do want to clarify something…I truly believe that most things can be successful with enough hard work and real commitment to improving. I would never have queried my book, nor allowed it to be published if I didn’t truly believe it was a solid offering. So just because something isn’t “successful” when you finish it 1.) Doesn’t mean it’s truly “finished” – you can work on the project for as long as you want and 2.) That I would have sent it out into the world before it was ready. In my case I meant that even if my first attempt at writing a novel wasn’t successful (meaning I didn’t feel it was as good as it could be,) it would make me a better writer and would give me the skills to either keep fixing it if I chose or go into writing a new book with stronger skills. And NO ONE gets anything right the first time. If by “first time” you mean getting my first book published, well, that’s actually not an accurate term. The Spindle isn’t the first book I wrote; it just happens to be the first one that got a publisher. I think I meant “first time” as your first completed pass. And once you do a first pass that’s just an exciting opportunity to continue working on something until you feel it’s ready. When I said “even if my first attempt at a novel wasn’t a success” I meant that, if after I finished a draft I realized that writing books wasn’t for me, for a myriad of reasons, I still would have grown from the experience. To me “success” is creating something you’re proud of that you feel executes your intention and vision to the best of your ability and moves someone else (even if it’s one other person.) The minute you, in your heart, define success as getting a publishing deal, there’s a problem…
In terms of using a pen name, I think that’s a personal decision for every writer based on a lot of different factors, but one of the factors should never be that you don’t feel the work is good enough to be presented. Sure, we all have early work, but even if you feel you’ve improved since then, it doesn’t mean your earliest work was bad. If a piece was good enough to be published, or produced, and good enough that you pursued being published/produced there is SOMETHING in it that other people are being affected by, and I think that’s absolutely valid. We will never be at a place where we’re a “perfect” writer and if we wait until we are we’ll never put anything out there. If you’re proud of a piece enough to want to share it with others you should never be ashamed to put your name on it. And it can be great to watch the journey of an artist through their life – sometimes the “unrefined” work can be even more effective than the more polished things.
I know that some people like using pen names to distinguish the different parts of their careers – sometimes that just to maintain a separation, sometimes it to avoid the critics who feel like people should stay in one lane (which I think needs to go away,) or, well, there are a million valid reasons. I decided very early on in my career that I’m very proud of who I am as a complete artist, all the things I create are a part of me and my voice, and I don’t see a reason (again, for me personally,) to not stand up and take ownership of all my work. It allows me to talk openly about all my projects and not to feel like I have to keep anything a secret. Plus, being a performer as well, it would be pretty hard (and limiting) to try to keep the pen name mystery up… It would mean that, under my pen name, I could never show up for events, never do a signing, etc., because it would be pretty easy to identify me. My headshot is all over the internet. And I think that’s probably the case for most people – especially with social media. You can’t really juggle multiple identities and keep up a certain level of promoting your work…
I think there was one time I used a nom de plume as an artist – but it was a very specific situation and I was able to come out and use my real name not long after (I actually ended up being nominated for an award, the awards committee were very confused that they couldn’t figure out how to contact the nom de plume person and I had to come out and say it was me… I think it’s kind of hilarious.)
So that’s a very long-winded way of saying don’t ever use a nom de plume because you’re embarrassed of your work (though those situations do arise for various reasons and certainly do what you need to to feel comfortable… there’s a reason Alan Smithee has directed so many movies…) if you have a choice don’t ever put out work you wouldn’t proudly stand behind. But if you want to use a nom de plume for any of the numerous reasons to do so – have at it! Do what makes you happy and comfortable. Just know that you want to build an identity as an author it can be hard to go back later and change the name you’re identified as, or try to unify different author names you might use.
T: In a situation where enough growth has occurred for someone, is it understandable to remove older parts of a person’s catalog or portfolio? I know you indicated that even the earliest work, if not perfect, still has a story to tell. But in a situation where one might have been proud at the onset, but maybe they no longer are, because the disparity between their older releases and their new ones is so apparent, is it a worthy decision to pull that away, and tuck that into the “let’s no longer speak of this” box?
In this age, where things like Kickstarter or Patreon give creators opportunities to give interesting bonuses, you could even, in theory, give out those discontinued books as special exclusives to certain backers.
You’re also in a kind of space where the question might even be difficult to apply to you, considering you’ve stepped into publishing at a point where your skills are very evident. But, especially with self-publishing being such a prevalent thing these days, it’s easier than ever for someone to be so excited by the prospect of releasing a book that they don’t hire an editor, or perhaps even really give their book a proper pass on its own.
AG: Honestly I would say every author knows themselves best and you should always do what makes you the most comfortable. If you get to the point where you feel you need to pull some of your work, and doing so is a decision you feel good about then absolutely do it! But I think it comes down to what serves folks best on an individual basis, I would never want to make a blanket statement for everyone. And just be aware that, depending on how some of your work is out there, you might not have a choice down the line, which is why you should always be as careful as you can be when you put work out. If you’re self-published it’s very easy to pull a book out of circulation, but if you’ve been published by an outside entity you might not be able to. But in any case always take stock of what’s best for you and work to make that happen.
T: I mentioned it earlier, but with all of your tasks and projects, I can’t imagine you have a lot of time to spare. How did you manage to put other things on pause in order to put together a fairly robust debut book?
AG: I didn’t. I was writing this book at the same time I was actively doing about five other projects. I’m very proactive about how I use and budget my time, and I’m very fast at getting things done. Like I said, writing is so much fun for me, so I sort of prioritize what I have to put my primary focus on depending on timelines, and then I use extra time to work on my other projects. I have to say, I went to an incredible performing arts high school (the Hamilton Academy of Music in L.A.) where we had class from 7 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon – including very challenging AP classes, then we were in rehearsal through the evening, and then often some of us would go to outside dance classes at night, plus any outside auditions or projects. Weekends were taken up with performances. Those four years were probably the hardest, scheduling wise, in my life. I was doing homework in the car, studying for tests in the dressing room – I worked far harder in high school than I ever had to in college… Once you make it through that, honestly anything else is a walk in the park! And I’m very aware of how fortunate I am that now all the projects I’m juggling are things I enjoy, and in the profession I love. It’s much more fun to budget time to learn lines, prep your script for a reading and write your novel than carve out time to do calculus (I am not the best at math) knowing if you don’t do well it’ll mess up your entire future. Being busy the way I am now is a privilege and a joy. All the times I was wrestling with math I would have given anything to be able to work on a novel instead!
T: You mentioned having a multitude of projects because it allows for some fluidity and flexibility. But it also sounds like you’re “always on”, so to speak, and always looking for a creative outlet. It almost seems like you have an overabundance of creative energy, and that you have all these interesting paths that you’ve walked down because you need to expend that energy. Certainly, I want to talk about that, but I’m also interested if things ever go the other way, and you’re just tapped out from doing so much at once.
AG: Having an overabundance of creative energy is definitely something I identify with… I’m more apt to feel overwhelmed by not having the means to get out all the stories I have in my head than I am to have writer’s block. I’m also synesthetic (synesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon where, basically, different senses sort of “cross” – there are lots of different types, for example sounds can have tastes, images can have sounds…) I have over twenty different kinds so there’s a lot of creative stimulation going on in my brain.
I definitely get physically tired and making myself rest is something I have to try and stay on top of, but I don’t ever really feel like I just don’t want to write…
There was one instance though where things went the other way and it really hit me hard. I was doing development on a new piece and, without going into too much detail, it ended up being the worst experience I ever had as a writer where, for the first time, I really questioned if I had any idea what I was doing, or any ability whatsoever (keep in mind, this is after I’d had significant success in the industry…) It was also the first time that, for lack of a better description, the “characters” just weren’t speaking to me. It almost felt like I’d lost one of my senses.
I talked to some friends, and ultimately I used that time to connect with art that I loved, and new art I’d been curious about (allowing myself to be “filled up” rather than feeling like I needed to “expend” if that makes sense.) I remember I saw Miyazaki’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya for that first time and that was a bit of a turning point in feeling creatively centered again. It was a truly awful period (though it led to the creation of my play Snow,) but in a way I’m glad I went through it and I’m aware that I may go through it again – as will all creatives at some point. What gives us meaning isn’t our talents, or what we “do” – I will still be Ashley and just as valid of a person if I lost my ability to create artistic work tomorrow. And sometimes it’s important to just allow ourselves to be filled. And I believe the things we’re meant to do will always find us.
T: In a situation where you decided to put up a creative wall, for just about everything—a heinous concept, but we’re just having fun here—and you weren’t on stage, or writing (whether for theater or literature,) what would you be doing to fill your days?
AG: I can’t imagine a world where I’m not creating, but in terms of other things I enjoy – I really love the ocean and anything to do with water. I swim, surf and do tons of water sports. I love being in nature, gardening, and making food from the farmers market (I know, I sound like I’m a fairy myself living in a little cottage planting flowers and writing stories LOL.) I really enjoy history and I find law, especially constitutional law, really interesting. If I’d been able to I probably would have minored in history in college. I especially enjoy European history between around 1810 -1915 which is the period of time when the fairy tales we know were being transcribed and created – everything from the Grimm Brothers’ collections to Alice in Wonderland and, in the States, The Wizard of Oz happened in that time period and was very connected to what was going on historically. You can actually link aspects of what happened in World War II to the Grimm Brothers collecting their tales, and I find all of that fascinating.
T: With the tremendous amount of experience that you have in a multitude of mediums, could you ever see The Spindle getting a treatment as a stage play, or a TV show, or something else entirely?
AG: Absolutely! I actually originally envisioned it as a play but, as I said, the more I delved into it the more I felt the function of the story, at least for now, would be better served as a novel. I would love to see an adaptation whether onstage or on film! I’m actually a big fan of the work they’re doing in the UK – especially at the National Theater. I would love to see The Spindle have an adaptation in the style of The Ocean at the End of the Lane or even the incredible work it looks like they’re doing on the theatrical adaptation of Spirited Away (one of my favorite films! I adore Miyazaki.)
T: You mentioned, earlier, that you wanted to create doorways to other worlds when it came to writing and releasing your book. And as we now know, it sort of serves as a prequel to Snow. Is that pretty much a clear indication that you’ve got a persistent fantasy world that you intend to return to, time and again?
AG: Apparently! LOL. I will say not everything I write exists in the same word – far from! But there are several pieces that seemed to want to interweave of their own accord and I absolutely love it. I didn’t set out to create a mythology, but it seems that’s what I’ve done. I would definitely love to explore it more – and there have been a lot of requests from readers (and those in the industry) for more stories about these characters and this particular world.
T: Do people also now tell you to write the next twist on a fairytale? Are they pushing you to take a swing at all the Grimm’s Tales or Disney Classics?
AG: I do find it funny that when you have a success with one thing people get excited about you just doing more and more versions of it… I’m lucky that the body of work I’m known for is really varied – I’m the person who’s had very successful, dark dramas off-Broadway, and I also wrote the Twilight parody musical, so people are pretty open to a wide range of work from me and I’m very fortunate in that all my different artistic sides have been embraced. I do really enjoy fairy tale and myth centered work so I think there’s an accurate assumption that I will continue to play around in those genres in various capacities. I already have a play that focuses on Snow White (albeit in a very unsual way,) and I have a musical that’s a dark, complete reimagining of the original Little Mermaid story. But I only delve into actual fairy tale adaptations when I really feel I have something to explore and say through them. I’ve been pretty clear with folks that I’m not going to adapt a bunch of fairy tales just for the sake of adapting them.
T: There is a lot to absorb when it comes to Ashley Griffin—certainly more than what we’re going to hit on here. If someone wanted to take a deep dive and learn more about you and the incredible things you’ve done, where could they begin looking?
AG: My official website is: www.ashleygriffinofficial.com. I also have a YouTube channel where I post everything from deep dives, to behind the scenes to tutorials. I have a few videos up about my publishing journey and The Spindle and there’s more coming! I’m also on social media:
YouTube: Ashley Griffin
T: Ashley, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. This has been one of the more expansive interviews we’ve done, and I love how eloquent you were able to be with your description of your processes, and what led you to where you are today. I’m so excited for people to get to know you, and for your various kinds of entertainment to lift up more fans!
AG: Thank you so much! This was so much fun and I really appreciate your great questions!
I want to thank Ashley Griffin once more for taking the time to pull back the curtain for us, so that we could see her process, and how her books and other projects came to be. It’s always amazing to see someone who has such a creative fire within them, if only to brush up against greatness. Certainly, I would recommend looking into all of Griffin’s ventures, but I do believe you’d especially love her new book. Check out The Spindle by Ashley Griffin on Amazon today!
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