In fiction, no one ever needs to brush their teeth.” Alle C. Hall
Fight for Your Book
Teenage Carlie needs a change of pace from her family’s brutality in Alle C. Hall’s debut literary novel As Far As You Can Go Before You Have to Come Back. She runs all the way to Asia where she immerses herself in a foreign culture and lifestyle as she discovers who she wants to be and how she can avoid the life her family programmed her for. Adventure and philosophy combine in this tale.
In the Q & A below, she talks about her background, her experiences pushing her work into the world, and what she’s learned. She shares answers and insights below.
BLG: Tell us about your background. When did you know you were a writer? What was your first published piece?
ACH: I moved to Japan in the late 1980s because I’d heard you could teach English, easily making enough to keep yourself as well as travel. Sounded good to me. As a survivor, I did not feel heard or valued. Hence the drifting around the world. “Living in Tokyo” sounded good enough that your parents could still brag about you while not requiring anything particularly difficult of you. You had to be a little ballsy, that’s all.
A reporter doing an article on the 12-Step movement in Tokyo visited my home OA meeting. I guess she liked the way I blathered about spiritual progression because she told me that her paper needed a piece on Tai chi. Holding the print version—my thoughts, out there for anyone to read; I felt actualized in a way I’d never experienced. And since they paid you money to do this fantastic thing, I was now a writer.
However, I feel strongly that you are a writer regardless of whether you’ve published. If you think of yourself as a writer and you actually write, you’re a writer in my book.
BLG: How much of your novel is based on people and things you’ve observed and what is completely fictionalized?
I’m an incest survivor, with that contributing way more to the novel than living in Japan and backpacking around. As with every life experience, being a survivor shapes everything you do and don’t do. I did travel in Asia, did hook up with a druggy guy; several, actually. Though the Philippines guy in the book was based on the IRL guy in Indonesia. They all were, literally, working-class ex-Catholics who smoked a lot.
It doesn’t create a psychological reality to write a different experience than yours, then continue as if the character was still you. Experience and imagination run together to create the basic material from which you cut the novel. Life is far more dull than fiction allows—even when you’re traveling around the world. In fiction, no one ever needs to brush their teeth. That’s why I made a big deal of Carlie doing something so normal as getting her period. That and the fertile question: what happens when a restrictive-eater-slash-incest survivor gets her first period?
Again, though, that happened in the novel because I followed the story. Have I ever gotten a surprise period? Did it happen the way it does, in the novel? Carlie was learning to eat more, which would freak out a restrictive eater; so that her eating would take turn it does (no spoilers allowed!) was psychologically valid. I hadn’t planned to make the poor child suffer from my own eating disorders but it made sense. And created all sorts of drama.
BLG: Did you start with plot or character? What can you tell us about the way your story developed?
ACH: I wasn’t looking for a way to express artistically what I was growing to understand about surviving. An idea hit me the way it did a lot, for an article I wanted to write. This happened to be a fake reality. The idea, the main character, popped simultaneously. It was like being whapped in the brain by something soft and big and full of light, as much as it felt like an opening I was slipping into.
BLG: What do you hope readers will take away from this tale?
BLG: How did you find your publisher, or if you have an agent, how did you find your agent?
ACH: It was 30 years of work to hold this book. I sent to hundreds of agents. Tens of publishers. I came across Black Rose at a writing conference. A friend of mine—she will spend a half-hour arguing with an editor: m-dash, not semi-colon! That she was satisfied, publishing with them, I knew would be more than OK. She’s a fantastic writer, by the way. Her hard work and—whatever—obsessivity, pays off. We just work differently.
Actually, I’m no less obsessive than she it. I’m more interested in working with editors than she is.
BLG: Where did you find the awards you applied for and how have they helped your career?
ACH: I googled “literary awards” then presented my publisher with those I wanted to be—oops! Was humbling asking to have the novel submitted to.
It’s a toss-up, whether a small award makes enough of a difference that you mention it. I decided that my proposal—and then my approach to blurbers, then media, bookstores—looked better with winner of hovering around the title. On a personal level, being honored for anything related to my writing; I rarely have a better day.
BLG: How did you find so many endorsers? How did you select them and persuade them to read and endorse?
ACH:I asked. I asked a lot more than ended up blurbing. That’s PR. You push and push and push and hope that you aren’t obnoxious. Who doesn’t want to fight for their book?
BLG: As a debut literary novelist, what advice do you have for aspiring writers in addition to read in your genre and write daily.
ACH: Be prepared to work harder revising that you did on that first draft. Spend as much time learning how the industry operates so that you set realistic goals. Make endless requests on behalf of your book and continue to ask. Define success for yourself. Listen to feedback; you can improve at least one thing your book regardless of how much the reader doesn’t like it. Unless they are being an asshole. Then thank them as politely as you can for their time and leave. Critique is better to hear before you publish. When Amazon sales aren’t happening is not the time to try to write a better book. Today is that day.
BLG: What else would you like us to know?
ACH: Child abuse is not only a tragedy. It is a crime.
In the U.S., 600,000 children are reported abused every year. Learn the signs of abuse and trust yourself when an internal ping signals that something isn’t right. Tell someone what you saw or heard. Someone with power—the supervisor, a police officer. Let that person decide how to handle it. Just do your part. You never know whose life you will change. Or save.
BLG: Alle, you make a valid point about reporting crimes. Readers, never be ashamed to tell the facts.
Black Rose Press is doing some wonderful work, and part of it is sharing this book with the world. This is an appropriate and eye-opening book for nearly every teen and adult reader though reader caution is advised. After you read it, please let us know what you think.
“I look for writing that reflects a narrator’s or character’s unique worldview communicated through specific use of senses.” –Riham Adly
An interview with Riham Adly by B. Lynn Goodwin
BLG: Tell us how you got interested in writing.
RA: I started writing since I was 11 as coping mechanism to help me vent emotions I couldn’t face or express. I discovered flash fiction in 2017 and realized that the concision of the form helped me focus more on living the moment, be it a moment in the past or the present. The form’s brevity helped me focus on what I wanted to communicate and what I needed to process and introduced me to the idea of micro-shifts. A slight change in worldview was enough to move a story forward.
BLG: What themes do you explore in your latest book, what is it called, and where can people find it?
RA: My latest book is a flash fiction collection titled Love is Make-Believe. From the title I explore what it means to be a woman with a repressed voice battling society for the right to feel loved and respected. The book tackles familial relationships and looks at wounds and traumas.
BLG: I know you’ve judged contests. What do you look for in an excellent entry?
RA: I look for writing that reflects a narrator’s or character’s unique worldview communicated through specific use of senses. I look for the desire/conflict axis and of course movement or a kind of shift.
BLG: What are you working on now?
RA: I’m working on a new collection where I give voice to the inner subconscious workings withing the human mind.
BLG: What makes your writing unique?
RA: I try to produce work that exposes my emotions, my needs, and my core commitments, this helps me heal physically and mentally. I’ve often found this resonating with many readers.
BLG: Where can people learn more about you?
RA: Readers can visit my website : www.rihamadly.com
Or follow me on Fb. https://www.facebook.com/riham.adly as I share mini articles about the craft, with some tips and tricks to help writers.
BLG: What else would you like readers to know about you?
RA: Riham Adly is an award-winning flash fiction writer from Giza, Egypt. In 2013 her story “The Darker Side of the Moon” won the MAKAN award. In 2022 she won second prize in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition. She is a Best of the NET nominee (2019, 2020, 2021) and a Pushcart Prize nominee (2020, 2021). Her work is included in the “Best Micro-fiction 2020” anthology.
Her fiction has appeared in over 60 online journals such as Lost Balloon, Bending Genres, The Citron Review, The Sunlight Press, Flash Fiction Magazine, Menacing Hedge, Flash Frontier, Flash Back, Ellipsis Zine, Okay Donkey, and New Flash Fiction Review among others.
Riham has worked as an assistant editor in 101 words magazine and as a first reader in Vestal Review magazine.
Riham is the founder of the “Let’s Write Short Stories” in Egypt. She’s currently giving flash fiction courses with the Transformative Language & Art Network.
Riham’s flash fiction collection Love is Make-Believe was released and published in November 2021 by Clarendon House Publications in the UK. She is the first African, Arab woman to have a flash fiction collection published in English.
BLG: Thank you for sharing your story with the readers of Writer Advice.