By Kaitlan Tatro
Here is the continuation of my amazing interview with the lovely Aimee Salter! If you haven’t read the first half of the interview, read it here.
Where do you see Ashley Watson in ten years?
In my mind, a decade after the end of the book, Ashley is in a good place:
First of all, she’s married to Matt, which some of my readers wouldn’t like because he failed her so much as a friend. But to anyone who felt that way I’d say, yes, he failed her. But he also gets her. He is perfect for her, because he sees what’s beautiful about her, and what’s strong, even when others don’t. He always has. It’s the one thing he never stopped offering her: Acceptance, and appreciation for who she is, exactly as she is. His advice and approach were often misguided. But hey, the guy was seventeen. Cut him some slack.
So, ten years on, they’re together. I don’t think they’d have a family, and their journey wouldn’t have been easy. But they’d still love each other and appreciate each other. And they’d be in New York, or some other artistic center.
I also know for sure that Ashley would have a really strong relationship with God. Not because of some moral high ground, but because of the journey she went through as young women, she needs that sense of someone bigger, stronger, and loving, looking out for her. She’d find comfort in a father figure that is always present because her own was so absent. And she’d find freedom in having a single source of ultimate approval. If she’s okay with God, the rest of the world can go to hell. No pun intended.
Sculpt loves your novel because it brings up societal issues that can be difficult to discuss, like bullying, and presents it in a beautiful, relatable way through the authentic character Ashley. What do you want readers to take away from reading about Ashley’s experiences and the decisions she made?
Thank you! In my perfect world, every reader who picks up Every Ugly Word sees an element of themselves in one of the characters—doesn’t matter which one—and recognizes that they aren’t alone. That I understand where they’re coming from, and I’m not the only one.
Bullying victims, especially, really connect with Ashley because they know what she’s feeling and doing are honest. That she’s reflecting the very real ways we think and react when we’re in that space.
On the flipside, I often hear frustration from readers about the choices Ashley makes in this story, and I get it. I get that that comes from people who haven’t been through it, so don’t understand. Which also means, they can see it with some clarity. There’s no doubt Ashley can be her own worst enemy. But I wrote her that way because that’s real. Even though she doesn’t deserve the bullying, she also often doesn’t help herself. It’s the subconscious self-destruction. Her beliefs about herself as a result of the bullying skew how she sees the world—and how she believes the world sees her.
If even one reader reads that and has a lightbulb moment where they go “I see things that way too, but watching her shows me it isn’t true!” then I die a happy woman. In fact, that’s already happened. So I’m already dancing.
This novel is very inspiring and we love that you include resources to get help at the end of the novel, have fans reached out to you– thanking you for your help?
Yes, but not because of the helplines and so forth. The most common sentiment in readers who contact me personally is gratitude because the book puts into words how they felt but couldn’t articulate, or helped them see something about themselves or the world that they hadn’t understood before. And I adore this when it happens because it’s me and someone else—sometimes a world away from each other—living in the same heart space for a span of time. We get each other. And they know they aren’t alone. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.
You are in the process of finishing your next novel, Dark Touch, and it seems like you are creating, yet another, powerful, young woman as your main protagonist. Are Tully and Ashley’s lives similar? Would they be friends in real life?
Their lives are very different, but their internal struggles take them in the same direction.
Tully is powerful—much more obviously so than Ashley. To the rest of the world she appears street-smart, and hard. But she’s got real problems. Big ones. She’s poor, and living in an abusive home. She’s focused on physical survival. Like Ashley, she lives on high alert because she’s been badly hurt, and also like Ashley, she believes very dark and negative things about herself. It’s dragging her into a self-destructive spiral. However, she has a good heart and when someone gets past the prickly exterior, they’ll find a loyal friend, who’s essentially fearless. Chris senses this in Tully and is drawn to it. It’s what brings them together. And also what could ultimately end Tully’s life (but you’ll have to read it to see how that happens).
Ashley, while not wealthy, is firmly middle-class. Her focus is social and emotional survival. She’s not street-smart. To the rest of the world she’d appear a lot kinder and softer than Tully. Ashley’s strength is quieter—an ability to keep going in the face of fierce negative pressure.
Tully and Ashley wouldn’t be friends, but that’s mainly because Tully is so closed down. She wouldn’t let Ashley in. She’d believe they could never find a common ground (she’d be wrong). Ashley would be fascinated by Tully, and terrified of her at the same time. Which is unfortunate, because Tully is the type to walk quietly by, punch the bully in the kidneys, and keep going without a word. Yet, even in that, she wouldn’t see what a wonderful person she is.
So, two very different young women who have experienced different wounds and reacted to them differently. But one thing will remain the same, because I think it’s one of those foundational truths in real life that I always want to bring into my writing:
We don’t see ourselves clearly.
Ashley couldn’t see her own value because she was constantly told how much she was hated. She was hurt by derision and dismissal.
Tully can’t see her own value because she’s been let-down by the very people who should have protected her. She’s hurt by betrayal, and exploitation.
There lives are so different, and it’s turned them into very different personalities. But the base pain is the same. They have both been led to believe that they are worthless to others. In both cases, I want to lead them down the bumpy road to understanding their own beauty and strength — whether others can see it or not.
And I hope to bring the reader a step closer to seeing that about themselves, too.
Thank you so much for this opportunity. It’s been wonderful to talk about this stuff with you!
Sculpt was so lucky to have the opportunity to speak with the author herself. She is an amazing offer and her book is a must read for all Young Adult fiction lovers. Thank you Aimee for providing us with great answers and a great book that epitomizes why we write at Sculpt. For more information on Aimee Salter and her debut novel, check out her website and read my book review of Every Ugly Word.