Friday, September 24, 2010

spotlight on sheila ashdown

To coincide with the release of issue #3 of the Ne'er-Do-Well Literary Magazine, I thought it would be fun to do an Employee Spotlight display on publisher Sheila Ashdown, who is also not only a writer herself but a member of the marketing department for Powell's Books. [i also thought it would be fun since i happen to have an essay in #3...] I loved the answers she gave me to my interview questions, especially the one about whether she'd had any particular experiences or made any discoveries as she sifted through submissions for this latest issue, which is subtitled Working-Class Stories and, according to the press, "casts a fresh light on the absurdity, banality, and redemption of contemporary wage-slavery."

In a a blog post about the issue, she wrote: "Your job might seem as boring as a rock, but lift up that rock and the soil beneath is probably teeming with the stuff of stories."

[ooh! wiggly!]

Here's the interview. You can find the display [plus copies of all three issues, plus copies of the Ne'er-Do-Well's two-color, limited-edition poster] on the Mezzanine at Powell's City of Books.

What is your position for Powell’s and how long have you worked here?
I've worked for Powell's for three years, first at the customer service desk at the City of Books, and now as a marketing coordinator for

What inspired you to publish a literary magazine?
My first inspiration was altruistic: I love helping writers shepherd their work into the world. There are a lot of lit mags out there, but there are far more good writers who are struggling to get published in a tight market. I figured one more publishing outlet would be a good thing.

My second inspiration was selfish: I was sick of sitting on the publishing sidelines, where my role was almost completely passive: submitting my work to other people's magazines and waiting for them to pass judgment—or, "ordering some rejection letters," as my friend Kelly says.

What inspired the Ne’er-Do-Well theme behind it?
I was a middle-school misfit. Seriously, that's pretty much the basis of my literary aesthetic. I love stories that explore the experience of being an outsider, but are also able to showcase our shared humanity.

I love the idea of gathering working-class stories into one volume. Did you have any particular experiences / make any particular discoveries choosing these pieces?
It was an eye-opening experience. While most of the stories in this issue are written by members of our Powell's union (we have a wealth of talented writers who work here), I also took submissions from the general public—and I was floored by the stark difference between the two. The submissions I got from non-unionists generally portrayed the working class as lazy, shifty, drug-using, and trashy. It was extremely disheartening! Luckily, there were enough proud working-class writers out there to supply me with the smart, fun, heartening stories that ultimately made it into the magazine.

What is your favorite aspect of publishing a literary magazine?
I love connecting with people, and frequently find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for those who volunteer their stories, time, brainpower, and enthusiasm to the magazine. When I was putting together this latest issue, I seriously had a few sleepless nights where I was just too keyed up with gratitude to calm down and fall asleep. It's such a positive and empowering experience.

Which book has made a profound impression on your life?
Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own. I read it at a very formative time in my life, when I was just starting to take myself seriously as both a writer and a feminist. Obviously, some of its lessons aren't applicable to a 21st-century gal, but I often invoke its spirit when I need a reminder to focus my energy on my own writing.

And then there's Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, which totally lit my eyeballs on fire.

What are you reading right now?
Right now, I'm reading The Whore's Child: And Other Stories by Richard Russo. That man is a god. He can create the most captivating story out of the most subtle situation.

Are you willing to identify a cheesy book that you like?
I'm fascinated by self-help books, though I'm slightly embarrassed to admit it. The one self-help book that I actually own is Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers. It's all about taking risks and making "no-lose" decisions. It blew my mind.

As a writer yourself, what is your ultimate goal in your writing life?
My ultimate goal is two-fold: to write as much authentic, well-crafted fiction as I possibly can—and hopefully get some of it published.

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