It warms our cold, bitter hearts when a truly talented MPLS + STPL author has a breakout hit, and breakout hit exactly describes The Annie Year, a wonderful and increasingly popular story that’s grounded in the mundane and eclectic lives of small town America. As Secrets of the City fav Stephanie Wilbur Ash‘s novel about a close-to-home tale a married CPA, a ponytailed vo-ag teacher, and exploding meth houses continues to gain in popularity, we thought we better get in a Quick Q+A while she’s still answering emails.
Secrets of the City: How much more money will you make off the likely Amazon Prime original show adaptation of The Annie Year than your books sales?
Stephanie Wilbur Ash: About four bucks.
Do you do your own taxes now that you’ve written a character that’s a CPA?
I could if I wanted to. That’s not just the arrogance talking. One of my jobs at my dad’s CPA office when I was a kid was to take the changes to the U.S. Tax Code—which were printed on loose-leaf, three-hole-punch paper and sent in thick, shrink-wrapped packages—and insert them into the official Tax Code binders. Example: “Replace this page with page 386.4, Statute 8.17, sub-statute A, clause 1, paragraph XXI.vi…” This would take weeeeeeeks. So, yeah. I can do my own taxes and have been able to since I was 12. Also, I am very good at making outlines.
What’s it like to be a local writer who gets press for writing without being a stripper or drug addict?
Can you believe it? And none of my characters are sexually molested, dying of cancer, stuck in outer space, or a dog! The gods have smiled upon me. I am grateful.
Do you think having one of the last hotmail accounts gives you small town street cred?
Listen. I have a gmail account. But I set it up so early I was afraid people wouldn’t know what it was. So I had my gmail account forwarded to my hotmail account and pretty much rarely used the gmail. Three years ago I started the process of forwarding my hotmail to my gmail, but I did so before I stopped my gmail from forwarding to my hotmail. The two emails went into an infinite positive feedback loop and I got 400,000 emails from myself in 90 seconds. If that’s small town, that’s good enough for me.
As a mom with a big professional job, where do you most of your writing, the shower? On your phone in boring meetings?
Mostly I write on notecards held together by a single ring. I write bits of dialogue or an image or a funny situation, and I flip through them when I am bored or lazy or miraculously find myself with four full hours. The last line of my novel was written on a notecard amidst other so-so notecards. Every time I flipped by it, it was more and more perfect. I don’t write in the shower. I have four teenagers, three of whom are boys. I mostly freshen up at the sink with a washcloth.
How are you as notable local artist #resisting in our current political climate?
My novel comes from contemporary rural agrarian economy. That’d be Trump country to—and for—a lot of folks. But I am also grateful to have read two incredible memoirs back to back right before the election: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (all Gustavus first-years read it) and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I resist by getting to know “the other” in the most empathetic ways I can, one of which is through very fine writing.
And, because I went to journalism school, I resist by reading a real goddamn newspaper.