Molly Dektar has a sense of collective when it comes to her work. The Ash Family is her first novel and it speaks to a generation who grew up in the southern lands of the mountains and spent summers on the water with trees and sweet tea. As I travel and live all over I’ve noticed that the Southern lifestyle is slow paced, but in the “big” cities are crazy no matter where it is. The older I get the more I want to live in the country where it’s quiet and simple. This book was a lot of things to me, but I loved it because Dektar it took the simplicity of nature and threw it together with a coming of age story about a young woman to redefines what it means to live for herself.
I will say this book had a slow rise for me because I couldn’t understand why the main character a bright young girl that is off to college makes a turn to join a co-op group. Many would say it’s a cult and how did she get lured in? The mystery unfolds as each season takes place. In every season the main character “Harmony” or her “fake world name” Berie fell deeper and deeper into the trap of this community that lived off the land. The tag line is that people start to disappear with no explanation. Read the book to find out more about this crazy world Molly has created.
Here’s my incredible interview with Molly Dektar author of The Ash Family
To find more out about the book and Molly click HERE
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m a novelist--my debut novel, The Ash Family, came out in April. I’m a North Carolinian living in Brooklyn. I also direct the editorial department at an applied research institute.
What do you love about writing?
I naturally feel the need to document and record. Memory is extremely important to me. At the same time writing massively improves my life because it forces me to do things. But maybe what I love most is the mindset that writing puts me in. Graham Greene writes, in The End of the Affair: “One may be preoccupied with shopping and income tax returns and chance conversations, but the stream of the unconscious continues to flow undisturbed, solving problems, planning ahead: one sits down sterile and dispirited at the desk, and suddenly the words came as though from the air.” I love that writing is my activity, goal, and companion no matter what I’m up to. It feels like a way to honor being alive.
Where do you typically write?
I used to write in coffee shops and other public spaces, but now, for the first time in my NYC life, I live in a studio apartment alone, and it is fantastic. I write at my table. The quiet and solitude are much better than a coffee shop.
What inspired you to write about The Ash Family?
I’ve always loved nature and cared about it, but I didn’t know how to care. Climate change is just too enormous to contemplate. After college I got a grant to work on farms in Italy and Norway and talk to farmers about their experiences with climate change. I did a lot of shepherding and lambing and living off the grid, and I wanted to write about that. In a way, the cult is an outcropping of nature. The cult is generated by the format of the novel. The main character, Berie, needs to commit more and more of herself, and learn and be drawn in, and Dice, the cult leader, is the tempting voice of nature itself.
Some of the themes you write about are self identity and preservation of self, what drove you to explore those topics?
I’ve always noticed how much I change my behavior depending on my interlocutor. Like Berie, I’m a water person, not a rock person--I flow around others. In my experience, personality isn’t fixed, we’re all part of social groups on many scales that set our behaviors, some of which further terrible things--like environmental degradation--without us seeming to have other choices. So I have this abstract interest in collective action problems and in personal identity. But a lot of the book just came out of “craft” decisions, trying to push Berie to make harder and harder choices, trying to force her to commit to the family’s ideology.
What challenges did you encounter when writing The Ash Family?
Since I was writing about a collective, I had a lot of different characters, and it was hard to give a sense of that community feeling while not confusing readers with bunches of random names and unimportant side people. Another big challenge came from the fact that Berie keeps deciding to stay in this cult, even though, to a reader, she’s making very bad choices. It was hard to narrate from her point of view, which is so obsessed with staying and so certain, while also somehow indicating to readers that she is observant enough to notice problems with the family’s turn to violence.
What is something that encouraged you to keep writing when you thought the book might never get done?
I at one point had an internship at a publishing house and read novels on submission and was so shocked at how many books get published each year--including many I’d never read, and many I had (as funny as it is to say) very little respect for! It was impossible to write when I was trying to emulate the quality of Virginia Woolf and W.G. Sebald--two of my favorite writers--and it was motivating to remember that all kinds of people write all kinds of books and it’s okay.
What does a typical writing day look like for you? Did you have a schedule or did you write when you could?
I just write when I can. The best time is the mornings so I try to use weekend mornings wisely.
How did you get an agent's attention with your story?
I attended Brooklyn College’s MFA program, and one of my teachers recommended my book to his agent.
As it is your first novel what are some things you've learned about the publishing process? Are there anything you'd like to share you would want to do differently?
I approached the process with a lot of impatience at first. I sold the book in 2015, and revisions took a long time. The key point I would transmit to my slightly younger self is that the publishing industry is not going to fall apart, and everything is chaotic and hard to predict, so if it comes out this year or next year it’s really not going to make a difference. It’s good to be patient and make the book as good as you can! I eventually internalized that publishing a book is a group project, but that caught me by surprise, since the first stages of drafting the book were so independent.
If you were to live off the grid and could take five personal items with you what would they be?
I actually did live off the grid for a long time during my year of farming, so I can tell you these were the key things: books (I read so much that year), watercolors, the card game Set (hard to explain, but once it’s explained no one needs to share a common language), tons and tons of chocolate (I really can’t manage without a bit of dessert every day, and when it was all potatoes we grew ourselves and cheese we made ourselves and so on, chocolate really becomes incredibly exotic and glamorous), and something that smells nice--a nice organic deodorant, or roll-on perfume, or nice-smelling lotion--familiar and pleasant scents really helped with homesickness, or loneliness, when I lived in my own tiny cabin in the Norwegian woods.
What advice would you give to the writer about to hopefully go through their first book publishing process?
My friend Mark Chiusano, who published a collection of short stories a few years ago, gave me my favorite advice: make sure you’re working on the next project even while your first book is getting published! No matter what happens, it’s great to have that second book already active.
What author would you love to meet from history? Either in the past or present.
I’d really love to meet Rilke. I don’t know what he was like personally but I feel such a deep affinity for his work, and I love his advice to young writers.
Are you coffee or tea kind of gal?
Coffee--made in a Moka pot.
If you could go and enjoy any time period where would you go?
I wouldn’t want to stick around, but I studied Latin in high school and college, and lived in Italy for a time, and have longed extremely intensely to go to ancient Rome, during the time period of Virgil. I was walking on the dusty Capitoline Hill last summer, with all those grassy ruins, and got way too “in my feelings” about it, since I know it’s impossible to ever go back and know what it was like. And it would be amazing to come back and talk about it, too.