Monday, December 7, 2020

Kristy Dallas Alley

Kristy Dallas Alley is a high school librarian in Memphis, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, four kids, three cats, and an indeterminate number of fish. She studied creative writing at Rhodes College in another lifetime and holds a Master of Science in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership from the University of Memphis. In an ideal world, she would do nothing but sit on a beach and read every single day of her life, but in reality she's pretty happy reading on her front porch, neglecting the gardens she enthusiastically plants each spring, and cooking huge meals regardless of the number of people around to eat them.

Alley's debut novel is The Ballad of Ami Miles.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Figuring out the title of this book was a huge turning point for me. A ballad tells a story, often tragic but occasionally happy, and ballads are an enduring form of oral tradition and entertainment across cultures and time. The Ballad of Ami Miles is set in a future that feels like the past in some ways, and it's about a girl who has to process tragedy and trauma before she can become the owner of her own story. And actual ballads play a part in the story as well. So I think the title does a good bit of the work of setting the tone for what readers can expect from this story.

What's in a name?

Ami is raised on a religious compound so I wanted her to have a Biblical name that would have been meaningful to the people who named her, but also a name that fits her and doesn't feel stuffy. Ami is actually a man's name that is briefly mentioned in the Bible, but can also be seen as a diminutive of the Hebrew word for "mother." Considering the pressure on Ami to carry on the family line, that interpretation of her name is very significant.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think she would only be surprised that it took me this long to write it. And she might be surprised that Ami is as soft as she is. I have always been defiant and rebellious, and I really chafed against rules and a religious upbringing that felt oppressive to me growing up. So the themes in this book have been important to me all my life, and anyone who knew me as a teenager will see echoes of that girl very much in these pages.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Definitely endings on both counts. The beginning of this story came to me early on, and it was the start of Ami's voice really speaking her into existence in my mind. I polished the beginning many times, but it stayed pretty constant through the entire editing process. The ending, on the other hand, changed completely. I really struggled with choosing between an ending that emphasized the forces outside of Ami that seek to control her, or one that would reinforce her ability to navigate difficult choices and be at peace with her own decisions.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I see little pieces of myself in several different characters. Ami is probably the least like me in her desire to please authority figures and keep the peace, but her willingness to eventually question the things she's been taught and open her mind to new ideas is very much me. Jessie is sort of the girl I'd like to be, or the way I imagined myself at that age even though there was definitely some bravado and wishful thinking involved. There's a boy named Will who is kind of a know-it-all and a blowhard and I think he's like the worst parts of myself, or the way I think I sounded when I replay conversations with regret. And of course there is a librarian who wipes tears and makes tea, and that's who I sometimes get to be now in my adult life.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Being from the south is probably the biggest thing. There is so much wrapped up in the idea of being southern, and for me that is a very complicated identity. The south gets a bad rap and a lot of it is well deserved, but southerners are not a monolith and I honestly can't imagine who I would be if I had grown up outside the southeast, and specifically outside of Memphis. A lot of the themes in this book and the conflicting ideas about gender roles, religion, race, and sexual identity, all really come from my experience growing up as a girl in the south.
Follow Kristy Dallas Alley on Facebook and Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: The Ballad of Ami Miles.

The Page 69 Test: The Ballad of Ami Miles.

--Marshal Zeringue