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Ashley Cornelsen

  • Ashley Cornelsen, Academic Transfer

    Ashley-Cornelsen_webAshley’s first submission to Illuminations won her a prose award, and her most recent submission, “Homeless Dreams,” published in Volume 15, is one of the finest fiction pieces in the book. Ashley writes beautifully about difficult situations, about decisions made at the crossroads of the lives of ordinary people. Although Ashley has now transferred from SCC, she still maintains connections with Illuminations and was gracious enough to take time from her busy life to speak with us.

    I:  Hi, Ashley! You’ve moved on from SCC. What are you up to now?

    A:  Currently, I work nights at Bryan Hospital. I am an RN on the cardiac progressive care unit. I love my job! I am also in the Masters of Science in Nursing program at Bryan College of Health Sciences. I stay very busy between work, school, and my son, who is turning six in January.

    I:  You write wonderful, down-to-earth fiction that readers can easily relate to, even if they’re unfamiliar with the experiences you write about. How did you develop your engaging style?

    A:  I took extra classes in high school and college for composition and creative writing (all of which had nothing to do with nursing, haha). I love writing about situations and emotions I have actually dealt with. Although the characters may be exaggerated or made up, it is easier to write about an emotion or situation I have felt or been in firsthand. I find "being down to earth" comes most naturally when I allow myself to be transparent in my writing. I think that is what makes my writing relatable. Everyone goes through the same emotions; I just try to write it so the reader feels it.

    I:  You seem particularly adept at skillful characterization. What advice do you have for other writers who want to better develop their characters?

    A:  I would say the biggest/most helpful advice I have received is to use show writing to develop a character, rather than tell writing. I could tell you that a character is conceited or I could write that the character said, "I know I'm the best looking one in the room by the way everyone looks at me." I like to take my writing on Word and highlight the tell writing in one color and highlight the show writing in another color. Then I look for more show writing than tell writing. I also like to brainstorm about my main character and write out a couple personality traits that I want that character to have, and when I'm looking at my writing I look to be sure I have shown those in my character.

    I:  Great advice! What first nurtured your interest in writing?

    A:  Oh, gosh, that is hard to say! I have really liked English and Composition since I was in grade school. I could diagram a sentence like it was nobody's business, and I was proud of it! Haha. I enjoy writing to relax and reflect on experiences I have gone through. I'll keep writing whenever I get some spare time.

    I:  That’s good to hear! What authors do you enjoy reading, and what have they taught you about writing?

    A:  I haven't read for fun as much as I would like, since nursing school has kept me deep in textbooks and research. I recently read Left to Tell:  Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust and loved it. I couldn't put it down, actually. I think that book keeps the reader on edge, because I just couldn't stop wondering what was going to happen next. I also really like Mona Simpson. She has a distinct tone and voice in her writing, and I'd like to put my own into mine.

    I:  Do you find yourself growing as a writer with further life experience?

    A:  Yes, most definitely! The more I experience, the more there is to tell. However, I believe a person can produce great writing at any age. If a person wants to write about conflicts and struggles that everyone goes through, each stage of development has its struggles. I think of Erik Erikson's stages of development and try to write to some of the pertinent struggles in the character's life. (See, and that might make a little more sense.)

    I:  You’ve said that writing was a great stress release for you. Why is that?

    A:  As I've eluded to, I write about things that I am struggling with, and I use that to reflect. I like to write to get everything out and think about the struggle I went through and really process what happened and how it affected me. This makes my writing very personal and motivates me to do a good, detailed job. I want to express myself and my emotion as accurately as possible.

    I:  Have you dabbled in other types of writing apart from fiction?

    A: Unfortunately, nursing has kept me pretty busy with research and academic based writing. If anyone wants to read about neurotransmitters, community health in Hispanic populations, or severe sepsis, let me know. Haha. I like to write fiction to get away from all of that and use writing to be more expressive than so black and white, objective, and dry.

    I:  And finally, the silly question of the day:  What song do you love to dance to?

    A:  I listen to just about anything. Matchbox 20 is my favorite though. “She's So Mean” is usually one I jam out to.

    I:  Thanks, Ashley!

    From “Homeless Dreams”
    by Ashley Cornelsen:

    The door clicks shut behind her. I gasp for air, and two hot streams fall down my cheeks. I quickly wipe them. I feel as though I am naked on stage. I look to the door, and the thought of running out to the parking lot flashes through my mind. Then I think of my son, Adrian. He is only a year old. He will need more diapers soon. Then I hear two people talking outside the door. I try to listen, but it’s too muffled, and then I hear the doorknob turn. My heart jumps up and then drops into the pit of my stomach.

    “Ashley, I want you to meet my supervisor. This is Tom. I want you to share your story with him, but first I’m going to give you a gas voucher and an application. We have a program here for people in your situation. We could set you up in your own place, get you some groceries, and help you get back on your feet.”

    I take a breath but try not to get my hopes up. I have heard that something this good always has a catch.

    “Now, this is the stack of applications that we’ve received already.” She places her hand on the highest stack of papers. I feel a sharp pain in my chest as my heart begins to break. “Half of these people won’t even qualify. This program is meant to house the homeless.”

    The words echo in my head. I haven’t heard anyone call me homeless before. I mean, yes, I’m in borrowed clothes, and no, I don’t have a real place to live right now. However, I haven’t gone to the City Mission or slept in the streets. My face feels hot again, and the flutter in my chest quickens. I feel the word beat me in the chest: homeless.