Love, Music, and Red Velvet Cake: Ashley Jean Granillo, The Virtual Napkins Interview

Welcome to another very special installment of Virtual Napkins. This week, we will be chatting with author Ashley Jean Granillo whose novel, Love from the Barricade, was released last year. I met Ashley just a little while ago, but her novel about fandom and emo music spoke to my nostalgia for the early 2000s. I fell in love with her novel, and I wanted to introduce her to the people who read Virtual Napkins.

Ashley Jean Granillo, author

Ashley Jean Granillo, author of Love from the Barricade

Shane: So, I would like to go ahead and welcome Ashley Jean Granillo into the conversation. Ashley, thanks for joining me for some book talk and what I am confident will turn into music/ band talk!

Ashley: Hi Shane! I’m hoping it will turn into something about cupcakes. Yes, you probably didn’t know that cupcakes, specifically red velvet cupcakes, factors largely into being an emo kid in the early 2000s.

Shane: I want to start with the book. Tell us all about Love from the Barricade.

Ashley: Love from the Barricade features a young Mexican-American woman named (Aijae Cruz) grappling with her reputation as a daughter, friend, music journalist, and groupie. She’s assigned a lot of labels from outsiders, and  she’s not necessarily comfortable with any of them. She’s still trying to figure out who she is, and learning the art of letting go. It’s quite a complicated narrative –– not just because it’s non-linear, but because there are no perfect solutions to what she’s facing.

Shane: I love a good debate on genre and labels. I’m afraid we’re going to get into a debate on music genres in a bit, actually. But how would you label Love from the Barricade?

Ashley: Initially, when I began querying LFTB, it was young adult. But of course, agents scolded me for ever thinking that a 26-year-old could be a young adult. She’s ancient, right? So, I explored the realm of New Adult, which is where “older” young adults find solace. Except — no. This wasn’t erotica or strictly romance, so it wasn’t new adult, either. I was then forced to label it, under the discretion of 3 agents, general adult fiction.

So, a few years later, I realize this is a coming of age story. And everyone in the publishing market is wrong. LFTB is young adult literature. Aijae experiences so many firsts, the same as any teenager does, except much later in life. I also want to stress that because of Aijae’s Mexican heritage, her “adulting” is going to look very atypical to the normative American experience. Mexicans aren’t expected to leave their homes at 18, at least not all of the ones I know. We don’t move out until we have significant others, and even then our parents still call at 1AM to make sure we made it home all right.

Aijae, and her story, is one of a young adult trying to find herself in a world where people think they’re adults but still have some growing up to do themselves.

Shane: The novel opens with an author’s note that essentially declares that you are not your protagonist. You make sure that your audience understands that, even though you have things in common with Aijae, you are not her. This is a work of fiction, not autobiography. What made you start the book with this declaration?

Ashley: Caitlin Moran, author of How to Build a Girl, inspired me to make the declaration. As someone who has been heavily involved in the music industry, like Moran, it’s hard for readers to make that distinction from fact and fiction. I’m sure Moran, nor I, want readers to believe this is a secretive tell-all. It’s not.

Shane: Would you mind divulging a few ways you and Aijae are similar? Or is that too personal?

Ashley: If you’re asking whether or not I’ve slept with a guy in a band, I can officially go on the record and tell you I haven’t. Sorry to burst your bubble!

Shane: Aw, man! I was hoping for an exclusive.

Ashley: I’ve said this countless times because I’m not a sexual person, and I don’t want people thinking that I am because I’m thin and a woman who loves music. Being thin automatically makes you a promiscuous, by the way.

But I have hung out with some famous band members in hotel rooms where we primarily divulged in talking about my English degree and comic books. I’ve also ridden in a tour van, but only because my car was locked in a parking garage in San Francisco. I ugly cried in front of my band friends, and they had never seen me like that in real life and  I guess it freaked them out enough that they felt inclined to help. The story is actually more pathetic than that, but I’m trying not to embarrass myself any more than I have.

Bands aside, of course I’ve been in love with a musician, and I’ve had a group of shitty, shallow friends. Who hasn’t experienced being in a fandom to some obsessive degree? My life, however, is not as exciting as Aijae’s. She’s way braver than I am, and I’m so proud that she handled what I couldn’t at her age.

Shane: Tell me about the genesis of this book. Where did the idea come from? How did it develop? Did you know you were writing a novel from the beginning?

Ashley: Initially, I wanted to write about the rocky culmination of a ten year friendship. The title for the initial manuscript was How I Lost My Friends Over Cake. Each friend was named after the color of a sprinkle, and I wrote vignettes about how horribly they’d treated me. Why cake? Well…like I said earlier, cake and emo music just went together. I blame Pete Wentz for his Sprinkles addiction.

But, see? I couldn’t write that story without talking about music. And after 30,000 words, I realized how petty I sounded. Despite that I was hurt with how things had transpired between people I really, really loved, I wanted them to write a novel that wasn’t solely about revenge or exposing anyone. So, I created Aijae.

Chris Gutierrez  inspired me one morning with a Facebook post on toxic friendships in the emo music scene. The people we called friends, were more a convenience than friends. The only thing we really supported, the one thing that bound us together, was a band. I wanted to explore that because that’s what I started writing. But then I wanted to explore feminist and gender themes in the music industry. I started to see how men had it better, and how it essentially pegged women against women. There was something greater than myself to explore, and that’s what needed the most exposure.

Shane: Well, we are on the topic of music, and the novel clearly uses music as its backdrop. So, let’s play “Top 5.” Who were your Top 5 Favorite emo musicians/ bands? And What were your top 5 emo songs?

Ashley: Top 5…shit. Okay. Let’s start with bands:

  1. Fall Out Boy
  2. My Chemical Romance
  3. Taking Back Sunday
  4. Paramore
  5. The Ataris

As for songs, and this is going to sound pathetic, but I *still* listen to some of these songs religiously:

  1. “Helena,” My Chemical Romance
  2. “Existentialism on Prom Night,” Straylight Run (I love playing this on piano)
  3. “Grand Theft Autumn/Where is Your Boy?,” Fall Out Boy
  4. “Until the Day I Die,” Story of the Year
  5. “Ohio is for Lovers,” Hawthorne Heights

Shane: So, not that you asked, but here is my offering to the Top Five game.

Bands:

  1. Mayday Parade
  2. Motion City Soundtrack
  3. Straylight Run
  4. My Chemical Romance
  5. Alkaline Trio–I would actually be curious about whether you consider them emo at all. I think they are, though, for sure.

Ashley: The great emo debate! You’re talking to a very postmodern kinda gal –– so I love chaos and the break from tradition. But my 17 year old self would probably flip you off and tell you no. And if I’m going to keep speaking as my 17 year old self, they sound more punk, and even ska?  Perhaps lyrically, but not musically. Not at all.

Shane: Ooooh…this is really interesting. I consider subject matter and lyrics to be the defining characteristic of emo music–at least it was for me. I would argue that something like Alkaline Trio’s “Blue in the Face” was MUCH more emo than Fall Out Boy’s “Dance, Dance.”

Ashley: To be honest, I don’t actually know what makes FOB emo at all. I think Pete Wentz is just the emo king, so by association all of FOB, including their experimental, pop…whatever you wanna call it…makes it emo. I’m not even sure what “Dance, Dance” is about, anyway.

Shane: So what makes an emo band an emo band? And what makes an emo song an emo song?

Ashley: In an essay I wrote  in my freshman year of college entitled, “Trading Guitars for Tight Pants: Emo Loses Its Identity,” I argue this very question.

For awhile, emo meant having tight, lady jeans, jagged bangs that swooshed over one side of your face, and thick dark eyeliner. You also had to own a few To Write Love on Her Arms shirts, and be gender or sexually fluid. And if you were a member of an emo band, this was the reputation you were expected to maintain.

But the music differed from the look of the band. Emo music is solely vulnerable and heartfelt. It’s primarily, lyrically anyway, psychological narratives about depression and anxiety. Stylistically and vocally, there’s some screaming, a dude who sings using only his naval cavities, heavy drumming, and a few isolate guitar riffs.

I’m not an expert in any of this, so please do not take my word for it.

Shane: It’s too late for that! I’ve read your book, and you’re absolutely an expert.

Oh! Before I forget–cake was a big thing in the emo music scene? I grew up in middle Georgia, so I was never a “part of the scene.” I just listened to the music. How was cake a big part of the fandom? What it really just a Pete Wentz thing?

Ashley: Back when MTV’s Cribs was a big deal, and back when Fall Out Boy was my existence, I had to watch Pete Wentz’s segment. Had to! An emo kid had made it “big.”  It was in this particular episode that he introduced the world to Sprinkles –– an extremely expensive cupcakery that was initially began in Beverly Hills. Pete also mentioned his favorite flavor was red velvet, and so being young and obsessed, I of course coerced my friend into driving me there to get a single $3 red velvet cupcake. It was heaven.

After that, birthdays -– which were usually spent waiting in line for a show –– we celebrated with red velvet cupcakes. Usually from Sprinkles. It was a pilgrimage our group had to make.

Once, before everyone had a smartphone, we tracked down all of the local diners to see where we could get a red velvet cupcake (Sprinkles was closed). We ended up at Paty’s in Burbank where the owner informed us he only had a single slice of red velvet left.

Shane: Oh no–one slice of red velvet?

Ashley: My friends being the greedy fucks they were, couldn’t decide who should get it. After a lot of yelling, we decided to share the damn slice, only to learn it had been sold. How sad is that?!

Shane: You’ve talked about the toxic aspects of the fandom. What do you think drew so many people to be a part of something that had the potential to be so toxic?

Ashley: I kind of discuss this in my book, specifically when Aijae wants to get closer to Caleb from Sync Street. She can’t. Her admiration is purely at a distance and she is not in direct competition with anyone else.  And for a long time, long before the social media era, this was true for most fanbases. You respected that: stars were famous and you were nothing to them. That’s how the world worked.

However, because of social media and the ability to directly engage with musicians, it created this cesspool in the pit. Literally. Everyone had the potential to be “somebody” to someone in a band. And women literally clawed at the barricade to get noticed, to be someone’s friend or lover –– anything. They all wanted the spotlight, and if they didn’t get it, and you did, they hated you and hard for it. Everyone was insecure. I can’t tell you how many times that hatred, for just knowing someone who knew someone, shaped the many traumatic experiences I had at shows.

Emo culture allowed itself to be vulnerable to this kind of toxic behavior. One, because I think those dudes in the bands had some psychological trauma (thus, emo), and wanted to feel empowered. With that power, instead of using it to start discussions on inclusiveness and the inherent misogyny in the music industry, abused that power and made it that much harder for those insecure women. Women made it harder for other women, and so on. It was all a mind game that started with the internet and seeped into real life experiences.

Shane: What’s next for you? Can you say anything about your next book yet?

Ashley: I’ve written two novels since Love from the Barricade. One is currently being edited by Jennifer Johnson-Blalock, former literary agent and founder of HYPHEN. (She actually requested LFTB through #DVPit, and I’ve followed her since her request!) It’s about a thirty-something Mexican-American who isn’t so Mexican as the rest of the world, and her boyfriend, wants her to be. She tries to throw this lavish treintanera to prove her worth, but it all falls apart. It’s really fun getting to explore my culture through my unique experience.

I’ve also written my first YA novel based off of a story I wrote in college. And I’m also outlining a follow-up to Love from the Barricade tentatively entitled, Broken Hearts from the Sidestage.

Shane: Alright, tell the fine people where they can find you online and I will let you scurry back to your keyboard or your class or whatever it is that you have going on in your real life.

Ashley: Like I actually want to get back to grading papers –– please!

Shane: Tell me about it!

Ashley: You can find me on Instagram and Twitter @missashleyjean, Facebook @missauthorjean (see what I did there?) and on my website: ashleyjeangranillo.com.

~~~

I hope you’ll give Ashley’s book a look. Buy it here. And feel free to join in on the conversation about emo music and cake or whatever you’d like in the comments below!

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