By Lucy Frost-Helms
Dr. Ashley Wurzbacher, a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Montevallo, has announced the debut of her new novel titled “How to Care for a Human Girl.”
The novel is Wurzbacher’s second published book, her first being “Happy Like This,” a collection of short stories. “How to Care for a Human Girl” follows two different timelines as sisters Maddy and Jada navigate unplanned pregnancies, their relationship as sisters and the intricacies of womanhood.
Wurzbacher is originally from Titusville, Pennsylvania and moved to Birmingham in 2016 to pursue a career in UM’s English Department after receiving her Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Houston and MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. Wurzbacher has settled down well in Birmingham, even saying that it feels more like home than some may think.
“My family are all from the Pittsburgh area and, so, Birmingham’s nickname is ‘The Pittsburgh of the South’ because of the steel history and, so, it really is kind of Pittsburgh-like in its ethos and its history. Even the architecture and the hills; it does remind me of home more than I think most people might expect,” she said.
There is one key difference between the two cities, however. “It’s just hotter,” Wurzbacher quipped.
Wurzbacher has not only found a home away from home in Birmingham; UM has also provided a place for her writing and love of literature to flourish. When speaking about her writing and editing process, inspiration and research, Wurzbacher said, “I definitely feel supported by my colleagues.”
Her students, she went on to say, are equally as important as her fellow professors.
“Most of the inspiration comes from the students and reading their writing and seeing them be excited about writing,” she said. “You see them learn and grow and get better and support each other and they turn into these really shrewd critics of each other’s work and you see their work changing and improving and it’s like, yeah! This is what it’s all about!”
The nature of UM and its student body is also something that holds Wurzbacher’s attention. She stated, “I like how weird our students are. It makes it fun to be in the classroom! You never know what people are going to say. It keeps things fresh and interesting.”
Wurzbacher also acknowledged that the community of a smaller, liberal arts college, such as UM, is what feels right to her.
The support that Wurzbacher receives from her students and colleagues guides her in the writing process in regard to aspects such as researching, outlining, editing and publishing. While her ideas begin as images and potential plot themes in her mind, guided by her own interests, refinement comes in due time.
In terms of research, she said, “As you’re learning about whatever it is you’re researching, you’re coming up with ideas about things that the characters might do or ways that they might see the world.”
Wurzbacher believes that research is wholly important in creating a story of any length, saying, “It helps you figure out your characters.” You may even find familiar products of the research used in her writing such as the Cahaba Lilies, which are flowers that can be found on the Cahaba River in Alabama.
She also points out that the curation of these plotlines and details sometimes leads to pieces that turn out to be completely different than what was first envisioned.
In regard to her new novel, Wurzbacher acknowledges that the published product is strikingly different from her initial draft. While a large part of her inspiration comes from her students, revising her work is a product of multiple individuals as well as her own edits.
Wurzbacher described the collaboration that went into her novel, “A combination of feedback from fellow writers and my literary agent, and my now editor, and you know, friends, myself, like my own issues with the first draft.”
One aspect of her novel that constantly changed was the title: “How to Care for a Human Girl.” She said, “It has had many different titles. The final one was arrived at in collaboration with my editor.”
When asked about the meaning of the title, Wurzbacher explained that she wanted it to investigate the human woman’s experience and all of its intricacies.
She emphasized, in regard to the definition of a human girl, “Human as infallible, able to make mistakes, and imperfect, and that’s part of being human, that’s part of being a girl or a woman.”
“How to Care for a Human Girl” will be released on Aug. 8 of this year by Atria Books. It is currently available for preorder on Bookshop.com and at Thank You Books, a local bookstore in Birmingham.
You can also follow along for updates, reminders and more information at her website, ashleywurzbacher.com, and her Instagram @doctorbacher.