As the author of four books centered entirely around Indianapolis, it’s safe to say that Ashley Petry is as devoted as a Hoosier can get. Petry has lived in Indianapolis her entire life, which is largely what inspired her to publish books about the city that molded her into the freelance writer and editor she is today.
“I’ve been writing about Indianapolis as a freelancer for 15 years,” Petry said. “So, my three books are a natural evolution of that. The first two were more travel focused on things to do around the city, but the new one was more of a departure to focus on history instead.”
Since 2005, Petry has been a freelance writer and editor for a variety of publishers and outlets. Some of her clients have included Wiley, the United Nations Development Programme, and Booth Books. Indy Maven spoke with Petry and learned more about her latest book, “Indianapolis: An Illustrated Timeline,” what she’s learned while writing about the Circle City, and where she gets all of her Indianapolis knowledge.
Where did you draw inspiration for your latest book?
Really, it was an homage to all of the historians that have covered the city in the past and all of the journalists who have preserved its history over the two centuries. I’m a writer, not a historian, so I was guided a lot by how actual historians had handled these topics.
How’s the response been for your book?
Very positive. It’s selling well and I’ve done some TV interviews and some radio interviews.
You’ve written three books centered around things to do in Indianapolis. What made you want to veer off into history?
The previous book was called “Secret Indianapolis.” As part of my research for that book, I did research some of our quirkier, historical events. That just got me on the path of reading more about the city’s history and wanting to share what I was learning.
Did you always know you wanted to be an author?
Always. When I was 6 or so, I wanted to be princess/singer/dancer/actress. But ever since I really had a concept of a career, I’ve never wanted to do anything else.
Did you learn anything new while writing this book?
All sorts of things! I learned about some events that I’d never been aware of that deserved to be remembered, and a lot of people who transformed the city and who don’t really get the recognition they deserve. One woman was May Wright Sewall. She died in 1920, but she was an advocate for women’s suffrage at the national level and also locally. She also founded the Art Association of Indianapolis. That organization later evolved and split off into the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Herron School of Art and Design. So, technically she founded both of those institutions in addition to her political work.
Do you have any plans to write another book?
To be determined.
If you wrote another book, would it be inspired by Indianapolis, or would you explore fiction?
My MFA is in creative non-fiction, specifically. That’s always been my focus. I might play around with fiction at some point in the future, but for now, I’m still a journalist at heart.
Tell us about some of your favorite things to do in the Circle City.
I really, really like the Summer Nights Film Series at the art museum. I just think it’s a really fun atmosphere and a community spirit. I once saw “Dirty Dancing” there and when Baby does the lift at the end, the whole crowd cheered. It was a fun place to be.
What were some resources you utilized to get this rich history for your book?
I was checking books out of the library that people had not checked out for 50 years. There was a lot of back and forth to the library, and particularly the special collections area at the Central Library where they have documents that are really too fragile to be circulated.
Tell us about your writing process.
It starts with procrastination, and then there are 10 more steps of procrastination. And then there’s a lot of research, and then there’s frantic deadline writing. It’s not a very good one.
How long did the publishing process take?
It was about 2 1/2 years. It was supposed to come out a year earlier but because of COVID-19, my publisher was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to do book signings and other events to generate interest in the book. So, they held it for a year. In terms of the actual researching and writing, probably a year.
Of all the topics to write about, why Indianapolis?
I’ve lived here my whole life. I have watched it grow and change. I think there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening here. I also think that the city is sometimes overlooked in terms of tourism on a national scale. I just wanted to do my part to make it evident that there are a lot of good reasons to come here.
Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor.