Carmel Valley student publishes novel ‘Don’t Mistake the Ashes for Dust’


By Karen Billing

Many people spend months, even years, to write a novel. Carmel Valley teenager Lily Nilipour was able to craft a 50,000-word novel in one month last year.

Her novel, “Don’t Mistake the Ashes for Dust,” offers insights into life as an adolescent and is available online at

In the past Lily, a 15-year-old sophomore at Torrey Pines High School, wrote a lot of fantasy but this book was her first departure into a new genre. She outgrew the dragons and has gone more into reality.

Lily has been writing for as long as she can remember.

“It started out as a hobby but in sixth grade I had a really good teacher and she inspired me to continue to write — that’s when I began to have a true passion for writing,” Lily said.

That special teacher for Lily was Julia Hinton at Torrey Hills Elementary School and from that point on Lily spent every bit of her few spare moments of time writing stories and poems.

Last year a friend told her about a program as part of National Novel Writing Month. If young authors could pen 50,000 words in the month of November, as a reward they would get two free copies of their published works.

“I just wanted to see if I could reach such a big amount of pages and words,” Lily said.

The “NaNoWriMo” program helps students with support from fellow writers, track their progress and develop a schedule for work — for Lily that meant a goal to reach 2,000 words a day.

Despite a packed schedule, Lily was able to accomplish the challenge and then went through the editing process, designed a book cover and published the book through CreateSpace. The book was published in June.

“It was really rewarding when it was published and to see it in my hand,” Lily said. “It was really cool.”

Lily describes her book’s tone as “mellow and melancholy.” She left the main character ambiguous, without a name or identity — the plot follows what happens after she meets a unique girl at school, the girl who reminds her of ashes.

“The feeling that emits from her, it’s like that nostalgic feeling you get when you see the sunset over the ocean, and the light just glistens perfectly on the rippling water. It makes you feel tired, satisfied and wistful,” wrote Lily. “You feel like you could just be carried away by the lightest wind like a feather or a particle of dust. That’s what I mean when I say she reminded me of ashes.”

One review on Amazon cites the reader’s favorite paragraph of Lily’s 50,000 words:

“Because when you cannot see the light halfway into a dark tunnel, the shortest way out is behind you, where you entered,” Lily wrote. “And, though heading back to the start will grant you reassuring light and color that you are used to, that light and color will get you nowhere.”

Lily’s favorite subject in school is English and she recently joined the staff of the school’s award-winning newspaper, The Falconer. She also stays busy playing the piano and playing on the school tennis team.

“Hopefully I will find the time to work on another novel,” Lily said.

“Don’t Mistake the Ashes for Dust” is available on To learn more about this year’s National Novel Writing Month program, visit