Interview with A.S. King

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A.S. King has been called “One of the best Y.A. writers working today” by the New York Times Book Review. She is the author of many novels including her 2016 release Still Life with Tornado, 2015’s surrealist I Crawl Through It, the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner, Ask the Passengers, 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book Please Ignore Vera Dietz, among others. After fifteen years living self-sufficiently and teaching literacy to adults in Ireland, she now lives in Pennsylvania with her weird family.

Julia Shelton: What are some of your favorite memories from PA? I grew up in the small Gilpin county outside of Leechburg and running free in the woods as a kid was my favorite.

A.S. King: I grew up in the middle of a cornfield in Berks County. I have so many memories of it being wonderful. From summer when we measured time by how high the corn was, to winters sledding down the hill toward the Schuylkill River—all of it was great. My best friend had woods behind her house and a creek. So, between my house and hers, I grew up wild, too. It was awesome. I think it’s why I moved to Ireland—to be in the wild again because my cornfield got made into a housing development.

JS: Do you brainstorm with other people when writing a story?

A.S. King: Not generally. I don’t talk much at all when I’m writing. What I do is: I get to a point where I’m about to freak out from not knowing what’s going to happen next and then I pace and talk in half-sentences to Mr. King who has been through this about 25 times at this point. I am a seat-of-the-pants writer, so this is likely going to keep happening.

JS: Do you have any writing pet peeves that stand out to you the most?

A.S. King: I don’t usually see these until years later and I don’t read my books once they go to print, so I don’t see them unless I have to. In The Dust of 100 Dogs, for example, I used a present participle phrase four times. Four different ones. Last year I had a chance to re-release that book and I was able to wipe those out. For the most part, I guess the one thing that bugs me as I write is the fact that a phrase or sentence or line of dialogue will send up a red flag and for some reason I ignore it. When I finally cut or change the red flag thing, I roll my eyes as if I’m a dummy.

JS: How do you feel that your writing has most improved since you first started?

A.S. King: Fewer present participle phrases, for one. ☺

I can’t tell you how much I’ve improved. It’s that big. My first eight books live in my attic and they will stay there because they aren’t great. (Okay, two of them are pretty great, but the market wouldn’t like them.) There is no “most improved” in my answer, though. Writing is an art and it takes a lot of practice and a lot of things improve in order to have a great book at the end. It’s hard writing a book without a road map, but my process requires it, so I got better at that. My dialogue improved in a big way. Short story writing taught me the economy of words. I think the thing I appreciate the most is my voice; I remember the day I found it. That book wasn’t like the previous books—something had changed. Finding your own voice is a huge thing. That was book #5. It will never be published, but I don’t care because I wrote more books and my voice got to the place where it is now. I’ve had readers tell me that they can recognize my voice in my books, and yet each book is different and that to me is a huge compliment.

JS: Who are your author inspirations? Are there any books/characters that you read as a teen that influenced you?

A.S. King: Paul Zindel’s Confessions of a Teenage Baboon inspired me so much in my early teen years. All of his books, really. If you ever wondered why there are fully-formed adults in my books, I think it’s because I thought that was normal thanks to Zindel. He was my first inspiration for sure. Then I didn’t read much for a few years. And then I found Kurt Vonnegut. I was hooked. Still am.

JS: What do you find the hardest to write and how do you overcome that?

A.S. King: Endings. Always the endings. I dawdle and kvetch for weeks. But I overcome it by…. just writing the darn ending. I’m doing that right now with a Middle Grade book. I dawdled. I didn’t waste time, mind you, but I just write around it. Fixed a bunch of other things. But this week, I will write the ending, so I can see what I have here. And then I will start on the bigger revisions.

JS: What do you think are some of the realities of being an author that a lot of aspiring authors don’t consider? Were there some aspects of the business that surprised you when you first started out?

A.S. King: Oh wow. How do I put this into words without cursing? Hmm. Look. The business is not what you think it is. I think that’s what I’d say. Picture everything you dreamed about the business. Now just forget all of that. First, I meet a lot of aspiring authors who think they can do this ASAP. And a few can, no doubt, but rarely is it a short journey. It took me 15 years to get published. Wrote my 1st novel at age 24, publication of my 9th at age 40. The work has to be really good. And even then, things can take a while. As for the business, there are a lot of things that don’t make any sense. The list is long. If I was to pick just one, I will say I’m still surprised that in a woman-dominated business (including gatekeepers), sexism is still rife. I’m not shocked, mind you, but it’s getting a little old at this point.

JS: How do your characters come to you? Are they born Athena-style as a grown human being or do you sometimes get only a name or a vague character description and then the pieces come together over time as you continue writing?

A.S. King: My characters show up angry or lost, usually. They usually do not have names or faces. They have feelings that I can relate to. Revision is everything for my books and my characters. Revision is everything, full stop.

JS: Do you ever doubt your writing ideas in the beginning? What advice do you have for readers to keep them from getting discouraged and to power through the self-doubt?

A.S. King: I don’t usually doubt the ideas in the beginning. I doubt them in the middle. Oh, the middle. The only advice I have is: the only way you’ll know if it’s a crappy idea is if you finish it and once you finish it, you can always fix it. And if you can’t fix it, then put it aside and start writing another one. You’ll soon forget about the old one. None of this can happen if you’re not writing. Get your butt in your chair and power through. Because you love writing, right? That’s the only reason to do this job.

JS: How was writing your middle grade novel, Me and Marvin Gardens, compared to your young adult novels?

A.S. King: I find MG to be very difficult. Me and Marvin Gardens was a bit easier because the stories in it were based on my experiences. But the actual writing of middle grade novels for me is a struggle. I’m finishing one right now and I like it, but I can’t be sure I liked writing it. If that makes sense. That said, this could be revisions talking.

JS: Is there a specific author or genre of book that you look to for inspiration?

A.S. King: Poetry. I read a lot of poetry. Especially when I want to be inspired.

JS: Where is your favorite place to write?

A.S. King: At my desk, in my office, with no one home but me. It’s not much of an office, but it’s mine.

JS: What do you find the hardest to write and how do you overcome that?

A.S. King: Middles. Endings. I overcome by sitting in my chair and writing. Word count goals are my main motivation if I’m struggling. I aim for 2,000 a day when writing first draft.

Author, Julia Shelton

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