Today, the Eastern Penn Points Cafe is delighted to host award-winning author, Amy Sarig (A.S.) King! A.S. King has been called “One of the best Y.A. writers working today” by the New York Times Book Review. King is the author of many acclaimed novels and has won the Michael L. Printz Honor, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, The Amelia Walden Award, The Carolyn Field Award, and one time she won £50 on a scratch card.
And lucky us, she’s not only here to chat, she’s giving away a copy of her book, THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, too! Enter by commenting before March 14 – details below.
Ooooh, I hear a bike….Amy’s here!
Lindsay: Hi Amy, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! As we settle into our comfy booth, can I get you something to drink?
Amy: It depends on what time we are dealing with. Daytime? Decaf tea, please. After 9pm? I’ll have vodka and ginger ale. Thanks!
Lindsay: Hmmm…Let’s call it after nine, and make that two vodkas and ginger ales. I’m really happy to introduce you to our members who might not know you are local to Eastern PA. What’s your favorite part of living in Lancaster County?
Amy: I grew up in Berks County, in the middle of a large cornfield. So, one of the most comforting parts of Lancaster County to me are its fields of corn. I moved to the Lititz area because of Aaron’s Books, the independent bookstore there. I have been a champion of independent bookstores for decades and Aaron’s was the closest to me when I started to publish, and so began a long friendship with Sam and Todd, who own the store. I’ve only been in the area about 5 years and during that time I spent most of my days in my office on deadline, so I don’t get out much. But I’ll add that I love hearing passing Amish horses and buggies. I love that side of Lancaster County life.
Lindsay: Your books have been described in so many ways – brilliantly bizarre, unapologetically strange, profoundly honest, funny, breathtaking, passionately experimental. It’s easy for readers (and other writers) to think you must have been born ready to win the Printz! Can you tell us about how you found your voice as a writer and developed your distinct style?
Amy: You know, it’s hard to figure out exactly where it all came from. But I know that once I liked what I was writing, I wasn’t going to change that no matter how many rejections I got. (I got about 500 over 15 years of trying.) My voice came the more I was able to channel what I was really feeling and thinking into the day’s work. I took a year or so off of novels and wrote a lot of poetry, and I think to this day reading and writing poetry helps me find my way. But my style has a lot to do with my process—I’m a full-on pantser. This means that I have zero idea where the book will take me. I simply write what my characters want me to write. It’s a process that is based fully on trust and it’s scary some days. Deadlines can be tricky when I’m waiting on a character to steer me toward the next plot point. Or, you know, when the pagoda starts talking. I guess some might look at my published work and think that this is something that grew naturally in me, but really, I have an attic full of unpublished manuscripts. About eight or so are novels. And they were all pretty weird, too, but I kept trying too hard. Once I let a character lead me, I learned how to follow. The trust that this requires is kinda dumb, really. One day, my characters will have a real laugh riot after leading me to a giant personal red herring or something. Party it up, characters.
I’m trying to be helpful in this description, but I always come off sounding cosmic. So in a more practical way: I write poetry. Poetry is a lot of metaphor. I prefer metaphor. Surrealism eats metaphor for breakfast. This is how it worked for me.
Lindsay: I know you’re a big on creating relate-able literature for teens that can be used in English classrooms. As a teen, I thought I hated to read, because it was such a chore to slog through Shakespeare or Hawthorne, so I definitely support you! As you write for today’s teens and classrooms, how do you navigate the line between “edgy” and “banned,” so that you are reaching readers without alienating teachers or parents?
Amy: I have no idea. I have yet to be banned in the official sense, though I’ve experienced plenty of soft censorship and have been disinvited to schools after a principal went looking for negative reviews of my books. But here’s the thing: reaching readers is all I care about. I don’t care about parents or teachers or admins who want to clean up the library. Let them take the same amount of time and clean up the damn world. Seriously. The truth is something I’m very passionate about. I like to illuminate it. Teenagers can relate because they spend their lives talking about the truth and being eye-rolled. I am there to cheer them on—through my books and through speaking engagements—to keep telling the truth. So if that makes me edgy, then I’m edgy. But I’ll say this: if that makes me edgy, then there are a lot of edgy teachers and librarians out there, too, because without them, my books wouldn’t find their way into readers’ hands.
Lindsay: Your books visit some very dark places, but often come out in a place of unexpected hope. I must confess to hiding in the bathroom for a good ugly-cry after finishing PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, but it uplifted me in a beautifully surprising way that helped me make peace with a painful relationship from my own teen years. Do the endings of your books surprise you, too? Are you a pantser, a plotter, or something in between?
Amy: I’m often surprised, yes. And I cry, too. Only after I do a victory lap after months or years of chasing an elusive ending. The ending of the book I’m working on right now eluded me for a long time. In fact, a super important character kept a huge secret from me until page 370. That’s super frustrating. But when she told me the secret, I knew what to do. (Which meant I had to go back to the beginning now knowing this secret and revise a lot of stuff.) Always worth it. Pantsing has always been worth it for me. But I’m a Pisces and we tend to trust the most untrustworthy things and still come away with a smile.
The thing I’ve found most rewarding in this job is the varying ages of readers who write to me. Dark places? We’ve all been there—only we often don’t take those places seriously. So whether a reader is 15 or 50 or 75, if my book affected them the way you describe above, then I feel I’ve done my job. VERA DIETZ, for me, was my way of making peace with a close friend’s death. And so, I pass on that thinking—in the here and now, never diving back to “what it was like to be a teen”—in my books. Honestly, I don’t think my thought process has changed at all since I was a teen. I think that’s the one fallacy we invent when we exit teen years. We want to leave the pain behind and believe that we will now think and feel differently. But we don’t. Or at least I don’t. But I was a pretty serious teen under all my joking…again, much like my books.
Lindsay: You had a middle grade novel come out in 2017, too. What inspired you to write for a younger audience this time?
Amy: I still can’t tell, now that I’ve written two middle grade books, if I’m good at it. I have a 5th grader in my house (she’s mine—don’t worry) and something made me want to see the world from her point of view. And then once I got started, I realized that the book was a story I’d been meaning to write for a long long time—the story of what happened to my family’s land. So that was the inspiration that made me actually finish writing that book. But to see the world through my youngest daughter’s eyes reminded me of what it was like to be eleven. With an older sister, like she has and I had. With autonomy and space and also a big bummer surrounding the whole thing—the loss of my childhood, really. So yeah, a lot of things inspired that book.
Lindsay: As a writer and a mom, what is one thing you hope your own kids will take away from reading their mom’s books?
Amy: What do I hope they will get out of the books? The same as any other reader: what they need.
This mom question is always a weird question for me. I’ve always been super quiet about what I do. I don’t tell ANYONE that I’m a writer. I learned early on that people make massive assumptions about money (I do not make a lot of money—not at all) and about station (I do not see myself as better/smarter than anyone else) and I don’t want to have anything to do with either conversation. I write because I can’t NOT write. I do not have fame or fortune and I couldn’t feed myself if all I did was write. (This fact also confounds people who think they understand what I do—they think that this fact means I must be a really crappy writer.) I usually tell people I’m a teacher or a speaker—and rarely does anyone poke around those answers. I think my kids have learned this caginess-about-my-job from me.
So, onto the real question here: what do my kids think? Well, my eldest—a HS sophomore—doesn’t really tell people I’m a writer at all. Her friends figure it out eventually and if they’re fans, they freak out a bit and my kid stays cool and nods. She’s read some of my YA books and will not talk to me about them. My younger daughter has read my middle grade and she was really excited about it. She doesn’t hesitate to tell her teachers and peers that her mother is an author and her father is an English teacher. She has not yet realized that this will not magically make her a great speller, though.
Joking aside, I’m sure they are both proud of me—they say so—but I think they probably also quietly wish that I had a simpler job that requires less time in my office and on the road and more time with them. Maybe I’m projecting.
Lindsay: All right, Amy, it’s time for Flash Favorites. Take a deep breath and tell us your favorite….
-Irish pub fare Full Irish breakfast, please.
-Netflix binge I don’t do this. I can’t even work a TV. Drives my kids nuts.
-Place to read In everyone’s way. On the couch.
-Type of shoe Barefoot or Boots.
-Cartoon as a kid Looney Tunes on Saturday mornings.
-Cookie Homemade chocolate chip with walnuts.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us, Amy!
Amy is generously giving away a copy of THE DUST OF 100 DOGS to one lucky commenter! Comment before March 14, and be sure to visit Amy’s web site, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook!
About the book: From LA Times Book Prize and Printz Honor winner A.S. King–a witty, snarky tale of love and family, revenge and reincarnation, and pirates.
In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with “the dust of one hundred dogs,” dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body-with her memories intact.