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Author Interview: A. S. King

January 18, 2011

I recently read, and adored Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A. S. King, so I was thrilled when I chatted with the author on Twitter and she agreed to answer a few questions for me.  I just love her answers and hope you do too.

1. Why do you go by your initials instead of your first name? Is it significant that your initials and last name spell asking?

The easiest and first answer is: I am not the only Amy King who writes things. I could have used my full name (Amy Sarig King) but it was a mouthful and I always loved that my initials spelled ASK because I’m always asking things. So yes, A.S. King was born out of the dorky want for my name to spell ‘asking.’

2. You have held quite a variety of jobs – what was your favorite? Least favorite?

My favorite job aside from writing books was teaching adult literacy. I taught group literacy and numeracy and developed curricula inside the European adult education system that would earn students an equivalent GED. Some of my classes were adult beginners—people age 30-70 trying to learn how to add and subtract, and learn the basics of reading and writing. Some of my classes were more advanced—adults trying to improve their spelling or trying to go for their GED equivalent in communications, math and six other subjects. My students were the most amazing people alive and taught me many things about human beings. Mostly, what guts look like.

Worst job: I worked for 6 hours as a door-to-door petition person for Clean Water Action. Not my thing at all. Then again, I’m not sure I could call that a job when I only worked 6 hours at it. Second choice: getting a job at a photo lab (my degree is in photography) only to discover that more than half of the film we were printing was pornography. (Yes, I wrote a book loosely based on that year of my life.)

3. In PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, Vera just wants to fade into the background and go unnoticed. I think there’s a little bit of Vera in most teens, so I’m wondering if any of her character’s traits are based on you.

Frankly, I still want to fade into the background and go unnoticed daily, so I guess we can start there when it comes to similarities between Vera and me. I was a pizza delivery driver for a few years and outside of that, the only other things Vera and I have in common are: the concussion thanks to a hater and a teacher who made us read Lord of the Flies aloud. I just had a family gathering over the holidays and realized many people thought more of the book was based in reality and I had to say STOP THE MADDNESS! THIS IS FICTION! Plus, I would never drink and drive. I lost a good friend to a drunk driver a long time ago and have been the designated sober driver ever since.

4. PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ uses humor to touch on some serious subjects. What do you hope young readers will take from it?

My writing style is pretty much just like me. I joke about heavy things. That’s how I get through life. It’s how my whole family gets through life. I still do some charity work around serious subjects (to benefit survivors of domestic and sexual violence) and I find many of us who work alongside these realities often have a great sense of humor to help us look nasty stuff straight in the eye. I was taught this skill when I was young. It’s just the way I think and operate and I didn’t mean for it to be a device in my writing. And so, I have never thought about what young readers will take from the way I look at things. I suppose I hope readers of PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ will remember the book when times call for them to act and not be silent, or when times call for them to be brave and help another person rather than turning their back. It’s hard to change the world. (Both your small world and the big world, outside.) The only way to do it is to speak up. And the only way to speak up is to face harsh or sometimes uncomfortable things. A sense of humor helps.

5. Why did you decide to write YA literature (as opposed to adult literature)?

YA literature chose me, not the other way around. I’d written 7 adult novels over 13 years before one of them, a coming of age story of a reincarnated pirate, sold to a YA publisher and was shaped into a YA novel. That said, I love writing YA literature. Teenagers are often more open to quirky stories and structures than most adult readers are. Also, when I look back to my own youth, I realize that the things that shaped me most were the books I’d read. For me, it was Paul Zindel—a man who showed me that I wasn’t the only person on the planet who felt like a freak, and Kurt Vonnegut—a man who made me feel less like a freak for joking about heavy things.

6. Lenore of Presenting Lenore told me to ask for an embarrassing photo.

That Lenore! Okay. I have just received a new CD of teenage pictures and so I will share an annual Christmas tradition a few years running: The A.S. King shiner.

This shiner came courtesy of a girl named Betsy, I believe. (My memory could be sketchy on that, but I can see her face and she looks like a Betsy to me.) She had some very pointy elbows and one of them caught me in the eye under the basket during a pre-season basketball scrimmage in my senior year. I am pretty sure Betsy-or-whatever-her-name-is got that particular rebound. I am 17 in this picture. The inflatable dinosaur you see to my left was a Christmas present from my now-husband. We named him Hobart.

37 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2011 5:25 am

    Great interview! I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this book. I have it on my wish list, will need to get it VERY soon!

  2. January 18, 2011 5:44 am

    That was supposed to be our secret!! Shhhh! 😉

  3. January 18, 2011 6:52 am

    OMG this was such a wonderful interview! Love the teenage picture (she knew her husband then??? And he got her an inflatable dinosaur???). And I want to just give her the biggest hug because of her support of adult literacy. Now I have to read Vera. And Lenore, you crack me up!

    • January 18, 2011 8:25 am

      Becasue I’ve told it a lot, I sometimes forget that most people don’t know the story of finding my true love when I was 17, so I will give you the short version! We met as summer camp counselors. He was an exchange counselor from Ireland. He had to go back to Ireland (actually to London to work) and I had to finish high school and then college. We spent four years apart and wrote love letters on that thin airmail paper that resembles toilet tissue. And he sent me Hobart the dinosaur for Christmas 1987.

      Thank you for the hug. 🙂

  4. January 18, 2011 7:01 am

    AS King rocks. I bump into her from time to time in places like, say, downtown Philadelphia or Lancaster County or Orlando, FL. She’s a great woman/writer, and this is one fine interview.

  5. January 18, 2011 7:28 am

    Great interview, Kathy! I love to hear the backstory of an author’s writing career.

  6. January 18, 2011 8:26 am

    I had such fun with this interview, Kathy! Thanks for having me around.
    Lenore: one day I will ask you for an embarrassing picture. 🙂
    Beth Kephart, you rock.

    • January 18, 2011 1:48 pm

      I have plenty embarrassing pictures, believe me. I call them ratchasers.

  7. January 18, 2011 8:47 am

    Great interview!! I love Amy and her writing!! She’s a great author and so accessible!!
    PS. That inflatable dinosaur is the best thing since toliet paper. Why wasn’t my now-husband that cool when we were dating at that age??

  8. January 18, 2011 9:08 am

    What a fun interview, and I love the embarrassing photo! :–)

  9. January 18, 2011 9:15 am

    PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ is one of my favorite books of all time – all my friends are getting it as a gift this year (fortunately, it appeals to a wide variety of readers). Not that I didn’t adore DUST OF 100 DOGS as well.

  10. January 18, 2011 9:17 am

    I loved the book, and I loved the interview! I imagine that it must have felt so satisfying and right to be teaching adult literacy, and it’s something that I have long wanted to do. King sounds like a very big proponent of literature, and I love her reasons for deciding to write towards a younger audience. Great interview, to both of you!

  11. January 18, 2011 9:47 am

    A.S. sounds like such a wonderful, warm, talented and friendly person! I loved this interview! So much fun! And I love the answer to the name question particularly! XO

  12. January 18, 2011 9:56 am

    Loved the interview and I’m going out to get the book today. And thanks for the memory of that lovely air mail paper, I had forgotten all about it but remember writing oh so many a letter on it.

    If you can get to have such awesome interviews because of twitter I’m going to have to get on board.

    Thanks Kathy and Amy.

  13. January 18, 2011 11:04 am

    Wonderful interview!! Amy is one of my favorite authors (and people!) Her personality really shines through in this interview!

    And, I love the story about how you met your husband. I only knew the letter writing part!

  14. January 18, 2011 11:23 am

    That sense of humor in bleak situations is well known to people in health care. Doctors, nurses, everyone in health care has what other folks think is a strange sense of humor, but it saves their sanity.

    • January 18, 2011 1:26 pm

      Totally agree. I got it from my mother who was a nurse. She’s still got a really warped and excellent sense of humor. Some people think we’re weird and don’t get it at all. 🙂

  15. January 18, 2011 12:51 pm

    Great questions! I love why she chose to use her initials> And man, that is some shiner! “Looks like a Betsy to me.” Now, that has me giggling!

  16. January 18, 2011 1:29 pm

    Excellent interview. I love her honesty. This alone is making me read the book.

  17. January 18, 2011 3:12 pm

    I always say that children are reflections of their parents. If I like the kids, there’s a strong chance that I will get along with those kids’ parents. A book is like an author’s child. I absolutely loved Vera Dietz…so it should have been no surprise to me that I have grown to adore her creator.

    Kathy and Amy, great interview!

  18. January 18, 2011 3:22 pm

    I love ASK’s reason for using her initials as an author! I also love that her name is Amy and she’s very personable, funny and charming. This was a great interview. And thank you for reminding me that AS King is one of the YA authors I want to be sure to read this year!
    ~ Amy

  19. January 18, 2011 5:23 pm

    Great interview…really enjoyed getting to know A.S. King.

  20. January 18, 2011 6:30 pm

    Loved the question on why intials for name and how it spells out ASK.

    Well mine is PK and have to say I loved getting to know you AS. Great interview Kathy and will look out for this book next.

    Nice to see what inspired the work and how YA chose AS.

  21. January 18, 2011 8:19 pm

    I can’t believe she showed that photo! LOL I also can’t believe I probably wouldn’t have noticed “Asking” out of A.S.King so I guess I’m slow. Great interview and I’m really loving YA so this is fun!

  22. January 18, 2011 8:25 pm

    Excellent interview (and you and Lenore are giving me ideas for my own future author interviews)!

    Wow! This book sounds really good! 🙂

  23. January 18, 2011 8:42 pm

    What a fun little interview. And Lenore was genius for asking for an embarrassing photo … I’ll have to remember that if I ever do an author interview again.

    And I love the whole A.S. King thing!

  24. January 18, 2011 9:19 pm

    Great post and I loved that embarrassing photo!! Clever idea 😀

  25. Veens permalink
    January 19, 2011 12:35 am

    Wow, I never realized it was like ASking and that is a lovely name. I have not heard of Group literacy, but sounds like a good thing 🙂

    Love the pic, and I think most of the teens want to blend in the background too. I like the story about the author and her Hubby too 🙂

  26. January 19, 2011 5:48 am

    Fantastic and interesting interview. I’m hopeful to get to Please Ignore Vera Dietz soon!

  27. January 19, 2011 6:22 am

    I really like the first question! Hello, Kathy and Miss King!

  28. January 19, 2011 7:05 am

    I loved this interview! Great questions and answers. And now I wonder how the shiner became a tradition. Oh and we learned you married your childhood sweetheart. I am so grateful to people who volunteer their time to help others in need and humor is most certainly one of my family’s coping mechanisms too.

  29. January 19, 2011 12:43 pm

    There is so much to like about A.S. King, and her books are only a small part of that (as this interview clearly demonstrates). 🙂 I was lucky enough to become friends with her in college, and I’m very happy that we reconnected through social media. I adored both of her novels and am eagerly awaiting the next one: Everybody Sees the Ants.

    Amy – It was fun to read about you and Topher (I don’t think I knew the story), and I absolutely love the Christmas dinosaur. You must have known then that he was a keeper. 😉

  30. January 19, 2011 9:31 pm

    What a fun interview! Kathy, I had to have you point out that her book jacket reads “asking” … no wonder I always lose at Scrabble.

    Thank you so much for sharing your stories, your photo, and yourself 🙂

  31. January 20, 2011 10:13 am

    Wonderful interview!

  32. stacybuckeye permalink
    January 20, 2011 7:58 pm

    I did the door to door thing for a similar group and I lasted a week 🙂

  33. January 20, 2011 10:37 pm

    i’ve been seeing this book (and reading RAVE reviews) everywhere! so cool that you scored an interview with the author. (i made pact with myself to do more interviews in 2011 and have some lined up already!) Amy seems honest and generous with her time, so i’m off to see if i can get her book on kindle! loved your questions, kathy!

  34. January 22, 2011 5:01 pm

    Great interview Kathy. I always enjoy learning more about authors!

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