The Writer’s Middle Finger: Part Five (by A.S. King)

PhotobucketToday’s guest is YA novelist A.S. King, who has a new novel out today called PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ–a Junior Library Guild selection for Fall 2010. Kirkus–traditionally the hardest to please of all the top-shelf reviewers–gave PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ a starred review, calling it “A harrowing but ultimately redemptive tale of adolescent angst gone awry.” King’s debut novel, THE DUST OF 100 DOGS was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, an Indie Next Pick For Teens and a Cybils award finalist. Her work has been described as fiction for teens that “can trump similar novels for adults.”

Recently returned from Ireland, where she spent about a decade dividing herself between self-sufficiency, breeding rare poultry, teaching literacy, and writing novels, she now lives deep in the Pennsylvania woods with her husband and children. Her next YA novel, EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, is due from Little, Brown in Fall 2011.

Sounds like a busy person, right? Maybe crazy-busy? That’s kind of the point of her post–a new addition to her Writer’s Middle Finger series. Don’t know what we’re talking about? Read on, and enjoy!

The Writer’s Middle Finger: Part Five
(Middle Finger Deathmatch:
Maintaining Control
Going Completely Insane)

I used to think: When I finally become a published writer, I will be mellow. I didn’t want to freak out or be stressed. I took my trusty writer’s middle finger and flipped off the idea of being pressured. “Up yours pressure! You can’t catch me! I am too mellow!” I did this because I lived the life of a very very very mellow person for a very very very long time. I wrote on my own terms. I grew that writer’s middle finger. And I vowed to never let publishing change me.

That said, I am an admitted workaholic. I work my ass off. Usually past midnight. Every night. I didn’t come here to fail. It didn’t work seventeen years to shrug and leave it up to the gods of publishing. I raise the finger. “Up yours gods of publishing! You can’t decide my fate! I’m gonna do whatever it takes to beat your insane odds!”

So, yeah. 2010 was the year of the Middle Finger Deathmatch. Who would win? Control or Insanity?

Ah, the Illusion of Control
I used to have a schedule. Not for life. I can’t schedule life. I have little kids who vomit whenever they want to and need to have up-to-date immunizations. But my writing life? Was scheduled. It was scheduled so I was always one book ahead. Even though I can’t write full-time, I stayed the course. On track. Always. One. Book. Ahead.

It worked out great for a while. I sold The Dust of 100 Dogs and then the minute it was sold, I started writing Please Ignore Vera Dietz. And right after I sold that, I started the next project, Everybody Sees the Ants. I was on schedule. Things were in control. I was mellow. But then the last year of my life happened. And at the end of it, I had a new agent, a new publisher and I was no longer on schedule. Fact is, for a few months there, I didn’t even know my own name. My career was wonderful and my life was wonderful, but GASP! I was now completely out of control. I was off course. Not mellow.

The Beauty of Insanity
Once you go completely insane, you can act really weird and no one seems to think that’s out of place. And you don’t have to brush your hair or wear “appropriate” clothing. You can ramble. I’m still learning how to do this. I’m juggling way too much and I can barely keep track of what the hell I’m doing without verbally reminding myself all the time. Sadly, others have to live through this, too.

OTHERS: So, what are you working on?

ME: (eyes dart around room, eye contact at 5% maximum) Well, I’m about 30k into my next book (#4) that I want done before the new year (that should have been done last May as far as I’m concerned) and I’m working on edits for my next book for Fall 2011…they’re due in 31 hours and 8 minutes and I’m about to release the next book in 11 days and I have two other ideas I’m working on for the books after #4 as well as two secret projects that are not YA. And I’m still toying with two of my adult novels. Oh. And there are 77 unanswered emails in my inbox and I have to write about 12 interviews and essays in the next fortnight for promoting the new book and I have to go on a mini-tour in about three weeks that I can’t afford but I’m doing it anyway. Oh shit. And I forgot to wash my good jeans. Dammit. (Rummages through purse to find neon pink post-it note. Writes WASH GOOD JEANS on it and sticks it to her chest.)


It’s pretty clear who won the Middle Finger Deathmatch. And frankly, I can’t figure why I ever put my hard-earned money on maintaining control. Maybe it’s because I’m type A. (After 40 years of denying this, I am admitting it here. Applaud please. It will save me thousands in therapy costs.) Maybe I really believed that I could always stay one book ahead. Maybe there really are people out there who can do that. But for me, Middle Finger Deathmatch has proved I am not one of them.

The Best Part
Being completely insane is fun. It helps me exercise that middle finger even more than I did in the beginning. Being insane helps me flip off the parts of this business that are a major drag. Now I don’t have time to reason with bad advice or those silly people who complain about how I write books with the word fuck in them. Yes. I do. Now go away. I have things to do, vomit to clean up, and apparently, I have to relearn geometry because since when did they move it to third grade math? And then I have to…

Readers, please do not ignore PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ. Click HERE to learn more about it. And if you missed King’s previous Writer’s Middle Finger posts, you can find them on her Red Room blog, HERE.



  1. says

    Wow. I’m exhausted just reading that! A nice reminder that–no matter how desperately some of us are chasing the publishing dream–we should savor the time when life was mellow.

  2. says

    “After 40 years of denying this, I am admitting it here. Applaud please. It will save me thousands in therapy costs.”

    LOL. [applause]

    Sounds like a beautifully wonderfully exhaustingly hectic happy life. :) Maybe I should start exercising my middle fingers now, because that’s exactly how I want to be living too.

  3. says

    Oh, this was fabulous! I was flexing my middle finger the entire time I was reading, and it is now loose and limber for my own Deathmatch.

    That question of, “So, what are you working on now?” gets me every time. Must I answer truthfully?

  4. says

    I love it! Ms. King may be Type A, but she certainly hasn’t lost her sense of humor. Anyone who can write candidly about their children’s puke is going to get their book bought — by me! :)

  5. says

    Ah, Ms. King, we are sooo much alike! Puke-stained rugs, the illusion of control. But it’s all good, and congrats on the success. As my husband says to me, “Just TRY to enjoy it.” I do, for a moment, but then I’m thinking about the next book, the next thing. But the writer’s life is indeed a wonderful life, mellow or not. :)

  6. says

    Oh, I am having my year of the Middle Finger Deathmatch, too! After always staying one book ahead. Yes, very familiar! Hopefully I’ll come out of it deciding that being insane is fun. :-)

  7. Evalyn says

    “children who can vomit any time they want to” as opposed to those of us so busy we have to schedule when to vomit. I have a post-it around here somewhere . . .

  8. says

    Oh, I’m laughing. Thank you. This makes me feel so much better about the pile of papers on my desk, the dust bunnies under the dining room table and the awful, awful sweat pants I’m wearing with my horrid bedroom slippers.

  9. says

    Whatever you’re doing, however you’re doing it, keep it up. I’m a third of the way through Vera, and it’s freaking brilliant.

  10. says

    Ms. King, I have wanted to “meet” you since I discovered your post on grooming the middle finger some time ago. It’s been a source of great comfort to me.

    Perhaps you can make time on your tour to come to Alberta, Canada. We— well, I ramble most excellently and would be pleased to give you lessons. Also, we have a goodly supply of manure; just the thing, I’m told, for growing certain digits.

  11. says

    Thank you so much for all the comments! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and Therese,thank you for having me and for saying such sweet things on launch day about my Vera! And an update, PW gave VERA a star for her birthday. Wasn’t that nice?

    Thanks again for all your support. And Jan, when I get to Alberta, we will sit and chat!!

  12. says

    W00t for the star, Amy! Congrats again on your release, and thanks for a post that made me laugh — and that I could identify with more than I’d like to admit.

  13. says

    Chiming in late (as usual) but I’m a little in love with A.S. and her middle finger. Keep flipping the metaphorical bird, because I laughed so hard over this post and am hugging it super tight rn.