Missed part 1 of my interview with YA author A.S. King? Click HERE, then come back. Her debut novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs isn’t your average high-concept book (teenage pirate cursed to live the lives of 100 dogs before returning to a human body with all of her memories intact…including where the treasure is buried), it’s a story with complex, interwoven narratives and nearly as many layers as the floor of the deep blue sea.
Today, we talk about pushing the boundaries of Young Adult literature, A.S.’s fabu website and book trailer, using song lyrics to inspire characterizations, and more.
Interview with A.S. King: Part 2
Q: My guess is that a lot of people will argue over whether yours is a true YA novel-because it’s dark and mouthy and authentically pirate. What do you say to those critics? Who do you see as your target audience? And do you think the book will appeal to adults as well as adolescents?
ASK: I think The Dust of 100 Dogs has a wide audience. I think Andrew Karre, my acquiring editor at Flux, said it best when he said that it’s “a book that would be many things to many people.” I didn’t know there was a YA genre when I started writing this book, and though I’ve read a few YA books since landing here, I still don’t aim for the YA airstrip. (Though I really don’t believe YA = one type of writing/plot/cover/story.) But as to whether its characters speak to teens? I think they do.
I’m not sure what to say to those people who want to “soften” all literature for teenagers. I think they’re overlooking the fact that teenagers have great brains and much more experience than the world gives them credit for. I have equal trouble understanding the call to wipe out challenging literature for teens, because as a teen reader, it’s what I craved the most. Plus, I’ve never appreciated the dumbing-down of anything.
Q: What do you see as the most challenging aspect of storytelling? Conversely, what comes easily to you?
ASK: Endings drive me up the wall. I don’t outline and I tend to write really engaging first drafts right up to the end…but for some reason, it takes me about five or six tries to get the ending right. Beginnings come very easily to me, though, which really is a blessing. I tend to have the first chapter for the next book written halfway through the book I’m working on, so I rarely have a stare-at-a-blank-page-and-cry day.
Q: You have a fabulous website and book trailer. Let’s just pause a sec and watch the trailer, shall we?
Q: I love that. What other promotion efforts did you decide on?
ASK: I was very fortunate on both the website and the trailer. I owe both to two very generous and talented friends. I feel online presence is a great thing. I know it has certainly brought people my way who would have never heard of me. I have two very young kids and I run a business in my real life, and I don’t have gobs of time, so I chose promo efforts that wouldn’t be too time-sucking. I feel I’m not great at blogging about current events and my opinions – but I love running fun writing contests and challenging people to write cool things. So, I made that the hook of my blog and I get a great turnout for my competitions. After that, I have a few events planned at local book stores. I try to reach out to my independent booksellers because I think they are the unsung heroes of many authors who would have never found a shelf. I also am really looking forward to reaching out to high school students now. I worked as a literacy teacher for many years and miss the energy of classroom interaction.
Q: What have you found to be the most effective ways to reach out to indie booksellers and support them? (Is there an indie organization all authors should know about?)
ASK: Indiebound has a great new site here: http://www.indiebound.org/
I reach out to my indies by going to see them and asking them for book recommendations, and buying books in their shops and sending as much business as I can their way.
Q: What was the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
ASK: If a sentence does not illuminate your characters in some way or move the story along, cut it out. (Sloppily paraphrased Vonnegut.)
Q: Who are your inspirations? Which books have a permanent place on your shelf?
ASK: You know, in the last weeks I’ve done a few interviews and people always ask for literary inspirations – and I answer accordingly – Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Tom Robbins, Salman Rushdie, Rumi, Walt Whitman and so many more. But you know what? This book – and all my books – are as inspired by great authors as they are by my favorite musicians. The Dust of 100 Dogs was most inspired by Bob Marley – who has inspired me since I was seventeen. I could give you exact Marley lyrics to fit each character in the book perfectly. This was no accident.
But back to books. God Bless You Mr. Rosewater and Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, The Lorax by Dr. Seuss, Animal Farm by George Orwell, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip Dick, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I really could continue this list long into the night.
Q: I love the Bob Marley inspiration! Did the idea for the characters come first, or did the lyrics really give rise to the characters? And, if you’re up for it, I’d love an example of marrying lyrics to character.
ASK: I’d say a bit of both. I was listening to two particular albums during the writing of it, and they rubbed off. What I like about these two examples I’m about to give is that they can be used for several characters at different times in the book, so they aren’t completely married specifically to only one character.
Only a fool leans upon his own misunderstanding.
Don’t gain the world and lose your soul.
Q: What’s next for you?
ASK: I’ve just finished another YA novel called Ignore Vera Dietz and I’m presently hard at work on the one after that, which is another mix of historical and contemporary – and includes a few of my favorite subjects, so I am really excited!
Q: What can you tell us about the fabulously intriguing Ignore Vera Dietz? Same genre? Also a historical/contemp blend?
ASK: Well, Ignore Vera Dietz is the same brand of mixed POV with odd bits thrown in structurally, but it’s not at all like D100D. I’m not sure anything could be. I remember when writing the book that it felt like a whole different beast than anything I’ve ever written. It still does.
Q: Finally…Rusty the dog was the real hero of your book, in this dog lover’s opinion. Who might he have been, in a former life? And will that particular salty dog live happily ever after?
ASK: I am so glad you mentioned this. I like to think that Rusty is a larger part of this book than some have so far realized. Isn’t it Rusty, after all, who helps young Saffron find what she’s looking for? As for who he might be – I’m leaving that to you. I’ve heard several theories. But I do believe he lives happily ever after, and can be found at Winston’s feet, gnawing on something yummy.
Thanks so much, A.S. King, for a great interview!
Readers, you can buy The Dust of 100 Dogs online or at bricks and mortar bookshops around the country. Check out the Indie Store Finder to find an independent bookseller near you.