Friday, September 7, 2012


     As I've said before, I think A.S. King is one of the most challenging and rewarding authors for young adults currently writing.  No tricks, no gimmicks, just unflinching looks at real people with real problems.
In the words of her bio, she "is the author of the highly acclaimed EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, a 2012 ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and Andre Norton Award Nominee, and the Edgar Award nominated, 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book, PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ.  She is also the author of the ALA Best Books for Young Adults DUST OF 100 DOGS and the upcoming ASK THE PASSENGERS (October 2012).  After a decade of living self-sufficiently and teaching literacy to adults in Ireland, she now lives deep in the Pennsylvania woods with her husband and children."

     Here is our interview:


 *Minor Spoilers Included!* 

 1. Astrid sends her love skyward to anonymous airplane passengers out of desperation, but eventually she figures out that she has more in common with them than she’d ever realized. She’s pinned in place just as much as they are. None of Astrid’s questions that she floats out to the passengers ever get answered, but maybe it’s the questions themselves that matter, huh? What is it you’d want your readers to “ask the passengers?” 

 Yours are detailed questions, so I’m going to try and give detailed answers. (I love detailed questions. So, thank you.) I want to clarify something before we get started on this answer. Astrid isn’t really asking the passengers questions. It’s very important to note that Astrid is sending her love to the passengers. And not really out of desperation, either. My characters tend not to be desperate. Usually, they are practical people who are dealing with questions the way we all ask questions.

 So, the short answer is: I don’t want my readers to ask the passengers anything. But I do want my readers to see that giving love to random strangers is a good way to approach life. In the case of her loving people in her life who treat her poorly—turning the other cheek, if you will—this is another message of tolerance and love that I very much want to come through in the book.

 Astrid does pose questions to the passengers, but really she is asking herself the questions. So, yes, the questions do matter when it comes to those parts. But the sending of love matters more. I do love the idea of Astrid being pinned in place. This is true. For all of us. Except that we can choose to unpin ourselves. And so, Astrid, through her soul-searching will learn to unpin herself from the misconception that we all must be pinned.

 So the long answer is: I would like readers to ask the passengers (themselves) how they can unpin themselves from their beliefs. This doesn’t mean we have to do a 180 and become other people…but it does mean that maybe acceptance and tolerance and understanding would be a more attainable goal if only we asked ourselves more questions vs. knowing all the answers.

 2. I found it interesting that you chose to begin the book at a point when Astrid and Dee had already gotten past the baby steps of their relationship and Astrid had accepted the fact that she liked kissing another girl. Did you ever consider moving your starting point back a little, back to when Astrid hadn’t ever done anything more to explore her sexuality than wonder about it? 

 This is a very short answer. No. I think it’s shown quite clearly how this relationship came about and how she feels about it. The questioning wasn’t something she did before the relationship started. Only after. That’s mentioned several times in the narrative. Also, I find a lot of backstory upfront is a really marvelous way to bore readers.

 3. So. Frank Socrates. Astrid really has to look far, far beyond the inaptly-named Unity Valley to find a functional adult, let alone a mentor or a role model. Has it been your experience that small towns can really be as deadly as all that? Or is it adults in general that so routinely fail the teenagers around us? 

 I think you and I must see role models differently. ☺ Frank Socrates is not the only role model Astrid has. Not even at a stretch. Sure, she talks to him because of his role in her Humanities class, but in real life, she has a teacher, many friends and students and even her parents as role models. Sure, her mother is a horror show, but her mother also teaches her things like all mothers do. Even not-so-great ones. Her father is very supportive. He may be stoned all the time, but he’s still a very close ally to Astrid and it’s very helpful to her.

 I think Unity Valley is a perfect name for Unity Valley. The inhabitants there are all very happy living in the world they live in…as long as everything there fits into their idea of what Unity Valley represents. I didn’t think the town was “deadly.” I think it was small-minded and gossipy. I think any town that runs on that much gossip is a sometimes-scary place to be. Especially if you have a secret.

I think some adults fail teenagers. The biggest way, and my personal pet peeve, is the adult who thinks all teenagers are dramatic and despairing. They roll their eyes when the word teenager is even spoken. They think all teens are doing things with some urgent, hormonal, melodramatic emotion and forget that some teens have already lived through more than some adults have.

I think adults underestimate teens a lot. I think they are in protect mode long after teens have heard or seen the things that adults want to protect them from. I think there is a general disconnect, for sure. But not adults fit into this box. And not all teens do, either.

4. Astrid’s friends Kristina and Justin don’t fit into the boxes people put them in, but they’ve done a very credible job of pretending that they do, while secretly pursuing their own lives. Do you think it’s possible to choose to live a lie and yet still be relatively well-adjusted? Why or why not? 

 That’s a great question. I don’t know. If I look at my work over the last 20 years, most of my adult characters who are hiding or lying are pretty messed up. So I guess I think that if your inside knows the truth and your outside hasn’t quite come to terms with it, that can cause a lot of problems in a human being. That said, most of the people I know who have been through what Astrid (or Justin and Kristina) has been through were hiding it while they lived in their small towns and could only come out once they left. They are all very well-adjusted. Kristina and Justin do what they do to get by.

You bring an interesting phrase into this question, also. You say living a lie. In the book, Kristina tells Astrid that she was lying, when really she was questioning…and it was none of Kristina’s business until Astrid was ready to tell her. Questioning isn’t lying. Not fitting into a pre-defined box is not lying. It is what it is. And no one can label anyone else’s experience. In the case of being gay in a place where you will not be accepted, these people are not lying. They are enduring. This, to me, is a completely different thing.

But in general (not relating to sexuality-boxes at all, I mean) I think people who are averse to living in reality have a hard time. Sure, they can get through normal everyday tasks. No one at the grocery store cares whether you are living some decades-old lie about your childhood or something that once happened to you, etc. But I do think that those people will have a very hard time in any intimate relationships—both friendships and long-term romantic relationships. I think a keen sense of reality and a willingness to face it and live in that real world is always a plus.

5. Funny thing: according to your characters, they don’t like to be put into boxes, and according to your interviews, neither do you! What’s your earliest memory of someone trying to put you into a box, and how did that work out for all concerned? What techniques have you learned since then that help you to avoid being pigeonholed? 

 From the moment we are born we are boxed. Girl means something. (Pink?) Boy means something. (Blue?) I was mistaken as a boy for a lot of my childhood due to my pixie cut and comfortable and practical clothing. This actually still happens from time to time because I firmly believe that some people judge gender from the waist down. (I wear men’s jeans and boots, mostly.) But pigeonholing? Still happens. All the time. I mean, it’s just human nature to want to define things so that we can better grasp things based on past definitions we already have loaded into our cranial hard drives.

 My publishers have to market my books. So I am now called a “young adult author” and I am not one. I’m just an author. I write for all age groups. But this is what I am called. There isn’t anything we can do about it in this 24/7 news cycle world, I don’t think. The media is now built entirely on these boxes. So the best way I avoid being pigeonholed is…I don’t watch TV, I don’t read much media and I stay away from most filler-type-articles. It’s a little like watching the Olympics on mute. That way, I can enjoy the amazing talent of athletes and ignore all that chattering, boxing-people nonsense. So, I will always be pigeonholed, but if I avoid watching the pigeonholing, then I don’t really know about it.

Thanks very much for this interview! It was fun.

     Thank you a thousand times over, Amy!  For me, it was so much more
than just fun.  I continue to learn with each interview I do that awesome
authors can also be awesome people who are generous with their time
and advice and willing to pay back some of the help they got when they
were first starting out on this long road to a writer's life.  And from this
particular interview, I learned that even a huge fan and careful reader (me)
 can see things entirely differently than the writer (A.S. King) and fail to
understand much of what she's trying to get across.  The moral, I think, is
 that reading is an interactive process.  What the reader brings to the table -
her own life experiences, biases and expectations - will color what lessons
she derives from a book.  I've thought about it and decided that this is a
good thing.  It's all part of the magic and mystery of literature.
     A.S. KING, YOU ARE INCREDIBLE!  I hope you have a fabulous
book tour (details on her website)!
     And, fellow readers,  awesome pleasures await you if you follow her
blog and, who knows?  maybe even join her posse!
     Thanks for visiting!

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