The Disrespectful Interviewer: Dissing A.S. King
The Disrespectful Interviewer is a semi-regular feature in which your intrepidly disrespectful correspondent is as rude as she likes with prominent writers of the day.
Lauren Baratz-Logsted: What was it like winning the Booker? And while we’re on the subject of the winning book, can you tell me: Didn’t some intelligent editor ever warn you against the wisdom of writing poetry within the novel?
A.S. King: The closest I’ve come to a Booker is the month I slept beside Midnight’s Children as I read it over and over again.
LBL: Huh. That’s strange. I could have sworn Possession won the Booker at some point. If it didn’t, it must have been because of the aforementioned poetry. Well, then, can you tell us all about your bitter rivalry with your sister, the novelist Margaret Drabble? We love dirt here.
ASK: Uh—the only poetry in any of my books are new lyrics to classic American marches—about the endangered turtles of Southeast Asia.
LBL: Oh! I get it now! You’re not A.S. Byatt—you’re A.S. King! Well, that’s a bit awkward. [throwing away notes] Guess we’ll just have to wing it. Let’s see here . . . [googling like a madwoman] You wrote a novel called The Dust of 100 Dogs. I can understand the ‘dust’ and ‘100’ parts—there’s a great novel by Anita Desai called Heat and Dust and of course 100 is just a terrific all-around number—but why on earth did you pick ‘dogs’?
ASK: I got the idea while walking my dogs. I’d just read a book about Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland, and knew my road was one of the few popular roads between Cashel and Kilkenny at the time. So the dogs mixed with the history, and next thing I knew, I was writing the book.
LBL: Oh, I see. Dogs have some sort of relevance to the story. But if you don’t mind my asking: Why dogs and not cats? Surely, you must know that cats, being superior to dogs, are more naturally connected to the literary world. I mean, you do realize, don’t you, that you can leave a cat home alone for eight days with enough food and the cat will ration it until you come back through the door again but that the dog will eat all the food in one go, throw up all over herself, and then starve to death before you come home?
ASK: If you died, your cat would eat you. (She’d ration you, yes, but she’d eat you.) Your dog wouldn’t. Sorry.
LBL: Maybe you should just tell us what your cat-hating novel is about.
ASK: The Dust of 100 Dogs is about a notorious seventeenth-century pirate who is murdered and cursed with the dust of 100 dogs, which dooms her to one hundred lives as a dog before she can come back as a human again. When she finally reaches her next human life, she has all of her memories intact—including the memories of where she buried her treasure when she was a pirate.
LBL: I see here that The Dust of 100 Dogs is classified as a Young Adult novel. Care to comment on why you didn’t write it as a real book—you know, one for adults?
ASK: Actually, that’s where I started—adult novels. I wrote quite a few of them, too, before I came to realize that my particular brand of storytelling fits more neatly on the young adult shelf. Though the books I write can be enjoyed by anyone over the age of about fourteen and a lot of my fans are adults.
LBL: Now then, part of The Dust of 100 Dogs takes place in Ireland—see? I was only joshing you before when I pretended not to know anything about your book or maybe I just read incredibly fast and managed to cram your book in between questions—and I understand you’ve actually lived in Ireland before. So tell me, what was it like in the I.R.A.?
ASK: Ireland is a lovely place to visit—the people are wonderful and the craic is mighty. I spent over a decade there writing novels, teaching adult literacy and living self-sufficiently on a small farm we restored. They were some of the best years of my life. That said, I love being back in the U.S. It rains less, for one thing.
LBL: Here’s a question I always try to remember to ask as sort of a favor to interviewees. The idea is that if you can get us to feel sorry for you, we’ll like you better and then—who knows?—maybe we’ll even buy your book. What’s the worst review The Dust of 100 Dogs has received? Feel free to go on at length because the worse it is, the sorrier we’ll feel.
ASK: I know this isn’t going to gain me much sympathy, but I don’t read reviews. Because of this, I don’t really have a worst one. But there is one review I will never forget that caught my eye earlier this year: This [book] was kind of gross. I didn't expect it to be so gross. And then it was just boring. The characters were repeaty and boring. Any reviewer who has to make up new words in order to describe why they didn’t like my book gets points, man.
LBL: Wow, that is pretty bad, and I mean baddy bad, not to get all repeaty. But I see you’ve received mostly raves, so perhaps the rare bad one or two don’t bother you too much. Is that the case, or are you ever tempted to tear out a reviewer’s fingernails one by one?
ASK: I haven’t wanted to rip out any fingernails, but maybe on occasion, like my character Emer, I’ve wanted to pluck out an eyeball or two. (Nah. I’m a pacifist.)
LBL: There have been several authors who’ve turned out to be one-hit wonders. Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee are the two that spring most readily to mind. How about you—planning to be a one-hit wonder, or do you have something else up your sleeve?
ASK: I have some things up my sleeves.
LBL: And is that thing up your sleeve scheduled to be published by anyone, or is it going to remain up your sleeve? I’ve had a few of the latter myself. They start to itch after a while.
ASK: PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ is due from Knopf in October 2010. (I just finished the next one, too. It doesn’t have a title yet.)
LBL: Is this new book going to be a real book—you know, one for adults—or is it going to be another one of those YA things?
ASK: Another YA thing.
LBL: Is there some reason you like to write YA books?
ASK: I find that young adult readers, for the most part, welcome my weirdness. And they’re smart and open-minded and can accept new things. Oh, and they seem to get my sick sense of humor. Plus, it’s rewarding being in classrooms again, using fiction to talk about realities that are sometimes hard to talk about.
LBL: Yes, I suppose I can see where that would be rewarding. Moving on to some of our more standard questions . . . I’ve just shoved you out of my helicopter—OK, I don’t have a helicopter and no one would ever let me fly one anyway, so this is mostly just pretend—and you land on a desert island. Which book, excluding mine, would you beg me to toss after you so you’d have something to read?
ASK: Oh I hate this question. It’s always a toss-up between something like the dictionary/cyclopedia or Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut or Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.
LBL: Assuming you’re like the rest of us poor schmucks who didn’t sell the first book we ever wrote, just how many books did you write before selling The Dust of 100 Dogs?
ASK: About seven.
LBL: Would you ever like to see any of those trunk novels published? And if so, which one(s)?
ASK: Not really. I think of those novels and the twelve years it took to write them as the work required to become good enough to do what I do now. Some people take more time. Some people take less time.
LBL: I understand one of your daughters loves The Sisters 8 series for young readers that I created with my family. That must be nice for you, having a daughter who loves my books—yes?
ASK: Oh yes. It’s amazing.
LBL: Well, just think: In a few years you can get her started reading one of your books, perhaps DUST OF 100 CATS. Do you think she’d like it?
ASK: I do. I think she’d love it. She’s strong-willed, like the characters in the book. (The kind of girl who’d tell you that the title is The Dust of 100 Dogs.)
LBL: Still no plans to write a real book?
LBL: How about one with cats then?
ASK: I’m highly allergic.
LBL: Is there anything else you’d care to say before I pull the plug? I’d really love to stay and chat, but “General Hospital” is on in ten minutes and it’s been so good lately. I keep wondering when Lucky is going to find out his fiancé is sleeping with his brother.
ASK: There’s a character on GH called “Lucky”? (There’s a kid in my next book called Lucky. He’s probably ten times cooler than GH’s Lucky, though, because he’s part psychological squid and part chef turtle.)
LBL: (I’m sure your Lucky is fine as far as squid-turtles go but please don’t knock the GH Lucky. It’s a fine enough name for a kid but can be burdensome for an adult unless your last name’s Luciano.) This is the part where, if I weren’t so disrespectful, I’d thank you for your time and say I hope this was as good for you as it was for me. But I’m not going to say any of that. I didn’t say it to Jon Clinch two weeks ago—did you know that Finn isn’t about sharks???—and I’m certainly not going to say it to you.
ASK: I’m one of those annoyingly mannerly people who will say thanks for having me, even if you don’t. (I think Clinch’s Finn is one of the more important books of the 21st century. But yes—I was, at first, surprised by its lack of sharks as well.) So—thanks very much for having me, Lauren. I adored every minute of this interview!
Win a free copy of Lauren’s Sisters 8 series! We will be giving away a copy of the first four books in Lauren's Sisters 8 series (Annie’s Adventures; Durinda’s Dangers; Georgia’s Greatness; Jackie’s Jokes) to this week’s lucky winner. These books are appropriate for readers ages 6-10. To enter, send us an e-mail with your name. That’s it. For this drawing, all names received on or before Friday, December 11 will be entered, and the winner’s name will be drawn that evening. We will notify the winner over the weekend. Only one entry per person, please. There is no obligation, and your name and address will not be used for any purpose other than mailing the books.
Lauren Baratz-Logsted has sold 20 books to six publishers since 2003. Her published novels include The Thin Pink Line and Vertigo for adults; Angel’s Choice for teens, Me, In Between for tweens; and the first five of The Sisters 8, a nine-book series for young readers, co-written with her novelist husband Greg Logsted and their nine-year-old daughter Jackie. Her next published book will be the YA novel Crazy Beautiful, due out in September. Lauren still lives in Danbury, CT, where she writes and reads pretty much all the time. You can read more about Lauren's life and work at her personal website and the Sisters 8 site. Contact Lauren.