Ok. For those of you
living under a rock who haven't been struck dumb by the incredible cover of A.S. King's first YA novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs, here's your chance to look cool at parties. Amy has written a YA book about pirates and dogs.
Once I stopped rending my garments and asking all within earshot why I hadn't thought up this idea, I decided to contact the mind herself and ask all the questions I was dying to ask. You, dear reader, get the fruits of that particular labor. Yay for the Internet! And for generous authors!
In the late seventeenth century, famed teenage pirate Emer Morrisey was on the cusp of escaping the pirate life with her one true love and unfathomable riches when she was slain and cursed with "the dust of one hundred dogs," dooming her to one hundred lives as a dog before returning to a human body-with her memories intact.
Now she's a contemporary American teenager and all she needs is a shovel and a ride to Jamaica.
Possibly the best concept for a novel ever in the history of concepts for novels. I'm just saying.
A.S. King has recently returned from Ireland, where she spent a decade dividing herself between self-sufficiency, teaching adult literacy, and writing novels. Her short fiction has been published in a bunch of cool journals and has been nominated for Best New American Voices 2010.
There's something about pirates...and about dogs...and you've melded those two worlds (both of which I'm totally in love with)...what came first with Dust? Pirates or dogs? Or Saffron? Or some other thing?
Oliver Cromwell came first. Emer’s story was first inspired by Cromwell’s 1649/50 invasion of Ireland. Then Saffron arrived. Then dogs and then pirates.
The cover of The Dust of 100 Dogs is a total knockout. Exactly how much did you plotz when you first saw it?
I plotzed a lot. I’m still plotzing. Not just because it’s beautiful, but because it manages to communicate the premise in a few simple images. It’s just unbelievable. I think I have at least another forty years of plotzing in me for this cover.
Writing a book about a 300 year old character in the 1970s couldn't have been easy... from one historical novelist to another...what was your research process like?
Well, Saffron isn’t really 300 years old. She’s a teenager, dealing with her parents, her brother, school, and all the other complications of teenage life. She just happens to have memories from Emer, who lived 300 years ago, and from the 100 dogs in between. So, writing Saffron was probably the easiest task, because she was born during the same era I was born, in a boring Pennsylvania suburb, just like me. Our lives were nothing alike, thankfully, except that we both, along with every other teenager on the planet, felt an urgent need to escape.
My research was a lot of fun because I actually lived where the Irish parts are set and I was fascinated by the history right in front of me. I had a few local historians offer up their libraries, and I devoured books about the Cromwellian invasion, European history and local history. Cromwell’s letters from the time were captivating as were the few books I managed to find on piracy.
Writing the three-century-old parts was simplified by having a close third person narrator. Technically, it’s Saffron telling you about Emer’s life, the same way she is telling you about the lives of dogs in the Dog Facts and her own first person life as Saffron. That was incredibly helpful. In reality, the dialog in the Irish part of the book would have been in Irish (Gaelic). Obviously, writing it that way wouldn’t have been a great idea. So, having the close (English-speaking) third person narration allowed me to describe the practical history – Cromwell, the weaponry, the daily routines, the journey to Connacht, Tortuga’s slavery, the life of pirates – and omit content that would have bored or confused readers.
The Dust of 100 Dogs is your first foray into YA. How has your experience with the YA literary world differed (if at all) from your experience with the adult literary world?
I’ve found the YA community to be a laid back, genuine and generous one. Because of my similar nature, I feel at home here. On the business side, it’s harder for the adult literary world to take risks on unconventional work, because literary books are a hard sell to start. I find the YA world more open to the unconventional, which is how I landed here, and I’m thankful for that. Still, I wish we could invent a genre for my other books, which are a mix of kooky and heavy, like D100D, but meant for my generation. (You saw it here first, folks. X-lit. Fiction for Slackers.)
You've been an adult literacy teacher...which I think is one of the hardest and most rewarding jobs there is. What's the biggest lesson you learned during your years of teaching older struggling readers?
The smartest people on Earth are the ones who know what they don’t know and want to learn more. The dumbest people on Earth think they know everything and feel they have little to learn. Humility is essential.
In your bio, it says you ran off with the circus. What's the craziest thing you ever saw in or around the Big Top? (Note: If you didn't actually run off with the circus, too bad. You'll have to make a crazy thing up.)
Keeping in mind I ran off with a circus in Ireland, where it rains most of the time, the craziest thing I ever saw on the circus is what it takes to actually run a circus. It’s insane. Over the span of one week, they could move up to six times, breaking down the entire show and dragging themselves, truck by truck, wagon by wagon, out of the deep mud [sometimes with a tractor, and usually in the dark] only to get to the next place, set up the tent (and everything else – generators, wagons, bathrooms, animal areas, etc.), do two or three shows, and break down again. The people I know in circus don’t really sleep. I’ve known hard working people all my life – restaurant owners who work 18 hour days to farmers who can calve 48 hours straight – but Irish circus is the hardest work I’ve ever seen. You have to be crazy to do it.
And, finally, AS King on:
Walk the Plank or Marooned on a Desert Island?
If it was me, I’d choose marooned on a desert island. Then, I could finally bring those five essential books/albums/movies people always ask about.
Irish Literary Heroes:
Beckett or Joyce?
Man's Best Friend:
Shake or Fetch?
Tom Robbins Heroines:
Sissy Hankshaw or Ellen Cherry Charles?
Ooo. That’s tough.
Ellen Cherry Charles, I guess.
No. Sissy Hankshaw. Hmm.
What's that about?
It’s the yummiest thing in the whole world. One time, I hard boiled three eggs that were still warm from the hens, picked fresh corn, blanched it and took it off the cob, mixed the pastry from ground spelt flour and made the freshest corn pie ever. I’ve just drooled on my keyboard thinking about it. Some newer recipes add all sorts of other stuff, but all you really need is fresh corn, hardboiled eggs, and salt and pepper in (and topped with) pie crust. Bake. Serve with hot milk with melted butter. Drool.
For everyone else...find AS King at her website, on the D100D website, and at her blog (where Baxter will be featured soon as part of Wagging on Wednesday!) . I also think she'd appreciate you ordering D100D on Amazon.