Hello, contemp readers! If any of you out there in the blogosphere happen to follow me on Twitter, then you know that over this past week, I've been reading--and LOVING--PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ, the newest release from A.S. King. It's voicey and quirky and elegant and moving and basically all things awesome books are made of. Seriously.
Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.
So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
I first learned about A.S.'s (or Amy, to her pals) writing when I signed my contract with Flux books for my novel, So Punk Rock. Her first book, The Dust of 100 Dogs, was a huge seller for them. Readers couldn't get enough of her historical story laced with undertones of supernatural mystique. So what I wanted to know was, how did Amy make the leap from writing the fantastic to writing, well...FANTASTIC realism? Lucky for me (and you!), she was happy to take some time out of her book tour to answer a few questions. Here's what she had to say:
1. I personally fell in love with the voices in DOGS and VERA DIETZ, and in particular I loved how strong and convincing they both were despite one being, as I saw it, historical and supernatural, and one being contemporary. I was shocked to hear you explain that you didn't see DOG'S reincarnation angle as supernatural per se. Was my reaction unique, or were there others who also inferred an element of magic/fantasy? Were you surprised when the book was labeled as supernatural/fantasy?
I was surprised anyone saw the book as a fantasy book. Historical, I could understand, but I've never written a fantasy book in my life. (I don't read it, either. Can't get my head around it at all.) I dabble a bit in magic realism, sure, but I always called DOGS "Part Historical, Part Contemporary, Part Dog Training Guide." I think the only thing beyond the reincarnation that felt fantastic was the curse--the dust of 100 dogs--but again, that's more a religious voodoo thing that some people in some parts of the world just might believe in. Now--did it surprise me that in a country where Christianity is more popular than Buddhism that people would consider anything relating to reincarnation as "fantastic"? No. I get that a lot. Of course, if the tables were turned, and I mean no offense, but that whole immaculate conception/rising from the dead thing could seem a little supernatural and fantastic, right?
2. What were some of the differences in your writing process when writing contemporary vs. historical fiction?
I think the most difficult difference between historical and contemporary is the attention to historical detail and the double-edged sword of research material. I tend to doubt a lot of history books due to the fact that they were written by the victors. And in a lot of cases, in relation to Cromwell in Ireland, I read two completely different versions of what happened. This is very similar to the famine "history" most know to be true: that the Irish died during the famine solely because of the potato blight. What most people haven't read is that at the same time as those humans were dying by the hundreds of thousands, the English Cavalry horses were living right next to them, eating freshly harvested oats...harvested by the very Irish who were dying. I've seen the lists of food that was grown during the time in Ireland--tons of edible perfect food exported. So...is it really the potato blight that killed all those people? That's why I loved writing the historical parts of D100D. Because every story has two sides. In a way, I guess that's the way I like to write my contemporary fiction as well.
3. What do you love about reading/writing contemporary, realistic fiction? What draws you to it as an author? What are some of your favorite contemporary YA writers/novels?
I've always loved the truth. I've always been a heavy babe. I scare people who avoid talking about serious things. I tend to have magic realism in most of my books because it allows me to stay in a completely realistic world and still explore bizarre things through this great poetic medium of imaginary reality. Metaphors. Daydreams come to life. The way we escape in times of shock or surprise. I do this because I talk about some heavy realistic stuff in my books. And as someone who has experienced shock a few times, I know how the brain works while in shock, and what it does afterward--how it patches things together so that the world is okay even though it totally isn't. You survive.
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4. Where did the character of Vera Dietz come from? We've got a few books dealing with loss of a peer on our Contemps release roster. Why do you think death and loss are such powerful, resonant topics for young adults in particular?
Vera Dietz's main struggle is having her friend die after he screwed her over. That part of Vera came from me.
I think death is a powerful topic for kids because death remains one of the hardest things for people to talk about. And I mean all ages. Ask anyone who's lost someone and they will tell you that they feel like some people are avoiding them. It's weird, but it's just one of those things. Humans all have to die, and yet, when we do, we make other people awfully uncomfortable about it. And I think exploring death through a teen's eyes is a great way to have it be as raw and real as it really is, because as we grow older we sugarcoat everything and try to make it fit into these adult compartments.
So, there you have it. I'm totally fascinated by the idea of reincarnation as a belief system, rather than a suspension of disbelief, and I absolutely concur that the best thing about writing for and about teens is the emotional authenticity of that age level. I totally dig that Amy does not pull any punches for herself or for her readers.
Thanks to Amy for stopping by, and for those of you who love a little audio-visual on your Spotlight Wednesdays, check out the sidebar on her "info" page for some reader reviews of DOGS!
Happy Wednesday, and happy reading, folks!