It is no secret that A. S. King is one of our favorite people here at Book Riot. And we have new cause for celebration: her new book, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, came out Oct. 14th! In it, a teen deals with graduation, life choices, and her father, while experiencing visions of a frightening future. We had a chance to chat with King by email recently, and holy cats, she had some amazing, crazy-smart things to tell us!
A.S. King! How the hell are ya?
Liberty Hardy! How could I be anything but fan-freaking-tastic with you here?
But more specifically, life’s been a bit hectic. Nothing I’m not used to, but I feel I need a break on a distant island all by myself for a few months. I would read a lot of books and swim. If I got bored doing either of these things, I would chop wood with a machete and make large fires and dance naked around them while screaming unutterable things. But yes. Hello. I’m fine, thank you.
How did you come up with the idea for Glory O’Brien?
I was presenting a revision workshop in a school in Omaha, Nebraska. I asked the students to free write something and while they wrote, I wrote. The prologue to Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future was what I wrote. When I read it to them, they asked me to write more so they could find out what happens. Now that all sounds cute and packaged, but those two days were more than just a revision workshop. In a way, that week revised me.
See, the students had never been given the opportunity in school to free write before. (Insert gasp here. Sadly this is something I hear from students all over the country. State standardized tests force teachers to focus more on test prep than free writing.) They told me this after I’d read their work and discussed it with them one-on-one and found out the work was 90% truth posing as fiction. Because their stories were so heavy–laced with everything from death to abuse to shame to survival–I had to ask them “Hey, what’s up with this? How come you shared so much personal stuff with me?” first thing on day two. That’s when they told me that no one had ever asked them to write from their heart before. And it got me thinking about those articles I’d read about how young adult fiction is too dark, too profane, too whatever, and it reaffirmed my belief that teenagers deserve the truth because they’re already living that truth. So, in repayment to them for their honesty, I started to write the book inside the next month. Now that all sounds cute and packaged, but there’s more.
In 2004, when I first moved back to America, I wrote an adult book called Why People Take Pictures. (If you’ve read Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future then this title seems familiar to you.) The book was about a woman in her mid-thirties who was convinced she was going to die, her husband, her three-year-old daughter, and a mummified bat. I loved the book, and it did the rounds of NYC editors, but it never sold. It did have quite a few plot-advancing cryptograms and crossword puzzles in it which editors found too weird and at 55k words, adult editors said it was too short. (Imagine what they’d say about Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions now, right?) So, when I started writing Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, I realized as Glory described her mother that her mother was the main character in Why People Take Pictures and she, Glory, was the three-year-old from that book, only now she was eighteen. I had never meant to resurrect any part of an old book, but it seemed it was just the way Glory was leading me so I went along with her because she seemed like an interesting person and I like to follow interesting people.
There is a lot of heavy stuff in this book: Suicide, depression, slut-shaming, not to mention Glory’s vision of the future. For starters, why did you choose to have the mother commit suicide?
I’m so glad I already described where the book came from because now you know that Glory’s mother was already obsessed with death from my description of Why People Take Pictures. More specifically, the character was obsessed with suicide ever since she developed a picture of a man who’d shot his head off with a shotgun. This experience was from my real life—I developed that picture and printed 72 pictures of that scene at work when I was 22 years old. On top of that, Glory’s mother had other very complicated issues. Most of all, she never felt she belonged on the planet. In short, Glory’s mother was wrestling with depression. Sometimes suicide is the outcome for people who suffer from depression. In this case, Glory’s mother’s experience had that sad outcome.
I think it’s interesting how we judge people who struggle with depression in our society. I think it’s sad how we judge them after death. I think we don’t understand the mark it leaves on families when we judge. Note: I’m not talking about the mark that suicide leaves on families, but the mark that we, the society who judges, leaves on those families. It’s not nice what we say about suicide or depression. Go find any comment trail under the articles about recent celebrity suicide and you’ll see what I mean. But more specifically to the book, I didn’t choose to have Glory’s mother commit suicide, the same as Glory didn’t choose to have a mother who committed suicide, the same as Glory’s mother didn’t really choose to commit suicide. Depression killed her mother. It kills a lot of people around the world every day. We, as a society just seem to have less giveashit for the pain that depression causes, than say, a lot of other diseases.
As for any other heavy stuff, I’m A.S. King. I write heavy stuff because I’ve seen heavy stuff and I don’t shy away because teens see heavy stuff all the time. If I shied away from it, then I wouldn’t be writing real books. It’s just how I roll. I roll with the character and Glory took me on this journey and how could I jump off that train, man? I couldn’t.
What do you think about the crazypants backward steps the country has taken the past couple years regarding women and their rights?
I’ll be honest. I try not to think about it. When I was younger, I’d do things. I’d argue, I’d protest, I’d talk about it. Now, I stick to one thing that might do some good. I help run The Vagina Monologues in my hometown so we can raise money for victims of rape and sexual abuse and fund initiatives to get perpetrators against the very young into prisons…which rarely happens.
I am still a believer in the original feminism. You know the one—the one that simply wanted equal social, political, and economic rights for women. I love men. I love other women. I love people. I don’t think feminism means we have to hate anyone and I have yet to meet a feminist who thinks this. But the word got muddied along the way. People started taking sides. Here’s a story: I once worked with a woman who claimed that a co-worker wasn’t a “real” feminist because that co-worker wore lipstick. At the time, I didn’t shave my legs, but this finger-pointing woman did, so in trying to make my point that feminists don’t have a rulebook, I said, “But you shave your legs.” She said, “You would too if you were Greek.” My point in telling this story is: Look at the absurdity.
I’ve never understood women pitted against other women when we all have a common cause. Free and equal. Free and equal. That’s all I want to see. And as long as the government has people working in it who try to restrict women’s lives based on their own personal beliefs while not working to put more than 1-3% of toddler rapists in prison, I really can’t think about it.
For the record, I respect personal beliefs—if you don’t want a right, then don’t use that right. Plenty of people don’t vote, plenty of people don’t drink at 21, or own firearms based on their own personal beliefs. If someone isn’t into women’s equality, then they can refrain from putting their name on the deed to their house, ask their boss to pay them fifty-nine cents on the man’s dollar (oh snap—that’s still the going rate in my home county) and stop using birth control or wearing pants. That’s fine with me. But the minute someone’s personal beliefs start messing with my rights that are protected under law, they are overstepping. And while we all argue about these already-protected rights, toddler rapists roam free and we don’t seem to give a flying fuck.
So, what do I think? I think we live in a crazypants world. I think we always lived in a crazypants world. I think war is crazypants. I think politics are crazypants. I think pretty much everything on Earth is crazypants. But moving backward is something we could avoid if there was more respect and tolerance and understanding and education. Sadly, the older I get, the less I see of these things. The “news” isn’t helping. The growing divisiveness of our culture is going to eat us all for breakfast one day. Or maybe it already has. I’m not sure. I try not to think about it.
How hopeful are you about the future, and what’s at the top of your list for things you’d like to see change in the world?
Let me tell you. Writing a book that parodies the future of women’s rights only to have some of those parodied ideas show up in the news before the book even comes out is a trip.
I am a realist, but I have hope. I have no idea why I have hope, and I’m sure as hell not going to credit that video I saw on Facebook the other day about the man who picks up the feral cat that no one else would touch with a barge pole.
I think I have hope because it gets me through the day. I believe in potential. I believe that every person who argues has the ability to stop yelling and think about the possibility that the other side of the argument might—just might—be right.
A crazy belief, but I know it can be done. The potential is there. Just most people won’t do it. So instead of hopes or plans or ideas that might work, I have wishes.
I wish that one day, people will simply be nice and respect each other no matter their religion, gender, race, or political leaning.
I wish there was a magic spell that would make us all understand our own privilege.
I wish all kids had a gender-neutral education.
I wish all kids had a gender-neutral childhood.
I wish we could go back to real news three times a day in half-hour helpings rather than made-up news to keep us from changing channels.
I wish we didn’t have such a problem being serious about serious things.
I wish for lovers, not haters.
What’s one piece of advice you have for young people that you know they’ll still have to learn for themselves?
I can’t pick just one. Rules are for rule-followers. I am not a rule-follower. You knew this going into our interview.
1. High school does not define you. (Neither does college.)
2. What people do to you is not your fault.
3. Conforming makes you weaker over time.
4. Only you can make you happy.
And finally: Which one of your books would you most like to see made into a movie? I think I would pick The Dust of 100 Dogs. Geena Davis kinda botched things for badass lady pirates in film, and it needs an awesome revival.
Movie talk is a weird thing for me. I mean, I’d love to see some of my books made into movies, but I write odd, make-you-think books vs. straightforward blockbuster stories. I like odd, make-you-think movies. I like directors who take risks. It’s unfair of me to talk about a book that won’t be out until 2015, but that book, I Crawl Through It, would make a pretty damn cool Wes Anderson film. I’d love to see The Dust of 100 Dogs through Tarantino’s eyes—revenge, a badass woman, gore, and genocide? That’s so up his alley. But mostly I don’t think about movies. I just write books.