Welcome to the Literary Road Trip and my Spotlight On . . . A.S. King. I am excited to feature A.S. as a Pennsylvania author for the LRT project. If you aren't familiar with her The Dust of 100 Dogs, be sure to see my teaser post from yesterday. My review will be coming up sometime in the next few weeks.
I asked A.S. if Pennsylvania had any influence on her journey to becoming a published author.
When I left Pennsylvania for Ireland in 1993, I claimed I couldn't take the summer heat anymore. After a year in Berks County, we were living in a 13th-floor apartment in center city Philadelphia with no air-conditioning. Irish summers are not nearly as hot, and on the flip side, there is rarely any snow or ice in winter. That alone, after a summer of sweltering heat (and a winter of digging my car out of its space) was worth it for me. Plus, I'd been to Ireland a few times because my husband is from Dublin, and I'd fallen in love with the place. It's beautiful and the people were laid back, and I felt I needed a break from the hustle and bustle of my two-job life.
I spent over a decade in Ireland. When I first arrived, I learned that I wasn't allowed to work without special papers that were hard to come by. I was a photo lab technician at the time. There were plenty of Irish photo lab technicians, and frankly, I hated the job anyway. I was left with a lot of spare time—something a Pennsylvania Dutch workaholic doesn't get very often! And so, I decided I'd pursue my dream of writing. During my two years in Dublin, I wrote three novels. I found a supportive writing group, and loved every minute of it.
We decided to move to the countryside and bought a near-derelict farm in Tipperary that needed a lot of love. It seemed like the perfect place to continue writing. We became self-sufficient, and grew our own food and raised chickens, and we lived poor for many years. It was the best time of my life. I learned a lot about a million things—how to build and wire and plumb, breed chickens, garden like my life depended on it. I learned what it was like to live without one thing from the outside world, and it's a feeling of freedom I still can't explain. Most of all, I learned to write better books.
The funny thing is: the more I lived away from home, the more I appreciated where I came from. When sweet corn wouldn't grow in the cool damp climate, I erected a tunnel to grow it in, and called it "my little Pennsylvania" and spent far too much time absorbing the wet heat I'd once claimed was "awful!" I made fresh corn pies from just-picked corn and just-laid eggs. I made chicken pot pie from my chickens, and dough from freshly ground grains. On the 4th of July every year, I flew my American flag because I never appreciated the true meaning of independence until I understood what other countries go through to gain their own independence.
On the farm, I wrote another four novels and a collection or two of poetry, but couldn't find a publisher willing to publish Pennsylvanian stories on that side of the Atlantic Ocean. Plus, things had changed for us. We'd had a baby. The Irish economy was about to make us change our self-sufficient ways because life got too expensive. So we moved back to Pennsylvania.
The culture shock was wicked. Coming home was hard. But let me tell you—eating my first funnel cake in over a decade at the Oley Fair? Experiencing building a snowman with my daughter after our first snow? These things cannot be replaced.
Within a year of moving back, I went to New York City to meet an agent, and after another year, we sold my first book (which was really my sixth, but who's counting?) and now, I have managed to write and sell another, and have others lining up behind that. In short, my dreams have come true. (It took 15 years, 7 novels and a lot of hard work and faith, but they came true.)
I don't think I'd have been able to take this path was it not for my move to Ireland. Had I stayed here and tried to write, I don't think I'd have had enough time between the money worries and pressure of day-to-day living in America at the time. I think people call what I did self-imposed exile. I am thankful I did it, but not just because I achieved my dream. Exiling myself from my country showed me the beauty of where I'm from. I'm thankful to be back in Pennsylvania, because it's my home. It's always showed in my writing. My books are set in Pennsylvania, my characters are Pennsylvanians, and my issues are found right here in my back yard.
When I think about it, it all comes back to the funnel cake. Just kidding. It's the people, and the PA Dutch accent. And the pretzels and the birch beer and the pot pie and the . . . oops. There I go again. Do you want to know what it is? It's the heat and the humidity and the snowfalls. The very reason I claimed I was leaving is what I love most. Swimming through the hot days at my local pool and eating ice cream in Wernersville, at the giant ice cream cone on 422. Though exile was necessary to achieve what I wanted, I hope to never leave this area again. Because I'm from here, and it's a large part of who I am—A.S. King, Pennsylvanian.
Thanks so much A.S., you've made me appreciate becoming a Pennsylvanian. The humidity is waning, but we're still eating local ice cream. Soon it'll be Pennsylvania apples before the snow flies.
A.S. King's short fiction has appeared in a lot of great journals and has been nominated for awards, including Best New American Voices. Her first young adult novel, The Dust of 100 Dogs, was published by Flux in February 2009 and was an Indie Next List pick for teens and has been nominated for YALSA's Best Books for Young Adults. Her next novel, Ignore Vera Dietz, is due in Fall 2010 from Knopf.
Dust of 100 Dogs at an Indie
Dust of 100 Dogs at Powell's
For more posts in the Literary Road Trip project, visit the LRT link page. Thanks to Michelle of GalleySmith for hosting this fabulous project.