It's always a delight to have A.S. King visit our corner of the internet, so we were THRILLED to have her stop by and chat about her latest book, Glory O'Brien's History of the Future (available October 14th aka tomorrow!). And what transpired was nothing short of AMAZING.
Amy! We missed you at FYA. Talk to us about your new book.
You know how much I love me some FYA. Thank you for having me over. I’ll have the vodka, please. Mixed with whatever you deem appropriate, but no mummified bat remains if at all possible...
So I wrote this book about a girl who’s struggling with graduating from high school, struggling with her best friend, and dealing with the details of her mother’s death 13 years earlier. It’s called Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. In it, among a lot other things, the main character gains the ability to see the pasts and futures of people she looks at. As the flap copy says, “What she sees is terrifying.”
Glory sees a second civil war—a political war waged primarily against women. It’s not a battle of the sexes. It’s not a split between men and women. Plenty of women—as long as they are following the new rules—are fine. But women who don’t fit into the new boxes are exiled, hunted, and even killed. (Or so it seems. Glory’s visions are vague and short.) And so, with subject matter like this, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about feminism. I’ve had some trouble answering those questions.
There are so many misconceptions about what feminism really is. Did you always have a clear idea of what it is, or did you have to readjust your definition at one point?
I think equal rights for human beings is a pretty straightforward concept and I always have. Since my mother explained the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) to me one day in the mid-to-late 1970’s, it’s always seemed a natural idea. In many ways, it’s no different to civil rights (dictionary definition: the rights that every person should have regardless of his or her sex, race, or religion.) Some people would say that the Civil Rights Movement is over because laws have changed, but that cycle has a long time to go before it’s truly in place. These things take time, education, and a complete adjustment of thought for generations of people. I think we can all agree that in the case of civil rights or LGBT rights, for example, those changes are still in motion. Same for women’s rights. But I’ve never really had to change my mind about feminism. Even when the word got muddied along the way, I just saw it as the simple dictionary definition.
I believe in the social, political, and economic equality of women. I don’t think feminism means much more than this—the dictionary definition—and yet I understand that this definition is a very deep one. What is social equality? What is economic equality? What is political equality? Those are questions for you to answer. I just wrote a book about a young woman who has a lot of things going on. I didn’t write the book about feminism, and I didn’t mean for my character to be some sort of iconic feminist. She mentions it in one chapter, I think. Maybe two. Being equal is normal to her the same as it’s always been normal to me. I don’t talk politics by nature. I don’t listen to the radio and I don’t watch TV, so it’s easy for me to keep my idea of these basic rights basic and not muddy them with the media-speak that goes on. Call me simplistic and I won’t disagree. I think most things are simple.
I don’t know when the idea of not wearing makeup, not shaving one’s legs, or any of those surface traits came into play and I don’t really pay attention to them. I’ve seen man-hating and I think it’s weird and counter-productive in general, just like any sort of hate. If one hates men, then why not just say one is a misandrist and not drag feminism into it? I’m sure there are many other misconceptions about feminism I’m not listing here, but in the end, they are misconceptions. Giving attention to them would give the power of the idea over to those misconceptions. Did you ever notice that in The Help, Aibileen and Minny never once said, “We don’t carry diseases!” when Hilly insists that the help should have their own bathrooms? That’s because the idea is absurd.
Feminism is a word in the dictionary. It asks profound questions of us as a society all on its own without getting absurd about it.
Glory finds a sketchbook called Why People Take Pictures, which shares its name with a real book you wrote in 2004. Could you tell us a little more about that book?
Why People Take Pictures, a novel for adults, was a very cathartic book for me. I wrote it after coming back to America after many years living in Ireland and it helped me sort out my feelings about being back in a consumerist world, being a mother, and being in those middle years where I had kids and aging parents at the same time. Also, it helped me work out my year (1992) as an underpaid darkroom worker who had to print some sort of pornography most days and at the same time, figure out what being a grown woman really meant to me.
More specifically, it’s about a woman (who we now know as Darla, Glory’s mother) who is spiraling into depression and anxiety and how that spiral is affecting her husband and her three-year-old daughter (who we now know as Glory.) After a night where Darla processes two rolls of film at her darkroom job and sees 72 pictures of the scene where a man has committed suicide, she snaps and starts to see pictures as a consumerist need to record life rather than live it. That’s a very close-to-the-chest overview. There’s a lot more going on. Editors thought it was weird. It was weird. It was supposed to be weird. Life can be weird.
I still have the book here. I used a few parts of it in Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. I’ve been asked if I plan to publish the book one day, and I still can’t answer that question.
You're a total badass in our eyes, but what makes you feel like a badass?
Thank you. I feel humbled by this. You’re all total badasses in my eyes, too. What makes me feel like a badass? There is a list in this, I bet.
1. Boots. When I wear big boots, I feel badass.
2. Writing books. Writing books about what I want to write about. Not giving a flying primate what people think about those books, and then writing more books. Note: I don’t always feel badass when I’m actually writing. I often feel like a lost dog.
3. Sticking up for myself. I don’t do it as much as I should but when I do, it feels pretty awesome.
4. Wow. This list is harder than I thought it would be.
5. My past. I know this isn’t very ‘now’ but when I think about what I’ve done in my life I’m glad I made the choices I did even though onlookers must have thought I was crazy to make those choices. These include: getting married to a man I barely knew, driving around on motorbikes, moving to a different country and living there for more than a decade, buying a derelict farm and restoring it, wiring a house, living off the land, having crazy adventures that I can’t really talk about here, having secrets.
6. Volunteering. Whether it was teaching adults how to read or being part of The Vagina Monologues or being on the library board, volunteering is a badass thing to do, even though when you’re doing it, it’s not about you. Maybe that’s why, in hindsight, it makes you feel badass.
7. Being kind. Being kind is badass. Being mean is easy. Being kind takes hard thinking and control. It asks us to pull ourselves away from ourselves. As an author, I experience public meanness sometimes. I’ve been yelled at by angry patrons who don’t like the words I use in books. I’ve been snarked on author panels. I’ve been tweeted hateful crap from complete strangers. Meanness looks ugly and myopic from where I stand. Kindness is where it’s at.
8. Humility. It seems like an oxymoron, but being humble makes you badass. If you go around thinking you’re badass, then you are not badass. See how that works? Messed up, right?
Who would you nominate as badasses from each of your books, and why?
That’s some question. I think all of us is a badass in some way, and most of my characters are too. So, from The Dust of 100 Dogs, I’d say that Emer/Saffron is a serious badass. She may be the biggest one of all, though she does lose everything she ever fought for. Vera from Please Ignore Vera Dietz is certainly a badass, but so is her father, Ken. Vera is on a mission for the truth. Ken gives us the truth. Also, the pagoda is very badass. Both Lucky Linderman and Ginny Clemens are badass in Everybody Sees the Ants, though I do think Lucky’s mother qualifies considering the choice she made to go to Arizona.
Astrid Jones is a badass because no one could tell her what to do in Ask the Passengers. (Funny aside: I get complaints about Astrid’s decision in that book from people who think she should have said and done and considered other things...which is hilarious if you really think about the idea of that book. This makes Astrid more of a badass—even outside of her world in her own book, people are still trying to tell her what to do and she still does what she wants to do. Her badassery knows no limits.)
Reality Boy is a tough call. That book is filled with characters who are in serious badass-limbo. Though the simple answer would be Gerald, and he certainly does come a long way, he’s not ready yet at the end of the book. He’s getting there and that deserves a vote, but so is Hannah, so she gets a vote too. Gerald’s dad gets a vote for finally leaving that harmful situation and taking Gerald with him. In fact, for that, he might get two votes. While some people might concentrate on the past and ask why he didn’t leave sooner, that’s the usual judgmental mentality our society dishes to victims. So, you choose when it comes to Reality Boy.
And finally, Glory gets badass points in Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. She’s just herself. She’s kind. She may not know what she wants, but she’s looking for it. She asks questions. (‘Cause she knows the power of a question bonus points for lyric recognition) She helps Ellie even though Ellie might not know how to help herself. And she may, one day in the future, save her world. That’s pretty badass if you ask me.
And on the subject of badassery, please tell our readers about the project we're working on!
I have been called a badass and I appreciate that description. So, in that light, when Mandy W. and I were talking about something to do to celebrate Glory O’Brien’s release, we wanted to do something that transcends just talking about politics (blah blah blah). She suggested action. And what she suggested was brilliant.
It's THE BADASS GRATITUDE PROJECT. The idea is to video yourself telling the person who helped make you badass and tell them why and thank them. I chose to call my mom and thank her for buying me Tonka trucks and letting me form my own opinions about the world.
You can choose whomever you like and thank them. If the person isn’t around anymore or is someone you can’t reach, you can write a letter or video yourself talking to a picture. Or you can just post a picture of yourself with a picture of that person and tell us why that person shaped you into a badass. Anything goes as long as the idea is gratitude. Go forth and find your badasses!
If you'd like to participate, simply tell your badass inspiration -- or as many badasses as you'd like! -- why they're so great: in person, over speakerphone, via texts or letters, through singing telegrams, or any other way you can! Then share the video/photo/screenshot with us, using the hashtag #GOBadass and tagging us on your preferred social media platform:
(For all other platforms, the social media adverse, or anonymous submissions, please either post your content in this comment section, or send it in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
We'll be posting a roundup of your #GOBadass stories on FYA in a few weeks! And even if you're not taking part, express a little gratitude to your badasses anyway! (First #GOBadass thank you goes to Amy, for stopping with these incredible answers!)