She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about Everybody Sees the Ants (expect a review from me sometime this week), her writing process, and of course, her next book!
TCR: What inspired Everybody Sees the Ants?
ASK: A lot of things inspired this novel. I was looking at early notes last night and the first character sketch, and I think the biggest influence was Lucky’s missing grandfather. The minute Lucky started to talk, that’s what he talked about—his grandfather and how his disappearance affected his father (and eventually affects him, too.) This then immediately tied into Lucky’s situation at school—being bullied for years and yet, getting in trouble the minute he asks a stupid question. There was a lot of inspirational injustice here.
Also, the pool setting was a big inspiration. I help run my local non-profit community pool, so that setting is based on our pool where I live. And in a way, that same pool inspired the ants, but I’ll get to that question later!
TCR: If you could visit with any of your ancestors in your dreams, who would you want to see?
ASK: Oh wow. What a question! I’d love to visit my grandmother, who died when I was 10. She’s a constant inspiration to me even though I didn’t know her as an adult. Also her mother-in-law whom I never met. She’s legend in my family and I would have loved to know her.
TCR: What was your reaction when you first saw the cover?
ASK: I saw variations of the cover for EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS for a month or two before I saw the final. So, think of a file with several different ideas and about 15-20 different covers. This one? Popped right out at me. And then, as they worked on it (the title block, the rings, etc) it just got better and better. I love it. Cover designer Saho Fujji is a genius.
TCR: Can you tell us anything about your next book?
ASK: ASK THE PASSENGERS, due fall 2012 from Little, Brown is about Astrid Jones and her odd family who have moved to a small town in Pennsylvania from New York City. To deal with her new surroundings and her mother’s lack of affection and the town’s dumb gossip, Astrid has a habit of sending her love to the passengers in the airplanes she watches flying overhead. It’s also about Socrates, love and sisterhood. There are no insects.
TCR: Why did you choose the Vietnam War to be the setting for Lucky's dreams?
ASK: This is going to sound corny, but really, my books choose me. I’m a non-outlining writer so I often find myself at the mercy of whatever is coming out of my fingers. I know that sounds totally cosmic, but I’m a cosmic person, so *shrug* it’s the truth. So, I sat down to write this kid who was in my head and before we ever left the first page, he was talking about his grandfather and the POW/MIA situation from the Vietnam War. I’m guessing this probably came from twenty years of my reading about the Vietnam War. I was born in 1970. I remember watching the evacuation of Saigon on TV because my mom was all about us watching historical moments like that. I think this book was probably building since then. I also think the parallel between bullying and torture and war offers a lot of emotional overlap.
TCR: For some who haven't read the book, the significance of the ants may be confusing, but why ants?
ASK: This goes back to the pool setting I was talking about up there. Anyone who goes to a pool that has a snack bar knows that ants are just a part of the picture. You may not see them day to day, but drop a French fry? And BAM! The ants are there. In the book, seeing the ants is a way for Lucky Linderman to face himself after being bullied so much that he feels like he’s going a little crazy. In a way, when he gets beat up one day at the pool he kinda drops his psychological French fry…and BAM…the ants come and do their job. The ants say what Lucky wants to say and often do what he wants himself to do. Readers unfamiliar with my writing may find this odd, but trust me…in the last book there was a talking pagoda. So really, ants are almost saner.
Thank you again for having me! Here’s my compulsion report: Objective FAIL. This took me 14 revisions and about 52 minutes. Oh well. I’m still going to send it off without obsessing! Woot! Thanks for letting me be compulsive with you!
TCR: THANK YOU! It was awesome!
Pick up a copy of Everybody Sees the Ants today! You must, must, must read this incredible book!