Alex Gino at the North Portland Library

Thanks to the Multnomah County Library’s commitment to bringing authors of children’s literature to local audiences, I got to see Alex Gino, author of George and You Don’t Know Everything Jilly P. at the North Portland Library. Gino is non-binary and uses the pronouns they, them, and their.

Things I learned:

Alex prefers to refer to their book George as Melissa’s Story, because George is a name that Melissa would prefer to never hear again. This had me wondering at the process to pick the book’s title.

There were many questions from the audience, which we submitted on index cards. The audience was at least half young people which might be the cause of Alex’s encouragement to write down questions that begin with something besides “what.” (Although my question What is your favorite part about being an author? also began with “what” so perhaps we all needed that encouragement.)

There was a question about navigating the world as a non-binary person and they said that it is hard, but it used to be harder, namely because there wasn’t a term. They were 19 before they found the term genderqueer.

Their next book Rick is coming in 2020 and they wrote it as a companion book to Melissa’s Story. They cited the reason that they did not write a sequel to Melissa’s Story is that for a book to happen, plot would have to happen and that means that bad things would have to happen to Melissa. They are not about having bad things happen to Melissa. Instead, Rick is a story investigating what it means to be so unsure of yourself that you hang out with the bully.

When asked about Melissa’s Story becoming an OBOB Book (Oregon Battle of the Books) they said that they grew up in a world where being queer on purpose around children wasn’t a thing. There were certainly people who were queer around children, but they had to hide that part of them. For their book to be recognized as literature is phenomenal and it gives them hope that things are moving in a good direction.

This led to a story of the signing event that happened on Sunday in Canby, Oregon. Apparently there were 250 people in attendance. The person sitting next to me was in attendance for the Canby signing and said that attendance was so high because Melissa’s Story was excluded from Canby’s OBOB tournament and the Canby Mayor rejected a proclamation honoring International Transgender Day of Visibility. So people of Canby made themselves visible in support of the author.

They ended their talk by saying that they believed that books saved lives and what their hope is for Melissa’s Story is that someday a trans woman will be walking late at night and someone coming toward her might be a very big guy, who is also drunk, and who recognizes this person as trans. And instead of doing what happens to so many trans people now–harassment or assault–that person will think of Melissa and just walk on by and everyone will get home safe.

A.S. King at Taborspace

A.S. King writes weird books.  Some of them don’t work for me, some of them I adore, and all of them are flat-out strange.  She’s also a strong feminist writer, which I appreciate.

A.S. King is a intense and hilarious speaker.  In this reading, she read a little from her newest book, Still Life With Tornado, talked about her process and then took questions from the audience.

A.S. King writes all her books without any outline.  (Writers call this “pantsing” a shorted form of the phrase: by the seat of my pants.)  She revises probably 150 times, and uses a lot of paper because she prints and revises.  Still Life is her twentieth book, though the first eight she wrote weren’t published.  Most of her writing tends to reflect what’s going on in her life, though in a subconscious way.  Everybody Sees the Ants, for instance is partially driven by her obsession with the Vietnam war.  Learning this fact, I thought, “uh-oh,” because a recent book has to do with domestic violence.

A.S. King married at 22, and had the goal of living on a self-sufficient farm.  She did so, for eight years in Ireland.  She was submitting things at that time, and had to hatch a certain number of chicken in order to pay for the postage.  She said her writing career–at least the publishing part–didn’t really start until she moved back to the US.  Proximity matters.  She is currently separated from her husband and did experience domestic violence in that relationship.  She had a long explanation about how people are surprised that she, a strong woman, would put up with that.  In her mind, strong women are great as DV victims, because they will do whatever they can to keep the relationship going.

A.S. King was a bit of a math savant in elementary school, but ran into a seventh grade math teacher who said on the first day that he would never call on any of the girls because they couldn’t do math, and were just going to get married and fat anyway.  This was the beginning of a downward slide that had her graduating in the bottom quarter of her high school class.  “Kids!  Proof that you can graduate in the bottom quarter of your class and go on to do good things, not that I recommend graduating in the bottom quarter of your class.”

A.S. King has an angry face.  When she gets excited about things, she looks mad.  She once filmed a promo for reading or libraries when she enthusiastically exclaimed, “Reading is great!” only to see her agent encouraging her to smile.  They re-filmed it, to hilarious results. “Reading is great!” Pause for odd-looking smile.

A.S. King’s first name is Amy, and she writes under the name A.S. King partially because another writer is also named Amy King, but also because she likes that her author name spells “asking”.  (Cue excited gasps around the room.)  Matt had pointed that out to me just in the previous week and I, too, had my mind blown.

None of the things I have written get across A.S. King’s sense of humor which is dry and matter-of-fact and relentless.

It was a very good evening with A.S. King, and I will be sure to prioritize seeing her whenever she finds herself in town.

A note on the photos. It was a small space with dim lighting, and I was very self-conscious about my picture taking.  I stopped after three, and all seemed to be not great.  However, looking at them after the reading, I thought they captured her personality quite well.