I write a lot of things, but humor isn’t one of them. Writing “funny” is hard work, but A. K. Turner makes it look so easy. Her latest book, Hair of the Corn Dog, releases today. Both members of the Idaho Writers Guild, we love to talk writing. Here’s something about Amanda you may not know:
15 things you may not know about A. K. Turner
1) Why did you become a Writer? How did you get started?
I don’t feel like I had much choice in the matter. My route may have at times been circuitous, but I think this is where I was always headed. My father is a writer, so I had a sense early on of the realities of the writing life. I still had to come to writing in my own way and in my own time, though, which meant a solid decade of the starving artist gig. I waited tables and cleaned houses for years before I found my genre and really started moving forward in my writing career.
2) What is your writing routine? How do you discipline yourself to keep at it?
I don’t work on a book every day, but when I do, it is regimented. I map out my progress on a calendar and I stick to it. When I’m writing a first draft, I write 5,000 words per work day. I don’t write on weekends. I have kids and they deserve my full attention during that time, though chances are I might write a little something, even if just an email to a friend or idea for a blog post. If it’s a day when I have a word goal, I don’t allow myself to do much else until that goal is met. The fact that I take breaks in between projects and take my weekends off helps me stay disciplined during my work days.
3) How many drafts before you feel the book is finished?
It varies for each book. I write my first draft very fast, then rewrite two or three times before sending it to my editor. She sends back what is by then a fourth draft. We volley it back and forth. It’s usually on its sixth draft when I send it to my beta readers. I incorporate their comments for an eighth draft that goes back to the editor. Hell, let’s just call it an even ten.
4) What was the best thing that happened with regard to your writing career? The worst?
The best thing for my writing career was impending motherhood. When pregnant with my first child, I felt terrified that I’d missed my chance, that now that I was going to be a mother, I’d never be a writer. That was the kick in the pants that I needed. I’m not sure I can think of the worst thing for my writing career. Even things that seem like they were negative (rejections, disappointments, typos) all help shape the present and future. There is no worst thing.
5) What part of your job do you love the most? Hate or dislike the most?
I love the excitement of beginning a new project, the sense of accomplishment at completing something, the space in the middle when you realize your project has legs. I also love that it no longer costs me money to be a writer, which is how it felt for the longest time. I hate horrible reviews and try not to read them. That’s a learned skill.
6) What do you like to read? Do you read while working on a novel? Favorite authors?
I like to read almost anything I can get my hands on. If you looked at my nightstand (but please, stay out of my bedroom) you’d see a collection of short stories, a book of essays, a nature narrative, an epic historical novel, and a lesson on craft. I recently finished books in sci-fi, mystery/thriller, a few that I’d consider literary fiction, and another book on craft. I hate assigning these labels, because most books fit more than one category. I always read, whether I’m working on a book or not. That said, I don’t usually read another female humorist while working on a humor project of my own. Favorite authors: Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, Wally Lamb, Jeffrey Eugenides. Other books I adore: Stephen King’s On Writing, Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop.
7) What was the best advice you received as a writer? The worst?
Best advice: “Time is going to march on no matter what. In five years, you’ll be five years older. You can be five years older having written a book, or not having written a book, but you’re going to be five years older, either way.” Sometimes I think of this but play with the number. I make it one year or ten and think of what I want to accomplish in that time. Not that writing should be rushed, but life is short.
Worst advice: “You must write every day.” People take this too seriously. So what if someone else writes 2,000 words every day of the year? Every writer is different, so it makes no sense to latch on to rules that work for someone else. There are no rules, this isn’t football. Every writer whose habits you try to emulate had major faults of their own. Hemingway shot himself in the head. Instead of trying to be Hemingway, find your own path. It’ll likely be less messy.
8) Who has influenced you the most in terms of developing your personal writing style?
When I realized that there were people who actually made a living writing humor essays, I knew I’d found my genre. I read David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley, Bill Bryson, and Laurie Notaro, among others. In terms of developing my own style, my husband Mike and my editor Elizabeth Day have been and continue to be extremely helpful in identifying the strengths and weaknesses in my writing. Identifying those aspects and using that knowledge going forward is, in my mind, one way a writer develops her personal style.
9) Do you have a good luck charm or superstition?
I’m not superstitious at all, though I do believe I’ve been very lucky in life. Every writer needs talent, tenacity, and a little bit of luck.
10) If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
I’d like to say Federal Agent or Homicide Detective. But if we’re talking about reality, I’d clean houses, something I did a lot of before writing full time. I can clean a toilet like nobody’s business.
11) What quote or personal saying do you live by?
Every day in which I read, write, laugh, and move is a good day.
12) What’s next up for you, writing-wise?
I want to continue writing humor, but replace the element of alcohol with travel. Don’t get me wrong, I still love a drink at the end of the day, but in terms of genre, the drinking mommy thing has been done, and I’m ready to move on to something else. We have a trip planned to Australia later this year and I’m working on some preliminary research. The working title is Tasmania with Children and Other Devils.
13) If you could do anything over again, would you and what would it be?
I’d write more and read more. Other than that, I think dwelling on what I could have done or should have done is a big waste of time. I’m always looking forward.
14) What advice would you give beginning writers?
Everything takes practice. A person practicing the piano doesn’t view that practice time as wasted music notes. Writers need to give themselves permission to write things that never go anywhere, pieces they’ll never show to anyone else. You need that practice and those are not wasted words. We battle this a lot when others ask us about our work. We feel compelled to answer that we’re working on something that is ultimately marketable: a book, magazine article, short story. There’s nothing wrong with working on the writing itself without an end goal in mind. When an athlete exercises, that’s as much a part of their job as playing in the big game. The same is true for writers, whether or not your friends, family, and acquaintances understand that.
15) Something we don’t know about you?
I took flying lessons in a Piper J-3 Cub for about a year when I was a teenager, but never got my license. I worked on two seasons of the television show Survivor. I also worked on a movie, during which I met a shirtless Matthew McConaughey, but who hasn’t?
And: what’d you like us to know about your latest release:
Hair of the Corn Dog is the third book in my “Tales of Imperfection” series. It’s a collection of essays that center on the adventures of family and motherhood, like going to a drag show with your in-laws. But again, who hasn’t? Fans of the first two books, This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store and Mommy Had a Little Flask, will enjoy it. Those offended by raw honesty and four-letter words will not. I’ll be reading and signing on Thursday, March 20th at 6:30 pm at Rediscovered Books in Boise.