We're wild about Amy Sarig King's middle grade novel, Me and Marvin Gardens, out now from Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic!
He's the size of a dog—but he's not a dog.
He's got hooves like a pig, but claws like a wolf.
He smiles. He listens to commands and stories.
And he eats plastic. ONLY plastic.
Water bottles, jug lids, shopping bags.
Marvin is an entirely new kind of animal,
and only Obe knows about him.
To keep him safe, Obe will have to face an enemy,
take some risks, be fearless, daring, and brave—
and tell some secrets that have been a long time coming.
In her most personal novel yet, Printz Honor Award winner Amy Sarig King reveals a boy-meets-animal story unlike any other, about a friendship that could actually save the world, and a kid finding the courage to share it.
Who was your favorite character to write and why?
I really love Obe, the main character, but he and Marvin gave me a hard time sometimes, so my favorite character to write was Putrid Annie. She’d tried to tell the story of my cornfield years ago for a younger audience and it didn’t work out. When she showed up in this manuscript, it was like meeting an old friend. We have a lot in common. She plays the cello and I did, too. She loves rocks—me too. And she’s been called Putrid…I’ve been called worse.
What was the spark that ignited this book?
I wanted to write about an animal that ate plastic—only plastic—and how such an animal could help us solve the plastic pollution problem. Thing is, once I got to know Marvin, the animal, I realized that eating only plastic has its side effects. So both things ignited the book. The idea that something can be both good and not-so-good. The idea that there are two sides to every story, including the loss of a cornfield—and a childhood.
What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you?
Kurt Vonnegut’s “Eight Rules for Writing Fiction.” I hand these to every student I’ve ever had at VCFA. Never has anyone summed up everything I believe about writing in a half a page before. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’d say these two are tied for first place: “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water” and “Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.”
Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group? Does a family member read your early drafts? Is Twitter your bastion of support?
I’ve been writing novels by myself for 25 years. I do share my final draft with my husband, but he’s the only reader of a book before I hand it to my agent and editors. I find this is the best way for me. I write in quiet, I edit in quiet, and then I slowly feel like the book is ready. If there is too much noise—even positive noise from others—I feel I can’t hear when the book is ready. So my support, as it’s been from the beginning when I was against-all-odds determined and even during my 15 years of rejection, has always been just me. I was an odd child, though, enjoying my own company and the company of books more than most things. (Excluding candy and mashed potatoes, but not at the same time.)
What's your writing superpower?
Revision. Revision is the sport. I aim for the gold in revision.
Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.
I have a 5x7 framed picture of Hawkeye Pierce on my desk—right here to my right, the first person I see, the way that some would put a picture of their spouse or children there. For me, it’s Hawkeye. He’s my humanist fictional boyfriend and also a stand-in mother.
How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?
VCFA has changed me as a writer. A lot of things do, but VCFA has had a profound effect on me. Before VCFA, if you’d have asked me if I would ever write a middle grade book, I’d have said no way. No way I could do that. A lot of people may think middle grade is “easier” the same way civilians thing picture books are “easiest” because they’re shorter. But I’d tried to write for younger audiences and I knew how hard it was. My students showed me that I could do this. They showed me how to do it well. I’m still trying to write a picture book, but I’m still failing. One day, though…one day it will happen.
What is your favorite VCFA memory?
I enjoy so many aspects of VCFA, but I’d say now that summer 2017 residency is done, that my favorite memory is the one where I have a beard.
What's special about the VCFA-WCYA program?
I don’t mince words about this. VCFA is the best WCYA program in the country. I think what makes it the best is the bar—the high bar. I’ve always had a high bar when it comes to reading and writing. I’m awfully picky about writing, which is probably a good thing, right? VCFA is special because the quality of student writing is very high. This allows already-great writers to stretch and grow and graduate from the program ready to publish quality books, as our alumni publication lists show. Beyond rigor, I’d say the sense of community is pretty amazing. No matter where I go in the U.S. to do an event, there are groups of VCFA alumni (and faculty) there to greet me. We are a small army, now. An army of support, positivity, and friendship.
A perfect description! The SPF Army!
Thanks so much for stopping by. Welcome, Me and Marvin Gardens!
Amy Sarig King, who also writes as A.S. King, grew up in the middle of a cornfield in southeastern Pennsylvania. She says, “The day the bulldozers came to dig up my field was the day I started to dream of having my own farm. If you’ve ever seen something beautiful and magical be replaced with something more convenient, then you know why this story took me thirty years to write.”
Amy has published many critically acclaimed young adult novels, including Please Ignore Vera Dietz, which won a Michael L. Printz Honor Award, and Ask the Passengers, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. After many years farming abroad, she now lives back in southeastern Pennsylvania, with her husband and children.
Visit her online at www.as-king.com.