An Interview with Amanda DeWitt, author of ACES WILD

Fast-paced and filled with heart, Aces Wild is the nuanced aseuxal and aromantic (yes--they're two separate things) representation we need! I fell in love with Jack's comedic narration and his crew of lovable misfits. The cast of Aces Wild are out to steal some poker chips, some fame, and your heart! So I was very excited to get a chance to interview the author, Amanda DeWitt, about her incredible new YA novel, available in store and online today!

Laura Graveline: Thanks so much for joining me for this interview, Amanda! As an ace reader, I'm always on the lookout for rep, particularly in YA. We're definitely seeing an influx (Alice Oseman's Loveless, Houston's own Anna Meriano's It Sounds Like This, and of course a personal favorite, Sawkill Girls by Claire LeGrand). What made you want to write a book not only with ace and aro characters, but to write a book so clearly unified by their identities?
 
Amanda DeWitt: Interesting question! It’s funny, because I think I wanted to write books with ace and aro characters before I realized how important it was to me that I did. One of the main characters in my second manuscript ever was canonically ace, but I was very uncertain about saying the word asexual on the page at the time. I wanted to, but it was uncomfortably self-reflective in a time where I was still figuring out what my own identity meant to me, and if I was struggling with it, I couldn’t even begin to guess how it would go over in the wider world of publishing.

I think that’s why, a few years later  when I started drafting Aces Wild I wanted to double down on it. The two things I wanted were a) more than one asexual character and b) I didn’t want it to be about asexuality, and especially not about any sort of struggle with it. So it was really awesome those things ended up coming together where I was able to have this cast that represents a range of ace and aro identities, and those identities were something that brought them together and were celebrated. 
 
LG: The way Jack and his crew are so comfortable with their identities is fantastic! It's never a "problem," so much as it's simply a part of them and something that's brought them together.

I also love that there's a mix of genders in the group. It sometimes feels as though society thinks of aspec people as being mainly female (at least when society is thinking about aspec people). In Aces Wild we have Jack, a teenage boy, as our protagonist. Was he always who you wanted to center the story on? What inspired you to make him the main character?
 
AD: I actually had to break out the old, old drafts for this one! Because honestly I don’t really remember how I made the decision. In the very first words-on-page the main character actually was a girl, who went by the name Ace online, but her story only went on for a couple of pages. Something just clicked when I came upon Jack, and he took the story from there.

He had the larger-than-life backstory, complete with a childhood in a Las Vegas casino, and the charismatic voice that was so fun to write, but a hidden vulnerability to him that I wanted to explore. Over the course of the book Jack struggles a lot with what he thinks he ‘should be’. He thinks he should be able to hide his emotions and he should be able to handle things on his own, and he definitely thinks he should be able to fix his world even as it’s falling apart. Jack embraces his asexuality, but similarly, asexuality doesn’t fit with what society tells us a teenage boy ‘should’ be like. So while it wasn’t wholly intentional, I’m glad that Jack gets to expand the wonderful collection of male asexual characters! 
 
LG: He does such a good job expanding the world of male protagonists in general, especially considering the emotional growth he goes through in the book.

Speaking of the characters, you've pulled together such a fun cast of characters (Georgia is a personal favorite of mine!). Were there any specific people or characteristics you had in mind when creating them?

AD: One of my friends was actually listening to the audiobook and was like "It’s like you took us and your other friends and put all of our traits in a pile and then made new people." So you could definitely say I took a lot of inspiration from my friends!

A major theme of the book is online friendships and the joy in meeting them in person for the first time, but also the strength of those relationships even when you can’t see them face to face, so my online friend group was a big model for Jack’s. So it was fun exploring those characters, and also getting to see which of them my different friends gravitated to! It’s especially funny that the character they’re most like and the character that’s their favorite usually isn’t the same. 
 
LG: It feels so realistic that the crew meets via an online chat group. Aces can be so few and far between, of course the internet is the best place to find each other! Do you have any favorite online forums (LGBTQ+ or otherwise) you like to spend time on?
 
AD: Jack and the crew communicate through Hullabaloo, which is a pretty direct reference to Discord (; Discord is where I spend most of my time, though I’m ancient enough that when I first met most of my friends, we talked through AIM.

I’m not so much on actual forums or big groups these days. I’m mostly only on Twitter and Instagram in an author capacity more than for fun, but I’ve really loved getting to talk to people who have reached out to say they’re excited for or enjoying Aces Wild. For someone who struggled with talking about being ace because "it didn’t seem like it mattered/anyone cared," it’s really amazing getting to see how many people (including you in the first question!) open with how they’re ace too. It’s great to see just how big the community really is! 
 
LG: I love how much this book brings folks together, both with asexuality but also in that it's just a fun book to read and discuss with friends--especially if you're imagining pulling off your own heist! Obviously Jack is a master at card counting and poker but I'm curious what hidden talents you have and how they would help you pull off a heist of your own?
 
AD: I’ve said this before, but I just know I would be the one crawling through the vents. Which isn’t even a skill! I’m just small and I know my friends would make me do it, even if vent-crawling wasn’t even necessary for the heist. For something more talent-like…I like to paint when I’m not writing, so maybe I’m the inside man at the gallery we’re heisting priceless artwork from (and then I also crawl through the vents). 
 
Maybe I’ll leave the heisting to Jack after all…

LG: I mean, a gallery heist is definitely a great idea, especially if it's got small vents! 

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about Aces Wild! I can't wait to continue handselling it to all our customers!

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Aces Wild: A Heist By Amanda DeWitt Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781682634660
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Peachtree Teen - September 13th, 2022

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