The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.
When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.
August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.
- What inspires you or made you write The Wicker King?
It was my discovery of the specific hallucinatory disorder that Jack has that inspired me to write a story around it. Jack has a condition called Peduncular Hallucinosis. PH is very interesting because people who get it only see happy/neutral/creative things. The hallucinations are aggressively vivid, but the sufferer notably is aware of the fact that they are hallucinations. People who have it also rarely degenerate in other ways mentally, unless from other causes. It’s utterly fascinating. It made for a great catalyst that allowed for Jack to maintain his mental health in spite of the visions, while August subtly (then dramatically) lost his.
- Also, was it your idea on how to edit your book with lots of arts and fancy artworks? The color of the pages as the story concluded, I loved it! Can you tell us about how the book ended up aesthetically pleasing to the eyes?
It was my idea to fill the book with art, and I actually designed a decent amount of the art myself- some of which Macmillan recreated more professionally. However, the gorgeous ombre pages and doodles all over the book were the brainchild of the designers at my imprint Imprint. I had no idea they were going to do that and I literally burst into tears when I received the ARC because it was so beautiful.
- Among Jack and August, who is harder to write? Why?
Jack was harder. August, as you may know, is an unreliable narrator. He is unable to see or process a lot of what’s going on around him—including Jack’s feelings for him. Writing Jack through the eyes of August was difficult because Jack would be doing and feeling things and August would react to them densely. Maintaining Jack as so vulnerable and so hopelessly desiring of August, while August himself is unable to see it was challenging.
- Random Question: Given the chance to teach the world one lesson, what lesson would you teach us?
“You don’t know what you don’t know and there was a time when you didn’t know what you know now. There will always be things you don’t know, and what you do know, you learned from somewhere that others may not have been. Be patient when educating others.”
- If you are going to give your 10-year old self an advice, what advice would you give?
Please take your ADHD medication. You can’t remember anything and homework does actually help you understand the material.
- What do you think is the biggest challenge of YA Authors today?
Marketing. The market is aggressively saturated right now and I think its starting to get difficult to stand out. Thankfully, technology is starting to make it easier for people to find books that they like. But it is a difficulty.
- Mental Illness is one of the highlights in The Wicker King. Of all the Mental Illness that you could put emphasis on a book, why did you choose that particular illness?
This is a heavy question so I wanted to give it a long answer.
On co-dependency specifically: “It’s an incredibly under-discussed phenomenon. When we think about toxic relationships, we nearly always categorize someone as the aggressor and someone else as the victim. With codependency, both parties contribute to the issue—acting as aggressor and victim simultaneously—both inflicting damage, whether intentional or accidental. With August and Jack, a primary aspect of the book is the neglect that both of them suffer and their attempt to resolve their emotional needs in each other. They spiral into codependency because they are both taking from one another in volumes that the other cannot satisfy without destroying himself. They take from one another because they are lacking the traditional sources for their needs, and they make poor decisions because there is no real authority around to guide them not to. It’s a sad and dangerous situation and it’s entirely too common to be as under-discussed as it is.”
August’s pyromania is just one of the multiple indicators that August isn’t faring well mentally. He also develops stress fueled anorexia, isolates himself from his friends and behaves violently. I did a lot of research about childhood neglect because I wanted to form a complete picture of two individuals who deal with the stresses and neglect they are given very differently. Jack gets physically ill and co-dependent with August who–in addition to the codependency begins developing mental illness and acting out. I have very strong feelings about all of these topics and in the final addition coming out in October, I’ve written a small essay about this at the end.
As for Jack, I took pains to maintain his personality, social awareness, and temperament throughout the book because his issue is a physical issue, not a psychological degradation. His hallucinations are described as “affecting his vision”, and he always reacts reasonably to things he sees. When background characters worry about Jack, they are worried because he is making uncharacteristic decisions or affecting August in some way they don’t understand. By contrast, when background characters worry about August, they are worried about his health in general and multiple people try to feed him. It’s such a subtle difference that I’m not sure if it will go over peoples’ heads or not. But it was definitely intentional. Jack is not the primary example of mental illness, August is.
- Was it your dream to become a writer? If you are not a writer today, what career do you think you’ll end up with?
I’ve been writing novels since I was 14. Its always been my preferred artistic medium. If I wasn’t into writing, I think I would have chosen to pursue a career in the fashion industry. I actually went to Uni for fashion merchandizing, but wound up switching majors.
- Can you share your future plans after The Wicker King?
I have another book coming out that is set in the same town about 20 years in the future. August, Jack, and Rina are in this book as well, even though the main characters are another group of teenagers.
- What realization do you want your readers to understand after reading The Wicker King?
I want them to have serious thoughts about the environment that helped create this situation. None of this occurred in isolation, and pretty much all of it would have been avoidable if the adults in the book spent any time whatsoever caring for these children. There were so many opportunities in place where someone other than another teen could have stepped in, but all of the adults either got mad at them, punished them for their actions, or ignored the issue completely. That’s a problem in real life and we need to make sure it happens less.
- One of the amazing scenes in the book is where classmates of August try to reach to him unexpectedly. And I think it is amazing that people are taking some time to help a person. What message you want to deliver by writing that scene?
I strongly believe that teenagers tend to do their best to help each other when things seem to be going wrong. Even when their suggestions cause more problems, or fail to solve the issue completely. I think they haven’t fully developed the whole “It’s not my problem, why should I get involved” thing, which makes for some sweet– but sometimes chaotic– situations. They’re also prone to forming found families, which is by far my favorite relationship structure. I didn’t really have a message to deliver by portraying that, I was more trying for accuracy.
- Describe The Wicker King in ten words!
“The Book I Wrote While I Should Have Been Studying.” Because I wrote this in my senior year of college and barely managed to squeak by with a 3.02 GPA because of it.
- Can you give us some facts about The Wicker King?
It’s written like a fairytale: The main characters are fated to be together. All side characters have a mission or lesson they’re teaching. Everything about everyone is told rather than shown. There is a clear King/Knight parallel and lofty princess character (Rina). The goal (coming home/what is the meaning of home) is echoed through the text and it’s the final resolution and happy ending of the book. It’s written this way because it has an accompanying fairytale that illustrates all aspects of the storyline in context of what Jack spent the whole book seeing. This fairytale will be made available as an e-book that will be released shortly before the novel’s publication.
- What was your favorite part of your book?
I absolutely love when August confronts Jack’s dad about his absence and the following chapter where he runs to Jack seeking approval regarding that. It’s such a painful mixture of August behaving in a way that indicates the true source of the problems they’re both suffering, followed quickly by a full-blown expression of the depth of his disconnect with reality and desire for fantasy. It’s also the first time that Jack is shown to clearly be overwhelmed by August and how deep he’s into this.
- My favorite question! What is your favorite quote in your book and why is it your favorite among the rest?
“They were only seventeen. The world was so big and they were very small and there was no one around to stop terrible things from happening.”
Because it’s such a ubiquitous and socially relevant statement as well as being a solid summary of the book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in Andersonville and writes books at work when no one is looking.