YEM Author Interview: Amanda DeWitt chats about involving an asexual friend group in her book Aces Wild: A Heist

Amanda DeWitt is the author of Aces Wild: A Heist. Aces Wild: A Heist follows Jack Shannon, who runs a secret blackjack ring in his private school’s basement. The book explores an all-asexual online friend group that attempts to break into a high-stakes gambling club. YEM was able to speak with YEM about his favorite part of the writing process, What she hopes her readers can learn from her book, and Why she chose to have Jack be the the son of a Las Vegas casino mogul.

Young Entertainment Mag: What is it like having your book Aces Wild: A Heist out for an audience to read?

Amanda DeWitt: It’s been really great! I was definitely nervous at first, because…well, obvious reasons. For the first time ever the book is entirely out of your hands and people are reading it and you can’t stop them. But honestly having the book out there has been nothing but a positive experience, and I’m really grateful for all the readers who have reached out and it’s meant so much talking to other ace people especially and hearing about what the book means to them. Writing a book can feel very solitary at times, so it’s been great to be able to talk to people and be a part of that community.

YEM: How would you describe Aces Wild: A Heist in three words?

Amanda: Eccentric, heartwarming, fun

YEM: Did you know that your book was going to involve an asexual friend group before you started writing it?

Amanda: I did! It was probably one of the first things I knew, along with the title—I wanted there to be more than one asexual character and I also wanted ace card puns, those two things came together pretty naturally. It was an important foundation for a lot of what I wanted to do regarding the asexuality element. I wanted there to be multiple ace characters with different experiences on the ace spectrum, and I wanted it to be something celebrated rather than struggled with, so it just made sense for it to be what brought them all together. It’s actually a big part of what led them to be an online friend group. In the really early stages I was considering it being a school club, but I wasn’t sure if I could realistically put together that many aces at one school. My online friendships are really important to me, so it worked out even better I got to incorporate that too!

YEM: What is your favorite part of the writing process?

Amanda: As someone currently in the middle of editing a book, it’s definitely drafting. Drafting is full of potential and hope and light. You can do anything. Editing is where you have to go fix everything you messed up in drafting and spiral in the eternal torment of Microsoft Word.

Okay, less dramatically, it really is drafting. I’m not someone who outlines, so drafting is the exciting part where I’m still learning the characters and the story. Books are long, but I get through writing them because my favorite question to ask myself is ‘what happens next?’. And yeah, sometimes what you come up with makes no sense and you have to fix it later, but the act of discovering is definitely the most fun.

YEM: What was Aces Wild: A Heist inspired by?

Amanda: Inspired by might not be the right words. It might be more accurate to say this is its origin story, but I first got the idea for Aces Wild while at a magic show. The problem is, it wasn’t a super good magic show, so my mind was kind of wandering. I started thinking about ace (the card)…and aces (the asexuals)…and how Aces Wild would be a pretty funny title for a book filled with both kinds of aces. So for a split second it leaned more toward Las Vegas magic shows than card games, but I couldn’t figure out how to pull a plot out of that, so gambling it was! So really it started with a pun and everything else got pulled out from there.

YEM: What do you hope that your readers can learn from your book?

Amanda: I guess I would want the takeaway to be that there are different kinds of love and that they’re all important in different ways. The first line of the book is Jack saying ‘this is not a love story’, which obviously it is, or else it wouldn’t be the first line. There’s his love for his friends, his burgeoning crush on Remy, the love between his family, even if it’s dysfunctional. Society gives us this impression that romantic love is more important and that there’s a way our lives ‘should’ go, but it’s not true. There are a thousand different kinds of love that make up who we are and our lives and I hope this book can be a celebration of that.

YEM: What is your favorite part about writing for a young adult audience?

Amanda: My favorite part about writing young adult books is definitely the themes of like, learning who you are and what you want out of life. It’s a big thing during that age, but I also feel like it’s something we go through multiple times throughout our entire lives as we grow and change, and that’s part of what makes young adult literature so engaging even to adult audiences. It’s such a dynamic period to explore. There are books I read as a young adult that still mean so much to me, and it’s really rewarding to be able to be a part of other peoples’ lives through my own books.

YEM: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is wanting to publish a book as well?

Amanda: Remember that it’s work and work, no matter how much you love it, is always going to be hard sometimes. Which isn’t a very glamorous answer, but a LOT of (most) things in publishing are distinctly unglamorous, so I think it’s a good lesson to learn, and also an inspiring one if you look at it the right way. Anyone who has ever started writing a book knows that sometimes it’s hard. The bad news is that it’s always going to be hard, sometimes in new and exciting ways. The good news is that it’s not hard because you’re doing it wrong—so keep going! Remember what you love about your story and about the process and hold onto that, because that’s what’s going to make all the hard parts worth it.

YEM: How long did it take for you to write Aces Wild: A Heist?

Amanda: Oh boy, you’re asking me to remember ancient history…I started thinking about it sometime in 2018, but I don’t think I sat down and drafted anything seriously until the next year. Once things started to come together it probably took me about two months to finish the first draft. But that was only the first part of its journey! I signed with my agent in summer 2020, we sold Aces Wild to Peachtree Teen in spring 2021, and then it finally came out in fall 2022! So from the very first ideas to publication day, it was about four years.

YEM: In your book Jack runs a secret blackjack ring in his private school’s basement, do you play casino games regularly? Why did you choose to have Jack be the the son of a Las Vegas casino mogul

Amanda: It’s funny because I’m the absolute opposite of a gambler. I hate taking risks and hate spending money, which is like, all gambling is. However! My fun story is that I did get really into blackjack in the fourth grade when our teacher taught it to us for some reason—I remember that summer I taught my Girl Scouts friends and we played blackjack for jellybeans. So it was fun being able to kind of bring that back with this book. For Jack it felt like the obvious choice! Card puns led to card games, which led to Las Vegas, of course. Comedy and adventure are both a bit larger than life stories, so that’s why I decided that Jack was the son of a casino mogul. He’s not just a teenager in Las Vegas, he’s a teenager whose family owns part of Las Vegas. Which, of course, is the source of all his problems (;

YEM: Who is an author that inspires you?

Amanda: Ooh I’m so bad at naming favorites, and inspired by is even trickier…so I’ll say that one of my favorite authors is Robin Hobb, who wrote the Realm of the Elderlings series. I actually only discovered her books in the last year or so, but I really connected with them, especially at this time in my life. I really admire the way she’s able to write about grief in this really sincere and authentic way that makes the characters and their stories feel so real. That depth of emotion and the authenticity of the characters really inspires me to dig into that more with my own stories.

YEM: What are your writing plans for the future?

Amanda: My second book, WREN MARTIN RUINS IT ALL, is out with Peachtree Teen in fall 2022! It’s an ace romcom about an anonymous app, identity shenanigans, and an infamous Valentine’s Day Dance. We’re in the process of finishing up edits on that one, and I’m super excited to throw it out of the nest and out into the world too! I’ve got another book with Peachtree Teen coming in 2024, but there’s not too much to say about that one yet (; But I’m always working on something! It’s hard to guess what will happen from here (I never expected Aces Wild to be my debut novel—I didn’t think I even wrote contemporary stories, and yet), but I’m hoping to get to explore different genres and maybe get into writing adult novels as well!