Story by Bavani, Photos by Amanda Antilla
New York Times bestselling author Amanda Turner — A.K. Turner to her fans – confessed that she was unsure of how to classify her writing genre to when she first started out. It clicked for her when she showed her early work to a Penguin Books editors who said, “Don’t you know that humor is your strong suit? Get rid of all the serious stuff. You should be writing humor.” That day, a humorist was born.
Turner wears many hats. She authors the Vagabonding with Kids series. She speaks at conferences and live comedy events. She blogs. She’s a humor columnist, a volunteer with the Idaho Writers Guild and the Boise Public Library and an adventurous traveler. While writing is her main passion, Turner admitted, “I enjoy making a crowd laugh. I am not a motivational speaker. Sometimes I entertain, but most of the time, I’m lecturing on writing or the process of publishing books.”
Turner’s earliest inspiration was her father, Midnight Express author William Hoffer. “I grew up aware of writing as a profession and knowing that it was possible,” she recalled. Her father also authored a dozen more books.
Turner credited her writing style to a variety of writers. She said, “Rolf Potts wrote about vagabonding. It helped me to look at travel with a different mindset. Laurie Notaro inspired humor. Through Bill Bryson, I learned that people could travel and write about it. Sloane Crosley opened my mind to the possibility that I could write about my own funny experiences, and if I did it in a way that the reader connected with, I could maybe make a career out of it.”
Turner’s first solo book, This Little Piggy Went To The Liquor Store, was the product of rebellion. She was shocked by how much unsolicited advice people gave her during her first pregnancy. Fueled with ample material, Turner went on to write two more books in that series. During that time, her long-term family travel was increased yearly. The ‘Vagabonding with Kids’ series was the natural transition of incorporated traveling with kids as its main theme.
Turner shared that moments of embarrassment in her life served as inspiration for her writing too. “Any time I screw something up, I think, ‘At least this will make a great chapter,’” she quipped.
Many reasons motivate writers. Some write to inspire, while others write as a form of therapy. Turner writes to entertain. “I like bringing someone somewhere, giving them a smile or a laugh and providing a form of escape.” Writing also serves as a record of her adventures with her children.
Turner finds the most challenging aspect of writing to be getting out that first book. “It takes courage to get that first book finished. You want it so bad that when you get close to it, you freeze up. When you get over the first time, it is easier with the following books. While self doubt never goes away, you can manage it better.”
On the flip side, she relayed that the easiest part of writing was, “making fun of myself–that’s what readers can most relate to. If you are going to make fun of other people, ultimately, you have to come back to making fun of yourself. Otherwise, you’re just being mean.”
Turner’s ability to schedule her writing changed when she started homeschooling her daughters this year. Unable to write every day, she now practices “binge-writing out of necessity,” whenever she gets the opportunity.
Turner isn’t a believer in writer’s block. Mindful of her words, she offered, “Sit down with a pen and piece of paper. Start writing. Start transcribing a speech if you have to. You’ll start making progress somehow. It’s a job. You have to sit down and get the job done.”
Her advice for new writers? “Write more. You can talk about writing ‘til you’re blue in the face. You can spend all your money on books about writing. At some point, you just have to sit down and write. Getting involved with writing groups or organizations can be beneficial. I was scared of them at first. I thought, ‘Oh no, a bunch of crazy, nerdy writers like myself.’ Finding the right writing group is like dating. You have to find a good fit. It is really beneficial to have writing accountability partners. If you’re just starting out, you can’t be afraid to submit stories and ideas. Keep plugging away and you will get there. Write a paragraph. Little blocks of copy add up to something.”
She added, “As a writer, one should never stop learning. You should always want to get better. While you shouldn’t obsess with reviews, you should pay attention. If reviews are overwhelmingly negative, you should learn from it to improve for the readers who enjoy your type of writing.”
Turner’s love for travel began with her first trip to Russia when she was 15. It was organized through an exchange program and she recalled that she surviving being “dropped off with a crazy host family.” She has since traveled to countries including Greece, Ireland, France, Australia, Morocco and Italy.
With the growth of her family, Turner realized the value of gifting her children with the experience of understanding different cultures and ways of living. She proudly shared, “My daughters are good travelers. There are some sacrifices they have to make, like not celebrating Christmas at home. But they understand it is an opportunity that not everyone gets.” The Turner family lives and works in another country for up to three months at a time. They frequently participate in home exchanges with families from their travel destinations, swapping homes and cars for that period of time. They have gotten more adventurous with their choice of locations, including Mexico, Australia, Brazil and soon, Spain.
Turner reflected, “Many people say they will travel someday. Someday is the saddest word in the world because someday may not come.” Turner demonstrates through her Vagabonding with Kids series that traveling long term is affordable and beneficial as a family.
In reflecting on her childhood, Turner said, “I was always sort of a nerd. I guess there was a good mix of nerd and a little bit of a wild child thrown in there. I usually kept that on the down low, so I didn’t get into trouble much. I always loved books, writing and travel from early on.”
Turner’s early ambition to become a writer stemmed from watching her father write. She also toyed with becoming a cartoonist and wanting to work for the FBI or NSA, the latter being a product of her Russian college major and growing up in Maryland, just outside of the beltway. She ended college disillusioned with her Russian studies, which brought Turner home to writing, which also meant waiting tables and accounting jobs for the next 10 years.
When she’s not writing, Turner enjoys the simpler pleasures in life. “My nerdy side is happy doing a jigsaw puzzle for hours.” She spends her leisure time with her husband and daughters. For many years, Turner thought that cycling wasn’t her strength, but she recently bought a good bike and joked, “It turns out, it was the bike all along.” In nice weather the Turner family bikes the greenbelt, exploring and stopping at restaurants along the way. She said that even though they are together 24/7 when they travel, “We still like each other, which is good.”
Turner subscribes to the philosophy, “There is never one correct way to do something, whether it is traveling, writing or parenting.” She added, “I think my generation grew up very aware that you went to school, got a job, retired and then you died. I love seeing so much alternative thinking now. People who traveled back then were just crazy hippies. Now with the internet, people can work from any location. When I am told this is the way something has to be done, I ask myself, ‘Does it have to be?’”
ON THE FUTURE
Turner said that she remains open to possibilities. When she completed the third book in her first series, she knew that she was ready to move on. Currently, she is working towards seven books in the Vagabonding with Kids series, balancing her time between writing, homeschooling and motherhood.
For now, Turner is following the advice she would have given her 20-year-old self: “Don’t take everything so seriously. Write more. Focus on kindness.”
A.K. TURNER FAVORITES:
Rolf Potts. Mary Roach, a science writer who is smart, but she makes science funny.
Stephen King’s, On Writing. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Vagabonding and Marco Polo Didn’t Go There by Rolf Potts.
CURRENT READING LIST:
I just finished Marco Polo Didn’t Go There. I lead the Idaho Writer’s Guild Book Club, so I just finished reading In The Woods by Tana French and am going to start reading Islam and the Future of Tolerance.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” ~~ Stephen King ~~
Captain Fantastic. The all-time classic, Cool Hand Luke. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
FAMOUS PERSON SHE’D LIKE TO MEET:
Ben Stiller. I saw more depth in his acting in Walter Mitty. He seems like a cool guy–someone fun to hang out with.
To learn more about A.K. Tuner visit her websites: