I think most writers find their love of writing through reading. I think we all have influences and our dreams came mid-sentence at some point in our lives—that moment where we thought I would really like to do something like this. Reading grew us. It is a writer’s parent or soil or maker. Reading is where we start.
So there I was, many moons ago, on my farm in Tipperary, writing on my own time, writing what I wanted to write, published by no one, touring to nowhere, on deadline never. I read constantly and volunteered when I wasn’t in my garden or working. But now is kinda…different. Now I write because I have to write, I am published several times over, I travel like crazy twice a year and I am always—always—on a deadline.
I still manage to help my kids with homework, play tipsy games of Ping-Pong with Mr. King, and I see my family and friends, though not as much as I’d like to. I also help run my non-profit community swimming pool. And I’m secretary of my library board. And I volunteer with my local V-Day. I will not lie. These volunteer positions have, at times, stressed me out. But, they also feed my material. I am out of the house, meeting new people, experiencing new things. I cannot tell you how important this is in relation to being a writer.
Example: Had I locked myself in my office five years ago and not become part of the swimming pool board, I would have never had the opportunity to wear a greasy, leased catering polo shirt and serve food to hockey fans at the local stadium. This is not a romantic job. It really isn’t. But because I did it several times a year for the last few years, I can perfectly describe to you what a greasy, leased catering polo shirt feels and smells like. I can remind you of the trivial tasks you once had to remember when you worked fast food in high school. I can remind myself that real people still often forget to say please and thank you to food service workers in greasy, leased polo shirts. I am reminded also of the nice people who tip me because they know I’m volunteering.
People say (I mean this—people say this to me all the time) “Why don’t you quit that volunteer stuff you do? It’s taking up too much of your time. You need to concentrate on your work.”
But they can’t see that those nights at the hockey games are my work. Life. Life is my work. Having sore feet after six hours serving hockey fans is my work. Filling the ice bins is my work. Listening to the old man complain about the temperature of his hot dog is my work.
How can that be my work? Because those experiences percolate into books. My main character Gerald, in my next book Reality Boy, works at…I bet you get the picture. (But only if, in that picture, Gerald is wearing a greasy, leased polo shirt.)
I believe: Everything you do, you will do it as a writer.
I believe: The more you do, the better writer you will be.
As much as I am inspired by meeting the cranky hot-dog-complainers and the greasy, leased polo shirts, I am inspired by books. And yet, this is the one love that has fallen away from me. I am sad to admit it, but in the last two years, I have read very few books. Worse yet, I didn’t really read books for fun. My favorite books are literary adult translations and the books I’ve read in the last years have been for work—for endorsements, mostly, which I love to do but have stopped doing because I have run out of time for reading.
It seemed the more books I wrote, the less books I read. It seemed the more cities I traveled to, the less I read on airplanes and the more I made sure my battery was charged so I could work on airplanes.
About a year ago, I realized that I’d lost…me. I couldn’t find me anywhere. Amy was in the office writing and meeting those deadlines, and she was going from town to town talking about empowerment to teenagers and loving every single minute of it. But me, the woman who was inspired to write by the amazing books she once read? I had no idea where she was.
Then, last weekend I read the most remarkable book. I stayed in bed for two days and just read. Like the old days—a deep Norwegian translation. Nearly five hundred pages. It was a perfect book—not just because it was great in itself, but because it showed me why I do this and reminded me how to do it well. It even showed me how to fix an eight-year-old project I’d abandoned long ago.
I realized: If we get too caught up in writing and keeping up with the responsibilities we have as authors, we can forget that books—they are roadmaps. They are tour guides. They are teachers. They are mirrors.
I believe: Everything you read, you will read it as a writer.
I believe: The more you read, the better writer you will be.
So today I am here to remind you: Reading is essential. Getting so caught up in a book that you don’t shower for two days is part of your job description. Staying up until three in the morning because you just can’t put it down and then dreaming in dark, flat Norwegian translation worlds is part of what you’re supposed to do. Being slightly late on a deadline because you are reading a book that will make your book better is…probably the best thing you can do for everyone concerned. Don’t worry about your friends. They’ll understand. Don’t worry about your editors. They know all this stuff already. Don’t worry about the kids. They will learn from you even if you smell bad and can’t tear your eyes away from the page.
They will learn that books are important.
Which is the whole damn point, isn’t it?
About the Author
A.S. King is the author of ASK THE PASSENGERS, EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS, and 2011 Michael L. Printz Honor Book PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ. She is also the author of THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, adult story collection MONICA NEVER SHUTS UP and the upcoming REALITY BOY (Oct. 2013.) After a decade living self-sufficiently and teaching literacy to adults in Ireland, she now lives in Pennsylvania surrounded by red tailed hawks.
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About The Book
Astrid Jones copes with her small town's gossip and narrow-mindedness by staring at the sky and imagining that she's sending love to the passengers in the airplanes flying high over her backyard. Maybe they'll know what to do with it. Maybe it'll make them happy. Maybe they'll need it. Her mother doesn't want it, her father's always stoned, her perfect sister's too busy trying to fit in, and the people in her small town would never allow her to love the person she really wants to: another girl named Dee.
There's no one Astrid feels she can talk to about this deep secret or the profound questions that she's trying to answer. But little does she know just how much sending her love--and asking the right questions--will affect the passengers' lives, and her own, for the better.
In this unmistakably original portrayal of a girl struggling to break free of society's boxes and definitions, Printz Honor author A.S. King asks readers to question everything--and offers hope to those who will never stop seeking and sharing real love.
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