Book Friends by Katherine Applegate

When I visit schools, I always tell kids that being an author is the world’s coolest job. You wear sweatpants to work, you don’t have a boss, and you spend your days making things up.

Basically, you’re paid to be a slob, a malcontent, and a liar.

There’s only one downside (and I tell kids this this part, too): writing can be a little lonely.

Writers don’t have office water coolers, where they can dissect the latest episode of The Good Wife. They don’t have pointless meetings, where they can play hangman with a buddy on page 3 of the assistant-to-the-assistant-manager’s Action Plan. They don’t have someone in a nearby cubicle who’ll kvetch when kvetching is required, and cheerlead when pom-poms and high kicks are the order of the day.

That’s where my book friends come in.

Each time I start a novel, I recruit my own squad of cheerleaders: other books. When I am writing a book (on some days, fighting a book), I keep that small, select pile of books nearby. They are my allies. They are there to remind me what’s possible. To inspire me. To hearten me. They buoy me when I’m drowning in murky sub-plots. They chide me when I whine that the coffee must be decaf. They remind me that there’s a reason keyboards come with a “Delete” key.

As writing rituals go, I can assure you that this is not particularly eccentric. You’ve read those articles about how writers write: the ridiculous talismans, the lunatic obsessions. Writers who wrote standing up (Hemingway), facing a wooden dresser (Flannery O’Connor), nursing a glass or three of whiskey (Faulkner), shivering in the nude (Victor Hugo.)

Well, I tried to incorporate a couple of those techniques into my writing routine, and all I had to show for it was a lousy chapter, a well-organized sock drawer, and a neighbor with new curtains.

My crazy ritual is the right crazy ritual.

For THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, my middle grade novel inspired by the true story of a gorilla who lived, caged and alone, for 27 years in a shopping mall, several treasured friends kept me company. SOLD, by Patricia McCormick (because her style is breathtaking.) MISSING MAY (because Cynthia Rylant managed to blend humor and poignancy so perfectly.) A picture book
I’ve always loved, one not well known, called OREGON’S JOURNEY, by a Belgian author named Rascal, about a clown named Duke and a circus bear named Oregon (because it reminded me why I thought Ivan’s story was important to tell.) And CHARLOTTE’S WEB, by E.B. White (because I love it more than any other book in the whole wide world.)

For my current novel, which involves dogs, cats and children, in equal measure, my friends include NO ONE IS GOING TO NASHVILLE by Mavis Jukes (because she created a family you can’t help but love); THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt (because wow, can that gal write!), and a book of humor and photographs entitled WHY DOGS ARE BETTER THAN
CATS, by Bradley Trevor Greive (I will play the Swiss on this one, as I share a household with both species.)

Like all friendships, there are rocky moments. Sometimes, my book friends just intimidate me. It’s not their fault: it’s mine. (Writers are a quirky and insecure lot.) When that happens, I just turn them spine-in. They’re still there for me; they’re just waiting until I need them. To help me dream bigger and wilder, to take risks and to have fun.

That’s what good friends do, after all.

And if a book can do that for a grown-up, just think what it can do for a kid.

Katherine Applegate has written many books for children and young adults, including The Buffalo Storm (a picture book), Roscoe Riley Rules (a chapter book series), and Animorphs (which she wrote with her husband, Michael Grant.) Her novel Home of the Brave was awarded the 2008 Golden Kite Award for Best Fiction, the Bank Street 2008 Josette Frank Award for children’s fiction, and was a Judy Lopez Memorial Award honor book.

She lives in California with her husband, two children, and assorted pets.

You can find her online at  http://theoneandonlyivan.com and on Twitter as @kaaauthor.