My parents weren’t exactly the hovering type. By the time I was in third grade, I was a latchkey kid because they both worked. My older sister and I would get up to all sorts of shenanigans in those afternoons, but after a while she went off with her friends and I was left alone.
I didn’t go to the library as a kid. It wasn’t a thing for us, or really anyone I knew. I got one book a week from the school library, but I’ve always been such a fast reader that the book maybe lasted me one day.
Which left me with my parents’ bookshelf. I wish I could say I became a reader because of all the wonderful children’s books I had access to, but that wouldn’t be the truth. In fourth grade, I pulled Stephen King’s Carrie off my mom’s bookshelf and that was sort of it for me. I read every book he wrote, anything my parents had, and eventually I started bugging my friends to see if they had access to the books of his I hadn’t read.
It’s a funny thing when I think about protecting my kids from certain things by limiting access to the books they read. The truth is, I was not protected in my book choices and adult literature did not ruin me as a young reader. Stephen King wasn’t a gateway into me working the streets and sampling crack. Stephen King wrote stories that scared the living shit out of me, but I loved every minute of it. His books became my companions when I was so lonely in my house.
They introduced me into a world of imagination and an escape from the hard things of my life in a way that nothing else had.
I sometimes wonder if my life as a reader or writer might’ve been different if the books I devoured when I was young were more age-appropriate. Honestly, I don’t know. My writing is done with a fearlessness I might not have if I were more protected as a child. I know I don’t hold back on uncomfortable things, but I also don’t regret the choices I make or wish I wrote differently. I want to reach readers who are like how I was as a kid–maybe lonely, maybe looking for a way to connect, maybe looking to feel understood. I’ve never written safe books, and I guess I never really read safe books. Yet, I am grateful for Stephen King because I don’t think at that difficult time in my life anything else would have connected with me in the same way.