How All Those Stupid Jobs Helped Me Make a Writing Career, by Guest Author A.S. King

asking-web-imageWe’re very pleased to welcome A.S. King to the ball. The Dust of 100 Dogs is her first young adult novel, and is about a notorious 17th century pirate reincarnated as a girl genius determined to reclaim her buried treasure, having lived the last three hundred years as an assortment of dogs.

I’ve worked some weird jobs in my life. My worst jobs were probably the ones I never showed up for, or walked out on. (That would be IHOP (twice) and going door-to-door trying to get people to sign a petition in favor of clean water in their own community, which was much harder than it should have been.) I think my worst working experiences were more due to clueless bosses than the actual work. The worst was the boss who decided to “ventilate” a photo-processing machine, filled with warm sulfuric acid, into my darkroom, which caused my then-perfect teeth (not one cavity) to weaken and even break. Fourteen fillings, a root canal and a few useless calls to OSHA later, I finally quit. I needed money, and loved darkroom work, but I liked having teeth more.

My first job was bussing tables at the local diner. I was 14, and I had to wear black pants and a white blouse and I made something like $3.40 per hour (around minimum wage for 1984) and worked through the Sunday brunch church crowds. I don’t remember much – burned hands from stacking the hot washed plates and occasionally running into my 9th grade biology teacher as I wheeled my tubs of dirty dishes around the dining room. I remember moving into the hostess position for a while at the end, where I was required to wear a brown polyester wrap around apron/dress with a white blouse, white stockings and white shoes. The dress only overlapped about 10” in the back, so bending over was tricky, and I always reached my hand around to make sure it didn’t open up if I had to pick something up off the floor.

dust-100-dogs-webI used that polyester wrap-around apron/dress in my last YA book, Ignore Vera Dietz. Though the situation was nothing the same, the dress came in handy, as have many memories from my years working interesting minimum wage jobs. My vast pizza delivery experience worked for Ignore Vera Dietz as well, and I used a vague amalgam of my darkroom and dental experiences for one of my adult books, Why People Take Pictures. In The Dust of 100 Dogs (Flux 2/2009), Saffron gets a job at the local McDonalds, whereas I spent my high school fast food hours at Arby’s. But the job was essentially the same, and the most important parts were the smells I remembered, or the shift hours and uniforms.

All those years, working all those lame jobs, I wondered if I’d ever have a real career – you know – one thing I was passionate about, where I might have a chance at being successful. Little did I know that I’d be a writer, and it would come in handy to know how to run an industrial dishwasher, fold pizza boxes, clean a shake machine, wire a socket, devein shrimp, neutralize sulfuric acid, and use an air compressor with a broken pressure gauge. It’s funny how things work out, isn’t it?

11 Replies to “How All Those Stupid Jobs Helped Me Make a Writing Career, by Guest Author A.S. King”

  1. Hey, did you ring my bell the other day about clean water? I did sign the petition, by the way. I mean, who’s in favor of pollution? Mmmm, gimme more of that.

    I digress. Thanks for coming by to the Ball. I can’t wait to read your book (books!) and I’m also glad you know how to wire a socket all those other interesting things. What good would a writer be if all she knew how to do was type and have angst?

  2. It’s so great to have you at the ball today! Welcome!

    Polyester uniforms are the worst. At my tour guiding job we had to wear former flight attendant uniforms, and wearing polyester in 90 degree heat was disgusting! I haven’t figured out how to use that in a book yet, but I probably should…

  3. Thanks for having me at the ball, guys! The last time I had my pearls out was nearly 17 years ago for my wedding. And yes, those *are* combat boots under my gown. I am what I am.

    I think the second prize for worst uniform has to be the IHOP uniform that I never ended up wearing. In fact, the morning I was supposed to start, I put on the uniform and found I couldn’t leave my house in it. It was a mix of polyester and that stiff thin, cheap cotton that was held together more by the dye than anything else. I’ve had bandanas of better quality.

  4. Thanks for being our guest. I, too, have a severe allergy to polyester. Why would anyone ever want to wear the stuff? Especially at work? Your book sounds fabulous, though. I LOVE the premise and I love that you have a swashbuckling, girl hero. Huzzah!

  5. Hi Stella! Had to come by to say hi to you here! Just started your book and am LOVING it!
    Oh, I am sickened that that happened to your teeth! How scary! I used to be a photographer and when I was in school and had free access to darkrooms I used to spend many hours a day in them. And of course all those chemicals were CLEAR, and water’s clear, so what’s wrong with putting your hands in there? Oy, it wasn’t till I was about to get pregnant I realized i needed to get the hell out of the darkroom, and thank goodness I did, because the more I read about how toxic all of those chemicals were, the more I realized how stupid I was to think nothing of having constant contact with them. I almost even liked the smell!
    And once when we had a swimming pool in our backyard and my husband had to do some serious cleaning due to algae, he dumped a bucket of muriatic acid into my beautiful bed filled with black-eyed susans. Oh, I was crushed–they died instantly.
    My work uniform from hell was the mustard-yellow, front zip, short-sleeved, pointy-collared Star Trek-look-alike uniform I had to work when I worked for my dad, who was an orthodontist. We had a different colored top for each day of the week and gloomy Mondays, fittingly, were the day for that horrid fashion faux pax. It didn’t stretch at all so it was uncomfortably binding. The only thing that competed with the top for hideous were the stretch white polyester nurses pants and the cushioned crepe sold platform shoes (also white), with matching white knee-hi’s.

  6. Hey Jen – yeah – the dark ages had weird chemicals, eh? Now, it’s just click and print. Crazy stuff. Stoked that you’re enjoying the book!

    Tiffany – thanks. You can learn more about my book by watching the cool trailer!

    And let me say here that I am totally moved by Eve’s post from yesterday. Because rape and sexual slavery are part of The Dust of 100 Dogs, I try to write informative articles for young adults about it. I spew this fact often: About 1 in 4 women or girls in the US experiences sexual violence in her lifetime. Girls ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.
    If one in four (I believe a modest estimate compared to the realities we’ve all faced in the workplace/school/life) of us had the measles, wouldn’t it be a measles EPIDEMIC?

  7. I think it’s probably closer to 1 out of every 3 women or girls – once you factor in ALL the women who will hide it all their lives. And A.S. – I am thrilled that it’s something that you address in The Dust of a 100 Dogs. I feel like you YA authors have such a ministry (oh, excuse me for going all spiritual here) – but such an incredibly important perch from which to address this stuff in a way that can reach and help so many young people. You GO Girls (and guys)!

    I just saw the trailer for the book and it does look awesome, awesome, awesome. I am running out to buy it now!!!!

  8. I’d say from my experience, Eve – you’re certainly closer with 1 in 3, but I have to quote “official” figures when teaching young people. Personally, I think if we count experiences like your first job, we’re probably looking at 50% or more, and I bet that’s even more accurate.

    One of the biggest obstacles I’m finding in trying to talk about issues like these with young people is the way the word “feminist” has been vilified and mis-defined over the last 20 years, causing our GIRLS to reject it, and feel that if they do anything strong, they will be one of these awful “feminists” and will be rejected by boys and their friends. I think we need to remind young women and girls what life was really like before feminism gave us real freedom. (It really sucked.) I think if more girls (and boys and men and women) knew that being a feminist simply means that a person believes women should have an equal right to vote, get educated and be employed, that we’d have more people willing to look at the important issues, like this epidemic of rape and sexual assault. At the moment, we are distracted and pitted against each other, making us weaker and easier prey.

  9. Hi A.S. King, I like your thinking. I hope my grandkids read your books.

    If any of your students want to know what it was like before “feminism”, you can just point out that the law to give females equal pay was JUST signed by MY President Obama. When I was a kid, to be told, “oh, you can’t do that because you are a girl!” was heard and usually believed on a regular basis…especially from guidance counselors…geeze.

    Don’t even start me on OSHA…which we now know (since My president took office) that like FEMA, it had all its’ guts ripped out by the former administration…or misadministration as I like to call it.

    So ladies, what are you reading these days. I just finished Fifteen Minutes of Shame…pretty good read thank you. Now I am again into Phillipa Gregory…I just love her writing.

    Have a happy weekend.

  10. It’s true–every job I’ve had, bad or good, has added something to my toolbox as a writer. (No matter how hard it is to make the best of it when it’s actually happening.)

    Thanks so much for being our guest author!

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