Recently, I met Los Angeles mystery writer Rachel Howzell Hall at the Mystery Writers of America National board orientation. I read Land of Shadows, featuring LA homicide detective Elouise "Lou" Norton. That novel deserved its starred review in Publishers Weekly.
Land of Shadows and Rachel's Skies of Ash were both on the LA Times’ Books to Read This Summer. The New York Times called her detective Lou Norton “a formidable fighter—someone you want on your side.” I can't wait to read Trail of Echoes this May. You'll enjoy Rachel's blog as much as her books. -- Elaine Viets
What Do You Do All Day?
By Rachel Howzell Hall
Confession: I’m behind. I should be finishing the last bits of my fourth draft for my fourth novel in the Lou Norton series. I blame my day job – lots of changes and I’ve had to adjust my novel writing life as a result.
See, in my daytime life, I am a proposal writer at City of Hope, a national leader in cancer research and treatment. Doing this helps with writing fiction -- I take difficult, science-y stuff and make it into plain English for regular people so that they donate money to advance cancer research. Writing proposals and reports have helped me slow down in my writing, break language down into its simplest, be compelling while still sticking to the point, and not assume that the reader knows what I'm talking about.
Despite the time suck, I like what I do. And I’m not alone in my day-job hustle.
Stephen King taught high school history.
Jack London was an oyster pirate.
Langston Hughes worked as a busboy at a hotel in D.C.
Dan Brown taught high school English.
J.K. Rowling taught English as a Second Language.
And Harlan Ellison was a short-order cook and a nitroglycerin truck driver.
I always fantasize about writing novels full-time. But working a day job, and being away from my personal writing, can be both a blessing and an inspiration.
What type of crack am I smoking, you ask? Have I gone around the bend and off the cliff? Drank the Kool-Aid about how awesome day jobs are? (And FYI, they drank grape Flavor-Aid on that unfortunate day.)
Think about it, though.
Does your house feature as many 'characters' as The Day Job?
Are there more interesting characters in your living room as the folks at The Day Job? You know who I’m talking about. The guy who steals teaspoons of your coffee creamer and never says thanks? That woman who refuses to learn how to use the copier and so she comes to your office and asks for your help and you glare at her because you just helped her two days ago but she apologizes and says she just doesn't understand cuz there are just so many buttons? The woman who wears the cologne, that cologne that makes your fingers numb and your nose run?
At home, you don't have stupid rules like 'No heating fish in the microwave' or require signs that say ‘Please wash your hands after using the toilet.’ If you ever become bug-eyed and shake your head and mutter, who are these people, that means you have great material for your book.
At one of my jobs, there had been a never-ending e-mail string about how to kill the mice in the building -- traps, bring in a cat, let them be? Attorneys, paralegals, fundraisers, support staff going on and on and on and on and on and on about killing mice.
You can't make this stuff up.
And really: why should you? It's RIGHT THERE, in that memo, in that supervisor, in the way you never hold the elevator for that creepy guy from Accounting cuz what's his deal and why does he look at you like that and you heard things about him and his wife but that couldn't have really happened, could it, OMG here he comes?
A writer needs all of these crazy and needlessly dramatic shenanigans to populate a story's world. Don’t fret cuz you have a 9-to-5. Pay attention and start carrying your moleskin and quill pen! Start looking around -- the break room, the bathroom, staff meetings, the elevator, the computer where crazy comes in emails about how many Christmas decorations you can have in your cubicle. People are even having affairs, yo. You think they’re just having lunch and going to Zumba together all innocent-like? Pshaw. Your character, your chapter, your plot twist may present itself between ‘leaning In’ and webinars.
Embrace your day job, whatever it is! It may slow your writing pace, make your brain a little… blech but since you gotta work, make it work. And always, ALWAYS, change names. Cuz you know… you wanna keep your job, too!