Thursday, September 16, 2010

Working for a Living

By Wendy Lyn Watson

Many thanks to the Working Stiffs for letting me crash their little corner of the web!

Many thanks to you, Wendy, for being here!

With the recent release of my second book, Scoop to Kill, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about ice cream, writing, murder, cozies, Texas accents … the list goes on and on. For today, I wanted to talk about something different. Something I haven’t talked to death yet.

One thing I rarely discuss in interviews is my day job. Like most writers, I have one. Indeed, my day job keeps a roof over my head and my cats in kibble. Even if I made a mint off one of my books, I’d probably hold on to the day job, both for the security of a regular paycheck and because I genuinely love what I do: teaching.

When I do mention my gig at the university, most folks assume I teach English or creative writing. But, no, I teach political science (American politics, judicial process, and constitutional law, to be precise). I make sure our newest generation of voters know how the electoral college works and all the would-be lawyers apply to law school with their eyes wide open about what to expect.

This is where most people say, “But, uh, you don’t write about …” And then they trail off and look at me with the expression my students have when I explain the rules of a filibuster. Helpless confusion tinged with a smidge of disbelief.

They don’t have to finish their thought. I know what they’re thinking. No, I don’t write about lawyers, or politics, or any of the lovely subjects I studied in the hallowed halls of academe. By the same token, I don’t teach my students about ice cream, or murder, or any of the other lovely subjects that fill my books.

My writing life and my day job hardly overlap at all. Oh, sure, I killed off a graduate student in my newest Mystery a la Mode, and occasionally one of my students earns a bit part in one of my books. But really they’re separate worlds.

Personally, I prefer it that way. When I write, I get to play make-believe, live lives I’ll never know for real. Why would I want to spend my make-believe time “doing” what I do every day? That wouldn’t be fun (for me) at all. And while I adore teaching an occasional writing workshop to fellow travelers, the thought of spending every day trying to dissect the muse for a classroom full of college kids makes me a little sick. For me, I think it would take much of the joy out of writing.

I won’t rule out the possibility that someday I’ll write a legal thriller. Heck, maybe someday I’ll even teach writing on a regular basis. But for now, I appreciate keeping my writing life and my day job in separate boxes.

What about you? Do you write what you know? Or what you wish you knew? How much does your day job intersect with your writing life?

Wendy Lyn Watson writes deliciously funny cozy mysteries with a dollop of romance. Her Mysteries a la Mode (I Scream, You Scream [Highly recommended by Paula!]; Scoop to Kill; and the forthcoming A Parfait Murder (June 2011)) feature amateur sleuth Tallulah Jones, who solves murders in between scooping sundaes. While she does not commit--or solve--murders in real life, Wendy can kill a pint of ice cream in nothing flat. She's also passionately devoted to 80s music, Asian horror films, and reality TV. (


PatRemick said...

Welcome, Wendy! I suppose my worlds do overlap -- in my WIP, the main character works at City Hall, as do I. The tough thing has been writing about the bizarre things that occur there without jeopardizing my job. But my short stories are much darker, with more bodies. No overlap with my real life there!

Paula Matter said...

Hey, Wendy, and welcome to Working Stiffs! If I wrote only what I know, they'd be really short stories.

Wendy Lyn Watson said...

Thanks for the welcome, Pat and Paula.

Pat - that's another reason for keeping my lives separate: I don't want to be sued. And the temptation to write about actual events would be so strong (truth *is* stranger than fiction).

Paula - I'm pretty sure that's not true. ;)

Jerrie Alexander said...

eurWendy, Writing romantic supense requires mental role playing and moving around in a world I've never experienced. It also requires tons of research or it does for me. Lucky for me, I enjoy digging around in the minds and old cases of serial killers!

Getting to play the hero and heroine in my mind as they work through the case and solve the crime is not only make-believe at its best, it's great fun.

susan meier said...

Wow. I write romances and I have to admit to some overlap in terms of understanding love, being in love, falling in love. (My husband would be grateful to hear that)

I also write a lot about babies and kids. I come from a huge family...10 there's always a baby or kid around. So, that part also comes from my life experience.

But category romance readers love to read about rich people so...well...being that I'm not rich the overlap stops there.

The Internet is full of real estate sites that show me one part of how the other half lives! I can see rings and boats and cars online. Not to mention private planes.

And given that I'm not wealthy I can very easily imagine what it's like to be the maid! LOL

susan meier
MAID FOR THE SINGLE DAD, Harlequin Romance, 8/10

Joyce said...

Welcome to Working Stiffs!

The only overlap in my WIP is that my protag is a police secretary (I used to be one). Other than that, there's no similarity whatsoever.

If I wrote about my real life, it'd be an awfully boring book.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Welcome Wendy.

I'm an Environmental Engineer managing an Environmental Compliance Department by day. While I've thought of writing an Eco-Thriller, I've shied away from it.


I think I'm too close to the subject. Knowing me, I'd be putting interesting environmental tidbits throughout and they would only appeal to... Well me.

I've even stayed away from setting my work in my own city for fear I'd do the same thing. I've seen it done by a few authors trying too hard to bring local flavor to their work.

On the flip side, my work and personal life have definitely influenced my writing and things creep in all the time.

Great topic.

Wendy Lyn Watson said...

This is fascinating! I'm particularly intrigued by some of the methods you all have found to research these alternative lives ... I love the idea of looking at real estate websites to get peeks into the fancy homes most of us never even see from the outside. :)

Patg said...

Wow, the rules of fillibuster! Now there's a topic.
Yes, I write what I know. I'm a retired travel agent and airline employee. Not in the positions you normally think of when you hear those terms. My idea of research is calling or emailing friends to verify things that happened or remember exact procedures.

Ricky Bush said...

Yep. I've listen to, played and written about blues music for most of my adult life. So...when I decided to pen a crime novel, well, you guessed it--the two protaganist are both blues harmonica players chasing down a crazed family intent on eliminating those type musicians from the planet.

Wendy Lyn Watson said...

LOL - maybe the big issue is whether what you know is totally cool! If I were a blues musician, I might want to write about that all the time, too. :)

Thanks again to the Stiffs for letting me hang out today. It's been interesting to read all the varied approaches to working and writing (and working AT writing).

elaine cantrell said...

Wendy, I'm a teacher too, and I get the same thing. "Do you teach English?" I'm with you; let's keep the writing and day job separate.