@review ANITA PADDOCK
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit
Edited by Sonny Brewer
Rick Bragg, one of the contributors to this book, writes on the back cover, “The truth is that this book will allow writers to do the one thing they strive for most: build a bridge between ourselves and our readers. It will connect us, fiercely, with the people who love to read, and those who dream about writing as they work at their own jobs.”
Well, that says it all. So if you’ve ever wondered what the likes of Pat Conroy or John Grisham or Winston Groom did before they hit it big, this book is for you.
The author of Forrest Gump, Winston Groom, tells us that what he learned from his first job, delivering newspapers, was that he didn’t like getting up early in the morning. His next job, at sixteen, was working on a summer construction crew in Mobile. On the first day at work, the foreman asked him if he was afraid of heights. Because he’d never been on anything very high, he told the man no. He learned from that job that “if anyone asks you if you’re afraid of heights, tell them yes.”
John Grisham is one funny guy. If you haven’t read Ford County, do so because his book of short stories will make you laugh out loud. He begins his essay by telling you that most lawyers are great storytellers, and they learn to embellish a story because that’s how they win their cases—whoever embellishes the best, wins. I don’t care if he takes liberties in telling about his jobs as a plumber’s helper, a member of a Mississippi highway asphalt crew in the summer, or his stint in retail (where it was cool) selling men’s underwear. They made me laugh. They also convinced me that above all else in life, I love a good story.
Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, a Mississippi mystery I loved, tells about his job as a pizza delivery guy while he was in graduate school in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He was thirty-two, and his manager was twenty-one. No shirker to hard work, he’d put himself through college by working at a warehouse, a factory that made sandblasting grit, a chemical plant, a hospital morgue, an automobile repair shop, and gas stations. He once took five classes while he worked eighty hours a week. All of these jobs gave him a writer’s education, and you’ll see these jobs in the books he writes.
Michelle Richmond, author of Year of Fog, which is being made into a movie, tells us the stories about her early jobs, and they will not make you laugh. Instead, you’ll admire her perseverance in doing those sometimes degrading jobs that paid the rent and bought the groceries.
Rick Bragg, author of All Over but the Shoutin’ , is a good ole Southern boy from the hills of Alabama who grew up poor. Raised by a single mom, whom he lovingly writes about, along with his grandparents, and his father (not so lovingly) in non-fiction books that have made him something of an icon in the South, is also a great storyteller. He says writers like to talk about how hard it is to write, how lonely it is, or how stiff your fingers get. But any tough writer like Hemingway or Mailer would have lasted about a week on his Uncle Ed’s crew. Uncle Ed ran a bulldozer and a front end loader that cut roads and cleared lots. Rick and his brothers worked for their uncle. His first job, when he was about ten, was cleaning mud and roots from the tracks that got all gummed up with debris. Later he did pick and shovel work, clearing out the tight spaces where the machines couldn’t get. Rick calls it “hateful” work that didn’t teach him character. It taught him toughness, that he could stoop lower and strain harder than most people were willing to do. He remembers that work, saying, “When all I do is tap a damn key, and I rarely get it right the first time.”
Twenty-three writers contributed to this book. They are all from the South, where good storytellers live. I bet you’ve got someone in your family who can keep everybody at the supper table, long after the meal is over. You probably should write their stories down, don’t you think?