Monday, May 28, 2012

Writers With Day Jobs: R. Thomas Brown

In this first of what will be an ongoing series of interviews with writers who do not write full time, I welcome R. Thomas Brown. A prolific short story writer, Brown has written in both the horror and crime genres and has several short story collections as well as a horror novella and the newly released novel, Hill Country (Snubnose Press).

I asked the same set of questions to a bunch of writers and over the next few weeks I'l reveal what they said about working full time, writing part or sometimes full time as well. The fact is, most writers don't make a living at it. I know I don't. Not even close. So while some out there might think having a book on Amazon is a path to riches and private yachts, these talented and really hard working writers will give a glimpse into the trenches of the day-to-day grind of putting words on paper.

So allow me to welcome R. Thomas Brown to my little corner of the web.

What do you do as your day job?

I’m a statistician. I’ve worked in different fields, banking, database marketing, telecom. Right now it’s medical billing. I don’t really have a strong tie to the field, but I do enjoy building stat models. The challenge of finding the right technique, and the right decision points is usually an interesting challenge. When it gets to be too much of a routine job, I usually look elsewhere.

When do you find time to write?

At lunch, at home when everyone else is asleep, or when some code is running (which can take an hour depending on the size of the dataset.)  I can find about 4 hours total on a good day, and less than one on a tough day. On those, I usually end up trading sleep for writing.

Has your job or coworkers ever influenced a story?

Coworkers, sure, but only in that I take little bits of backstory or personality quirks from anyone I see or know. Nothing directly. Work, some, but not literally. There are emotional connections to work that I try to work in as well as feelings about what the company does. The reality of my work would make for pretty boring stories.

What would it take for you to quit and write full time?

A huge breakout, or years of steady income that I felt comfortable with. Right now, married with three kids, the responsibilities are too great. I’d need to feel that I could step away from the income and benefits and still be able to provide what was needed. Sure, my wife could work more, but we’d still have to be able to make up the gap.

Do your coworkers know you write? Do they know you write dark crime fiction?

Some do, I don’t talk about personal stuff much at work. I pretty much either work from home, or in my office without interruption or interaction. Sure, there are meetings, but those stay on task for the most part.

What do they say about it?

The few that do usually ask why I chose to write that. I just say those are the stories that come to me. Honestly, the couple who have read anything of mine usually ask why I have to curse so damned much. (The damned was mine).

Do you think people respect writing as a job, or does it come off as less "work" than a labor or office job?

Speaking just on my own discussions about my writing, I’m so new at it, and still working, so people act as if it’s a hobby. I don’t argue with them. I think people think of writers as either hobbyists or celebrities. Neither one of those seems like “worker”.

Be honest, if you wrote full time, do you think you'd be disciplined about it?

I’d probably write 4-5 hours a day. When I don’t have much going on, and really get 4 hours in, I don’t normally feel like writing more, even if I have time. Sure, there have been the odd days where I wrote for 8, but that’s so rare as to be inconsequential. I’d probably spend time on the internet, or running errands to make for less busy weekends. Now, would that change if I never had to think about work and so wasn’t mentally as tired? Maybe, but I doubt it.

What job, other than writing, would you most like to have?

Well, I used to want to be a professor. But, my wife is one, and that doesn’t seem as appealing anymore. I’d like to just be an instructor of economics at a community college. That’s what my masters degree is in, and I’ve done some classes part time. I think once I can get in a financial place (through paying off the house, or more money writing, or just getting the kids on their own – in like 15 years) I’ll probably pursue that.

What has been your best job? Your worst?

Best job? Really they’ve all be about the same. They start off interesting. New problems, new questions, gets me thinking. In time, it gets routine and I move on.

Worst? Accounts payable for a private prison management company. Sure, there were interesting parts (almost all when I would visit the facilities to do an audit) but the job itself was pretty boring.

When do you find time to read?

At night. Often, I’m too tired to write, but not physically tired enough to sleep. That’s perfect reading time. Just get lost in a story and relax.

Have you ever, or maybe how often, have you considered quitting and shacking up to write novels, money issues be damned?

I used to. And sure, now and then I think about just chucking it all, moving out to some cheaper property, homeschooling the kids, and making a go of it. But then I realize the kids and my wife would kill me.

What is your ultimate goal with writing? Full time journeyman or millionaire? Or are you satisfied doing it part time?

For now, part time is fine. I’d like it to earn enough so that I could pick a job that I enjoyed more, without worrying so much about money. And, I hope it will someday earn me enough to make for a better retirement.

Given what you've earned writing, dividing it by the hours spent, what would you say is your hourly wage as a writer?

I won’t say. It’s too depressing and I refuse.

Do you have a spouse/partner that would support you writing full time?

She would, if it earned enough. Right now, she works part time. She’d be willing to work full time, if the writing was making enough for it all to work out.


Nigel Bird said...

I'm impressed with your attitude and your ability to find time. I'm more impressed that you're so good at writing when you say you're new to it.

And that 'hobby' thing is something I hear and it gets my goat.

I guess the prospect of being lynched by the wife and kids keeps you well in line - it certainly works for me.

Thanks Ron (and Eric).

Chris Rhatigan said...

This is a cool series. Interesting to hear about the other aspects of writers' lives.