Thursday, June 7, 2012

Writers With Day Jobs: Jimmy Callaway

Jimmy Callaway is a great writer. I think he's funny as hell. Then there's also guns and stuff. He's also a Renaissance man. A musician and frequent non-fiction blogger/commentator on the writing life, film, pop culture and anything else in his laser sights. Seriously, the guy's got wit like a post-punk Dorothy Parker.

He's been anthologized, read at our Noir at the Bar, rocked the stages all over San Diego and environs. But what does he do to make the rent? Read on.

And now welcome to Jimmy's Boring Working Life:
What do you do as your day job?
As I write this, I am a packer in the warehouse of a small kids books/fruity new-age gifts catalog.  By the time you read this, though, I will likely have stopped working there after four and a half years.  I work part-time in a comic book store, where I will still be working as you read this, and I was recently hired to work part-time at a pizza joint a dear friend of mine manages.  Also, I get a few bucks a month editing and shamelessly plugging the website Criminal Complex (
When do you find time to write?
Mornings and evenings, usually.  It's not so much a matter of finding time to write as it is finding time to do all the other stuff I do.  Writing and/or creative (for lack of a better word) projects take priority for me.  I write more than I do anything else, I think.
Has your job or coworkers ever influenced a story?
Oh, all the time.  Nothing leaps to mind right now, but I know when I was a twenty-something, sexually frustrated 7-11 cashier, I wrote more than a couple stories about twenty-something, sexually frustrated 7-11 cashiers.  That sort of influence is a lot less obvious in my work these days, but it's still there.
What would it take for you to quit and write full time?
A more-or-less steady income.
Do your coworkers know you write? Do they know you write dark crime fiction?
Yeah, it's no secret, but I doubt if any of them really care.  Which is fine, since I barely care if they live or die, for the most part.
What do they say about it?
They rarely say anything about it to me, and I think it's unlikely they say anything behind my back, either.  Few people in my life really talk to me much about my writing, co-workers or otherwise.  And that's fine, honestly; I don't say this to sound like I feel under appreciated or anything.  People have got other things to do than wade through my writing and then stroke my ego about it afterwards.
Do you think people respect writing as a job, or does it come off as less "work" than a labor or office job?
Yeah, it doesn't tend to be taken as seriously as other "real" jobs.  I dealt with that a lot at 7-11, as well.  I worked at the same 7-11 from the age of 19 to 26, and I was often asked by people when I was going to get a real job.  My usual response to that was along the lines of either, "Huh?" or "Go fuck yourself."  And that's more or less my attitude still.  If people wanna have pissing contests about their jobs (or anything else, for that matter), they can do it on somebody else's time.  I got work to do.
Be honest, if you wrote full time, do you think you'd be disciplined about it?
Y'know, if you'd asked me that even a few years ago, I would have had my doubts, but I've become a lot more disciplined than I've ever been, with no real signs of abating.  As much as I've always enjoyed writing, it used to be kind of a chore, especially when it often felt like I was just spinning my wheels.  It feels less and less like that by the day, and if I was writing full-time, I doubt it'd feel much like that at all.  So no, that's not a worry at all, really.
What job, other than writing, would you most like to have?
Even though I've never even been up on ice skates or have even watched a game in ten years, I think it looks like a lot of fun being a hockey player.  That or some other creative pursuit--film, music, shit like that.
What has been your best job? Your worst?
When I went back to school full-time, I worked as an English tutor for those four years, and though it got to be a real drag in a lot of ways, the job itself was easily the most rewarding I've ever had, as far as day jobs go.  Instead of slinging Big Gulps or overpriced self-help CDs, I was helping supply people with something useful, something many of them were very grateful for and happy to have.  I've never really had a worst job; they've pretty much all been menial, low-paying shit jobs that suited me just fine right up until they didn't, and I quit and got another menial, low-paying shit job.
When do you find time to read?
Like with writing, it's less a matter of finding time and more a matter of making it.  I consider reading, even "for fun," to always be a form of research, and so it's not like I ever just stretch out in a hammock with some piece-of-shit romance novel, y'know?  If I can rationalize it as being work, then I can enjoy it a lot more, ironically enough.  And I won't then chide myself for being lazy.  Also, I always keep a book handy, so at work when I go out for a smoke break, I always have something to do.  No rest for the witless.
Have you ever, or maybe how often, have you considered quitting and shacking up to write novels, money issues be damned?
Oh, there's never a time that I'm not considering it.  It is rare that I actually ever consciously grasp that notion and seriously entertain it, but that's my primary goal in life, so that's always at least in the background somewhere in everything I do.  Even though my actual plan consists of little more than, "Write real good a lot."
What is your ultimate goal with writing? Full time journeyman or millionaire? Or are you satisfied doing it part time?
I don't know if I'd be satisfied with part-time, but only because I can't imagine getting to a point where I say, "Okay, that's enough."  I'm not saying it's impossible, but as it stands now, I will write part-time until I can do it full-time or die trying.  Whether I'd be a journeyman or a millionaire, I mean, obviously, I'd like to live comfortably.  But I've never been a millionaire and I've always managed to eke out an existence I'm satisfied with.  I don't think I'd miss the times when I've had to scrounge through my ashtray to smoke unfinished butts because I'm broke two days before payday.  But even if I had to do that every paycheck, I don't think I'd really care.
Given what you've earned writing, dividing it by the hours spent, what would you say is your hourly wage as a writer?
A math question, huh?  For a bunch of writers?  Lemme know how that works out.
Do you have a spouse/partner that would support you writing full time?
Financially or morally?  Well, either case is irrelevant to me at present, as I once again find myself single and ready to not mingle.  But there's very little reason for me to think that I'd ever have a spouse or partner who wouldn't support me at least morally in writing full-time.  And if I can find a pretty lady who wants to bring home the bacon while I stay home and play Times New Roman make-believe all day, I can't imagine I'd turn that down.


Nigel Bird said...

Nice intereview, Cam. Lots of great throwaway lines. Can't believe you're single - what's the world coming to. And I like your attitude to work; maybe I can learn something from what you say. I wonder if you'd think about the tutoring again if that cap fit for a while - you'd probably be even better at it now than then. And do you get free pizza?

Nigel Bird said...

And of course, I meant Cal not Cam, but the rest still counts.
By the way, I didn't draw attention to the red pants and hard hat - did you see the way I did that? Wouldn't want it to be the highlight of the piece or anything.

originaloflaura said...

Jimmy's a great guy, with or without a day job. He also anthologized some great crime fiction writers in Black Heart's NOIR ebook, which you can dig here:

Bryon Quertermous said...

Times New Roman Make Believe. That's awesome. That's what I'm going to list on my tax form from now on. Great interview.

Chris said...

I will never tire of people telling others to "Go fuck yourself." This was a great installment in a fun series. Nice work, fellas!

Jimmy Callaway said...

Oh, thank you, Beets, and all you lovely commenters. Good times!

Liam José said...

Jimmy - please adopt me.

Paul D Brazill said...

Genius. Brilliantly smart stuff. As always.