Monday, July 16, 2012

Writers With Day Jobs: Benoit Lelièvre

Wanna hear something shitty? Benoit Lelièvre just got downsized. 
I never in a million years thought my little blog project of inter-
viewing writers about their day jobs would end up as a commentary 
on the current economic situation. And here's the kicker, he lives in 
Canada and his job got outsourced to Bangalor. 
Globalization indeed.

The only possible good news is he will now have more time to 
write. If we're lucky he'll write his particular brand of dark noir like 
the stuff he has published in the pages of Beat To A Pulp, Needle,
 Crime Factory and a place I'm proud to share pages with him, 
the Off The Record anthology.

And that's not to mention all the reviewing and blogging he does 
over at Dead End Follies. Seriously, the guy reads a lot and he 
wants to tell you about it.

Well, since he answered my questions while still gainfully 
employed, let's look back to a happier time when a great writer 
was slugging it out at a day job.

What do you do as your day job?

   I'm an IT Analyst in a solutions center. Many people confuse me with a telemarketer or a customer service guy, but all I really do all day long is fix computers, install printers, debug browsers, that sort of stuff.
When do you find time to write?

   I do a lot of it at work. I am blessed to work a smaller market with less calls and have a manager who tolerates my creative endeavors. I think he's just happy I don't spend my downtime dicking around on the internet like most people. It's hard, but I work two days from home, so I always do a little more during those days. I write at home too, but usually late at night. I do my best work from 9 PM to 1 AM.
Has your job or coworkers ever influenced a story?

   Not yet and I don't think it will. Not for this job anyway. I wrote my first flash about a co-worker at an old job. He was a very straight guy, so I wrote a story about his Kung Fu fighting alter ego named Sifu Kevin McElfesh. The story is lost on the internets now. I'm not sure it still exist.
What would it take for you to quit and write full time?

   A steady income. I have a very supportive significant other, but I wouldn't be able to let her handle all the heavy lifting with the bills and all. I made peace with the idea of keeping a day job. William Faulkner worked most of his life. Charles Bukowski also. Frank Bill still works. I don't mind. The important is to keep balance.    
Do your coworkers know you write? Do they know you write dark crime fiction?

  They know I write, but they take little to no interest in it. I don't think anybody at my workplace ever bothered reading my published shorts. They are vaguely aware I write dark stuff too, but discussions about writing I had with them never went very deep.
What do they say about it?

    I'm a bit of the resident-Shakespeare-wannabe of my office. It's what I've been all my life, really. Wherever I went.

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

   It's a very good question. Writing is an idea that is heavily romanticized. They see it as the greatest job ever that most people could do. How many times have you heard someone say "I could write a novel, I have awesome ideas"? It happens a lot. Truth is, it's very hard work and it can be extremely draining mentally. David Foster Wallace lost his will to live to an unfinished novel. It's a job that requires humility, great planning skills and a high level of tolerance to job instability. So no, it doesn't get as much respect as labor or office work. 
Be honest, if you wrote full time, do you think you'd be disciplined about it?

   I'm not sure what to answer to that. Writing (for me) is all about finding your groove. Once you start pounding the words and the story starts playing out in your head you can do a lot of good work in little time. I think I wrote the first draft of UNDEAD in two hours. Writing full time would make it easier to establish a routine where I could find my groove easier, but you can't really ever hide from the internet. At least not forever. Let's say it would improve my discipline, but it wouldn't turn me into a typing machine overnight.
What job, other than writing, would you most like to have?

   Boring answer but journalist or video game designer. Something, anything entrenched in pop culture. I've tried to get a foot in the door in many video game companies, but it's a hermetic market. I did QA testing, but that's it.
What has been your best job? Your worst?

    Working QA for video game testing was awesome. It was hard work, paid minimum wage, but I was doing what I love. I gained a better understanding of the video games industry and formed strong friendships.

Worst was being a trainer in a franchised gym. Everything about that job was terrible. I was the new guy, so I got very few (shitty) hours. The boss was creepy and held a photo of his dead sister on his desk, like it was his wife. A co-worker kept trying to get me into a pyramid scheme for miraculous protein shakes. They didn't want me to get my certifications, because they said I didn't do enough hours. 

The worst was this assistant-director. He squirmed his way into the position. He made his girlfriend pregnant and cried to Mr. Creepy Director that he needed the money. I was coming back home after training at my martial gym around 10 every night and I often found 3 or 4 messages from him, yelling and saying I needed to come replace him ASAP for a reason or another. Shitty reasons like: "I HAVE A HEADACHE, I NEED TO GO HOME. COME REPLACE ME. NOW."  He threatened to get me fired, to kick my ass. I left town for two weeks during Christmas (and notified them) and I just never went back. When I picked up my tax papers three months later, there was a completely new staff. New director, new assistant, etc. It wasn't the same place anymore. Oh and the assistant-director's girlfriend went and had an abortion. It was hell.

When do you find time to read?

   I read in public transportation a lot. I read every morning before going to work and a few pages before going to bed. Other than that, I squeeze a little time here and there. I read about sixty pages a day in average.
Have you ever, or maybe how often, have you considered quitting and shacking up to write novels, money issues be damned?

    Not so far, no. 
What is your ultimate goal with writing? Full time journeyman or millionaire? Or are you satisfied doing it part time?

   I want to be a working stiff. My two models are Craig Clevenger and Joe Lansdale. Both are very respected and both have succeeded very differently. They're not headliners at bookstores, but they keep knocking quality material again and again. A certain level of success is nice, but passed a certain point you get disconnected with what it is to struggle and you start being self-indulgent. Moving to full-time writing would be nice, eventually, but I prefer being that guy with the small, cult following rather than the best-seller writer like Lee Child or my personal favorite Dennis Lehane. I suppose it's because I'm like that myself. I'm that guy who goes to midnight screenings of Ichi The Killer...for the fourth time.

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

  About 3 dollars a year. Maybe 2.50.
Do you have a spouse/partner that would support you writing full time?

   Yes, she's very supportive. But she doesn't take any shit. I love her for that. 

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