Sunday, July 15, 2012

Writers With Day Jobs: Jason Stuart

Everyone raise a holler, Jason Stuart is here! See what I did there? Jason's book, Raise A Holler is out there kicking ass and taking country noir names. 
It's hard to get a straight answer from Jason on the interwebs. He's a sarcastic son of a gun. So let's hope he was honest enough here talking about jobs past and present. Yeah, I don't have much hope for that either. The good news is, he's so damn good when he's making stuff up. Need evidence?
He's the main force behind Burnt Bridge press, but let's hear about what else he does with his time.

What do you do as your day job?
Well, I don’t know if it is a day job. I teach writing to primarily air force personnel in a small college office on a major air force base in Biloxi, MS. I work noon to night Monday through Thursday. It’s pretty interesting. I always imagined myself getting a teaching gig on a typical small college campus, but this situation has its perks. I get to see hellacious jets firing off the runway and coming in for a landing. Our graduation ceremony is held annually in an aviation museum with a quartet of f-14 fighter jets suspended over our heads. My students typically have decent-level security clearances. I got to learn about the fighter cap that is flown over every major city since 9/11. Let’s just say YOU REALLY DON’T WANT YOUR PLANE HIJACKED THESE DAYS. Not that it was ever awesome, but you’re going up in flames immediately now. Courtesy US Air Force. 

When do you find time to write?
I’ve been so busy this past year with work, running the magazine (I edit Burnt Bridge, an online pulp fiction ‘zine and annual anthology), traveling, being in love, and all the other life stuff, that, well, I damn near haven’t. I managed to finish a very respectable short story called “2 Doc Hollidays” and was extremely elated to have that published by a longstanding favorite magazine of mine, Beat to a Pulp. Besides, that, I’ve been picking, and I mean picking, at a novel trilogy I’ve been working with for nearly ten years called The God-Brother. I typically have always done my best work in the wee hours. The rest of the world sleeps. I write. I should do that more. 

Has your job or coworkers ever influenced a story?
Oh, sure. For years and years I co-managed a small movie theater while in college. My co-workers and all became good friends and that was when my writing really took off. Little from that period has survived but I sort of gained my chops. I used to sit up half the night and burn through rough prose long after the last films dropped and the customers were a distant ghost in the night. I wrote a piece, originally titled “The Good Times Van” that was a thinly-veiled re-telling a night of seriously idiotic drunken hijinks recounted to me by co-workers. I later cannibalized much of it and translated it into a dark, comic-ish noir piece called “One More Silver Dollar,” which was not only my first paid story publication ($25 – WOOT!!) but also the story that gained me admission to the University of Florida writing program – Go Gators!!
Since then, I’d say I’m always influenced by all the people and things around me. Given my earlier description of the very military and aviation aspects of my current job, we can expect some heavy influence from all that. How it will manifest itself, who knows? But, I’m keen to find out. 

What would it take for you to quit and write full time?
A solid $35,000/year income from writing alone. And even then I would teach part time. I like it. And it sharpens my editorial skills (I teach college-level writing).
But, obviously that’s the dream, isn’t it? Or is it? I don’t know. I like the idea of working full-time in the industry, and also working for myself. But, there’s also this weird sense of doom that follows with it. Like, what if the money dried up? The books stopped selling? The writing got tired? I have recently seen an all-too-real cautionary tale of a writer contact of mine who has suddenly found himself in this position. After over ten years of regular income from published writing, it has all but dried up in the current economy. He then came to the painful realization that the corporate/labor world outside his door does not consider this standard employment, and it more or less reads on a resume that he’s done nothing for ten years. He can’t get any kind of normal job now. He’s lost his house, sold his car, etc. It’s pretty rough out there. So, maybe I’d never quit the dayjob. At least not until a pension could kick in. 
Or, you know, if I sold some rights to Hollywood and made a massive chunk of cash all at once. Like half a million or more. Then, I’d put it in savings and draw out of it carefully and cruise into old age, Hemingway-style! 

Do your coworkers know you write? Do they know you write dark crime fiction?
They do and they don’t. They know I write. They know what I write. I’ve passed around copies of the books. They very clearly didn’t give a rat’s ass, and that was just fine with me. I’d rather no interest than a negative interest. 

What do they say about it?
Oh, I guess I already shot past this one. Yeah, they don’t say much. They’re those 80% or so Americans who just don’t read. And, they certainly don’t read gritty, explicit crime fiction like I write. If anything, they read the standard Wal-Mart checkout aisle fiction, whatever’s hot and easy and right now.And, I used to worry a lot more about some the raunchy situations in my writing. But then 50 Shades of Poor Editing came out, and I seem tame, if well-articulated and punctuated, by comparison. 

Do you think people respect writing as a job, or does it come off as less "work" than a labor or office job?
They definitely do not. See my example of the unemployed writer above. 
Though, that’s not strictly true. Any of the big-listers like Stephen King, John Grisham, Lee Child, JK Rowling, etc, I’d say are seen as “doing a job.” And, I’d say a lot of it really depends on your “pro chops” i.e. are you actually earning money from it, and beyond that, are you earning a living from it? IF it pays your bills, then, quite simply, it’s your job. 
However, I’ve had a lot of jobs, and a lot of rough jobs, and I will be the first to tell anyone that calls writing “hard work” either a liar, or a pampered ass. Writing is the most fun job there is. Yeah, it’s work. But it’s great work!

Be honest, if you wrote full time, do you think you'd be disciplined about it?
If it paid my bills? Damn straight I would. Hence why the writing takes second place now to the paying gig. I don’t mess with the hand that feeds me. So, yeah, I’d be diligent. 

What job, other than writing, would you most like to have?
Boat captain. Private international shipping. That was actually a plan, once upon a time. I tried to join the Navy, go through the officer program, gain experience in surface command and then leave for private sector and get on with a shipping crew. I had the whole thing thought out. Then I failed my medical  because of weird past disease history stuff. So, I went to grad school for writing/teaching instead. 

What has been your best job? Your worst?
Best in terms of stability and income is hands-down the current. I can’t complain right now.
However, best in terms of fun and craziness goes like this:
I was living in South Mississippi, about 50 miles from the Coast, when Katrina hit. The whole town was in chaos and turmoil. My grandma has a country store outside the little town I’m from. Naturally, all infrastructure, power, water, law, human decency, were immediately out the window. And I mean all of it. People took to carrying firearms on their person within hours. It was the Wild West. I almost watched an old west gunfight go down over ownership of a chainsaw in front of the country store, both men tickling the butts of their pistols until I got them to calm down and the dumber of the two to leave before he got killed. It was a little tense. 
Anyway, my younger brother and I got commissioned by my Grandma to go out to a little salvage warehouse about 20 southwest of us that she knew of. There were no phones working (cell towers were down everywhere). She had sold out of EVERYTHING in the store within hours after the storm died. We needed food, any kind of food, water, drinks, and any other useful supplies to restock the store. I drove a huge 4x4 Chevy Tahoe at that time (best truck I ever owned). She filled up the gas tank, gave us several hundred dollars cash, and told us how to get there and who to ask for. We took off in my truck, my little brother LITERALLY riding SHOTGUN (as well as two pistols and a knife!). We got to this place, a page straight out of Texas Chainsaw, and started negotiating with the owners. We came back with several cases of baked beans, soups, and a crate of fresh eggs (our store had a generator kicking all through the weeks of aftermath). We sold out of the eggs within hours. 
We ended up doing this about every other day for two weeks until some semblance of life began to return. Always armed to the teeth because we’d heard tales of cars being hijacked on the roads just for the gas in their tanks. And had anyone known that I was toting 30 gallons in the tank, $900 cash, or, worse yet, cases of food stuffs and water, then, yeah, things might have gone hardcore Mad Max on the back roads of South Mississippi. I think my brother may still be sad it never did. 
So, yeah, from a writer of crime/noir/adventure, that was definitely the coolest job I ever had. 

Worst Job? Jesus. Let me make a list and you can pick: 
  • Loaded chemical fertilizer by the tens of tons one summer for ten hours a day. Quit when my foot turned yellow. 
  • Mixed and poured concrete in the blazing sun of August. Laid brick and other construction. 
  • Picked crops every day for three summers as a kid. Every morning at dawn. 
  • Taught at a poor high school 
  • Drove a laundry truck for Yellowstone park (not as bad except the company was stealing money from us).
  • Bouncer at a country/western nightclub
  • Process Server for various law firms
  • Dishwasher for a chain restaurant 

Actually, you know what? It was Dishwasher. Hands down. Worst. Job. Ever. 

When do you find time to read?
I read constantly, just not much fiction these days. Or, at least, I don’t get to read a lot of novels. I buy a lot. I buy damn near every good-looking independent crime novel out there. I’ve got yours. All the Snubnose titles, I think. Neil Smith. Etc. But, I’ve finished maybe a fifth of those. I start. I get interrupted, I get distracted. I end up starting something new.
I read short fiction by the bushel, mostly submissions to Burnt Bridge, but I also follow the pulp ‘zines. They’re handy on my android phone when waiting in line at the barber, or out shopping with the lady I love, etc. God, I love smart phones. 
I also read a ton of articles, nonfiction, science journals, medical news, etc. That shit gets it done for me. I like “knowing things.” I feel starved for information if I spend more than an hour away from news sources. This is perhaps detrimental to my writing regimen. I just feel this need to “know.” 

Have you ever, or maybe how often, have you considered quitting and shacking up to write novels, money issues be damned?
Well, the dream for me has always been a standard college teaching job, in which I get the summer, in which I plan to do just that. We’ll see if I ever get there. 

What is your ultimate goal with writing? Full time journeyman or millionaire? Or are you satisfied doing it part time?
For right now, I have a really good set-up. The work I do with the college is a nice compliment to being a writer. I may always be a part time writer. Who knows. I do really want Dwight Yoakam to take a look at my book, Raise a Holler. I’d love him to act/direct the film version of it. I’m currently adapting a script from it (movies were always my first love). 
So, I’m always hopeful. 

Given what you've earned writing, dividing it by the hours spent, what would you say is your hourly wage as a writer?
Wow. Maybe 40 cents. 

Do you have a spouse/partner that would support you writing full time?
You know what? Maybe. I know she loves me very much. Karen does. I think if she made enough cash to do so, she very well might. But, I’d never do it. I NEED to work. It’s genetic or something. I need to earn my keep and DO work. If it came from writing that would be great. But, I’ll go pour concrete again before I just sit around not earn. Work is in my blood. I come from a blue-collar father who came from a long line of no-collar farm-folks. We know poor. We know work. We know them damn well. 

1 comment:

Chris said...

I love the post-Katrina job story. I picture Grandma on the porch, a shotgun on her lap, and a cigarette with a three inch ash on the end yelling, "You boys come back with them supplies or die trying!"