Thursday, October 18, 2012

Writers With Day Jobs: Tom Pitts

I can go on and on about the quality of Snubnose Press releases. One of the most recent releases, Piggyback by Tom Pitts, is the kind of lean and mean noir tale Snubnose was created to release. 
It's short and twisty, brutal and dark. It's written by a guy you'd think had to work nights or something.
Hey, look, he does!
Tom Pitts is a name to get to know, and here's your chance. From the graveyard shift – Mr. Tom Pitts:

Tell us what you do and how it is like or unlike a novel? 

I’m a graveyard dispatcher for taxis in San Francisco. Think Louie DePalma without any fun-loving, likable losers lurking around the cage. I work from 12 midnight to 8am, four nights a week, meeting the demands of an impatient, tough to communicate with, suspicious mob. And those are just the drivers.
If this job resembles a novel, it would probably be something like Camus’ the Stranger. There is a drudgery in grinding through the wee hours that is best suited for depressed existentialists. 

Do you think working nights gives you a more cynical or darker world view? I can only picture Travis Bickle and imagine the kind of people you meet working the graveyard shift.

When I was out on the street driving, it definitely gave me a more Bickle-esque view of the world. The hookers, the drug runs, people trying to fuck and fight in your backseat (and let’s face it, there was more fighting than fucking going on). Now, the people I deal with are mostly drivers. Middle Eastern, North African, Russian, Nigerian, very few Americans. It’s a bit more like working at the U.N. Except there are no translators and world peace takes a backseat to “how do I get a ride to the airport?” The cynicism comes into play when I realize that, having come from the places they do, the drivers all work under assumption that you’re absolutely corrupt. It can be very disheartening. It takes a while from them to realize you’re just another underpaid schmuck trying to feed your kids. 

How often do you steal work time to write?

Almost every night in some capacity. Sometimes it’s reading submissions for the Flash Fiction Offensive, other nights it’s editing and correcting my own stuff. The nuts-and-bolts of writing, though, are too tough down here at the yard. There’s always a phone ringing, a driver who needs help, something or someone demanding my immediate attention. You can’t concentrate for more than thirty-seconds without an interruption. I am, however, answering this question while on the job. 

Describe a time when your job influenced a story of yours?

I thought I’d take away more from the being behind the wheel, but cab fares quickly blur into and endless series of forgettable faces. So much of that stuff is gone in an instant. I keep telling myself that I need a little more distance to write about it. I’m hoping it may regurgitate itself one day in the form of a great novel, but it may take a hypnotist to do it. 
Sometimes little vignettes will bubble to the surface. When they do, I don’t fictionalize, I report them as I remember them. A charming little piece called At Four A.M. was published in Powder Burn Flash not too long ago. A classic tale of a hooker on a drug run.

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

That elusive lotto ticket; which, since I never play the lottery, is unlikely to ever find its way into my hands. Seriously though, I suffer through the off hours, the stress, and the
upside-down sleep schedule for money. And, that’s what it would take. If I could find a way to meet my financial obligations and only write, I would do it in a heartbeat. 

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

I think they respect it as a job if one is successful at it. Lee Child has a great job. Stephen King has a great job. Down here in the dregs it falls just below telling people that you want to try out for American Idol. You are a deluded crackpot. If you’re foolish enough to mention that you’re having something published, the next comment is inevitably, “Are you gettin’ paid?” I do think there is an underlying resentment people have when they hear that someone is a writer, and, if said writer is getting any traction, there is an assumption that the writer is doing well: “You’re a big-shot writer now, why don’t you buy the damn drinks with your royalty checks? Hey everyone, this next round is on the big brain over here!” What they don’t realize is that most royalty checks would only cover one round of drinks. (In my case, it may be only a six-pack at the liquor store) 

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

Yeah, I do. I’ve learned a hearty work ethic by having to get up and go to work at midnight every night for that last eight years. In retrospect, being a junkie in my younger years also taught me a lot about getting your ass in gear when you least want to. That monkey on your back doesn’t feed itself, you know. You got to drag yourself out and scrounge up some dough even when you feel like you’re going to die.  

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

I’m going to give the answer that my wife, Cheryl, would like to hear and say blow job. 

What has been your best job? Your worst?

The pat answer to that is when I was young, in a rock band, and touring the country in a van. That’s a little too easy, though, because it wasn’t really a job, it was something I did, something I was trying to build. Much like writing isn’t a job now. Taxi driving was okay, but by that point in my life I was so mired in addiction it’s tough for me to remember the good parts. The truthful answer to the question would be when I was a bike messenger. I didn’t appreciate at the time how free and fun that job was. I was out on the streets of San Francisco all day long, able to drink beer and smoke dope to my heart’s content. At that time, it was a real bohemian occupation, populated by musicians, artists, and other fringe folk. That job, like so many others, has gone the way of the horse and buggy, though. 

The worst was being a busboy in a big nightclub downtown. Mopping up vomit, picking up broken glass, and being physically pushed around by the megalomaniac owner. I was strung-out on heroin at the time and it was always a struggle to make it though the night without withdrawals kicking in. To make matters worse, it doubled as a sex club every third Saturday. There’s nothing so painful as giddy young blonde asking you what you think of her new boob-job when the only thing on your mind is getting out of there and back to the spoon.  

Has your job, or past jobs, had any influence in inspiring you to become a writer?

No, unfortunately my jobs have always been a means to an end. The inspiration for becoming a writer comes from life and the way I view it, and, I guess, from my desire to tell its story from my twisted point of view. 

Is your job harder than writing?

Yes. My job is very stressful and I’m forced to worry about a lot of stuff I don’t really care about. Writing comes very easy to me. The hard part of writing is the extraneous stuff: The promotion, the interviews (no offense), the submissions and queries, the social networking. When I’m behind the keyboard and lost in a story, the act of writing becomes almost automatic. Sounds corny, but it’s true.

Imagine your job in the plot of an existing book (or movie, I'll give you that much leeway), where does it fit best? Would you be a character in a Jack Reacher novel? A Sam Spade mystery? Matt Scudder? Mike Hammer? What else?

I’d probably end up a character in a Bukowski novel, hopefully one that would get fed up enough to quit his job in search of actual adventure. 

Do you ever see a time when you are writing full time?

Yes. I have to; it’s what keeps me going. I can’t keep on dispatching forever. I’ve no other skills to fall back on. If I don’t keep the dream of writing full-time alive, I fear I may wither and age prematurely. Hey, a guy can dream, can’t he?

How would a character with your career be a good or a bad protagonist for a novel?

A bad one. You’d have to use a cheap plot device—like the suitcase full of money that gets turned into lost and found—to force a story out of the monotony. That being said, I believe it’s the character that makes a story, so I guess it wouldn’t matter what job he had. If you stick the guy in the right situation and let the character work himself out, it doesn’t matter where he starts off; it’s where the story carries him. 

What do you think is the best work experience for a writer to have?

Criminal. I think my experience in illegal activities as a young man taught me a lot about how things really work, how people really act. I’m still the skeptic in the movie theater that’s saying, “That would never happen.” I think it’s important to convey some sense of realism in your work. If not within the plot, then at least how the characters react to it. Cars don’t blow up when they crash, faces swell up after they’ve been punched, not everyone has a gun (and if they did, they’ve often sold it for drugs), and criminal lowlifes are generally just that, unlikable assholes.   


Joe Clifford said...

What a delightful, delightful man! Dude, I'm glad we're friends. Because, frankly, son, you scare me.

Writer Jobs said...

Writing can be a cool hobby yet can be a great job as long as you have the passion for it. Lots of sites are looking for great writer.