Thursday, May 31, 2012

Writers with day jobs: Nigel Bird

Nigel Bird seemed to come out of nowhere not too long ago in the crime writing field. And he arrived fully formed. I'm sure I am underselling the years of hard work he put in before I ever heard of him, but that's how it seemed to me. He is a prolific writer who has earned high praise and has been relentless in getting material out there whether in his self published collections or getting Blasted Heath to pick up his novella Smoke, or editing and appearing in the Pulp Ink anthologies.

Wth the release of his new novel, In Loco Parentis, he's even invented a new genre - "Teacher Noir".

Does that have anything to do with his day job? Read on to find out.

What do you do as your day job?

I’m a teacher in a Primary school.  Have been for 24 years (yikes).  I’ve had a few different incarnations.  Firstly I spent 11 years in 2 schools as a class teacher.  From there, I spent 4 years at Scotland’s national school for the deaf (where I worked mainly with autistic, hearing children).  Now I’m a Support For Learning teacher, working with individuals and small groups and trying to make sure the children with Additional Support Needs are well looked after.

When do you find time to write?

I have the evenings for writing, writing-related business and reading, which means when my children have gone to bed.  I’m usually pretty drained from the work day, so I can’t stay up into the early hours. I also took Wednesdays off work so that I can see more of my own kids.  That’s great as a father and gives me a couple of extra hours.

Has your job or coworkers ever influenced a story?

  My novella, Smoke, was influenced by the area in which I work.  It’s a hard place.  There are pockets of poverty in terms of money and experience.  On the one hand, it offers material in terms of setting, on the other it makes me want to add a little hope (which reflects what I do during the day).

a  ‘In Loco Parentis’, the novel I’ve just released, is teacher noir.  It’s about as close a book as I’ll ever write about myself and my experiences.  There’s a lot of my younger self in there and it makes me wonder how I got to be an older self.

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

  Truth is it would be money.  3 children need to be maintained in all the ways that children do.  I’d need to sell a hell of a lot of books.     That dream is probably not attainable.  Not really, even though I keep hoping.

  What occurs to me as being more feasible is changing work to earn a slice of bread and a thin spreading of butter as a librarian’s assistant, say, or doing something within the world of books.  The way I imagine it is that I wouldn’t be so emotionally exhausted that way and I’d be able to let the creative self have a bigger slice of the Nigel Bird pie.   Thing is, I’m almost burned out as a teacher.  The tank’s less than half-full.  Experience has taken over from energy, but I’ll owe it to the children I work with to make sure I get out before I’m wasting their time.

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

  Yes, they know.  A few are interested.  Some buy the odd piece and read it.  A couple even like it.  I suspect they became bored about my one topic of conversation some time ago, so I don’t bring it up much any more.

  What do they say about it?

The best things I’ve had said have related to me talking to classes about the process of writing and of building a dream.  That’s the way it makes sense to them, I think.  It’s great to be able to share that with children, whatever their talents or ambitions; fact is, where I am, even hinting that there is life outside of the streets they live on seems like a big deal.   And, I kid you not, in my back pocket right now is a story handed to me by an 8 year old boy.  He said he writes and wanted me to take a look at his work.  I’ve spoken to him and he’s going to do the next chapter in a week when he’s at his Gran’s.

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

  Actually, not really.  There are always the ‘everyone has a book in them’ comments, as if it’s something everyone can do, but not everyone has the luxury or the desire to make that choice.  I suspect that respect is relative to writing success – if you’re a best seller, then you can be looked up to.

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

  Yes, I think I would.  I spend so much time with writing-related things that I just need another self.  Working at my own stuff after a full day’s work and fathering, I know I have the drive and the application otherwise I’d have stopped long, long ago.

What has been your best job? Your worst?

I really loved my first teaching job.  It was in Hampstead, London, and I got to meet people I never would have come across otherwise.  As an example, I stayed for a week in the home of an editor for the Washington Post because I’d taught his children.  And got into gigs because of music producers who’d worked with the likes of Springsteen.  To galleries to see the work of artists.  To conversations with intellects taller than Liberty herself.  And to get to know some of the liveliest children’ minds imaginable.   Worst?  Selling cheap jewellery in a cheap jewellery shop.  I was awful at it.  Worst experience was scratching the gold off some guy’s watch when I was haplessly trying to change a battery.

  When do you find time to read?

  Reading is part of the business of writing, I think.  It’s in the evenings, when travelling, on holidays.  Any spare moment I can find when I’m in the groove.  Just now, I’m too whacked to manage anything much.

  Have you ever, or maybe how often, have you considered quitting and shacking up to write novels, money issues be damned? I’ve thought about it every day for all the day’s I can remember.

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

  It’s to write full-time, then to produce work that is undeniably good.  The real goal is quality, I suppose.  Then sales.

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

  Brilliant question.   I’m off to do some maths.  

If you stretch back to when I put out magazines and lost money, I’d imagine I’m on about 20p an hour, or 30c.  I hate to see it written out that way.   Thing is, the hourly rate isn’t that important.  It’s the amount.   If I work for an hour on something like this and get one sale of something, that’s likely another 26p.  I won’t begrudge that because it will also mean another reader.  Being read is fab.

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

  I’m sure Isobel would support me full time if she could.  Unfortunately (from a financial perspective) she’s a student again, working on a PhD on buildings conservation.  She’s worked in the world of museums and art conservation as her career and even though she’s a Cambridge graduate, her salary has always been low. I’ve just asked her.  She says that if she was earning a stack, she’d expect me to be at home for the children and the household jobs as much as for helping me as a writer.  That’s cool.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I'm Underrated! Yeah! (I think)

It's not news to me that I fall into the category of underrated, but now I have proof. The Pop Culture Nerd is doing her annual Stalker Awards again, some of the most fun and irreverent awards out there. My name mysteriously appeared in the "Most Criminally Underrated Authors" category alongside Bill Cameron and Craig McDonald.

There are some great categories in the Stalker Awards, and they change every year. Things like Best Sidekick, Best Dialogue, Character you'd most like as a friend. Some great books to choose from too. I was thrilled to see the opener from Gar Anthony Haywood's Assume Nothing in the running for best opening line. (Heck, I nominated it and I guess some other people did too)

So get over there and vote. Bill and Craig are surely more criminally underrated than I am so vote for whoever you want. And if I don't take the prize of being voted most underrated, then I remain underrated and therefore can lay claim to the title even more than the winner. Come to think of it, doesn't winning a category like this immediately disqualify you from the category itself? Damn, that's some serious Inception shit right there.

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.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


I have a new short story, Gutshot, up at Near to the Knuckle, a great crime fiction site out of the UK. I figured it was about time to get some more shorts out in the world. I got an acceptance for another story, but it won't be out until January (!). So, mark your calendars now.

Of course the latest in my Revival House columns over at Criminal Element is still going strong. More to come.

Friday, May 11, 2012

House cleaning

It's been a week of clearing off the to-do list. I'm trying to clear the decks to get back down to work on a new novel. I finished edits on A Mouth Full Of Blood, my next entry in the Fightcard series and a sequel to Split Decision. I hate to say I enjoy reading my own stuff, but going back through that made me feel good because I know it's solid work. The whole Fightcard series has been so much fun, both to write and to read all the novellas. Also got back edits on my story for Pulp Ink 2. I can't wait for that collection. It's going to be wild. I've actually had time to write a few short stories and make some submissions. I have an outline for what I want to submit for a new anthology. Hope I can make the cut on that one. I have new entry in The Revival House over at Criminal Element. This time I spotlight that other Twilight. The one with Paul Newman. So check that out. And that is entirely enough talking about me. Now go read this great article over at LitReactor by Keith Rawson.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Revival House

Today begins a new series of posts over at Criminal Element called The Revival House where I spotlight some overlooked and underrated crime films. First up is the 1990 Sean Penn starring Stae Of Grace. Damn, I love this movie. Why don't more people? This will be an ongoing series so stay tuned to learn about some other movies you may have missed over the years, but are well worth your time. And drop a comment when you stop by.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

From the Factory floor

Crime Factory - that fresh Spinetingler-winning publication - is out with a new issue. It is, once again, a behemoth.

How did they become the award-winning juggernaut they are? Well, in addition to having people like, oh say me, blog on their website, they have insightful articles, great fiction and prescient reviews. How prescient? Well, they said in the new issue, a few things about Dig Two Graves. Things like:

"It’s joyfully wrong and wonderfully sick. It pulls no punches, tosses taboo aside and focuses on a dark, violent, action filled, and sometimes funny tale."

They also said:
"It’s a wild ride, filled with humour, emotion and bad choices."

See what I mean? Obviously these are folks at the top of their game, taste-wise. They know how to keep it short and pithy too.
"Great read. Pick it up and enjoy the bloody ride."

Who am I to argue with award-winners?