Fun, Follies and Loss of Innocence in Novel Land

I’m tagged as a misfit

Unnerved man at desk

When my year of novel writing flopped, I forced myself to enter the work force

If you tuned in to my prior post — A Flying Saucer Lands on Me — you know that my lifetime goal was to stay in my cheap apartment writing in my underwear.

To continue that wonderful lifestyle, I was counting on a quickie Western book to lasso me out of a deepening financial hole.

But when I tossed my manuscript over the transom of a New York publishing company, they heaved it back like a sack of mealy flour.

There was no more pretending to be a starving writer when the fiction might come true.

I had to put my novel writing out of its misery . . .

. . . and cover my underwear with outerwear, because that’s the only way you can get a job that isn’t Chippendales.

You know the kind of job I mean, don’t you?

It’s where you go to a building to be around other folks you may not like very much, the bosses overload you with work because they won’t hire enough people, and they schedule you to work overtime as well as on your days off without even asking if you planned to have a life outside of the job.

On top of all that, they underpay you.

So, how do you find a sweet job like that?

You start at the state employment agency.

But what to wear?

Like Forrest Gump’s mama, mine also gave me good advice. Hers was: Dress to impress.

She meant it.

When I was in high school, she wouldn’t let me out of the house until I put on a coat and tie for the first day of my summer job as a dishwasher. Same thing happened the next summer when I was going to leave for a job working in front of a factory furnace.

You’re right, I didn’t impress any of those folks

They told me to “strip that stuff off. What are you, stupid?”

(To quote Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”)

Anyway, good thing I also was wearing a T-shirt.

But I knew mom had to be right sometime, so I waltzed in to the state employment agency wearing a coat and one of my dad’s old ties from the 1940s.

What did I find?

A waiting room full of guys wearing T-shirts and blue jeans, with some fellas hunched over their knees like Old Crawdad was still swirling in their veins from a good time the night before.

Man with head down

I wonder if my interviewer at the employment agency once had hopes of being a famous writer

I almost expected my interviewer to be wearing a T-shirt and hunched over his knees. He did have his head down on his desk.

When he raised up and saw my coat and tie . . .

. . .  his eyes got wide and I thought he was going to have a stroke.

After thumbing through a stack of papers and playing with a red stapler, he mumbled that he’d call me if somebody needed a guy with a coat and tie.

Next, I tried a local Catholic weekly publication. I wasn’t raised in the religion, so didn’t know anything about it. The interviewer assured me that my lack of knowledge wasn’t a concern because reporters always cover stuff they don’t know anything about.

Then he got down to what was really important

“What’s your opinion of unions?”

I did a double take. I mean, that was kind of weird.

What would you say?

I naively said they were okay because I used to be in a union when I worked in a factory. He didn’t give me time to explain that I would have been fired if I didn’t join.

Instead, he grabbed a crucifix . . .

. . . crossed himself and looked skyward. I knew then I was pegged as a rabble-rouser who didn’t really want a job but an opportunity to unionize his paper. I left before he could shake holy water at me.

Next, a friend got me an interview at a local magazine. So, I’m sitting across from the editor, and he starts lecturing me on how to write a story.

Being young and cocky, I’m thinking, “I don’t need no stinkin’ writin’ lesson,” but I play along and smile big at him like the Cheshire Cat while my focus on his words vanishes.

When the lecture is over, instead of giving me an assignment, he tells me to come up with a list of story possibilities.

I’m leery that he’s out of ideas and wants to steal mine. I think the first one will be: “Your Mama.”

COMING NEXT: A Spy Gets Me in From the Cold

QUESTION: How were you a misfit in your job hunt?


  1. Crysta

    Writers always gotta hustle. I’m lucky to have gotten some steady writing gigs that don’t pay well, but they do pay and open doors to other gigs on occasion. I also got a flexible job in a library. Libraries are great places for writers being both an inspiring environment and great places for research.

    • Phil Cobb

      I’m with you on libraries, Crysta. If I could have strung a hammock in the libraries I frequented, I would have been a most happy person.

  2. 1221bookworm

    Yup, job hunting is a big joke. After several years in banking, no one would give me a chance at a receptionist job. Why? Because the interviewers couldn’t see the similarities! (Also, I recently had an interviewer tell me they “frowned” on using headphones in the office. Like, what about me -besides my “youngness” -I look younger than I am – made her think she could say that?)

    • Phil Cobb

      Once upon a time, I was carded in a movie theater lobby by the manager who stopped me and demanded to see my ID. He wanted to make sure I was 17 years old. I was 27.

  3. Lissa Johnston

    Ageism, sexism, racism – it’s a miracle anyone gets a job anywhere

    • Phil Cobb

      Indeed, Lissa. And being naive like I was doesn’t help either.

  4. Naomi Lisa Shippen

    Being a starving writer sounds so romantic until you actually have to do it. That reminds me, I better get back on the job hunting trail.

    A great insight into the joys of the writing life!

    • Phil Cobb

      Ah, yes, Naomi, the romance quickly fades when reality comes knocking.

  5. Anitha

    I myself have been tagged as a misfit at job interviews not because of my talents, abilities or knowledge but because I had the wrong accent. I now do what I do best, I wrote, I journal and I create my own opportunities

    • Phil Cobb

      That’s rotten, Anitha, that your interviewers didn’t accent-uate your positives.

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