I write and edit for a living. I’ve been blogging in some form or fashion for five years. But I don’t think I’ve ever walked around calling myself a “writer.” It just always struck me as something embarrassing to say. I’m sure there’s some guy standing outside a Brooklyn cafe smoking a cigarette — someone who’s never been published outside of the family newsletter — who’s calling himself a writer at this very minute. And, god bless his skinny-jeans-clad ass, I guess he is.
I know I’m not the first to say this, but I’d just as soon proclaim myself a pervert as a writer. Maybe it’s where I’m from. Sure, Louisiana and the South has a strong literary history, but that doesn’t make “writer” sound like an honest day’s work, like farming, doctoring, lawyering or such. While other people are out making things, providing services, a “writer” is holed up in a room playing with his pen and paper, which does sound kind of perverted. Or he’s holed up in a room playing with his computer — considering the likelihood that he’s procrastinating by surfing porn, that IS perverted. When asked what I do, I usually respond “I work at a magazine.” Sometimes, I’ll even say I’m a “journalist,” which — to me — doesn’t smell much better than “writer” if you ask me. (I guess this makes me a self-hater of the worst sort.)
But I do get paid to toil in the fields of journalism (which, yes, does include writing). With a few exceptions, I’ve rarely been paid for writing fiction or memoir or anything of the sort. Mentally, I’ve always considered a “writer” someone who writes books and stories that are actually published. While I’ve had the odd story published here or there, it’s certainly never paid me anything more than enough to buy a can of tuna fish and a six-pack (of Natural Light). And the first novel I wrote still sits forlorn and unpublished.
Ah, but the second one is to be published in early 2010 by Kensington Books thanks in part to Jeff Moores over at Dunow, Carlson and Lerner. The acceptance of this nameless wonder (my editor and I are working on the title) was not only the realization of a dream of mine, it made me almost feel like walking around calling myself a writer. Then I heard my wife refer to me as a novelist at a party (she told them I wake up early in the morning to do it) and I felt dirty and ashamed all over again. (If only I could have been an Air Force pilot!)
But today I received the first half of my advance. Granted, it’s only enough to maybe pay off a credit card or so (and that’s without subtracting taxes), but if I wanted to pay my half of the rent with it, I could! For a few months, too!
So, for today, yall can call me Ken Wheaton, novelist, or Ken Wheaton, writer. (Or carry on with “snaps,” “monkey boy,” “that fucking Republican,” “tiny,” “Drunky McDrunkagain” or whatever it is you usually call me.)