03 February 2014

How Many Hats?

Imagine receiving this note from your friends:
                    You have one year off from your job
                    to write whatever you please. Merry

Most of us have not been so fortunate.  We've struggled through our day jobs, writing at nights or on weekends.  The blessed among us have had spouses who encouraged our writings.  Some have lived with significant others who were as jealous of our computers as some musicians' partners have been green-eyed about their guitars.

Let's take a look at the hats some well known writers have worn prior to their successes.

Zane Grey was a dentist, and he hated it.  After nine years, he married Dolly, who had a substantial inheritance.  He lived off her money from then until he began earning his own in writing.

J. D. Salinger was the entertainment director on a cruise ship.

Robert Frost was a newspaper boy, his mother's teaching assistant, and a light-bulb-filament replacer in a factory.

James Joyce sang and played piano.  Dubliners was rejected twenty-two times, and that was before electronic submissions, so he sang a lot.

Nabokov was an entomologist who was not very noted in the field. In 2011, his theory of butterfly evolution was proved to be correct by DNA analysis.

Ken Kasey volunteered for CIA psych tests.  These mainly involved being unknowingly dosed with LSD.  Dr. Broom was the one element in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest who was based on hallucinations in the lab.

John Grisham worked watering bushes for a dollar an hour at a nursery until he was promoted to a fence crew with a fifty cent raise.  After that, he worked for a plumbing contractor.

George Orwell served as an officer of the Indian Imperial Police in Burma before he changed his name from Eric Arthur Blair and wrote 1984.

Kurt Vonnegut managed one of the first Saab dealerships in the United States as well as working in public relations for General Electric and serving as a volunteer fireman.

Jack London was part of the Klondike Gold Rush and worked at a cannery, but most interesting is that he also spent time as an oyster pirate and named his sloop the Razzle-Dazzle. 

R. T. Lawton
Liz Zelvin

Now let's take a look at the various hats some of the SleuthSayer writers have worn:

Rob Lopresti

Leigh Lundin
 Sorry these photos move when I go to preview.  Also, I apologize if your photo isn't posted. These are the only pictures I had of SSers wearing hats.  If those of you who aren't shown will send me a picture of yourself wearing some kind of hat, I'll be glad to put you on exhibit.

Meanwhile, what hats have you worn in "real life" when you weren't busy writing?  I retired from teaching in the public schools, but summer jobs included legal secretary, used car salesperson, caterer, and managing bands--bluegrass and rock 'n roll.  Writing employments included promos for entertainers and editing magazines.

Now, it's your turn. What about you?  What hats have you worn?

Until we meet again, take care of...you!   

Postscript:  That lucky recipient of the Christmas note at the beginning was Harper Lee, and she did pen To Kill a Mockingbird during that year of freedom from her day job. 


  1. A clever and instructive article, Fran!

  2. It's pretty rare to find me in a hat. But I did post one picture of myself in a hat several years back accompanying a SleuthSayers post written in Barabados.

    This should be the link!


  3. Thank you, Fran - At last I understand J. D. Salinger's depressed take on life. Entertainment director on a cruise ship: it explains so much.
    Re George Orwell, my favorite essay is still "Shooting an Elephant" from his Burmese days.

  4. An amusing piece- I'm sure glad Zane Grey wasn't my dentist, though!

  5. Hats? Let's see: newspaper boy, grocery sacker, Y camp counselor, pizza maker, gas station attendant, maintenance painter, assembly line worker, steam mold machine operator, aircraft modification draftsman, soldier, computer repairman, special agent, federal security and hey, author through most of it.
    The photo you posted was taken but never used for my written-for-hire, non-fiction book published under an alias. Shoe polish was used to darken any visible hair. Photo not used because the contract stated they could run anyone in for a book signing. Thus book signings could simultaneously be conducted on opposite coasts with two different people, none of which could be me.
    It's a fun world if you do it right.

  6. Girl Scout camp counselor, Peace Corps Volunteer teaching English to French-speaking West Africans, life insurance agent (what a nightmare!), editor (no glamor involved--my biggest project was an accounting textbook). Shrink--social worker, psychotherapist, director of alcohol treatment programs, online therapist wearing a virtual hat as LZcybershrink.com. Mother, besotted grandma. Singer-songwriter, outrageous older woman. And speaking of insurance, you missed poet Wallace Stevens, who was a lot more successful at it than I was.

  7. Thanks to each of you. Dale, I've got your pic in my file now. John, a baseball hat will be fine. For me personally, I'll have to borrow a hat to have a picture made or use one with a wedding veil. (It's an old picture.)
    We are certainly a varied group, and I think that's part of what makes SS work although most (or all)have published mystery. Keep the hat pix coming. I've got a different hat post for next month.

  8. Fran, this afternoon we watched "Capote" where Harper Lee is a character! I've driven a delivery truck carrying everything from veggies to beer, and before that I worked in restaurants where I once had to dress up as a lobster! As for hats, I work outside so I wear the kind that Henry Blake wore (on MASH)or that Gilligan wore (on the island!) I tip my hat to you folks!


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