Have you ever wondered what jobs famous authors held before they became famous?
You might find it hard to believe (or maybe not, since he lived life wild and hard) that Jack London (Call of the Wild) earned a living as a thief. London wrote in his autobiographical novel, John Barleycorn, about being an “oyster pirate.” He stole from oyster farms at night and then sold the farmers’ oysters in the morning.
Sylvia Plath, poet and author of The Bell Jar, worked as a receptionist in a mental hospital. Plath suffered from depression, and after attempting suicide she spent a short time in a mental institution. Perhaps this is what led her to accept the receptionist day job while she studied creative writing at night.
During WWI, Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express) worked as a volunteer attending injured troops at a military hospital. After two years, she became a qualified pharmacist’s assistant and was paid for her work. She used her knowledge about pharmaceuticals when plotting many of her novels.
Before Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, he had quit his day job as an English teacher and enlisted as a cabin boy on a merchant ship. He became involved in a mutiny and was imprisoned, lived with a tribe of cannibals in the Marquesas Islands, and worked as a beachcomber in Tahiti.
John Steinbeck (Of Mice and Men) relied on his parents’ financial support after his plaster mannequin manufacturing business failed. Before that, Steinbeck worked as a tour guide and at a fish hatchery.
It’s no secret that Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol) hated London’s factories and sweatshops. At 12-years old, he worked in a “blacking” factory pasting labels onto pots of boot polish. While there, he met a boy named Bob Fagin who treated him well and was a friend. Why then did Dickens make Bob Fagin the antagonist in Oliver Twist? Maybe because Dickens was ashamed of the time he spent in the factory and wanted to disassociate himself from the friends he made there.
Kurt Vonnegut had a SAAB dealership, Stephen King worked as a high school janitor, John Grisham was a plumber—We all have to start somewhere!
How about you? What is your day job?
Kid lit authors and experts answer: If you could work for any character in children’s literature, who would you work for and what would your job title be?
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