Jean-Francois Millet, Peasant Spreading Manure (detail), 1855, oil on canvas.
Most dust jackets list only literary accomplishments, but I’ve always been a fan of offbeat author bios. So I asked some of my favorite writers to describe their early jobs.
Glen David Gold: The summer I was seventeen, I delivered depositions for my uncle, who had an office in midtown Manhattan. My uncle was a lovely fellow and was very kindly trying to find work for an unemployable nephew. I recall spending many long hours sitting quietly in front of his desk while he looked at piles of paper and then finally said, “Go to Macy’s.” To summarize, perhaps to the point of inaccuracy: some of his work came from writing “cease and desist” letters when, say, a belt manufacturer had a dispute with a designer over unpaid invoices or copyright infringement. So I would bring a scary-looking document to a boutique asking them to stop selling some kind of merchandise until the legal problems were cleared up.
Delivering the subpoenas themselves was an adventure every time. For instance, Bloomingdale’s—it turns out they’d had subpoenas delivered before and were prepared for me. I walked to the information desk and asked where the legal department was. Fifteenth floor. I went to the elevators. Which stopped at twelve. After ten minutes of investigation, it turned out that the employee elevators went to fifteen. When I got to the fifteenth floor, I pulled out my subpoena and the receptionist, without batting an eye, said, “Room 1532.” Need I say that there was no room 1532? I walked the rectangle of that floor for what felt like an hour, asking where room 1532 was. It wasn’t. The legal department was now locked and no one answered the door. Finally, in defeat, and wanting to prolong my return to my uncle’s office, I went to take the stairs down. I opened the stairwell, and there it was: Room 1532, where they received subpoenas. I took mine from my pocket and extended it like it was a fucking sword. Ha! The guy behind the desk—that’s all it was, a converted maintenance closet with a desk in it—wiped the mustard from his chin and looked up in surprise. “Wow,” he said. I took that as a compliment.
Michael Moorcock: I got into publishing at the age of sixteen, writing features and stories for a national weekly juvenile magazine. I later edited the magazine, but before that I sold my collection of toy soldiers to buy my first guitar. I left the magazine job to travel to Paris, where I busked outside George Whitman’s shop, then called Le Mistral and now called Shakespeare & Company. George didn’t mind, since I spent pretty much every cent I earned in his shop. Later I got a gig in Montmartre singing familiar songs for tourists in a little cabaret, and, when I went back to England, I continued to take whatever work I could get playing guitar. My best job was working for a madam called Mrs. Fox, who paid me to perform at parties she organized for groups of men. She supplied the ladies and the drink. I supplied the music. I performed for Icelandic sailors, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and a couple of soccer teams, among others, and became very friendly with Mrs. Fox’s ladies, who were all very sweet and kind to me, perhaps because I was far too shy to make a pass at anyone. They told me some wonderful, sometimes frightening, stories. It was great experience, and stood me in good stead when I came to write my first adult fiction at the age of seventeen.
Chris Flynn is the books editor at The Big Issue and the fiction editor at Australian Book Review.