Jean-Fracois Millet, Peasant Spreading Manure, 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.
Wells Tower: When I was nineteen, I worked briefly as a garbage man. My boss’s name was Puddn’. He was a vast, sunbaked person with such a pronounced Southern accent that I couldn’t understand much of what he said. The job’s oppressions were what you’d expect: maggots, smells made worse by the summer heat. By the end of each day, I hated everyone who owned a garbage can. I did not hate Puddn’, though, who made many gifts to me of the wonders he found in the trash: penknives, silver cutlery, old watches, some of which I keep with me still.
DBC Pierre: I once worked in an advertising agency in Trinidad. My biggest triumph was masterminding a soft-drink campaign with a live Amazon parrot, which said the drink’s name. We scoured the island for a parrot that could sit still and look great and speak. It took a while, but I was determined. Eventually, we found a gentle young man from the coastal provinces whose only friend in the world was an Amazon parrot. The parrot spoke and sat on his shoulder and looked great. The parrot and the man were like a couple in love. The soft-drink client was impressed, and the campaign went ahead: money was invested, the bird photographed. But in between the photo shoot and the film shoot, we stopped the car to buy drinks at a service station and the bird fell out. A clattering old truck actually swerved to run it over. Such was the world of advertising.
Tobias Wolff: I made a living—a very good living—the summer of 1962 guessing ages and weights in the carnival section of the Seattle World’s Fair. One thing I learned: lowball the women’s stats. Sometimes it’s better to lose than to win.
Chris Flynn is the books editor at The Big Issue and the fiction editor at Australian Book Review.