People sometimes ask me how I became a writer. The path was anything but straightforward.
I didn’t start out wanting to be a writer, but I gradually veered in that direction, bumping a few guardrails along the way.
Here is a list of all my paying jobs (unless I’ve forgotten some). Does this constitute a career? One definition of career is “a person’s progress or general course of action through life or through a phase of life, as in some profession or undertaking.”
Up Through High School Graduation
Harvester. Picked corn on the farm across the street from our summer cottage in Canada. I was paid some awful rate for every dozen ears of corn picked. I learned about being underpaid for the amount of corn I fairly picked. I also learned I was capable of overreporting my haul. Not sure which of those I learned about first. I also discovered that some ears of corn are crawling with maggots.
Janitor. In my elementary school. I was paid by the principal to clean blackboards, wipe desks, and mop floors for a few days before school opened in September. I accidentally spilled some mop bucket water on a hallway floor and thought that looked close enough to being mopped. Got caught by the nun. Yelled at.
Paperboy. That’s what they were called then: paperboys. I had a big blue wagon emblazoned with The Buffalo Evening News logo on its sides. My route was a big one — over one hundred papers. I went door to door collecting the $.95 weekly bill. Most, but not all, customers gave me a dollar and let me keep the nickel change.
*Sometime in this era of elementary school, I wrote a play about kids who kidnap Santa Claus and my class produced it. I also wrote a “book” about Nazi Germany, which won first prize in the history category (it was the only entry in that category). I also wrote a story about a hot dog that comes to life and runs away to avoid being eaten. It was a real page-turner.
Picker. Brand Names was a catalog store in Buffalo where customers came in and browsed through a showroom and ordered from a catalog. I worked the back for one holiday season, picking the orders off the shelves: alarm clocks, toys, gadgets, all kinds of stuff. A forgettable experience overall.
Store clerk. Mesmer’s Dairy was another Buffalo fixture. This retail outlet was an early convenience store. I worked there during my senior year of high school. I scooped one hell of an ice cream cone. The manager read pornographic magazines in the back room while I ran the register.
Factory worker. I spent two summers working at Westwood Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by Bristol Myers Squibb, mostly in a warehouse loading trucks, stacking boxes on pallets, and performing other mindless tasks. Full-time, 7:30 am – 4:00 pm. Reinforced my desire to go to college. My father worked in the executive suite, which is how I got a job at the company (as did my brother and sister).
Lumber baron. Maybe not a baron, but a laborer at the family-owned Zoladz Lumber Company. Two summers during college, plus one winter break. Unloading boxcars of lumber, picking orders, driving a delivery truck — six days a week. Hard work, but I was flush with money.
Dishwasher. I was perhaps one of the best dishwashers ever in the dining hall at the University at Albany. Worked a lot of the early breakfast shifts and learned to make a perfect egg over easy. I’ve put my dishwashing skills to work recently helping out my friends Paul and Caroline who run a cooking school.
Busboy. Oh, the old Stuffed Mushroom in Buffalo. Graduated at one point to barback, then bartender.
Landscaper. Another summer job working for a landscaping company. I cut a lot of lawns. Hated it.
Carpenter’s helper. I wasn’t much help. Didn’t know how to use tools yet, worked for a guy who had no patience or willingness to teach me. Lasted a couple of weeks.
Bank teller. Full-time job during a semester I took off from college because I was a bit lost. This at least made me want to go back and finish college. Since then, I’ve always had to have my paper money facing the same way.
Bartender. The Lark Tavern in Albany, last call at 4:00 am. Made more money than at any other job to date. I started as a bouncer and lied and said I had bartending experience. Got busted right away, but the manager kept me on and trained me. I had another long stint as a bartender at the long-gone Cranberry Bog, after I got out of college.
After College and Grad School
Temp. One job was counting the number of garbage trucks that came to Buffalo’s transfer station. I sat in my car and recorded the appearance of the truck and its time of arrival. Not sure what the point was. Another job was weighing pudding cups as they came off the filling line at Rich Products. If the weight was beyond an acceptable standard deviation, I got to turn a dial to increase or decrease the flow of pudding. Now that’s shouldering responsibility.
Builder/Remodeler. I went into business with two friends, Jim and Teri, doing remodeling work as well as house flipping. Financially and in other ways, the venture did not work out, but I learned skills and how to use tools.
*At this point, I decided to go back to graduate school, because I’d taken up writing short stories with a feverish gusto and thought (ha!) I’d do that for a living (ha!).
Writing Instructor. As part of my MA in creative writing program, I received a stipend to teach English Composition. I parlayed this into additional adjunct teaching positions over the years at D’Youville College, Cabrillo College, and Schenectady College.
Reporter/Editor. First at the Bee Group Newspapers, where I started as a “cub” reporter at a weekly and then became its editor. Some years later, I became the editor of a weekly newspaper in Santa Cruz, CA.
Waiter/Bartender/Manager. A seven-year stint at a single restaurant, the Sea Cloud, in Santa Cruz, CA. Fine restaurant, good job. By this time, I’m a novelist working as a waiter.
Marketer. Following a second master’s degree (Technical Communication, RPI), I worked in marketing for a software company, MapInfo Corporation. While I lasted more than six years and learned a lot about marketing, I also learned I wasn’t a good fit for the corporate world. I didn’t like being managed, or managing others, and I was a failure in the realm of office politics.
Entrepreneur. I abandoned a regular paycheck and put out my own shingle as a marketing consultant and freelance writer: Klein Marketing. This ended up being a smart and successful decision, mostly. The shingle is still up, but somewhat weathered.
Novelist. At this point, I’ve written dozens of short stories, had several published in literary journals, and written four previous novels, none of which had found daylight. But finally, I signed a two-book contract with Random House, resulting in the publication of STASH and CLEAN BREAK. I’ve also published THE CULLING, and have at least one more on the way.
More novels to come, is the plan.