Nice work if you can get it: Author

(This is just one! of many! interviews with people I know who have amazing, envy-inducing jobs. I met Andrea through the wonder of the interwebz. Not only can she rock a vintage dress like nobody’s business, she’s a blogger extraordinaire and an author to boot! Gosh! I’d be happy with two out of those three!)


So what’s the deal? What do you do?
I write novels! I had a children’s book published in 2002 – a fantasy novel for ages 9 to 12 – and now I’m trying to get an adult’s novel published. But since I can’t support myself doing just that at the moment, I also work as a freelance writer and editor.Tell us about an average day in book-writing.
I drink two cups of coffee. I procrastinate for half an hour. I put another pot of coffee on. After waiting in vain for some kind of natural disaster, I get down to work at about 9am. I work best within a strict routine, so I’m chained to the desk for at least four or five hours every day. Essentially my day involves lots of caffeine and lots of staring at a computer screen. As well as working on a new book, I’m usually in the process of editing an old one at the same time, and sending out queries to literary agents by post and email.

I try to write 2,000 words a day when I’m writing a first draft. It’s a little more variable when I’m editing or rewriting.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
If you want to be a writer, write. It’s good advice. I have been writing since I knew that the black, squiggly shapes were letters. To me, that’s more important than formal qualifications, but I did do a BA degree in English and took all the university writing classes I could. I worked as the editor of a magazine for a while after university, then did a post-grad diploma in book publishing, and now I’m finishing up a MFA programme in Creative Writing. I don’t think any of those things are necessary if you want to be a writer, but they were all helpful in different ways – particularly the MFA programme. If you’re really serious about fiction writing as a career, it’s a good path to take.

How did you get into this line of work?
It’s the only thing I’ve ever been really good at, and it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I suppose it was a combination of that certainty, bloody-mindedness, blind optimism and the willingness to not earn very much money.

Are there any drawbacks to working in this field?
The aforesaid lack of money! It is unlikely you’ll earn very much from being a writer, unless you’re one of the 0.0001% who write a bestseller. It is also a very difficult field to break into. Finding an agent and a publisher is a Herculean task, and receiving all those inevitable rejections is emotionally quite hard. The average published author receives around 120 rejections before she is successful. You have to be prepared to hear 120 people telling you ‘no’ before you get one ‘yes’. Working as a writer also means you will need a ‘day job’, unless you’re very lucky. You have to fit writing time around your other commitments and responsibilities.

Oh yes, and the postage costs are horrific. Sending a 400-page manuscript through the mail is very painful for the wallet.

What are the highlights?
There’s nothing better than doing what you love. Nothing at all. I’m lucky to work in a job that feeds my soul every day – even on the bad days.

Are there any misconceptions about working in this field?
Many. One is that it’s easy to write a book. It’s not. Another is the misconception that if your book is good enough, you won’t have a problem getting it published. Again, not true. It’s a complex industry, and publication relies on the opinions of many different people who all have very different ideas. It’s tough to break into.

Working in any artistic field, there is also a chance that people will label you as an ‘artist’ in a negative way. Here are some of the terms I have heard associated with ‘artist’: temperamental, prima donna, drama queen (or king!), unreliable, starving, over-emotional, arrogant, selfish, waster. Of course, these terms hardly ever apply to the real people we call artists, but that stereotype is quite a powerful one.

What suggestions would you give to people interested in getting into this?
Write, write, write. Take all the classes you can, enter all the competitions you can, submit to all the literary journals you can. But most of all, write. Watch the word count mount up every day. Plunge right in, do something ambitious and keep plodding away until you’re finished. It’s the best way to learn.

Once you have a completed novel, edit it until you’re blue in the face. One of the best ways to start is by reading the whole thing aloud, in its entirety. This will show you any problems with the flow. And do a really anal copyedit. Once you’ve done all that, show it to someone with expertise in the area, someone you trust, and get their thoughts, and edit it again. You really can’t go over it too often. Once you’re relatively happy with it (and it will never be perfect), you need to write a query letter, research agents and start sending out queries. I wrote a post on this process.

And good luck! It’s a long, difficult process, but it’s also hugely rewarding and fun.

Are any of you harboring visions of books with your name at the bottom? Any questions for Andrea?

Notes from the Road: Worst Busride Ever

Remember, about a month ago, when I rocked some impressive travel karma? To the tune of a $500 flight voucher, a swanky hotel stay and a first class upgrade where I drank my weight in free Diet Coke? Well, the travel gods saw to it that any karmic imbalances created with all that good luck were righted during our most recent busing adventure.
The Mister and I had just finished a three-day tour of the salt flats, hanging with some fantastic Wellingtonians that we met at Carnival. Uyuni, the tiny dust bowl of a town that serves as the gateway to the salt flats, cleverly offers train service out of town only twice a week. Our bible, The Lonely Planet, called the buses out of town ¨cold, bumpy and inadvisable¨but then we know how they felt about the awesomeness that is sandboarding, don´t we? ¨We´re rugged!¨we cried. ¨We´re rough and tumble travelers!¨we challenged. ¨We don´t want to stay in this shit hole another minute!¨we wept.
So we were more than pleased when we found a bus out of town that would take us all the way back to the capitol in seven hours. We rounded up snacks for the bus, inflated those nerdy neck pillows and settled in for what we were sure would be seven hours of lovely mountain scenery and Pringle nibbling.
Here are some highlights of what transpired during my own personal version of hell:
  • We find our seats at the very back of the bus and are immediately surrounded by a huge group of silver miners
  • They pull out several bottles of rubbing alcohol, mix them with bottles of Fanta and begin drinking before the bus pulls out
  • They joyfully (and repeatedly) offer us this delicious drink while asking Sam who is the hottest American actress. “Angelina Jolie, yes? Yessssss?!”
  • After several drinks, they begin peeing into Sprite bottles
  • As we drive over the rutted dirt road they spill beer, Fanta/rubbing alcohol and pee all over.
  • The bus fords several rivers successfully. Then the driver stops the bus, asks us all to get out, wade across the river on our own and guns the engine over it.
  • The miners take turns carrying each other across and in the excitement of all the wading and drinking, one of them gets left behind
  • As night falls, the miners begin to drunkenly sign folk songs, getting louder every time someone shushes them.
  • The two babies sitting in front of us begin to cry
  • My seat doesn’t recline
  • Lather, rinse and repeat for sixteen hours.

There´s a special place in heaven for us, right?Got the travel bug?  Check out my ebooks and podcasts on making long-term travel a reality!  Only $15 forpetessake!

Web time wasters

Do you love all things vintage? Are you a fan of handle bar mustaches and rosie-cheeked babies attempted to sell you salt? You will no doubt love this collection of old-timey catalog images. I particularly love the ad for Pong “You hear the sound of action! Every time electronic “ball” hits “paddle” or sideline you hear a beep!”

A functioning Grandfather clock that’s printed on canvas. Because a real one looks out of place with your Wii/milk crate inspired decor scheme.

For the true cat lover: a mug with a cat on the bottom. You set your mug on top of his cheeky little face. Perhaps it’s also the mug for cat-haters as well?

I know a lot of people consider the Midwest to be flyover space, but there’s something haunting and beautiful about our expansive plains and obscene amount of lakes and snow. This photo series captures that.

A chocolate shoppe that markets itself as a research facility? In that case, I have many important experiments that I need to tend to.

You will undoubtably be the coolest kid in the office if you download this screen saver.

You know the face you make when you’re giving yourself a french manicure? Or when you’re applying mascara? Be glad that Robbie Cooper wasn’t around. Here is his series of photos capturing the faces kids actually make as they play video games.

Nice work if you can get it: Movie set Caterer

Brekke and Geoffrey Rush became great friends

(This is part of our Nice work if you can get it interview series, in which I interview friends of mine who have intriguing, envy-inducing jobs. I’ve known Brekke since we were tiny blonde girls running through the linoleum halls of the Aitkin United Methodist Church. We even lived together for a summer, during which I coveted her wardrobe and repeatedly tried to clean her room for her. Now she travels the world, cooking for movie stars and breaking hearts. Seems like a pretty nice gig, eh?)


So what’s the deal? What do you do?
I am a caterer for movie crews. Everyone on the movie crew, actors and all, get two meals a day. At least two, depending on the number of hours they put into a day. There are union laws dictating time between meals.Tell us about an average day in movie catering.
We usually show up anywhere between 2 and 3 hours before the first meal (breakfast) which is more than likely served around 6 am. We take the trucks on set and start to serve. Usually just one person cooks the breakfast, to order, as the crew shows up for work..(This service can go on for up to 3 hours) In the meantime, The rest of us prep for the second meal (served about 6 hours after breakfast starts) This involves setting up tables and chairs, setting up a buffet line, and preparing the food. The type of food we serve is fairly high end for this fast-paced, on-the-move, mass-quantity type of cooking. It’s non-stop work.The amount of people we serve can range from 50 (commercials) which takes 2 people to do, to 1000 (Pirates of the Caribbean) which employed about 14.
I’ve worked on Pirates of Caribbean 2 and 3, Into the Wild, The Dark Night, Die Hard (Live free or Die Hard) and The Longshots.

Did you go to school for this? Or get any special training?
I didn’t have any schooling for this, (it’s not really necessary). I did, however, have quite a few years of restaurant work behind me.

How did you get into this line of work?
I got the job from my brother who called me up one day with the news that someone had quit on the catering crew for Pirates. So, I was offered an opportunity to go to the Bahamas for 7 months and work. I instantly quit my Assistant GM position at the restaurant I was at, and showed up for work on the island 6 days later.

Are there any drawbacks to working in the movie industry?
We work an average of 16 hours a day – 14 hours is a short day! I have worked a 38 hour day before. This is all with sitting down a total of maybe an hour for break. Three hours of sleep becomes natural, if you want to get anything else done in your day. On Pirates we were working 120 hours a week. So.. the quality of life, or the life -at all- is not there.

What are the highlights?
The income! At the end of the week, when that paycheck comes, you sort of forget how hard you worked and how tired you are. Also… the day off is sort of a celebration every week. Through out the week there is always talk of which bar everyone will go to, then Friday night hits and it’s a party! Beyond the hours and the parties, a definite highlight is seeing the movie. Its great to see the places you’ve been and the people you know on the big screen.

Are there any misconceptions about working in craft services?
Actors, they are not picky with food, or stuck up any more than anyone else is. Its strange how differently I think of actors now, and how star struck I used to be. They really are just my co-workers. Although, don’t get me wrong.. I still, 3 movies later, lose all ability to speak when Johnny Depp walks by!

What suggestions would you give to people interested in getting into this?
Make yourself known.. Go where the filming is – Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, New York – find a catering company, and apply. Most companies don’t require schooling, and as long as you prove your determination and work hard, a food service background may not even be needed. This is a great job for meeting people and networking, getting into a different field of the movie business is a huge possibility as long as you get to know people. Catering is a good place to start.

The Soundtrack of your Adolescence

So, we’ve established the soundtrack of your childhood. There was much dancing and a few themed outfits. But what about those tender years between grades 6 and 12?
  • Despite that fact that you are the epitome of white bread, you like to dabble in the hip hop. You’ve got your JNCO jeans, you’ve got your oversized 26Red t-shirt, you are totally ready to do the running man to this song at the middle school dance.
  • Even though you know it’s much cooler to hate this song, you secretly weep to it. At the movie and when you’re driving in the rain and when Captain Football dumps you for that girl who will let him get to third base. Sometimes you sing it into the back of your hairbrush … and really go for broke on that “Iiiiii-eeeeee-iiiiii” part.
  • This is the perfect song for making out with that cute, long-haired guy you met at the county fair. Sure, he drives a van with carpet in the back. And, yes, you’re fairly sure he’s dropped out of school. But he’s from Out Of Town! How cool is that?
  • You spend a large part of your summer listening to this song and driving to different beaches, stuffed into beat-up hatchbacks. Nudity seems to be a reoccuring theme this summer – skinny-dipping, flashing, getting caught doing the former.
  • You attempt to rectify previous bad music choices by totally devoting yourself to The Beastie Boys and this song. You like to attempt the robot while dancing to said song. You develop a thing for dark-haired, large-nosed boys that lasts well into your twenties.

What was the music that played while you wore braces?

The Soundtrack of your Childhood

No, but I mean really. When your life is finally made into a movie, what’s the soundtrack going to be?Scene: One-bedroom apartment, circa late 70s – early 80s. Mom is tiny in her maroon double knit jumpsuit and Dad is rocking some Alabama Thunder. You are but a wee, bald muffin in a onesie. Mom and Dad are teary and joyful over you and this song.

Scene: You are five and you are an excellent dancer. You love this song so hard! Best dancing outfit: green footie pajamas. Best dance venue: the kitchen while Mom’s cooking dinner. Best dancing moves: punching from side to side, marching in place (sometimes in circles), jumping jacks.

Scene: You are seven and totally embarrassed of your amateurish dance moves of yesteryear. You have moved on to a sophisticated ensemble of pink leotard, striped leg warmers and arm poofs. You and the BFF spend your summer choreographing dances to this and forcing the neighbor ladies to watch.

Scene: By 5th grade, you are wicked hard core. You’re so tough you listen to rap! You memorize the lyrics to this classic and recite them to kids on the playground for a quarter, which is a pittance for this caliber of entertainment.

Scene: Sixth grade is full of angst (in the form of a triangle perm, braces and glasses) and Kurt Cobain is the only one who can understand you. You wear your dad’s flannel shirts and your winter boots all year round because your allowance won’t cover a new pair of Doc Martens.

Scene: You know it’s deeply uncool, but you really love this song. You even bought the single! On tape! You secretly dance to it every morning before school, but swear allegiance to Pearl Jam when asked.

What music were your formative years set to?