Monday, August 13, 2012

TOTW: The Odd Jobs of Authors (Plus a Quiz! And a Prize!)

I love a good “About the Author” page.  The stranger and more detailed the biography, the better, in my opinion—and hearing about a writer’s non-writing jobs is often the best bit of all.  It’s like the alter ego of a superhero: Learning that a bestselling novelist worked nights at a Laundromat or that an award-winning fantasist wrote her stories between shifts at a hotdog factory is like discovering that shy secretary Diana Prince was actually Wonder Woman all along.

Not only is it encouraging to know that even the most admired fantasy authors worked other jobs to pay the bills, but deciphering how those jobs influenced, informed, or inspired their writing can be fascinating.  Sometimes the connection is obvious, enriching the work from the foundation up.  (Could anyone but a soldier/scholar/theologian have written The Chronicles of Narnia?)  And sometimes the contrast between real-world work and written work is startling.  (Kenneth Grahame was a banker, until someone shot at him and he decided to move back to the country and write about otters and moles.)

My own former jobs are a frequent source of ideas and scene-setting details.  Two of my book-length works-in-progress stem from my other work, one from my years spent teaching high school English, and one from the summers I spent as a renaissance festival performer.  What about you, fellow writers?  How have your other jobs impacted your written work—if at all?

And now, just for fun…

The quiz: See if you can match these fantasy authors to their own non-authorial jobs.  Use what you already know about their backgrounds or the content/style of their work to make your matches (some of the answers may be hard to find, even on the mighty Wikipedia…).  Enter the correct number and letter pairings in the comments.  One lucky person who gets all the matches correct by Sunday, August 19th will win a prize! 

The fine print: If more than one commenter has a perfect score, I’ll choose a winner at random.  I’ll post the correct answers in the comments and reply to the winner on Sunday the 19th.  This contest is open to all, so please spread the word!

The prize: A beautiful fantasy art journal, including quotes from classic fantasy novels, to contain your own inspired scribblings, AND a copy of the 2012 Rhysling Anthology, containing ‘the best science fiction, fantasy, and horror poetry’ of the year.    

Here we go…

The authors:                                                              The jobs:

1.  Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments)                        A. Social worker
2.  J.R.R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings)                              B. Entomologist
3.  Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle in Time)                            C. Architect
4.  Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland)                                 D. Poultry breeder/stamp dealer/firework salesman
5.  Franny Billingsley (Chime)                                              E. United Nations information officer
6.  Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone)                                  F.  Children’s television writer
7.  Nancy Farmer (The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm)                G. Tabloid reporter
8.  Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver)                                               H. Lawyer
9.  Roald Dahl (Matilda)                                                       I.  Mathematician
10.  Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games)                           J. Actress/general store manager
11.  Joan Aiken (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase)               K. Professor of Anglo-Saxon
12.  L. Frank Baum (The Wizard of Oz)                                L. Merchant sailor/folksinger/boxer/truck driver
13.  Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth)                          M. Equestrian portrait painter
14.  Brian Jacques (Redwall)                                               N. Makeup artist
15.  Cornelia Funke (Inkheart)                                             O. Royal Air Force flying ace

Jacqueline West is the author of the award-winning fantasy series THE BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE (  She has worked as a dinner theatre actress, Montessori school teacher, juggling instructor, church musician, and coffee shop waitress, and for one week, she covered corn tassels with little paper prophylactics.  Visit her at


  1. Jenny -- you're the winner! If you'd email me ( with a mailing address, your fantasy journal and poetry collection will be on their way to you promptly!


  2. Here are the correct matches:

    1. Cassandra Clare (The Mortal Instruments) – G. Tabloid

    2. J. R. R. Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings) – K. Professor of

    3. Madeleine L’Engle
    (A Wrinkle in Time) – J. Actress/General
    Store Manager

    4. Lewis Carroll (Alice
    in Wonderland) – I. Mathematician

    5. Franny Billingsley
    (Chime) – H. Lawyer

    6. Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone) – N. Makeup Artist

    7. Nancy Farmer (The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm) –
    B. Entomologist

    8. Maggie Stiefvater (Shiver) – M. Equestrian Portrait Painter

    9. Roald Dahl (Matilda) – O. Royal Air Force Flying Ace

    10. Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) – F. Children’s TV Writer

    11. Joan Aiken (The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) – E. United
    Nations Information Officer

    12. L. Frank Baum (The Wizard of Oz) – D. Poultry
    Breeder/Stamp Dealer/Firework Salesman

    13. Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth) – C. Architect

    14. Brian Jacques (Redwall) – L. Merchant
    Sailor/Folksinger/Boxer/Truck Driver

    15. Cornelia Funke (Inkheart) – A. Social Worker

    There were multiple correct responses, so the randomly chosen winner is...
    JENNY! Thanks for your replies, everyone!

  3. I'm going to try this!! Yay!
    1. Cassandra Clare - G
    2. J. R. R. Tolkien - K
    3. Madeleine L'Engle - J
    4. Lewis Carroll - I
    5. Franny Billingsley - H
    6. Leigh Bardugo - N
    7. Nancy Farmer - B (I didn't know about this!!!)
    8. Maggie Stiefvater - M
    9. Roald Dahl - O
    10. Suzanne Collins - F
    11. Joan Aiken - E
    12. L. Frank Baum - D
    13. Norton Juster - C
    14. Brian Jacques - L
    15. Cornelia Funke - A

  4. hee hee. Saw that after I posted a comment.

    wow, I've worked as a babysitter, a maid, a sales clerk, a data entry clerk and a paralegal and don't think any of them play into any story I've written. I tend to veer away from my everyday work life when I write. I do bring a lot of emotional issues and experiences into my writing, though. For instance, I've experienced a lot of death in my family so many of my characters do the same. Body image, teen issues I had also come through in my characters. I also traveled a lot when I was growing up so places I've seen, especially castles in Europe, have a huge impact on my scenes.

    Now, on to the fun questions:


    Thanks! That was fun. By the way, I love your site so much I'm now following.

  5. Interesting that none of your other jobs have slipped into your written work! Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment -- and I'm glad you like my site.

  6. 1. G
    2. K
    3. J
    4. I
    5. H
    6. N
    7. B
    8. M
    9. O
    10. F
    11. E
    12. D
    13. C
    14. L
    15. A

  7. Like it says, please enter your number and letter pairings here, in the comments. Thanks!

  8. Where should we respond with our answers?


Have your say...