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 (www.thebooksofelsewhere.com). 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 www.jacquelinewest.com.