Saturday, October 23, 2010


Day Jobs
By Jeri Westerson

Maybe readers think that authors spring fully formed into the world, all published and everything. But those of us who publish later in life, usually have a slew of experiences prior to getting that call from a publisher.

As for me, my resume reads a little like I couldn’t hold down a job.

That was not the case. I started out life with an entirely different vocational path. While in high school and college, I had decided that I wanted to be an actress. I was a singer, failed dancer, successful comedienne and dramatic thespian, winning acting awards all through high school. I directed and even, briefly, became a puppeteer in college. But then I went to some real world auditions and had my head handed to me. Standing in a bare room with people in suits discussing your various shortcomings amongst themselves while you stood there, suddenly did not have the appeal it once had. But I was lucky. Like many other people with artistic talent, I had few tricks up my sleeve. Little did I know that the skill of designing all those programs and posters I did for years for various theatrical productions had a name: graphic artist.

I switched majors to art and graduated with an art degree and, with portfolio in hand, dove into the advertising world of Los Angeles. Well, not so glamorous at first. I worked in an in-house art department for a commercial lighting company in Huntington Park, CA. Later I got a dream job in Canoga Park designing video boxes, the children’s line. So basically, I got to watch cartoons and design the boxes and collateral. Family Home Entertainment became the best design job I ever had. If they still exist—and I designed some Inspector Gadget boxes, Pound Puppies, Strawberry Shortcake, for them to name a few—if they ever put together a little animated FHE logo of three crayons with arms and Mickey Mouse gloves like they had planned to, that was my design. I invented those guys.

They got bought out by Carolco, owned by the Menendez family. We all thought that meant an influx of cash to the company. What it really meant is that they fired everyone. The art department was closed and we were all laid off, and there were quite a few of us (since their biggest video line was porn, and yes, I designed a few of those, too). The Menendez name should sound familiar to you. It was that murder case in the eighties where the young men killed both their parents and pled that they had been abused for years. I think they’re still in jail. Revenge for the firing? Hey, I’m not saying if you fire me you’re children will murder you, but...

Not long after that I got into freelancing and did work for Epic and CBS Records. This was all before computers, so I knew all the designer tricks (and I was pretty high tech at home with my fax machine and my copier that zoomed! Oooh.) But I made a lot of money in those fat eighties and semi-retired at that point to have a baby.

Fast forward about two years later and circumstances had us moving out of lovely Pasadena so my husband could follow the job to the Inland Empire (that’s southern California speak for deserty, inland counties, kind of far from interesting things like the coast). There was no question about my getting back into design because the entire world had switched to computers and I, alas, had not.

So this was the turning point for me to decide to become a stay at home novelist. And I did eventually learn to use a PC, but with a young, struggling family, I couldn’t end up just staying at home, at least not on the weekends. We also live in an area of southern California where there is a wine country so I thought it would be fun to work at a winery as a tasting host and tour guide. I also starting making bird houses to sell on the side so if you ever bought a birdhouse at a Temecula winery gift shop (Mount Palomar Winery) in the mid nineties, look on the bottom to see if it’s got my signature! Ah, a real collector’s item. I also made some amusing Christmas ornaments for that same winery (again, look for that signature on the backs.)

After three years of that I turned to newspaper reporter for just about all the local daily and the weekly papers. And during all this, I was writing my novels, sending to agents, and finally landing one. After eight years as a reporter I became a soloist and choir director for a local church. And still I wrote. I moved from that to part time secretary. Still writing. Still getting rejected. Until finally hitting on the right agent (number four) and about twenty novels later before that contract showed up at my door.

All smooth sailing and glamorous life of an author from then on, right? Wrong. Still had to keep a part time day job as an office assistant…until quite recently. They say you have to spend at least twice your advance on your first book to promote it properly and I’ve been doing the same for each book since. So far, all of my writing income has gone right back into publicity and promotion, including travel to various conventions, a nifty book trailer you can see on my website, collateral material, and a yearly fabulous book launch party that involves sword-fighting knights. With a son away in college, our household expenses have dropped and I’ve been sans day job since June of this year, using what little money I have to pay off my credit cards. But I’m writing full time. I've heard that it takes till the fifth book to make a profit. I’m hoping I won’t have to be back in the work force before that happens. In the meantime, I’m practicing: “Would you like fries with that?”

Jeri works at home writing the next Crispin Guest Medieval Noir in the series. The new release of THE DEMON’S PARCHMENT has been very exciting and you can share in the excitement by reading the first chapter on her website


Judy said...

Wow. I've been to Mt. Palomar Winery (more times than I can count; love their port; never bought a birdhouse tho') and, sans the successful part, have done many of the things you've done (graphic design, reporter...).

Jeri Westerson said...

Judy, I could tell you stories about that place. Although I dare say they could tell a few about me too! New owners now.

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