Of all the ways that writing as a profession sucks ass, the worst is dealing with the quesition "so what do you do?"
The question is hard to answer because people bring weird mixed up preconceptions to the conversation. Do I earn a living? Huh - would you ask a dental hygienist that question? Anyway: yes. Can you find my books in bookstores? Um. Well. Yes.
Books are often found in bookstores.
Though technically Lessons in Taxidermy also had a special supermarket edition with my face on the cover, a fact that gave me an excuse to avoid supermarkets entirely for awhile.
This perennial awkwardness is emphasised in the United States. Oh homeland! Why do you harbour such strange notions of success?
My work does have some fringe benefits, like free drinks and restaurant discounts. I get to stay in fancy hotels. I have the occasional lovely letter thanking me for one of the projects, and I've had strangers rush up to me in public settings and shout You saved my life! before scampering away.
But for the most part, writing (and publishing) are a hard anonymous slog. Exacerbated in my case by a reticent nature - in person, I do not promote myself nor do I even talk about how I spend my days. Oh, and I have a marked tendency to write under pseudonyms.
Yet although I do not announce, emphasise, or even take credit for the majority of my work, it is quite annoying to be at a dinner party and have the host assume that I do not work at all.
There is no remedy for this, short of carrying my clippings file around.
My so-called career is really quite average, with office hours and a regular income. In the United Kingdom (even in the esoteric environs of Cambridge) what I do is viewed as normal. But America persists in a logical fallacy: a belief that people in the creative fields are either famous or losers.
Why so extreme? I guess it is just part of our pioneer mythology.