By Hilary Davidson
Back in the days when I had a resume, the worst jobs I ever had were listed one after another, often overlapping like a disastrous pile-up of cars on a highway. They were concentrated into the four-year period when I was earning my bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto. Part of the stress was simply because of scheduling: I was a full-time student with an honors double major (political science and English lit). Balancing that with work wasn't always easy, because I often had two part-time jobs (in the toughest stretches, three). Most of my friends worked, too, and because “In Living Color” was on TV at the time, we’d tease each other with lines from the show (“How many jobs you working?” “Only three jobs? You lazy, mon.”)
Not all of my jobs were bad. The one that lasted the longest had me working as a secretary at a busy suburban music school. That ate up three years of Saturdays and Sundays. My boss was an older lady named Helga, and aside from the fact that she was a Rush Limbaugh fan, we got along pretty well. Other jobs were mindless but not hard to do: one company paid me good money to enter an endless list of names into a database; another had me standing around an amphitheater, alternately checking tickets and making sure no one tried to get up on stage with the band. Some jobs were demanding but could be rewarding: for two summers I worked at a government office that offered advice to small businesses and entrepreneurs. It could be exhausting (mainly because the people who normally worked in the center thought that it was their right to sit back and let the summer student handle everything), but it was incredibly satisfying to help people build or expand a business.
For a while, my standard of bad job was telemarketing. When I was eighteen, I worked for six months for a health charity, calling homes between 5pm and 9pm every weeknight. Predictably, some people would yell at me when I called, but more just hung up (a surprising number gave money, even though the call was interrupting their evening — or their dinner; one upside to the job was that I was regularly reminded of how kind people could be). The office itself could be a nightmare, with telemarketers going on crying jags or getting into screaming matches. It was bad enough that the office employed a counselor to give us nightly pep talks and to be there when the meltdowns happened. The job didn’t actually stress me out until I was put on a team to do “callbacks.” It was an innocuous-sounding term for a slithery practice: calling back people who’d donated money in the past three months and asking them to donate more money. It felt all wrong to me, and it made me quit.
It wasn’t until my last year of college that I found a job that was far worse. For legal reasons, I can’t say much about the company, but the work itself seemed interesting (and involved some writing), and it paid very well. Unfortunately, everything else about the job was disastrous. Let’s just say that it gave me a first-hand look at some very crooked, corrupt business practices, as well as personal experience with sexual harassment. Looking back at it, from a crime-writing perspective, I should probably thank them for the education.
As for Lily Moore, the main character in THE DAMAGE DONE and THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, she definitely has a career that mirrors mine. She worked her way through college, and since then she's been self-employed as a freelance writer. Both of us grew up dreaming of living and working in New York City, so we have that in common, too. But Lily is several years younger than me, and given that she's partial to old movies, I doubt that she watched "In Living Color" when it was on. For anyone who missed that experience, check this out.
No one has asked what my best job had been, but that's a no-brainer: writing fiction. You guessed that already, didn't you?