By Tracy Kiely
Like my protagonist, Elizabeth Parker, I graduated with a degree in English Literature. Then I just sat back and watched as the job offers ROLLED in. So much demand – such a variety of opportunities – the choices were endless!
I do remember going to a headhunter at one point and having her ask what my typing speed was. I think I gazed at her with the same expression if she’s just unleashed a torrent of French upon my non-Gallic ears. “I don’t see what that has to do with anything,” I naively replied. “I’m looking for a writing position.”
I was quickly assured that I would indeed be writing – lots of letters and even the occasional memo! The only snag was that these works would not be originated by me – only typed by me. “But I’m sure they would value your input,” she added.
And so I ended up fresh out of college working for a place which was about as far away from my lofty goals as you could possibly get, but inasmuch as it actually provided me with a paycheck, it was a hell of a lot more than anything my lofty goals had been able to produce so far. We all start out somewhere, I thought, and a somewhere that pays is a pretty nice somewhere. However, I think it was about a week into the job when I realized that my boss was, um, horrible.
How can I describe him? First off, he had a wardrobe that would make Herb Tarlek gag. (I’ve just dated myself, eh?) He also shunned deodorant – which was unfortunate as our office had no AC, and he kept his long hair greased back and firmly shellacked in place. Now, none of this would have mattered if it weren’t for the fact that this also guy thought he was a ladies’ man, man about town, a mover and a shaker, and that his staff was as passionately interested in his life as he was.
Which, by the way, was PASSIONATE indeed.
Staff meetings routinely ran into multiple hour sessions because they needed to include detailed updates about his mother’s health, his love life, and his past successes. One of my duties was to duly record these meetings so our five-person staff could stay apprised of each other’s activities – something that obviously could not happen otherwise what with us all working together in the same large room.
Now, in DC offices there is something known as a vanity wall. It’s a wall that is jam-packed with framed pictures of celebrities, complete with personalized inscriptions. Many times the pictures will actually feature the owner of the office huddled in close with the celebrities. A vanity wall says, “Hey, look at me! Look who I know!” My boss didn’t have one – he had three.
Which was fine, expect for one tiny thing.
One of my “writing” jobs was to send out daily “birthday hellos” to celebrities. These letters included phrases such as “you are a beautiful, significant human being” and “the world is a better place because of your glorious birth and the beauty of your craft,” and I would send them to people like Linda Evans – the actress who played Krystal on Dynasty.
Who is, I’m sure, all of those things and more. That’s not the point.
The point was that I quickly learned that these celebrities would then send back an 8x10 glossy via a publicist with a generic note of thanks.
Guess what happened then?
Yep – they magically obtained an inscription and were added to the revered vanity wall.
I dare you to try and keep a straight face at your desk, when Linda Evans is smiling down at you, next to an inscription that reads: “Bill, Wonderful to see you again. Linda.”
Anyway, I used much of what I learned on that first job to create Elizabeth’s work environment. How could I not? It wasn’t so much that the job was horrible – it wasn’t, really. It was just that it was my first real job, and I guess I found much of it was filled with the ridiculous. I wanted to recreate that feeling of “What the hell am I doing here?” for Elizabeth, as she looked around her life and wondered what her next step was.
I think we all use real people as the basis for some of our characters – the trick is to give them other qualities and traits (or genders) so as to cover your tush should you get sued.
Hey – it’s cheaper than therapy!