Sunday, May 31, 2009

Novels and Work

Alain De Botton has a thought-provoking article in today's (Sunday) Globe about how few novels take place in an office setting or even a work setting. This is true even in the mystery genre. You have various cozy hobbyists and PI's who are usually in the office only for a customer to come in and get them out of the office. Cops are seldom seen at their desks. But in point of fact, maybe the work that police and firemen do are one of the few occupations that writer's dwell on. Oh yeah, and the movies.

The headline of De Botton's article reads Portrait of the Artist as a Young Data-Entry Supervisor.
Ain't gonna happen. My writing group is not big on "Office scenes."

In fact the pictorial book, A Day is the Life of America, if memory serves me, did not have a single photograph of the inside of a real life office. I was working at the time and felt the familiar pang of alienation. Invisible again.

I have beaucoup scenes set at the office in my as-yet-unsold novel Festival Madness. The office is a high tech firm and I try to portray how a consultant (yet another occupation) would work there. Of course the office experiences an FBI raid and some late night fornication and things that make (one hopes) the reader want to turn the page, and the fornication may not be so rare, but of course the raid is.

It is difficult to write about life in the office because people in meetings or sitting in front of computer screens, butt in chair--all activities that can be deadly dull and you need some conflict (also found at meetings) to move the plot along. It is harder than a dysfunctional family scene or cops at a crime scene. And many writers, as Botton pointed out, have had dumbed down day jobs allowing them to write, but not jobs which require a huge committment of mental resources.

I had the kind of job which required the intellectual committment, and yes, writing was hard. Promiscuous Mode also took place in an office, and, well, we know that it's still unsold, too. Not from a lack of conflict and interesting goings-on at the office. Well, maybe. What do I know?

Of course there is the television program, The Office, and cultural snob that I am, I don't really watch network TV, but the program seems to be popular. Maybe not with people who read. Oh dear, there I go again.

Botton's new book is The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, of which there are many.

By the way, I just finished Sue Grafton's T is for Trespass, and as a writer she spends quite a bit of time on Kinsey Milhone's work in her office, and nary a client showed up to distract her from her bookkeeping, etc. You really get a feeling for how a PI might REALLY work, including some of the boring cases which of course turn out to be not so boring.

Botton is discussing literary writers, not genre writers. His book sounds interesting.

Off to Florida to conduct research, part of a writer's (genre or otherwise) work. Not the "plant butt in chair" tedious part. I will see for myself for my drug lord works, eats and sleeps. Yes, I show him in an office and eating lunch like an ordinary office worker. Hey Alain, how cool is that?


Elaine Viets, The Deadend Job series has lots of information about the heroine's dead end jobs. Hilarious, too. The books are funny and witty and altogether a good read.

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