August 18 – 24: “Do day jobs get in the way of writing thrillers – and when do they help?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5“Do day jobs get in the way of writing thrillers? When do they help?” This week ITW Members M.P. Cooley, Stacy J. Childs, Kelli Stanley, John Florio, Ken Kuhlken, Whitley Strieber, Lee Thompson, Shirley McCann, Linda Davies and Michael Richards discuss day job pros and cons!


Alien Hunter--the Underworld by Whitley StrieberWhitley Strieber is the author of many thrillers, among them classics such as the Wolfen and the Hunger, and more recent books like the Grays, which is in development as a movie, and the Alien Hunter series, which is in development as a TV series. His movies are the Wolfen, the Hunger, Communion and the Day After Tomorrow, based on his book Superstorm. His latest thriller, Alien Hunter: Underworld is the second in the Alien Hunter series. It’s not a sequel, but a stand alone book continuing the character of Flynn Carroll, a police officer who works with an alien police force to apprehend alien criminals on earth.

Blind Moon Alley by John FlorioJohn Florio is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in print, on the web, and on television. He is the author of SUGAR POP MOON and BLIND MOON ALLEY—the first two Jersey Leo crime novels—and ONE PUNCH FROM THE PROMISED LAND: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Ouisie Shapiro.


stacyDr. Stacy J. Childs was raised in Abilene, Texas, and then attended college at Tulane University and medical school at Louisiana State University, both in New Orleans. He completed his residencies in Birmingham, Alabama, after which he remained in private practice there for seventeen years. Dr. Childs then practiced in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he affiliated with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center as Clinical Professor of Surgery. In 2004, he and his wife, Diana, moved to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where he now lives and works. Dr. Childs has twenty-eight years of clinical research experience and has published extensively throughout his career. He was the first urologic editor of Medscape, was editor in chief of Infections in Urology for eighteen years, and is on the editorial board of Urology. His hobbies include alpine ski racing, biking, fly-fishing and fiction writing.

A Beautiful Madness by Lee ThompsonLee Thompson is the author of the Suspense novels A BEAUTIFUL MADNESS (August 2014), IT’S ONLY DEATH (January 2015), and WITH FURY IN HAND (May 2015). The dominating threads weaved throughout his work are love, loss, and learning how to live again. A firm believer in the enduring power of the human spirit, Lee believes that stories, no matter their format, set us on the path of transformation.

The Good Know Nothing by Ken KuhlkenKen Kuhlken‘s short stories, features, essays and columns have appeared in Esquire and dozens of other magazines and anthologies and earned a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. His novels have earned numerous awards such as the Ernest Hemingway Best First Novel, the St. Martin’s/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel, and the Shamus Best Novel. His new Tom Hickey California Crime novel is The Good Know Nothing. Get the whole story at:


Ark Storm by Linda DaviesLinda Davies worked as an investment banker before escaping to write the international bestseller NEST OF VIPERS. She has written multiple books since, Financial Thrillers and Young Adult thrillers. She spent three years living in Peru and eight years living in the Middle East. In 2005 she and her husband were kidnapped at sea by Iranian government forces and held hostage in Iran for two weeks before being released. She has written about her experiences in her first non-fiction book, HOSTAGE (published this August 2014). She now lives near the sea, where she swims, but chooses not to sail.

City of Ghosts by Kelli StanleyKelli Stanley writes the Miranda Corbie series of literary noir novels, set in 1940 San Francisco and featuring the iconoclastic private eye Miranda Corbie–called, by Library Journal, one of “crime’s most arresting heroines.” CITY OF DRAGONS won the Macavity Award and was nominated for a Shamus and Los Angeles Times Book Prize; CITY OF SECRETS won the Golden Nugget for best California-set mystery, and CITY OF GHOSTS just received a glowing review from the Wall Street Journal.


Ice Shear by M.P. CooleyM.P. Cooley‘s debut crime novel ICE SHEAR (William Morrow) is one of O, The Oprah Magazine’s Best Books of Summer 2014 and was called “an excellent debut” by Publishers Weekly in their starred review. A native of upstate New York, she currently lives in Campbell, California. She studied literature at Barnard College, and went on to work in tax and law publishing, acquiring business, accounting, and economics books. Currently, she works in administration at a nonprofit organization in Silicon Valley.

Anonymously Yours by Shirley McCannShirley McCann’s fiction has appeared in Woman’s World, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, The Forensic Examiner, and many other publications. She enjoys reading and writing all genres. She lives in Springfield, Missouri. Her newest release, ANONYMOUSLY YOURS, is a cozy mystery. Her YA Novel, THE SCARRY INN, will soon be released by Black Opal Books.



For more than two decades, M. A. Richards served as a Cultural Attaché in the Department of State at embassies and consulates in Baghdad, Jerusalem, Lagos, Moscow, Seoul, and Tel Aviv, in addition to assignments in Washington. He also served at U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu as the Special Advisor to the Commander, a four star Admiral.  He speaks Arabic, Hebrew, Korean, and Russian. An award winning photographer, avid surfer, and rider of Victory and Triumph motorcycles, he currently resides in Hawai’i with his wife Young, a ceramic artist. His debut novel, CHOICE OF ENEMIES – A Nathan Monsarrat Thriller – is currently under consideration.

  1. My day job is running a website and being a broadcaster. I inherited my radio show, Dreamland, from Art Bell in 2000, and have been doing it weekly ever since. It covers the waterfront from politics to conspiracies to science and archaeology, with religion and the spirit thrown in. Basically whatever interests me, and practically everything does!

    I really can’t begin to say how useful it has been in my writing. Every one of my books for the past 15 years has, in one way or another, been influenced by what I’ve learned exploring the world for or listening to my guests on Dreamland.

    1. My day-job is at a call center currently. I have notebooks filled with writing between calls that I transcribe at night into the computer when I come home. I will never be writing about working in a call center if I can help it other than to describe it maybe as a soul-sucking environment where the stress is unimaginable (and I used to work at a charity and arranging celebrity events… Celebrities can be very stressful to work with).

      I typically write or am inspired by a dream first that grabs me and then I move on to let it tell me how the story wants to go and forms. I throw in things I’ve learned here and there from life, but I see how typically after a project is finished, how the characters seem to reflect and teach me about what is really going on inside me. It’s the ultimate mirror for my soul…

      So in a round about way, to answer the topic, I don’t see my soul-sucking day job influencing my writing but my writing influences keeping me sane from said soul-sucking day job.

      In the meantime, would you ever revisit the world of Wicca and expand on it in another book? Cat Magic was a wonderful book and it would be equally wonderful to see more books in that company celebrating Wicca in a positive light.

    2. I enjoy my day-job of caring for my pet parrot. I sometimes post as an Unknown Country Message Board member, probably not as much as I should, lately, and my retirement from the rat-race is more a blessing, as I can do what I like , and not be on any schedule.
      I love to care for injured and orphaned wild birds which seem to come to me, and I have brought an injured mourning dove to health enough to fly free after two weeks with me! Then last month , I cared for a baby Eurasian Collared Dove to health, even providing oral anti-biotics …until I later brought it to a bird rescue aviary where it is learning to fly. This wonderful yet disturbing world is always, at least , fascinating, mysterious, and hopefully magical and amazing…as long as I remain childlike, and laugh with it all!

      1. Not a bad day job! The world of birds is amazing. I had a pet parrot when I lived in Peru. He came with the house I was renting! His name was Pepelucho and he became a dear friend. He would sit behind me on my chair when I wrote and when he got bored he would nip my very gently, as if to say: “take a break!”

    3. Hello Whitley, you escape the danger common to many full time writers who lack a day job which can be lack of exposure to ideas and situations. Your show must give you wonderful exposure. By the way, Thank You for your lovely blurb for Ark Storm:)

    4. Hello Whitley, you escape the danger common to many full time writers who lack a day job which can be lack of exposure to ideas and situations. Your show must give you wonderful exposure. By the way, Thank You for your lovely blurb for Ark Storm:)

  2. How have your ideas regarding the visitor phenomina changed over the years? What do you make of it now?

  3. Whitley, your book Secret School really touched something deep in me. I am a two time witness of what I believe were ET craft from less than 200 feet. Later I started having all kinds of wild dreams and other subjective experiences involving ET. The work of the late DR. John Mack intrigued me. I actually conduced several interviews of “Abductees” in the 90s. The psychological side of contact is very intriguing to me. Most of the Big Hats in the UFO community do not want to discuss the subjective. They are only interested in the hardware and objective evidence that can be gathered. I believe this cuts the enigma in half. This is particularly true if you consider the fact that ET is often reported as a telepathic and telekinetic being. Based on your own experiences, what are your thoughts on the psychological side of the UFO enigma?

  4. If I were a lucky thriller writer selling millions of books worldwide, you bet my day job of practicing medicine would be in the way of churning out two or more books a year. It is a pity that there are not more fortunate authors in that circumstance. Over the last couple of years, I have tried to read more and more thrillers from people I have never heard of, and there are many very good to great writers out there. But, I’ll bet they all have day jobs to support their wannabe job of stand-alone thriller writer.
    Having blurted that out, my day job as a physician gives me a lot of my material. The people I work with at the office and hospitals are my characters—they just don’t know it. And, the innovations, mistakes, successes, and failures become my plots and sub-plots. At this stage in my career, I need my day job as my source of inspiration and my funding!

    1. Stacy, my day jobs have also provided me with a secret source of inspiration with several of my characters. No one was taken whole cloth, but I found myself lifting a gesture, a piece of clothing, or an attitude from the people I work with. My killer has a way of speaking that based on a person I worked with at one of my jobs. Thankfully, they never killed anyone (I hope!).

  5. Day jobs devour time. It’s tough to combine them with writing thrillers but not impossible. I got massive inspiration from my day job as an investment banker. It inspired me to write my first novel Nest of Vipers, and in doing so enabled me to give it up and to write full-time.

    Nest of Vipers is a financial thriller. It would have been impossible to have written it without having been on the inside working as an investment banker.

    Most people working inside investment banks don’t even fully understand what goes on there, so if you’re on the outside you don’t stand a chance. Investment bankers like it this way. This obscurity makes scrutiny difficult and also lends a mystique which bankers find sexy.

    To look at in in a more poetic light, I love the quote from ‘Ulysses’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “Yet all experience is an arch wherethro, Gleams that untravelled world…” Whatever job we do, we can glean material from it at worst and be inspired at best.

    1. Happy publication day for Ark Storm, Linda! You’re right that insider information that only someone who does the job might have. I could read about securities, but would have no idea about how bankers talk to each other, how they think about deals, how they look in the world. Someone would have to worked there in order to have that inside knowledge that no amount of research will get you.

  6. Most of my day jobs have been in the manual labor field (landscaping, utilities, and construction). I know blue-collar people and I like them and can empathize with them. The day job can deplete energy and dull concentration/focus, which I believe our most valuable resource. Being burned out physically or mentally at the end of the day will definitely affect our work. Yet if we love something we’ll make time for it. I like writing in the middle of the night. I’ve found it has always worked best for me and it’s when I’m the most focused and everything around me still. Being a writer and blue-collar, you can get some funny looks from your peers when you tell them you’re a writer. They probably won’t take you seriously until you hit a certain level of success. So, a bit of exhaustion and playful ridicule can mess with your head until you learn to get the writing done when you’re most alert and no matter what anyone says.

    Watching and listening to co-workers is great for finding their defining characteristics, not only their surface ones. You can also get a lot of writing done when away from your writing desk, which is where I think a lot of writing gets done anyway. Ultimately, if storytelling is in your blood, it obsesses you, and despite other responsibilities and doubt, you’ll finish the novel you’re working on and start the next one.

  7. Sadly, the reality of the publishing industry is that most authors (thrillers or otherwise) need a day job to pay their bills. With that in mind, day jobs don’t get in the way—they make it possible for us to practice our craft.

    The secret, of course, is in finding the right balance, the “sweet spot” at which we’re making enough money to pay bills, and still have the time to devote to writing.

    In my case, I’m a freelance copywriter and copy editor—so my day job keeps me writing. But most important, it allows me to dial my workload up or down as I wish. I wouldn’t dream of shutting it off completely, nor would I accept a full-time position from any of my clients. But that’s me. Every writer has a different sweet spot.

  8. Linda Davies brings up an interesting point: day jobs do provide exposure to new people and ideas. In my case, I spend my day job writing…. alone. This helps my writing chops (nothing beats practice), but I’m forced to rely exclusively on social interactions when creating characters, storylines—just about anything. Aargh!

  9. John, I get that social interaction thing. Lacking a day job other than writing, I do often find myself mining for characters and if when I’m out and about or stuck somewhere next to someone who is unpleasant I console myself by minutely analyzing them and wondering how I can portray them some day. On a more positive note, I got one of my favourite recent characters while sitting in a cafe in a train station. He was a postman, delivering a parcel. He was so full of life and vigour and sheer spirit that he imprinted himself in my head.

  10. I work at a part time job – 3 days one week, 2 the next. And since it’s a brainless job, I sometimes have time to write while I’m there. I’ll often write stories and send them to my home email to finish later.

    My work also allows me the benefit of people watching. Since I work in a surgery waiting area, I see all kinds of people with all kinds of emotions. It’s been great for writing. I’ll sometimes jot down notes about characteristics for later use. It’s a win-win for me.

    1. Shirley McCann, You are in great company here. Enjoyed the book info to start and the discussions. Enjoy all your writing.
      Anonymously Yours is a favorite, can’t wait for The Scarry Inn to be out.

    2. Hi Shirley! People watching is such a wonderful treasure trove for writers. You, do indeed, have a picture window on dramatic situations. And you put your experience to good use. I enjoyed Anonymously Yours and always enjoy your stories in Woman’s World, too.

    3. I’m excited you’re featured here! I’d think your day job in the surgery area would be great fodder for different characters, dialogue, and as you said, a vast array of emotions. Great job and congrats on ANONYMOUSLY YOURS!

  11. Wow, this discussion is off to a roaring start! I do have a day job, but I have one that gives me the mental space and energy to write. For almost a decade I was an acquisitions editor working in hard core professional business publishing. I found working with authors uplifting and energizing, but the job left me with few writing/editing brain cells that hadn’t been spent by the end of the workday, and it was hard for me to write. I switched jobs, and am the assistant to a CEO at a nonprofit in Silicon Valley. It’s still hard work, but it uses different skills, and I found that once I did that, I was able to dedicate myself to Ice Shear. That said, I’m lucky that I have a boss who’s really supportive. I had a deadline I was working desperately to meet back in January, and I walking in and asked for the afternoon off. After confirming that I wasn’t sick, she encouraged me to leave.

    I also can get a little obsessive when I’m writing–ok, a LOT obsessive–and the structure of a day job sets boundaries on my writing time, forcing me to start and end at certain time. That said, it also makes me value my writing time, and I find that during the few hours I have that I am much more focused and productive because that time is so precious.

  12. I dropped out of my MFA program to gain experiences; visiting Niagara Falls at age eight didn’t provide a lot of inspiration for guy who wanted to write spy novels. Fast forward two decades: serving as a Cultural Attaché in the Department of State, I worked on every continent save South America and collected enough experiences for a dozen novels. Unfortunately, my job was 24/7. I had no time to write, so I retired to write full time. Retiring was a gamble, but writing is a necessity. I owe my novel, CHOICE OF ENEMIES, to my profession, but the job surely was a demanding mistress.

    1. An amazing story, your encounter with the Pasdaran! Thank the Lord it lasted “only” thirteen days and you returned intact.

      1. Thank you. Yes, I consider myself very lucky to have got out of Iran so quickly, but boy, I have a new concept of quite how slowly time can move when you are not having fun.

  13. I was a serious writer for many years before I took an early retirement from teaching and librarianship and began writing full-time. I have no regrets that I did so. However, I will mention that the majority of writers do not earn a decent living from the craft. It pays to keep one’s day job. And has already been pointed out, our work often provides material for writing. When I began my Kim Reynolds mystery series with the first novel, THE INFERNO COLLECTION, it was unique and inspired by my work as an academic librarian.

  14. Our day job had better help us more than get in the way of our writing or else we should think about looking for a different day job.

    In a talk I heard Kurt Vonnegut urge college students to major in something besides writing, something that would inform their writing, like science or politics.

    My day jobs have mostly been teaching writing or writing magazine features. So I’ve learned a plenty about writing. But I often wonder if I would’ve gained a lot more from my day job if I hadn’t bungled the interview part of the foreign service exam. and what would’ve become of Graham Greene and John LeCarre if they had bungled their interviews.

  15. My day job, writing and editing about globalization for an online magazine, shaped my recent novels set in Afghanistan. I doubt that I would have written a book with that setting without the job. Nonfiction accounts about the war and the country often offer as many questions as insights. I agree with Linda on the dangers for writers who lack of exposure to ideas and situations. Fortunately, exposure can come from many surprising areas.

  16. Hi, all, sorry to join the party late, but just developed a tooth problem in the middle of my book tour! Emergency root canal tomorrow, yecch. 🙁

    I think any day job has the potential to be a help–it really depends on the writer’s attitude.

    Many people turn to writing as a successful second career, never cutting loose from their former profession … I have quite a few writer friends who are also doctors and attorneys. Obviously, their “day job” is also as much of an avocation as writing.

    For this discussion, I think the term “day job” is more accurately referring to jobs that struggling or even successful writers hold in order to help pay the bills. I would argue that virtually any such work, unless it comes attached with a toxic environment for some reason, is fodder for writing, because virtually every job requires communication and interaction with people–and human interaction is the raw stuff from which stories are created.

    For myself, I no longer hold a day job (and still struggle to find time to write–how does that happen?), but can still catch creative sparks from things as simple as riding a bus to walking through the streets of San Francisco, or even, I hope, getting a root canal. I’ll find out tomorrow. 😉

    1. I have that same problem finding time when I’m home. Life always finds a way to interfere. I think it’s all a matter of MAKING time. No matter whether you have a day job or not.

    2. Hope you are feeling better, Kelli. I liked everything you had to say, although would add that sometimes toxic jobs have an upside. I modeled my killer on a toxic boss from one of my old jobs!

  17. What is the limit for your writing? Do you need it to supply 1/3 of your income stream? 1/2? Little to none if you just MUST write?
    When I started, I fully expected it to replace my income. Now, I just hope it can pay my writing expenses, including Thrillerfest.

    1. My friend Alan Russell and I were on a radio show with a quite successful thriller writer who used to be a physician. Alan asked her which job preferred, medicine or writing. She said, “Well, writing makes more money.”

      I swallowed my gum and nearly choked on it.

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