Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.
Thomas Pluck has worked on the docks, trained in martial arts in Japan, and even swept the Guggenheim museum (but not as part of a clever heist). He hails from Nutley, New Jersey, home to criminal masterminds Martha Stewart and Richard Blake, but has so far evaded capture. He is the author of ‘Bad Boy Boogie‘, his first Jay Desmarteaux crime thriller, and the upcoming story collection ‘Life During Wartime‘, both from Down & Out Books. Joyce Carol Oates calls him “a lovely kitty man.”
My thanks to the lovely kitty man for joining us to talk about how his jobs have influenced his writing.
A writer is always working, so a day job is just an extension of that. Our currency is character, so surrounding ourselves with people assists in our work, whether it’s at a coffee shop, an office, or a work site at the docks, where I worked for eight years with organized crime figures and extras from The Sopranos. They were a cheeky bunch. Richie the Stork kicked a door in for us when we lost a key. Mike the Dock Boss gave me three turkeys at Christmas for fixing his iPhone. It was impossible to not write about them, so when I needed heavies to lean on Jay Desmarteaux, I brought them in. Not to slag on The Sopranos, which I love, but the real guys are usually quiet. The knockaround guys who think they are connected tend to have more swagger, because they need it. I knew Little Sammy Corsaro before they killed him, and relatives of Vincent “The Chin” Gigante. They were gentlemen, not pushy, no trouble. At least not to citizens who weren’t in their way. Loudmouths who cause problems and affect the earning of a crew tend to disappear. You get to see the power behind things, too. When New Jersey’s governor McGreevy resigned, he was tied to a union boss who was on the way out. There was more focus on the sex scandal than the upcoming criminal trial of his former supporters, and I think that is the way the political machine wanted it.
My job is technical, I’m a computer administrator. And it was fun working with longshoremen and stevedores, because a salaryman and a labourer view work differently. I got paid the same no matter how many hours I put in, but they were paid overtime, so they thought they were doing me a favor by asking me to perform tasks they could do themselves, like replace the toner in a printer. I thought they were being lazy, but no, they didn’t want my job to be at risk. So we got along, once we understood each other.
As a writer of crime stories, seeing the operation of a shipping terminal–made famous in season 2 of The Wire –was interesting as well. The realities of shift work, the complexity of union labor and the logistics industry, they were eye-opening, and still inspire stories and characters, such as truck drivers, construction workers, and so on. And you get to see how diverse the workers in those fields are. It’s not all white guys with mustaches. There are a lot of women driving heavy equipment. The shifts are tough, and well-paid. I’m in an office now, but the day job remains an inspiration. I work in fashion retail now, so we get younger people from all over, and it keeps me from writing about the same old boring people–like me!