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Reliable Writers

Sometimes I finish a book and have a difficult time figuring out what to read next. This usually happens when the book I’ve just finished is so good that almost nothing will hold up to it. It is as times like this that I will return to my stable of reliable writers. These are a handful of writers I’ve read over the years, whose work I always enjoy.

On the fiction side of the fence, these writers include Stephen King, Jack McDevitt, Barry N. Malzberg. On the nonfiction side, they include writers like Andy Rooney, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and more recently, Simon Winchester.

Later this week is the 4th anniversary of the first audiobook I listened to. Over those four years, I have also built a stable of audiobook narrators that I particularly enjoy. There’s Grover Gardner, for example, or Craig Wasson. There are also author narrators that I particularly enjoy, like Neil Gaiman, and Simon Winchester.

Thinking about the writers and narrators that I gravitate toward got me thinking about some of the ways that we describe writers. Here are some of the adjectives describing writers that I pulled from the review pages that often precede the text at the beginning of a book: Extraordinary, ingenious, master craftsman, ambitious, delightful, entertaining, reliable, vivid, talented, underestimated, luminous.

Of all these adjectives, the one that I most want applied to me as a writer—the one I strive for more than any other—is “reliable.” It would be nice to be a great writer, a master craftsman, ambitious, and all the rest, but many of those things are entirely out of my control. What is in my control is dependability. I want to be the writer to whom an editor can give a job and have confidence that it will be delivered upon.

I’ve written two lead editorials for Analog Science Fiction over the last few years. I did it upon editor request both times, but the second time the editor was on a short deadline, and turned to me to deliver, which I did. That was one of the more satisfying feelings I’ve ever had as a writer.

I know my limits. Though I can emulate styles with a certain amount of success, I cannot write the way, for instance, Barry N. Malzberg writers. I wish I could weave a story like Stephen King, but my writing abilities lie elsewhere. It took a long time to learn that, and a long time to be okay with it. These days, I just want to be a dependable writer.

That is true for this blog as much as for any editor. I write what I want here, and my interests change and evolve over time. But every day at 9 am, there is a new post, and I like to think I have a developed a style that works for my readers. I have a certain set of expectations in mind when I pick up a Jack McDevitt novel, or a collection of Andy Rooney essays, and I am rarely disappointed. That same dependability is what I strive for here.

Hello Phone, Goodbye Facebook

My iPhone died earlier this week. It went quickly, and painlessly. One minute, it was plugged in on my nightstand, bleating the gentle alarm in the Bedtime application. The next, it was dead. The screen went dim, then dark. The phone would no longer take a charge.

This is my work phone, and I reported it to the appropriate people when I arrived in the office. Within a few hours, I had a brand new phone, this time an iPhone 7. My old phone, may it rest in peace, was an iPhone 6.

It is amazing to me how much stuff accumulates on my phones over time. It is equally amazing how long it takes to get a new phone configured just the way I like it. My late phone was backed up regularly, and I could have restored that backup to my new phone, but since the phone was new, I thought I’d take the opportunity to selectively install those apps that I use the most, and see if I could manage to leave everything else off the phone. This leads to the question: what apps must I have on my phone?

I try to keep a minimalist look to my phone. I dump nearly all the apps into a single folder that is off the main screen. When I want to use an app, I use the search feature to search for the app I’m looking for. If I wait to email someone, I swipe down, start typing “Mai…” and then tap on the Mail icon when it appears in the search results. I’ve done this for a long time now. I’m used to it, and it works for me. It means that my home screen is empty, except for the apps that go on the bar at the bottom.

For me, the things that I need instant access to are:

  1. My calendar
  2. My books
  3. My text messages
  4. My to-do list

My frequent apps

I use Fantastical 2 for my calendar, Audible for audiobooks, the Apple Messages app for texts, and Todoist to manage my to-do list. There were a few other must-have apps include Dark Sky (for weather), WordPress (to keep an eye on things here), Evernote, LastPass, and… and… and it turned out that was it. There weren’t any other apps that I had to have.

I had momentary qualms about not putting Facebook back on my phone. But they lasted only a moment. If I want to look at Facebook, I can do it on my computer, I don’t need to pull out my phone to look at it. It was a little more difficult not to put Twitter on my new phone, but I managed to get over it pretty quickly.

There was a time when Facebook and Twitter were among the first apps I’d install on a new phone. I’m not sure if my refusal to install them this time around is a sign of growth, or a sign that I’ve just grown tired of the apps.

“What Do You Do?”

I have a hard time telling people what I do for a living. I dread the anticipation that results from knowing that at any moment, I’m going to get asked,  “What do you do?” The most recent incident took place a little over a week ago. I was sitting in the dentist chair, mouth open, metallic tools scraping away at my teeth, when the hygienist asked the question.

“I work with computers,” I said, hoping I sounded disinterested enough to for her to drop it.

It is a perfectly true answer, although deliberately vague. Few jobs these days don’t involve working with computers in one way or another.

Let me take the opportunity to set the record straight, to answer the question once and for all. Officially, my title is “Application Developer.” Titles, however, are funny things. They have to be specific enough so that someone with a similar title would get the drift, but general enough to include a broad range of skill sets.

A more accurate description of my job these days would be “Project Manager.” Applications developers tend to write computer code. And there was a time when a big portion of my day was spent in IDEs like Microsoft Visual Studio. As a Project Manager, I’m not writing much, if any, code. My IDE these days is Microsoft Word, or Project, with Visio diagram thrown in for good measure now and then.

Ah, but a Project Manager is a broad description. As I work in the IT realm, my projects tend to revolve around technology. And the technology they revolved around most for me on a day-to-day basis is software. In that sense, I don’t tend to think of myself as a project manager as much as I do a Product Manager. I oversee the birth, development, enhancement, and ultimately the demise of software products.

There are occasions when I am asked the question, when I’d love to answer, “I’m a writer,” and just leave it at that. Of course, telling someone you are a writer leads to other questions. Besides, I don’t make my living as a writer. And when people ask “What do you do?” they are asking how you make your living.

Sometimes, the writer in me is tempted to come up with a more colorful answer to the question. Just once, with a straight face, I’d like to say something like, “I’m a medieval cartographer,” or, “I’m a parachute tester.” Better yet, I’ve had a recurring daydream of answering the question as follows: “I’m not allowed to talk about what I do. I can get both of us into big trouble just for acknowledging that I do anything all at.”

The truth is, I don’t like talking about my day job. I enjoy what I do—if that were not the case, I would not have stayed on the job for more than 22 years now. But I work hard, and when I am not working, the last thing I want to do is being thinking about working. Being asked the question forces me to think about work, and I suppose I resent that a bit.

I recently had new business cards printed for my day job. I wish I had waited until I’d written this essay. I would have added a line to the back of the card that read: “What do I do?” and then provided a hyperlink (or better yet, a QR code) to this post. I could hand someone the card and never have to answer the question again.

Radio Days

When I lived in Los Angeles, there was an all-news radio station, KNX1070 “News Radio” that, despite its tag line, did not play “all news” all the time. There were breaks in the news for traffic and weather reports (“traffic and weather together!”). In the evenings the had the KNX Radio Drama Hour. I don’t recall if this was a daily occurrence, or if it took place once a week. But during that golden hour, the radio station replayed old radio shows like “The Lone Ranger,” and occasionally comedies like “The George and Gracie Show.”

I loved listening to those shows. It was like being transported back in time, but in some fundamental way. The people who listened to the original broadcasts did so on radios not much different from the radios on which I listened to the replays. There was nothing to see, nothing to watch. My imagination filled in the blanks as I listened to “The Shadow” or a George Burns comedy skit.

I grew up in a television era. In the heyday of my youth in the late 1970s, I remember watching The Dukes of Hazzard, and The Incredible Hulk, and The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Love Boat (and sometimes, if we stayed up especially late, Fantasy Island). As fond as I am of those shows, I sometimes wish I’d grown up in a radio era.

We have radio today, of course, but it is nothing like radio in the days when television was a glimmer. Our car gets Sirius XM satellite radio and we can choose from a host of commercial-free options. Broadcast radio plays music, or provides news reports, and bickering conversation in between a barrage of commercials. But I have a fondness for old radio that I can’t quite explain.

The old shows were rehearsed, but they were funny. They are funny still today, when I have a chance to hear them. The personalities appearing on the shows were celebrities in every sense of the word. Even the commercials were part of the show, often built in to the skits, (“The makers of Lady Ashbond’s Incense, the incense that is kind to your nose, presents ‘The Hour of Love…’”)

There is something delightful imaging the family gathered around the radio, listening to George Burns, or Bing Crosby, or getting the news from Edward R. Murrow. Radio is a simple enough to transport you to a different era. Modern distractions: the Internet, video games, television, all fade into the future.

After nearly 30 years, KNX1070 stopped the Radio Drama Hour in 2003. I wish there was a radio station—even a satellite radio station—that played full feeds from the 1920s, 1930s or 1940s. The could play the old dramas, the news, even the commercials. A radio station that did that today might be the closest we ever come to experiencing time travel.

I Can’t Stand Still!

I can’t seem to stand still!

This is nothing new. I’ve noticed it before, and wondered about it, but it really began to seem ridiculous over the weekend. I took the Little Miss to her dance class on Saturday morning. The parents don’t go into the class. We drop off our kids and then pick them up an hour later. Like several of the parents, I stuck around, lingering in the hallway, listening to more of Simon Winchester’s The Men Who United the States.

Most parents who stuck around sat on the ground, backs against ubiquitous lockers, tapping away at their phones, or reading a newspaper. I’m just not comfortable sitting on a hard floor, and so I stood for the hour. I was moving the entire time.

When standing and waiting, my default appears to be a gentle sway to the left and right. I sway and I sway and I sway with no end in sight. Other people stand still, and I tell myself that it is silly for me to be swaying while I stand. So I stop swaying. But it feels strange to me not to be moving. And the moment my attention is not focused on standing still—as when I am focused on listening to my audiobook instead—I begin swaying again.

The fact is, I am rarely still. While at work, my fingers are flying across the keyboard, and my legs are usually moving to some internal rhythm. When I take a break, I go for a walk, and then I’m moving. Even while standing in line to pay for something at the grocery store, I can’t stand still. I am always swaying this way or that way.

I try not to think about it too much. When I do, I become self-conscious. I try to stand still, and instead, feel like I am suddenly standing out.

Things have been this way as far back as I can remember. Back in the days (prior to my forties) when I could eat anything I wanted and put on no extra weight, I attributed my remarkable metabolism to the enormous amounts of energy my fidgeting must consume. Forget Pilates! Just put me in a line and I’ll burn a few hundred calories standing there waiting.

That is obviously not the case these days, a month or so before my 45th birthday. I fidget as much as I always have, but it no longer seems to have an impact on my metabolism. I have the sneaking suspicion that it never did.

No one ever mentions to me that I am fidgeting. No one ever complains. But I notice it, and when I try to stop it—and inevitably fail—I feel disappointed in myself. I should have more discipline than this. I would have made a terrible solider. Imagine me trying to stand at attention!

I tell myself that there is a good reason for my fidgeting, even if I don’t know what that good reason might be. But I am beginning to wonder if that is true.

I took me about ten minutes to write this little essay. When I started, I told myself that I would sit still through it; that I could certainly managed to sit still for ten minutes. Halfway through, I noticed a squeaking in the background. It was coming from my chair. My chair was squeaking because I was tapping my foot as I wrote.

If you’ll excuse me, I need to go find the WD-40 so that I can get rid of this annoying squeak. It distracts my attention from trying to keep still.

I Have a Story in This New Anthology: FUNNY HORROR, Edited by Alex Shvartsman

Funny Horror, ed. by Alex Shvartsman

Allow me a moment of writerly pride. A new anthology entitled Funny Horror edited by Alex Shvartsman is available today on Amazon from UFO Publishing. The anthology has stories by a slew of great writers. The anthology also contains a reprint of my one-and-only zombie story, “Meat and Greet.”

The e-book is available on Amazon today. A physical version of the book–for those who prefer one–will be available shortly.

Book Sale!

Over the weekend, we went to a book sale the kids’ school was having as fund-raiser. I’d never been to their book sale before, and was a little skeptical, but it turned out to be a good one.

The book sale was set up in the Parish Hall, a large room, much larger than the school library, where I thought he sale would be held. (After some consideration, I realized that holding a book sale in a library might be confusing, and unproductive.) All the books were donated and there were plenty of them. The books were arranged into rough sections: Sports, Fiction, Religion, Biography, History, and children’s books.

As a lifelong bibliophile, I know how to make my way through a bookstore. I’ve made my way through countless used bookstores, softening lingering for hours, but only because I enjoy the stores. I know what I am looking for and I know how to spot it quickly. Within ten minutes, I’d found five books that I wanted.

I assumed we needed to pay in cash, and Kelly said she’d brought some cash along. She picked out a book for herself, and for the baby. The kids picked out about 15 books among them. I wasn’t sure we’d have enough cash for all of the books, and I wasn’t sure we could pay with a card. But it turned out my worrying was needless. Kids books were 3 for a $1. Hardcovers and trade paperbacks were $2 each. We walked out of the book sale with 22 books and paid $14. I felt a little guilty, until I realized that the books were all donated to the school, so the entire $14 we spent was profit for the school.

What books did I pick up?

In the Sports section, I found a hardcover edition of Roger Angell’s Game Time: A Baseball Companion. I’ve read a few of Angell’s books, and this seemed like a nice addition.

I found a trade paperback of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, which I also tossed on my pile. I’ve read the book twice, but both times were the audiobook version, and I wanted a paper version.

There was a hardcover edition of Stephen King’s Desperation, one of the few King books I have not yet read.

Finally, and best of all, was a two-volume biography of John Adams by Page Smith, complete with the box for the boxed set. These five books cost me $8.

Book Sale

It was interesting to browse the selection of books they had at the book sale. I like to think that my reading interests run to the obscure, but I saw several books for sale that I’ve read that I was surprised that other people had read (or at least purchased) as well. I saw, for instance, Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams by Gary Giddins. I would have sworn I was the only one in the world to read that book. (The sequel is coming out soon by Little Brown, according to Giddins website.)

This book sale is the kind of win-win event that makes everyone happy. We came home with 22 books, pleased we spent only $14. And the school is probably making a killing, thanks to the thousands of books donated to the cause.

Learning to Write

I often day-dream about doing other jobs. I wonder how easy (or hard) it would be to learn to play the guitar, or make furniture, or repair clocks. I look at people doing things well and marvel at the time and commitment it must have taken to become so proficient. How did they do it?

Then I remind myself that I learned how to write. I don’t know from where the desire to write sprang within me. I have always been interested in books. Even before I could read, I can remember sitting on the couch with my dad as he read Dr. Seuss books to me. He read them so much that I memorized them all, a trick that serves me well today when reading the books to my own kids.

But why did I want to write? I can’t say. All I can say it that the desire to do so was always there. In third grade, for instance, we were reading about Moscow in our social studies books (this was in the early 1980s and the Cold War was in full brew). Something about what I read interested me, and I wrote a story about two friends who visit Moscow.

Later, in 7th or 8th grade, I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and wanted to write my own version. I wrote a story that was at least 60 single-spaced, typewritten pages long, as much in the style of Hitchhiker’s as a I could manage at the time. These stories were read by no one, save perhaps my family.

In high school, me and a friend began writing a series of stories that we shared with classmates. This was the first time I had an audience beyond my family. It was also in high school that I finally learned to write.

I attended Cleveland Humanities Magnet High School in Reseda, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. We did not have traditional English and History classes. Instead, we had a “core” set of classes that included: philosophy, literature, social institutions, and art history. All of our tests were essay tests. It was in these classes that I learned to think critically, encouraged to do so by my teachers. And it was in the essays I wrote for these classes that I learned to write.

When I say I learned to write, I don’t mean I learned to tell a story. I mean that I learned to write in a way that presents information clearly, in a way that makes a good argument. More than anything else, then, I learned to write for this blog. It was in those essays that I began to develop the style that has evolved to what I use here on the blog. And friends will tell you that my style here isn’t much different from my style in an email message. Some people even complain that I write the way I talk.

The ability to tell a story and the ability to write are two different things. I don’t tell stories nearly as well as I write. But I am also self-taught when it comes to telling stories. I learned by reading.

When it comes to writing, however, I think that the essence of my style, comes from those high school classes, and I am convinced, even if others aren’t, that if not for those humanities classes and their essay tests, I would not be the writer that I am today.

Travel in the Space Between Meetings

There is space between meetings where I try to catch my breath. Sitting in an office in front of computer for most of the day, giving presentations, writing code, planning budgets, it can, from time-to-time force me to lose perspective. That’s when I look for those spaces between meetings. Sometimes it’s just seven minutes, sometimes five, sometimes fifteen. I’ll use those moments, when feeling overwhelmed, to take a breath, and travel back to some of the amazing places I’ve been.

I was reminded of one of those places recently while reading the January 2017 issue of Down East Magazine: “The magazine of Maine,” as it is known. I began subscribing to the magazine last summer, so that I could keep a piece of Maine with me all year round. I was reading Franklin Burrough’s “Room with a View” column, and was struck by the opening paragraph:

In college, I learned that Thales of Miletus was a pre-Socratic philosopher who considered water the primary principle of life. On that basis, I felt an affinity. More recently, I discovered he was also an astronomer who described how to use the pointer stars of the Big Dipper to locate Polaris, True North.

I learned about Thales of Miletus in high school. I was taking a philosophy class, and the focus was less on Thales the man, and more on his pre-Socratic philosophy. I remember learning that philosophy well, but the man, his life, and the city in which he lived, Miletus, meant nothing to me.

Long after high school, I had a chance to spent 3 weeks in Europe. My parents were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary and we all went on a 12-day cruise that took us from Italy to Croatia to Greece to Turkey and back to Italy. There were day tours at all of the ports, and I remember scanning for interesting ones. When I saw the tours for Turkey, I knew at once which one I would take: the tour to Miletus.

I set out early on a scalding hot day, aboard a bus that took us from the port city of Kusadasi on a long ride south to Miletus. By the time we reached the ancient city temperatures had soared to 105 F. Not much remained of a city whose wealth and splendor was at its peak 2,300 years ago. But the theater of Miletus remained.

Theater of Miletus
At the Theater of Miletus, July 2007.

I walked around the theater, stepping over large fallen stones, seeking relief in the long vomitoriums. I put my hand on the cool stone surface in the shade and marveled that Thales himself might have leaned against this very stone on a hot summer day. There was something surreal about being there, as if I had somehow traveled back in time. I could still see the air-conditioned bus in the parking lot, and my fellow tourists wandered the theater with digital cameras in hand. I wondered what the sky looked like at night from here. I imagine the stars looked no different than they did in Thales day.

These are the kinds of thoughts I conjure in the space between meetings. And I remind myself that there are countless other remarkable places to see. Then I take a breath and prepare for the next meeting, feeling a little bit better.

The First Springlike Day

There is no better weather day than the first springlike day of the year. To my mind, four things have to come together:

  1. The sky must be clear and sunny.
  2. The sun must feel warm on your skin.
  3. The fragrance of blossoming trees and flowers must hang in the air.
  4. A certain quality of light paints the landscape. I think it is due to the angle of the sun.

When the first springlike day of the year occurs varies, I always know it because those four things come together. In the winter, the sky can be clear and sunny, but the sun gives off no warmth. Perhaps there is the odd warm day, as we had last week, when I found myself walking in mild, 65 F sunshine. The sun felt warm on my skin, the sky was clear and sunny. But the lighting wasn’t quite right, and there was no springlike fragrance in the air.

I lived in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years without experiencing that first springlike day of the year. In the 15 years since I’ve moved back to the east, I look forward to it with each passing winter day. If you’ve never experienced it, I can’t begin to describe the pleasant feeling that first springlike day fills me with. It would be like trying to describe the taste of chocolate to someone who has never tried it.

I tell people that I prefer the northeast because I like four seasons. The truth is I like four seasons primary because winter allows me to appreciate and enjoy that first springlike day. Winter is the coenzyme of spring, to use a biochemical analogy. Without winter, spring is just another set of days.

Taking my walk in warm weather earlier this week nearly fooled me into thinking that the first springlike day had come unusually early this year. The sun felt so good as I beat my path around the block. The sky was clear and blue, with hints of cumulus clouds on the horizon. But the trees were bare, and the smell of newness was missing. The sun wasn’t quite high enough in the sky either.

I generally don’t get to experience the first springlike day of the year more than once a year, but I may come close this year. The weather grew cold after that mild day, and cold rain and snow were forecast. The return to winter was quick. And so, sometime in March, when all the stars align, and the weather turns warm, and the skies are clear, and trees and flowers are blooming, and the sun reaches higher into the sky, I’ll get to experience the real first springlike day of the year.

And then, like a birthday, it will be behind me, and I’ll start to look forward to the next one, a distant year away.

Sitting in the Front Row

I am a front-row sitter. Stop in at any large company meeting at my day job and you will find the front row of seats empty of bodies, save one: me. When I attend science fiction conventions and go to see a panel discussion, I am right there sitting in the front row. If I am taking some kind of training course, and the room is set up classroom style, you know where to find me.

I wasn’t always a front-row sitter. In fact, until my junior year in college, I avoided the front row for most of my life. In the summer between my sophomore and junior years, I read a small book on how to study. I wish I still had that book. It taught me the note-taking style that I use to this day. The book also taught me the value of sitting up close to the action. I’ve done it ever since.

It’s funny to watch people come into a large conference room a minute or two before the meeting starts. There is standing room only, people crowded against the wall at the back. And there are nine or ten empty seats right up front.

“There are plenty of seats up front,” the presenter says, as people scurry into the room, but no one seems to pay any attention. It means I get the row all to myself.

My front-row sitting isn’t limited to the day job. On those occasions where I (reluctantly) attend a homeowners association meeting, I find a seat in the front row. Meetings at my kids’ school find me in the front row as well. It’s part of my DNA at this point. I can’t help it. Whether or not it is true, I feel like I learn more sitting up front.

I get annoyed when I come into a room to find that someone else is sitting in the front row. It doesn’t happen often, and I know it shouldn’t bother me, but I feel as if someone is encroaching on my territory.

There are some places where I never sit in the front row. On those rare occasions when we go the movies, I never sit in the front row. I usually settle for someplace in the dead center of the theater if I can. If the kids are with me, I take an aisle in case we have to make a break for the restrooms.

I avoid the front row in airplanes, as well. There is always a bulkhead in the front row of each cabin in the plane. The flight is boring enough without having to spend it staring at a blank wall. Then, too, you can’t stick your backpack under the seat in front of you where the seat in front of you is separated by said wall.

The one place in which I’d love to sit in the front row, but never do, is at a baseball game. Front row tickets are nearly impossible to get, and if they are available, they are too expensive for me.

Introducing a Writer

There is something about being a writer that holds a mystique for people. At least, it does for the people who I am introduced to. At my day job, I am often introduced to others like this: “This is Jamie Rubin. He’s a project manager on the Application Delivery team. He’s also a writer.” The last is offered with particular emphasis. As if the person making the introduction is saying, “He’s also a movie star.”

What follows is extremely predictable:

“What do you write?” asks the person to whom I have been introduced.

“Fiction and nonfiction,” I say.

“Have you had anything published?”

“Yes,” I say. I used to offer more than that, but these days, I find a simple “yes” sufficient. If someone prods further, I’ll say that I wrote short fiction, mostly science fiction, but occasionally something else. I write nonfiction on a variety of subjects, but primarily technology-related. And of course, there’s the blog writing that I do.”

But let me get back to that second question: “Have you had anything published?” It might not seem impertinent, but the question is often offered as a challenge: if the answer is “Yes,” well then this person really is a writer. If the answer is “No,” well, gosh, they sure take themselves seriously.

It seems to me that in no profession is a person’s credential questioned more than those in the arts, especially writers. When someone is introduced as a lawyer or doctor, people take it for granted that is what they are, and don’t require further validation. So why is it that a person introduced as a writer is often asked, “Are you published?”

I suspect part of this comes from the celebrity attached to writing. The bestseller lists make Stephen King, Charlaine Harris, J. K. Rowling household names, and the fame attached to those names gives the impression that all writers are celebrities, that we are all rich and famous. Therefore, if I claim to be a writer, I must be rich and famous, but if so, wouldn’t you have heard of me? Thus the question, “Have you been published?”

Perhaps it is the phrasing that gives pause. I wonder if journalists, upon being introduced as journalists, are asked if they’ve been published. I doubt it, since being a journalist implies having a day job. Being a writer doesn’t carry the same implication.

One might argue that I am simply being overly sensitive to the question, but I’ve seen the question applied to many writers, when they are introduced to strangers as writers. But here is my take on it:

If you write, you are a writer, and you should feel free to introduce yourself as such. Be prepared for The Question, but don’t be afraid to call yourself a writer. I think when people think of writers, they think of professional writers: one who is paid to write. It is for this reason that I often refer to myself as a professional writer, when describing my writing. The “professional” adjective carries the implication that I am paid for my writing, and if that implication isn’t clear, it is easy to clarify it.

So what is a professional writer? I like a definition I read from Stephen King somewhere: if you write a story, and send it out, and the story is accepted, and you get a check in the mail, and the check clears the bank, and you use the money to pay your gas bill, you are a professional writer.