THE BLOG

How I Wrote a Novel at Work

06/13/2014 03:48 pm ET | Updated Aug 13, 2014

2014-06-13-thetrial.png Photo credit: Adams , Jeffrey. "Orson Welles's "The Trial": Film Noir and the Kafkaesque." College Literature.

Many years ago I used to work in the automobile insurance industry. It was probably the most corporate 9-5 job I ever had, and also the most tedious. It was the type of job where you always had to arrive at a very specific time, log into your computer system with a seven minute grace period, give or take, get decked out at the height of fashion to sit in an office cubicle for hours without ever seeing customers. It was the type of environment where you got micro-managed daily. Lunches were always one hour and if you went over you would get penalized, the occasional Saturday would have to be worked, usually hung-over after a heavy night of drinking, and often the office manager would walk around and sneak up on people just to give them the 'once over' -- like a real life Panoptican.

I look back at this period of my life and I remember always being tired. During breaks and lunches I would take naps in a resting area and would always get woken up by a supervisor or co-worker that surely led to a management decision of some sort of blemish on my work record. I even went so far as to get a doctor's note that allowed me to get up from my desk as often as needed because of a medical condition, which could not be questioned.

Perhaps I was depressed in the work environment, considering I had graduated from college two years prior with a degree in political science, which had nothing to do with automobile insurance, or perhaps I was depressed because of the failed relationship I was coming out of -- it was obviously a combination of both. A co-worker recalls the work ethic I had at the time when on a Friday afternoon I logged out of my computer and sent an email to my supervisor -- I am leaving for lunch and will not return, I have a book signing this afternoon and it looks like we have a problem with the venue. See you on Monday!

I thought of the main character in Quadropehnia -- Jimmy Cooper, a London Mod who's dealing with teenage angst and the boredom of his work environment by channeling it through music, drugs, and scooters. I too was going to many mod clubs and driving around in the 69 Camaro Super Sport, mashing all over the City of Los Angeles in my fingerless gloves with northern soul tunes in the background. At the time I also remember reading about Franz Kafka and how he worked in the insurance industry as well. I read The Trial and Metamorphosis and thought about how he used the tedium of his work environment to create surreal and existential situations in his short stories, how he complained about the work schedule, and how he manifested what he experienced into his body of work.

After all, many bread and butter jobs are in direct conflict with the writer, or creative people for that matter in any genre. If Kafka could do it, so could I. So instead of complaining and wallowing in my depression, I turned my focus into something more creative. I began to develop a character who worked in the insurance industry, who would often take naps, who often arrived to work hung over, etc... you get the picture. And in order to avoid exposing my personal vulnerability, I made the character a female and made her take the trajectory of my life for a few years.

Not long after I was excited to go to work, but it had nothing to do with my work duties, it was to develop my character. I no longer slept during my breaks, and in between work duties I simply drafted and edited, and used all work situations to my advantage. In retrospect, I have always been distracted in the work environment because I have always written, but the goal is to understand the bigger picture and use all situations in your life for creative purposes.

Stella awoke that morning from unsettling dreams. She felt an overwhelming insecurity about her legs, her ass, and her decreasing bra size because of the sudden loss of weight. She thought about a wedding ceremony, about walking down the aisle, how the wedding dress would fit uncomfortable and loose. At times she felt anorexic, at others obese. Neither was true, but she couldn't help feeling awkward, more so during sex. After all, her ex-boyfriend had betrayed her by sleeping with her supposed friend Morgan -- a gregarious, voluptuous perky-type. But it was the same old story, there was always competition wherever she looked. It could've been her neighbor or her best friend...it didn't matter.

-- A Grave Situation

For my latest novel, recently launched at the Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach go here.