writer, author, novelist: pick one

I always pause when somebody asks me what I do for a living. I don’t mind talking about it, but it would be nice if there was a term to use that was not so ambiguous as the standard three are.

Here’s what I get:

Stranger: What do you do?

Me: I’m a novelist.

Stranger: Have you published anything?

————

Stranger: What do you do?

Me: I’m a writer.

Stranger: What do you write?

Me: Mostly novels.

Stranger: Have you published anything?

————-

Stranger: What do you do?

Me: I’m an author.

Stranger:

Me: I write.

Stranger. Oh. What do you write?

Me: Ransom notes.

Stranger:

Me: I write novels.

Stranger: Like, The DaVinci Code?

Me: Um, no. Quite different, actually.

Stranger: That was a good novel.

Me:

————-

So let me ask you, do you make a distinction between writer, author, novelist?

For me, a writer is somebody who could be writing anything at all. Technical manuals, greeting cards, letters to the editor — as long as it is a primary occupation. A writer isn’t necessarily published.
A novelist is somebody who writes novels, and, in my mind at least, has been published. Although I can imagine somebody saying: I’m a novelist, I have ten novels I can’t sell to anybody. So maybe an novelist is somebody who writes novels and tries to get them published, sometimes successfully.

An author is somebody who does not actually need to write, but who is published. So for example, OJ Simpson is an author (because there’s a so-called book out there with his name on it), but I wouldn’t call him a writer.

Joyce Carol Oates, on the other hand, is an author, a novelist, and a writer while Studs Terkel is a writer and author but not a novelist.

Do you use these terms the same way?  And do you have a suggestion for what I could say to people that would be polite, but forestall the “have you published anything” question?

short stories

I’m pretty exacting when it comes to short stories. Either they please me quick, or I bail out.

I want a plot. I want characters whose voices are loud and clear. They don’t have to be likable, but they’ve got to engage my interest somehow. I want to be enchanted or amused or shocked or furious, all those things at once, if possible. Many classic short stories leave me cold, so don’t be surprised that you won’t find James Joyce on this list or (cough) Hemingway. Don’t misunderstand: subtle is just fine and dandy, as long as it still comes with a plot attached. The list is in the Extended Body below.

Of those stories I’ve mentioned, I would have to say that Bambara’s “My Man Bovanne” is as close as it comes to perfect, in my view of things. This short story has been filmed as a part of the Issues of Aging Curated Video Collection (actors Theresa Merritt as Hazel and Bill Cobbs as Bovanne).

I’d be interested to hear from you if you know any of these stories and have an opinion. Oh, and: I’ve given you more than one place to find the story, if I have that information available.

ALLEN, WOODY. The Kugelmass Episode
New Yorker May 2 1977
Worlds of Fiction ed. Roberta Rubenstein & Charles R. Larson, MacMillan College Division 1993

ATWOOD, MARGARET. Rape Fantasies
The Harper Anthology of Fiction ed. Sylvan Barnet, Longman 1991
Fiction: A Longman Pocket Anthology ed. R. S. Gwynn, Addison-Wesley Pub Co. 1998

BAMBARA, TONI CADE My Man Bovanne
We Are the Stories We Tell: The Best Short Stories by North American Women Since 1945 ed. Wendy Martin, Pantheon Books 1990
The Harper Anthology of Fiction ed. Sylvan Barnet, Longman 1991

BAXTER, CHARLIE. Gryphon
Epoch 1985
American Short Stories (6th edition) ed. Eugene Current-Garcia & Bert Hitchcock, Addison-Wesley Pub Co. 1966

BLOOM, AMY The Story
The Best American Short Stories 2000, ed. E. L. Doctorow, Houghton Mifflin 2000

GODWIN, GAIL Dream Children
The Harper Anthology of Fiction, ed. Sylvan Barnet, Longman 1991

JACOBS, W. W. The Monkey’s Paw
Harper’s Monthly Sep 1902
Olden Tales ed. Bradford M. Day, Hillsville, VA: DayStar Press 1996

KING, STEPHEN The Reach AKA “Do the Dead Sing”
Yankee Nov 1981
American Short Stories (7th edition) ed. Eugene Current-Garcia & Bert Hitchcock, Longman 2001

OATES, JOYCE CAROL Extenuating Circumstances
Haunted: Tales of the Grotesque
New York: Dutton 1994

O’BRIEN, TIM The Things They Carried
Esquire Aug 1986
American Short Stories (6th edition) ed. Eugene Current-Garcia & Bert Hitchcock, Addison-Wesley Pub Co. 1966

MUNRO, ALICE Friend of My Youth
New Yorker Jan 22 1990
Short Fiction ed. Charles H. Bohner & Dean Dougherty, Prentice Hall 1999

ROSENFELD, STEPHANIE Grasp Special Comb and
in her collection of short stories: What About the Love Part Ballantine 2002